Distinguished Service Awards granted at Muskingum College 2005 Alumni Weekend
Culminating this year's Alumni Weekend at Muskingum College was the presentation today of the Distinguished Service Award (DSA) to three alumni in recognition of their personal and professional achievements. The award is the college's highest alumni honor.
Receiving the awards were: Dr. James F. Burson ’63, Muskingum College professor of health and physical education and longtime head basketball coach; Lota Echols Mitchell ’56, a nationally recognized expert and advocate on Prader-Willi syndrome; and Shirley Kimmel Wagner ’51, a New Philadelphia educator and philanthropist. Presenting the awards was Gordon F. Litt ’80, president of the college's Alumni Council.
Dr. James Burson ’63
Dr. James F. Burson graduated from Muskingum College in 1963 and earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from The Ohio State University. He returned to Muskingum as assistant basketball coach in 1964 to begin one of the great careers in college basketball history. He became head men’s basketball coach in 1967.
Throughout his 41-year coaching career, Dr. Burson has devoted his energies to amateur basketball at its highest levels. In addition to his record as Muskingum’s all-time “winningest” basketball coach, he coached at the Olympic Sports Festival in 1988 and was involved in the selection process for the 1984 Olympic team that won the Gold Medal in Los Angeles. USA Basketball, the national governing body for men’s and women’s basketball in the United States, named Jim Burson to its prestigious list of “USA Men’s Olympic Festival All-Time Coaches.”
Sports Illustrated featured Dr. Burson in February, 2003, crediting him with “cracking the code” of the famous and complex Princeton Offense. The coach again made national news early in 2005 when he announced his decision to retire after a stellar career that included his being named Ohio Athletic Conference Coach of the Year six times (1973, 1977, 1988, 1990, 200 and 2005). Former player Stephen Day told The Columbus Dispatch that Dr. Burson’s devotion to his players never changed throughout his career: “Coach Burson was a guy who cared about his players and really communicated with them. You give him loyalty and he gives you loyalty right back. I can’t say enough about him.”
This April, Dr. Burson took office as president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC), the largest professional association of men’s basketball coaches at all levels in the United States. He is the first Ohio coach to be elected to the NABC presidency since The Ohio State University’s head coach Fred Taylor held the office from 1972 to 1973. Founded in 1927, the NABC has a current membership of nearly 5,000 men’s basketball coaches throughout the ranks of the NCAA, NAIA, junior and community colleges and high schools. Since its beginning, the organization has worked to further the best interests of the game of basketball, as well as the players and coaches who participate in the sport.
Lota Echols Mitchell ’56
Her leadership in educating families and medical professionals about Prader-Willi syndrome, a rare congenital disorder, has brought international recognition to Lota Echols Mitchell. Family Circle magazine honored her in its “Women Making a Difference” section in 2001, the same year she began a three-year term as president of the national Prader-Willi Syndrome Association (PWSA). Mrs. Mitchell chaired the board of PWSA (USA) from 1987 to 1992. She also was instrumental in initiating the Prader-Willi syndrome program at the renowned Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh in 1981.
Today, the year-round comprehensive inpatient program for children and adults is the only one of its kind. Since its founding, approximately 500 people from around the world, some as young as four, have found help at the institute.
Mrs. Mitchell’s concern with PWS began in 1969 when her daughter, Julie, was born with the disorder, which causes an unrelenting feeling of hunger as well as low muscle tone, short stature, cognitive disabilities and behavioral problems.
Very little was then known about PWS so families were left to fend for themselves. Mrs. Mitchell was studying toward a master’s degree in social work at the University of Pittsburgh and she began writing a paper about the syndrome in 1979. “I put together some practical advice about locking away food and clearing the table,” she told Family Circle. Her paper, Overview of the Prader-Willi syndrome, was published in the spring of 1981 and immediately became a widely used resource for PWSA (USA). Today, her helpful guide is available in libraries from the United States to Australia and at PWSA (USA)’s website www.pwsausa.org.
As a licensed social worker, Mrs. Mitchell spent 20 years as an employee assistance program counselor in Pittsburgh with Sandra Solomon Associates, Inc. She also has taught parenting skills classes at the YWCA, counseled parents of developmentally delayed children, presented programs on stress management and conducted seminars in listening skills training as well as grief and loss. She currently serves as a board member and secretary of Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Western Pennsylvania.
Chosen as PWSA’s Honoree of the Year, Mrs. Mitchell continues to dedicate her time and energy to helping others. She continues to write and serves as associate editor of The Gathering View, the national newsletter of PWSA (USA).
Shirley Kimmel Wagner ’51
After graduating from Muskingum College in 1951, Shirley Kimmel Wagner returned to her native New Philadelphia, where she taught health and physical education until 1958. Nine years later she returned to the classroom and taught kindergarten until she retired in 1984.
Mrs. Wagner has been a catalyst for enhancing the quality of life in Tuscarawas County. Her efforts to strengthen the arts and cultural amenities have made the region a more attractive place to live and work. Her support of the performing and visual arts has helped turn the county into one of Ohio’s most distinctive and attractive tourist destinations.
The Little Theatre of Tuscarawas County, for example, where Mrs. Wagner has been a longtime patron and volunteer, is a source of entertainment for audiences and an opportunity for local talent to perform. The abundant educational and cultural opportunities at the Tuscarawas County Center for the Arts, another of her projects, also encourage participation in and appreciation of arts and cultural programs for residents of Tuscarawas and surrounding counties. Rapidly creating new tourism opportunities and amenities, the new facility is becoming a focal point for the teaching of the visual arts and music for adults and children. It also provides an exhibition site for the region’s creative artists and students and a meeting place for writers, artists and educators.
At the Tuscora Park Amphitheater, Mrs. Wagner’s efforts for the popular Summer Showcase move the arts forward and enhance the cultural life of the region. She was the sponsor of the first Summer Showcase performance of the 2005 season, “Big, Bad, Bodacious Brass & Scott Miller.” Each Sunday evening throughout the summer, friends and families gather at the park to enjoy the outdoor entertainment under the stars.
Mrs. Wagner’s commitment to Ohio’s future is also evident in her dedication to Muskingum College, where she is the founder of the Guy O. Kimmel Scholarship in memory of her late father. She also supports New Philadelphia High School students through the Quaker Foundation, which helps graduates earn college degrees. Her service to Muskingum extends to her membership on its Alumni Council since 1996 and her co-chairmanship of the Dover–New Philadelphia Campaign for Muskingum College.
IN THE PHOTO: Pictured from left to right are Muskingum College Alumni Council President Gordon F. Litt ’80, Lota Echols Mitchell ’56, Dr. James F. Burson ’63, Shirley Kimmel Wagner ’51 and Muskingum College President Anne C. Steele.