Eastern Oklahoma State College

Donors raise more than $36,000 for student scholarships, setting record at Eastern’s 2022 Sapphire Ball

April 18, 2022

WILBURTON, OK (April 18, 2022) – Eastern Oklahoma State College’s 2022 Sapphire Ball raised a record-breaking $36,429 for student scholarships while honoring supporters of the college. The annual event was held April 9 in Wilburton.

“We are deeply thankful to our generous donors and sponsors who helped us surpass the previous fundraising record for the history of the event,” said Eastern President Dr. Janet Wansick. “More importantly, these scholarship funds will directly impact Eastern students as they overcome hardships in pursuit of a college degree. This will be life changing for so many students.”

Wansick said that financial support and auction donations from local businesses, alumni, employees and the community made the event a success. One hundred percent of the Sapphire Ball proceeds benefit the Sapphire Scholarship Fund.

During the event, the 2021-2022 Sapphire Scholars were recognized, including Penny Amason of Kiowa, OK; Maggie Armstrong of McAlester, OK; Kyla Faulkenberry of Talihina, OK; Esther Ferrier of Marlow, OK; Makeba Fussell of Pittsburg, OK; Ashleigh Gay of Washington, OK; Diana Guerrero of Brownsville, TX; Lane Howe of Fort Gibson, OK; Kristy Martin of Red Oak, OK; and Trista Ober of Red Oak, OK.

The college also presented awards at the Sapphire Ball for outstanding alumni, community supporters and employees.

Betty Wharton of Broken Bow (Class of 1973) and Marvin Faulkenberry Jr. of McAlester (Class of 1980) received the Distinguished Alumnus Award, presented annually to alumni who have distinguished themselves professionally and through service to the college.

Wharton is a nurse, adjunct instructor and director of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma’s Healthy Aging Program. A graduate of Broken Bow High School, Wharton earned her associate and bachelor’s degrees as part of the inaugural nursing classes at Eastern and East Central University. She also earned a master’s degree in clinical nursing from the University of Oklahoma. Throughout her career, Wharton has been served on numerous boards and taskforces to improve health care and health education on a multistate level. She developed and implemented an aeromedical transport service for southeast Oklahoma when air ambulances were a relatively new concept. She also served on the initial taskforce to establish telemedicine in Oklahoma, as well as the initial design of the now SoonerCare program. Wharton developed Institutional Review Boards for human research protection for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the Chickasaw Nation. She is a current adjunct nursing instructor at Eastern, where she was once a full-time instructor and director of the Nursing program. On the national level, Wharton serves as a National Council Licensure Examination Specialist for registered nurse and licensed practical nurse reviews throughout the United States. She also tutors and precepts nursing students from various nursing programs to enhance the nursing workforce nationwide. 

Faulkenberry is a retired educator and coach. After graduating from Crowder High School, Faulkenberry earned an associate degree of health, physical education and recreation from Eastern and a bachelor’s degree in English from Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Faulkenberry spent the majority of his 37-year education career at Hartshorne Public Schools before retiring in 2020. During his career, he taught English, journalism, photography, yearbook, speech and drama. He also coached football, basketball, softball and track. Faulkenberry was twice selected as the Hartshorne Education Association Teacher of the Year by his peers, and was also twice voted the Charles N. Curliss Teacher of the Year by students. His athletic teams frequently had successful seasons, particularly on the softball field with 12 state tournament appearances and two state finalist teams. In 1994, he was selected as the Large East All-State Coach. In 2005, Faulkenberry was named Coach of the Year, awarded a 400-win plaque and inducted into the Oklahoma Slow-Pitch Softball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Faulkenberry had 22 softball players selected as All-State during his coaching career.

The Health & Wellness Center (HWC) received the Community Spirit Award for outstanding support and service to Eastern and the local community. The Health & Wellness Center is the largest rural Community Health Center in Oklahoma and has been providing high quality healthcare to southeastern Oklahoma since 2005. HWC offers integrated medical, dental, optometry, behavioral health counseling and psychiatry, residential and outpatient substance use disorder treatment, and pharmacy services. HWC services nearly 34,000 patients annually at seven healthcare clinics in Checotah, Eufaula, Poteau, Sallisaw, Stigler, Warner and Wilburton. HWC continues to expand its services in southeast Oklahoma. The Pines of Poteau is the newest recovery facility in the HWC network, providing substance use disorder treatment for adult males, In 2021, HWC also added the oversight of 20 Adventure Head Start facilities to provide early education and care to nearly 700 children in southeast Oklahoma. HWC has partnered with Eastern to provide medical and behavioral health services to students for nearly 10 years.

The President’s Excellence in Teaching Award will be presented to Kellye Semeski of McAlester. She has taught computer information systems at Eastern since 2014 and served as an adjunct instructor for the college for 10 years prior to becoming a full-time faculty member. In addition to her teaching duties, Semeski serves as the instructional designer for the college and is responsible for designing courses or curriculums and creating training materials, such as teaching manuals and student guides for all of Eastern’s online learning platforms. During her time at Eastern, Semeski has contributed to numerous committees for accreditation, student success and event planning. She has served as the Faculty Council Chair, co-chair of the Sapphire Ball planning committee, and member of the Distance Learning Committee, Homecoming Planning Committee, and the Advisory Council for Eastern’s Student Success. As co-advisor for Eastern’s Phi Theta Kappa honor society, Semeski helps organize the voter registration campaign, Toys for Tots service project, and College Completion initiative. An Eastern alumna, Semeski earned an associate of arts in secondary education in 1997. She also earned a bachelor’s degree in business and office technology and a master’s degree in technology education from East Central University. In 2016, Semeski was the recipient of the Phi Theta Kappa Horizon Award.

The J.C. Hunt Award for staff excellence was presented to Mimi Brown Kelley of McAlester. Kelley has spent her entire 36-year professional career in the Financial Aid Office at Eastern. She started as a student worker in 1986, began full-time in 1988 and now serves as the Director of Financial Aid. Kelley has also taught courses in sociology and child development since 1991. Kelley has served on numerous committees during her time at Eastern, including the Advisory Council for Eastern’s Student Success, the Scholarship Committee, Financial Aid Appeals Committee, Budget Committee, and United Ministry Board. A member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Kelley has also been involved in ministry in the area for more than 10 years. An Eastern alumna, Kelley earned an associate degree in business administration in 1987. She also earned a bachelor’s degree in human service counseling and a master’s degree in human resources from East Central University.

A total of 28 corporate, organization and individual donors contributed to the success of the event as event sponsors and fund donors, while another 83 businesses and individuals donated items for the live and online auctions.

Eastern President Dr. Janet Wansick (third from left) gathers with honorees at the 2022 Sapphire Ball. Honorees include (from left to right) Kellye Semeski, President’s Excellence in Teaching Award; Betty Wharton and Marvin Faulkenberry, Distinguished Alumnus Awards; Mimi Kelley, J.C. Hunt Award for Staff Excellence; and Teresa Huggins of The Health & Wellness Center, President’s Community Spirit Award.