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West Texas A&M University
Alumni Association eNewsletter
MARCH 2017

West Texas A&M University Alumni Association eNewsletter - Let's Catch Up,

Four to be Honored at Annual Phoenix Banquet

Four West Texas A&M University alumni—a world-renowned auctioneer, a retired Silicon Valley-partnered attorney, an innovative professional sports/entertainer insurance broker and a national leader in nuclear physics—will be recognized when the University presents its prestigious Distinguished Alumni Awards at the 54th annual Phoenix Banquet April 22 on campus.

The annual event is the University’s opportunity to recognize and honor the best of WTAMU’s alumni. The four honorees—Tom ‘Spanky’ Assiter II ’79, ’81, Debra Summers ’74, Alex Fairly ’85, and Dr. John Meason ’59—were selected for outstanding contributions to their professions and community from a field of many other successful nominees. This year’s recipients have achieved exceptional success in each of their respective professions since graduating from WT, proving that a degree from West Texas A&M University more than prepares students for rewarding and successful careers.  

Spanky Assiter earned a bachelor’s degree from WTSU in mass communications in 1979. Childhood dreams of being a square-dance caller or an auctioneer went by the wayside as he joined the workforce at the local Budweiser affiliate. It was there that he was enticed to go back and earn his master’s degree at WT in 1981, but it was an opportunity at a local auction house that altered the course of his life.

Traveling far and wide to study the techniques of different types of auctioneers, Assister developed his own unique and versatile style and eventually founded his own auctioneering firm of Assiter & Associates. He has auctioned off an exciting variety of items including the Batmobile and a 1966 Shelby Cobra 427 Super Snake for $5.5 million. He was even named World Champion Automobile Auctioneer in 2005, but he admits a local estate auction for a community member needing the money is what makes his job worth it.

“Spanky Assiter may be the greatest auctioneer of his generation,” Dr. Neil Terry, dean of the College of Business at WTAMU, said. “Whether it be real estate auction, car auction or benefit auction, Spanky has a stage presence that encourages competitive bidding between buyers resulting in greater profit for his clients.”   

After graduating from WTSU in 1974, Debra Summers took a job with Amstar Corporation in her hometown of Dimmitt. She made such an impression that she was soon transferred to the corporate home office in San Francisco. It was Amstar that encouraged her to enroll at the University of San Francisco to attend law school, where she graduated summa cum laude.  

A distinguished career in law followed. Summers became one of the first female partners at the premier Silicone Valley law firm of Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati, where she was fierce practitioner of real estate and later environmental law. She provided legal counsel to leading technology and growth companies and was a key factor in many decisions regarding environmental laws in California. She also appeared and prevailed before the California Supreme Court. 

“For those of us that worked with her, she was a fun, intense, self-effacing role model for a generation of women. Though she built her career in the multicultural, sophisticated business climate of Northern California, she never lost her small-town Dimmitt, Texas, outlook or accent.” said fellow attorney Marcia Kemp Sterling.  

When Alex Fairly graduated from WTSU in 1985, he immediately began to develop the “out of the box” approach he is known so well known for. A career that began as a database analyst, Fairly worked his way through the ranks until he landed an opportunity at Hilb, Rogal & Hamilton Company (HRH) as an insurance producer. Working for one of the world’s largest publicly-traded insurance and risk management companies, Fairly had found his calling.   

As Fairly’s client list began to prosper, he discovered an area that became the most passionate part of his career, representing the sports and entertainment industry. Starting with the Amarillo Rattlers in 1997, Fairly was soon representing the entire Western Professional Hockey League followed by the East Coast Hockey League.  

HRH eventually became Willis Towers Watson and in February of 2016, it became The Fairly Group. Now with superstar clients like Major League Baseball, the National Football League, Viacom and many more, The Fairly Group is the nationally recognized leader in the risk management field.  

“When his efforts take him to the largest cities in the United States and he is asked how he could ever develop such a successful insurance and risk management practice in Amarillo, Texas he is always quick to praise his team and brag about his roots in the area including his education at WTSU.” said friend Barry Odell.  

Dr. John Meason graduated from WTSU in 1959 with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry. He continued his education at the University of Arkansas where he earned a Master of Science in nuclear chemistry and a Doctor of Philosophy in nuclear chemistry and physics.  

His expertise was soon recruited by the United States Army where he was commissioned as a U.S. Army major while serving at White Sands Missile Range. For several decades, Meason led a community of scientists and engineers to ensure U.S. weapon systems remain operational following an enemy detonation of a nuclear weapon. He eventually became the director of the Nuclear Effects Directorate at White Sands, the nation’s only Directorate in the Department of Defense.  

After retirement, Meason accepted a position as the Director of the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NMT) and embarked on the second half of his career as an educator. At NMT, Meason expanded his department into areas such as semiconductor testing and research, cyber security research, kinetic-cyber research and training and counter homemade explosives research. He also doubled the university’s annual contract activity from $25 million to $56 million per year.  

“When I worked in the Pentagon for the Secretary of Defense, Dr. Meason was recognized as an innovator and entrepreneur at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range. I regularly cited his work to Navy and U.S. Air Force personnel as someone to emulate. He consistently delivered test services to developers of military equipment destined for all three military services and enabled them to provide quality systems to our men and women in uniform.” said friend and colleague John V. Bolino.  

This year’s banquet will be Saturday, April 22 in the Jack B. Kelley Student Center, Legacy Hall. Dinner and awards begin at 6 p.m., followed by a dessert reception. Tickets are $50 per person and can be purchased by calling 806-651-2311.

WT Alumna Nurtures Love of
Performance with Children

By Brittany Castillo ’14

At age three, WT alumna Meagan Avila discovered her love for performance. She danced, acted and sang for the next 20 years, honing skills that could take her to Broadway. But what she did not expect was the opportunity to nurture that same love of performance in the children of some of Broadway’s biggest stars.

In 2015, Avila moved into her Harlem apartment and one month later was sent on the first babysitting gig for Broadway Babysitters, LLC. As one of the original employees, she helped create a service for Broadway performers who wanted to give their children performance lessons in addition to quality childcare. Actresses Jen Malenke and Vasthy Mompoint created the company on the premise that babysat children could be engaged and educated in the fine arts rather than solely supervised, and they hired sitters from the theater industry to implement this idea. While Avila was moving in, then roommate Malenke noticed her high energy and asked her to join.

“All the babysitters are performers, so each of us have certain skill sets we share with the kids. I teach ballet, tap and jazz, and charge a performance lesson fee on top of the babysitting costs,” Avila said. “We are up to 40 babysitters now and if we have last minute auditions pop up, we pick up jobs for each other. I didn’t know how I was going to work and go on auditions, so the flexibility was the biggest blessing.”

Avila’s clients are featured in award-winning shows like Chicago, Waitress, Jersey Boys, Something Rotten and the popular television series How I Met Your Mother. She also works for a partner in one of NYC’s most prestigious law firms and has been treated like a member of the family.

“They’ve taken me to West Palm Beach and the Hamptons, I’ve celebrated the kids second and third birthdays, and they’ve given me a room in their home,” Avila said. “The parents are so great to me and invested in my life asking about my family, auditions and life outside babysitting. They’re my family here in New York.”

Avila grew up performing in Amarillo Little Theater dancing and singing as soon as she could walk and talk. She became a regular performer in the TEXAS musical and was featured in Legally Blonde, Into the Woods, Drowsy Chaperone, and Urinetown at WT. In 2014, she graduated with a B.A. in musical theatre and aspires to become a professional performer and eventually, an educator. Avila continues to train and perform when she is not sharing her gifts with the children of NYC.

“I just want to move people. Whether that’s on Broadway, singing at dinner on a cruise ship, performing with a street sign for my church, teaching in a class room or teaching the kids I babysit, I want to bring people into a world different than the one outside theatre,” Avila said. “I’m a performer, and I will be happy finding a way to do that for the rest of my life.”

Is Your Near-Grad Ready for the Next Step?

If you have a WT Junior or Senior student in your life, be sure they know about the upcoming Grad's Guide to Life, Things to Know Before You Go event. With short sessions led by WT Alumni, our near-grads will learn about retirement, insurance, building their personal brand, considering graduate school, buying a home, auto maintenance, WT's Career Services and more.

A free event open to WT juniors and seniors and sponsored by the WT Alumni Association.

From the Director

Dear Buff Family:

It was a privilege this month to interview our Distinguished Alumni Award recipients and several of the people who know them best. Each year we add to this list of impressive alumni, who are wonderful representation of the success to be found after graduating from WT.

Following dinner and the awards presentation, we have a relaxed 'sweets and fizz' dessert party where you will have the chance to visit with our recipients, fellow alumni and friends.

Please join us in honoring our alumni on April 22nd. 

Go Buffs,
Becky Stogner

Upcoming Events

April 22
54th Annual Phoenix Banquet and Distinguished Alumni Awards 6 p.m. 

May 6
WT Night with The Amarillo Venom, game time 7 p.m.
Alumni: use code "WT" at for special $10 tickets. 

May 12
Spring Ring Ceremony 4 p.m.
Jack B. Kelley Student Center, Legacy Hall

May 13
Spring Commencement
10 a.m. College of Education and Social Sciences
10 a.m. School of Engineering, Computer Science and Mathematics
2 p.m. Sybil B. Harrington College of Fine Arts and Humanities
2 p.m. College of Nursing and Health Sciences
6 p.m. College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences
6 p.m. College of Business

Oct. 14
Mark your calendar now for Homecoming 2017! - for details on upcoming events
University calendar - for a complete schedule of campus events
gobuffsgo  - for complete schedule of WT athletic events - for a complete schedule of Your Community, Your University presentations

WTAMU Alumni Association 102 N 25th Street, Canyon TX 79016
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