The West Virginia University Alumni Association will celebrate recipients of the 2023 Homecoming and Alumni Service Awards during Homecoming Week, Oct. 16-22. Recognizing the accomplishments of alumni around the globe, these awards honor individuals who represent service, commitment and loyalty to their alma mater.
“The WVU Alumni Association is honored to celebrate this esteemed group of alumni who have made significant contributions to their communities, industries and our beloved alma mater,” Kevin Berry, vice president of Alumni Relations, said. “This year’s Homecoming Awards pay tribute to the accomplishments of these outstanding individuals and their enduring connection to WVU. They are the embodiment of our Mountaineer values.”
Farai Simoyi (‘05) has been selected as the grand marshal for the 2023 Homecoming Parade set to take place at 6 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 20, along High Street in downtown Morgantown. Following her graduation from the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, Simoyi embarked on a journey in fashion design and education. She played a pivotal role in the creation of sustainable clothing with Thoughts for Threads, and collaborated with major retailers like Walmart, Target and Macy’s. Simoyi’s talent led her to become a denim designer at House of Dereon, a venture co-founded by Beyoncé and her mother, Tina Knowles. Simoyi has collaborated with fashion luminaries and celebrities such as Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Justin Timberlake, Anne Klein and Robert Rodriguez. Currently, Simoyi and her husband are co-owners of The Narativ House, a retail concept store in Brooklyn, New York. The store features ethical and sustainable goods which embody Simoyi’s passion for responsible fashion. In addition to her entrepreneurial endeavors, Simoyi serves as director and professor in the fashion design programs at Thomas Jefferson University. Along with her professional achievements, Simoyi cherishes her roles as mother to her 5-year-old son, Sunny, and wife to her husband, Ayo.
Loyal alumni Dr. Jo Ann and David Shaw (‘86) of Wheeling stand as paragons of dedication and generosity, earning them the celebrated title of 2023 Outstanding Alumni. Their legacy of innovation, education and transformation at WVU has left a mark on the institution and continues to benefit the University and West Virginia communities. In 2022, the Shaws bestowed a transformative gift which paved the way for expanded education and enhanced health and well-being resources, benefiting student-athletes, medical students and families across the Mountain State. Former health care professionals, the Shaws have demonstrated an enduring commitment to health care education in West Virginia. David, a 1986 alumnus of the School of Pharmacy, served as a pharmacist, retiring from Kroger. Jo Ann, who earned her medical degree from WVU in 1986, specialized in pathology, leaving a lasting impact before her retirement in 2010.
Gina and Joe Wells (‘87), who are pillars of dedication, will be honored with the David W. Jacobs Lifetime Service Award. Joe, a graduate of the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, and Gina, an alumna of Health Sciences, have exemplified their exceptional devotion to WVU through their generosity and a commitment of time and talent in support of the broader University community. They are inaugural members of the WVU Alumni Tower Society, supporting the operations and activities of The Erickson Alumni Center.
Beyond their financial contributions, Gina and Joe were the driving force behind the resurgence of the Greater Pittsburgh Chapter of the WVU Alumni Association. Joe’s leadership as a past chapter president and his tenure on the WVU Alumni Association Board of Directors were instrumental in reinvigorating that alumni community. Joe and Gina have also served as volunteer leaders with the Mountaineer Parents Club. The couple’s enduring Mountaineer spirit is showcased during home football game weekends at the Erickson Alumni Center as members of the Hail WV! Society. Joe and Gina are the parents of three adult children.
A testament to his service and leadership, Steven Saab (‘15) will receive the 2023 Margaret Buchanan Cole Young Alumni Award. As a young professional hailing from Morgantown, Saab is committed to leadership and service in his local community. He is actively involved in shaping the future of WVU engineering students through his service on the Statler College Industrial and Management Systems Engineering Visiting Committee. Additionally, Saab extends his impact beyond campus with his commitment to the betterment of the community through his roles with the United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties, the Monongalia County Nonprofit Collaborative and as a graduate of the Leadership Monongalia Class of 2023. He also contributes to the wider footprint of the WVU Alumni Association as an active member and volunteer for The University Chapter of the WVU Alumni Association.
Saab’s devotion to WVU was also recognized in 2015, when he was honored as the 2015 Ultimate Mountaineer Fan. A dedicated Mountaineer prior to his days as a student, Saab has attended every home football game since childhood.
Dr. Cathy Funk (‘94, ‘98) will be recognized with the James R. McCartney Community Service Award for outstanding citizenship and community service. Following the completion of her residency at the School of Medicine, Funk returned to her roots in the Eastern Panhandle, driven by a profound commitment to care for those in her local community.
In 2011, her dedication was rewarded when she was appointed to the West Virginia Board of Medicine by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin for her expertise and leadership in the medical field. Funk’s deep-rooted belief in giving back led her to coordinate free sports physicals for students, underscoring her passion for well-being in her community.
Funk’s impact was magnified in 2022 when, despite a three-year hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, she assumed the role of chair for the Berkeley County Schools’ free physicals event. The event served more than 500 students in the area, highlighting her leadership and dedication to the health and welfare of the community’s youth. Currently serving as a clinical associate professor on the Eastern Campus of WVU Medicine, Funk continues to serve her community through her professional expertise and disposition for service.
Robert Dailey (‘67) will receive the Paul B. “Buck” Martin Values and Traditions Award in acknowledgment of his steadfast commitment to guiding and supporting students in the Davis College. Dailey’s academic journey commenced with his bachelor’s degree in animal sciences from WVU. He furthered his education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he earned a master’s degree. Before completing his doctoral degree, Dailey served honorably for two years in the U.S. Army. In 1977, Dailey returned to his undergraduate alma mater and over the years has garnered numerous accolades for excellence in teaching, research and service. Among his many honors, he received the prestigious WVU Foundation Award for Outstanding Teaching in 1997, the Benedum Distinguished Scholar in Biosciences and Health Sciences in 2001 and the Ethel and Gerry Heebink Award for Distinguished State Service in 2010. His involvement in the state dairy industry earned him recognition as a West Virginia Dairy Show awardee. Dailey’s many years of service to the West Virginia FFA earned him an Honorary American FFA Degree.
Dailey’s commitment to teaching and mentoring extends to his role as the Davis-Michael Coordinator in the Davis College Division of Animal and Nutritional Sciences as he continues to prepare students for success in veterinary school. Dailey has also received several notable awards including the West Virginia Veterinary Medical Association’s Veterinary Service Award, the American Society of Animal Science Fellowship, as well as induction into the West Virginia Agriculture and Forestry Hall of Fame.
Loren Lazear (‘85) is the recipient of the John F. Nicholas Jr. Award for his outstanding contributions and unwavering commitment to his alma mater through the Emerald Coast Chapter of the WVU Alumni Association.
In 2020, after nearly 35 years in leadership positions at ExxonMobil, Lazear embarked on a new journey marked by his passion for community engagement and support of WVU with the Emerald Coast Chapter in the greater Pensacola, Florida area. Under Lazear’s passionate leadership, the chapter has continued to grow, fostering a strong sense of community in the Florida Panhandle.
Inspired by a WVU webinar and the desire to improve youth literacy, Lazear and members of the chapter have installed 10 Little Free Libraries throughout Pensacola. This spring marked a milestone when the 10,000th free book distributed through the chapter was placed in one of their libraries. Lazear’s unwavering support for his alma mater and the WVU Alumni Association extends beyond the Emerald Coast Chapter. He consistently seeks opportunities to lend his leadership, volunteerism and service to further the goals and values of WVU. Hailing from Wheeling, Loren and his wife, Laurie, currently reside in Pensacola, making time for their children, Michael and Allie, through frequent visits.
The WVU Alumni Association awardees will be recognized at the Homecoming parade on Friday, Oct. 20, and during halftime of the WVU vs. Oklahoma State University football game on Saturday, Oct. 21.
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