Eastern Oklahoma State College

Donors surpass $38,000 in record-breaking scholarship fundraiser at Eastern Oklahoma State College

April 13, 2023

WILBURTON, Okla. – For the second consecutive year, donors set a new record for the amount of scholarship funds raised during Eastern Oklahoma State College’s annual Sapphire Ball. The college’s largest fundraising event raised $38,047.47 for the Sapphire Scholarship Fund at Eastern.

“The Sapphire Ball has raised more than $270,000 in student scholarship funds since it began in 2010,” said Eastern President Dr. Janet Wansick. “While our well-deserving students are already benefiting from these scholarships, the long-term impact of these fundraising efforts and our engagement with Eastern supporters is undeniable. I would like to extend my deep gratitude to all those who attended the Sapphire Ball, sponsored the event, donated an item to the auction, or made a financial contribution in any way. You are making a difference in our students’ lives.”

During the event, the 2022-2023 Sapphire Scholars scholarship recipients were recognized, including Lane Brown of Wilburton, OK; Mikayla Doane of Wilburton, OK; Matthew Emmerson of McAlester, OK; McKinley Feazle of Ada, OK; Daniel Klassen of Lookeba, OK; Lainee Knowles of Talihina, OK; Madison Martin of Aubrey, TX; Hailey Monks of Quinton, OK; Judah Owen of Eufaula, OK; and Grace Williams of Quinton, OK.

The college also presented awards at the Sapphire Ball for outstanding alumni, community supporters and employees. This year’s Distinguished Alumni included Kelbie Kennedy of Buffalo Valley, OK (Class of 2010) and Jack Austin, Jr. of Tuskahoma, Okla. (Class of 1998). In addition, the Oklahoma Small Business Development Center received the President’s Community Spirit Award, Larriann Livingston of Wilburton received the President’s Excellence in Teaching Award, and Kelly Bogard of McAlester was recognized with the J.C. Hunt Award for Staff Excellence.

A native of southeast Oklahoma and a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Kelbie Kennedy recently became the first Tribal Affairs political appointee in the history of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. President Joe Biden appointed Kennedy as the first FEMA National Tribal Affairs Advocate in October 2022 to advise the FEMA Administrator on all tribal affairs and work to ensure that FEMA lives up to its treaty responsibilities to all Tribal Nations. Kennedy has focused her career on the field of Federal Indian Law and has worked to strengthen tribal sovereignty and self-determination for future generations. Before her presidential appointment, Kennedy spent more than four years working for the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) to improve federal policies that impact tribal emergency management, tribal homeland security, and violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women. She played a key role in reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act in 2022, which reinforced tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian perpetrators in Indian country. Before working at NCAI, Kennedy served as the Assistant Attorney General for Chuuk State in the Federated States of Micronesia, prosecuting both criminal and civil cases on behalf of the Indigenous government. A 2010 Eastern graduate, Kennedy received her J.D. and certificate in American Indian Law from the University of Oklahoma, College of Law.

Jack Austin, Jr. has served as the Assistant Chief of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma since 2014. In this role, he implements strategies designed to increase and sustain revenue streams, while directing capital expenditures and asset redeployment activities. He communicates and negotiates in an executive role on behalf of the Choctaw Nation for governing purposes with other tribal nations and state and federal political officials. He participates in veterans advocacy programming, serves as a member of the Choctaw Nation Honor Guard and is a volunteer counselor for the Veterans Advocacy Military Support Initiative to mentor high school students interested in military careers. Austin began working for the tribe in 1991 with a position in the Choctaw Nation Health Care System after being honorably discharged from the U.S. Army after four years of service. Austin attended Eastern as a nontraditional, working adult and completed his associate degree in 1998. He also earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in education from East Central University. He is also a certified behavioral health case manager.

The Oklahoma Small Business Development Center received the Community Spirit Award for outstanding support and service to Eastern and the local community. OKSBDC is a statewide program that provides confidential, no-cost entrepreneurial and business management advising to help start and grow small businesses in Oklahoma. Advisors work directly with entrepreneurs and small business owners in all 77 counties with services including financial analysis, capital sources, industry research, international trade, market research, digital marketing and social media, management support, emergency preparedness, business survival planning, economic impact analysis, economic gardening, and geographic information systems. In 2016, Eastern partnered with OKSBDC to create the Four County Small Business Consortium which was the first of its kind in Oklahoma. The Consortium is made up of private and public partners in Latimer, Haskell, Pittsburg and LeFlore counties who provide the funding to support the salary of two dedicated business advisors for small businesses in the area. In 2022, the partnership served 182 clients which included 12 new business starts, 40 new jobs created, more than $5.7 million in loans and $872,500 in individual investment.

Larriann Livingston was recognized with the President’s Excellence in Teaching Award. An Eastern alumna, Livingston returned to Wilburton in 2018 to start her career as an instructor of agriculture and agronomy and serve as the coach of the soils judging team. She now serves as the dean of the agriculture division which oversees operations of both the college farm and the meat processing facility, along with academic programs and judging teams. During her time at Eastern, Livingston has contributed to numerous committees such as the academic leadership council, faculty council, scholarship committee, textbook committee and the professional development committee. She serves as the Aggie Club sponsor and Ag Ambassador program co-sponsor and played a pivotal role in obtaining a $600,000 grant to update the meat processing facility. After graduating from Eastern, Livingston attended Oklahoma State University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science and natural resources in agricultural communications and a master’s degree in international agriculture. Livingston was awarded the Honorary State FFA Degree and named a NextGen Oklahoma Under 30 honoree in 2020.

The J.C. Hunt Award for staff excellence was presented to Kelly Bogard of McAlester. Bogard has served as the executive assistant to the dean of the McAlester Campus since 2006. Throughout her 17 years at Eastern, Bogard has participated in many events including Trunk or Treat, Relay for Life, Robbers Cave State Park Fall Festival, McAlester Art Exhibit, Toys for Tots, Voter Registration Drive, Old Town Festival, Veterans Day parades and Homecoming. While working at Eastern, Bogard began taking classes and graduated in the top 10 percent of her class with an associate degree in both general studies and psychology. She was also named the Outstanding Graduate in the Behavioral and Social Sciences Division. Bogard is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and has served on the McAlester Public School Adult Ed Advisory Council and Eastern’s Financial Aid Appeals Committee. She is ordained through the Universal Life Church and writes Christian poetry and true-life short stories. She is actively working on a manuscript based on the history of some notable members of her family and hopes to one day become a published author.

A total of 25 corporate, organization and individual donors contributed to the success of the event as event sponsors and fund donors, while another 61 businesses and individuals donated items for the live and online auctions.

Group of 5 women and 1 man holding awards

Eastern President Dr. Janet Wansick (far left) gathers with honorees at the 2023 Sapphire Ball. Honorees include (from left to right) Kelbie Kennedy, Distinguished Alumnus Award; Larriann Livingston, President’s Excellence in Teaching Award; Kelly Bogard, J.C. Hunt Award for Staff Excellence; Michele Campbell Hockersmith of the Oklahoma Small Business Development Center, President’s Community Spirit Award; and Jack Austin, Jr., Distinguished Alumnus Award.