On Saturday, May 4th, 2019, The Pensacola State College Distinguished Alumni Awards Gala celebrated the achievements of outstanding PSC alumni.
Eight honorees were recognized for exemplary leadership, career accomplishment and impact on their community and the College.
Respected by friends and colleagues as a man who “gets things done” while accepting nothing less than excellence, Gary A. DeLapp has earned the loyalty and respect of high-ranking U. S. and international business associates during his 40 plus years in the hotel industry.
Regarded as a self-made success, Gary rose from hotel dishwasher to a senior vice president of operations early within his hotel industry career. By expertly crafting hotel brands, Gary led multiple hotel companies as CEO to significant expansions. In the case of one company, he grew the brand from 100 to 700 hotels in less than 48 months. Ultimately, Gary’s efforts resulted in investors realizing significant gains upon the sale of the hotel brands.
The early chapters of Gary’s success story include the time he spent as a student at Pensacola State College where he joined Delta Kappa Alpha, a fraternity whose mission statement includes building lifelong character, ethical and productive business practices, philanthropic action, and fraternal bonds.
In keeping with the tenets of “the brotherhood,” Delta Kappa Alpha, Gary surrounds himself with other outstanding leaders, and fosters an open dialogue in the spirit of camaraderie and growth. He has asked for no reward and he has sought no glory. He has placed character above wealth and his actions will follow his word.
Throughout a lifetime of achievements, Gary has never lost sight of the importance of friendships and family. Admired by friends and associates for his ethics, integrity and compassion, Gary maintains a positive outlook. In both professional and personal circles, Gary is known to be a loyal and trusted business colleague, friend and devoted husband and father.
For Jarl “J.T.” Young, his odyssey of enduring success didn’t begin by looking forward but by looking up at the stars during an elementary school field trip to the PSC Planetarium.
His love of learning was passed down from his sister, who used an improvised driveway chalkboard to teach him math. She also inspired her younger brother to retrace her steps as a dual-enrollee at PSC where he studied pre-engineering.
The College has always been a family tradition. It began with his parents, who contributed to WSRE, and his uncle, who taught here. His wife, Deidre served 12 years on the College’s Board of Trustees, and the couple’s sons began their educations at PSC. The Young family has benefitted from the community atmosphere and quality education the College offers.
PSC set Young on the path to the University of Florida, the University of West Florida, and finally Harvard Business School. His leadership acumen and public service have qualified him as a lifetime achiever.
A graduate of Leadership Pensacola and Leadership Florida, Young served as a gubernatorial appointee on the Judicial Nominating Commission for Florida’s First Judicial Circuit.
In 2008, he was awarded the Gulf Power Company Leadership Award. In 2017, he received the PACE Community Leader of the Year Award, and with his usual humility credited others for his success.
Young has served on numerous community boards and chaired the Chief Judge’s Children’s Council Fatherhood Advocacy Committee.
In 2018, he was presented with Pensacola’s MLK Living the Dream Award, where he was recognized as a resident who embodies the American dream that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., envisioned in his inspirational “I Have a Dream” speech.
After a nationwide search in 2018, Young was appointed president and CEO of the Memphis (Tennessee) Light, Gas, and Water Division.
A man of strong faith, Young considers it a blessing to be able to serve his community through mentoring, volunteering, and living a life of integrity.
During her entire professional life, Cherry M. Fitch has dedicated her talent and energy to the enrichment and growth of her hometown, Gulf Breeze, Florida. Through her career, volunteer work and organizational memberships, Fitch has built a legacy of public service and advocacy for education.
Following her father’s advice to begin her education at PSC — ranked as the No. 1 community college in the country at that time — Fitch enrolled in her local community college. At PSC, Fitch found a supportive and inspiring environment that bolstered her confidence and solidified her commitment to the pursuit of higher education.
After receiving a master’s in education, Fitch embarked on a career path that led her to serve as a high school teacher, guidance counselor, principal, realtor, city councilwoman, and ultimately mayor of Gulf Breeze.
The accolades and awards she has garnered at each level of her career are a testament to Fitch’s leadership, integrity and ability to inspire others. Upon retirement from Gulf Breeze High School, Fitch’s passion for higher education inspired the local community to create a scholarship in her honor, thereby continuing her legacy in perpetuity.
For Fitch, retirement meant the beginning of a second career in real estate which has enabled her to continue the pursuit of hometown growth and enrichment. By keeping in touch with new community members — often young professionals with growing families — Fitch’s real estate career positions her to guide the next generation of Gulf Breeze residents to the many community resources available.
As a champion of her community, Fitch’s lifetime of service to her beloved hometown has ensured its future as a strong and viable city and a desired destination for families and business.
Being a hero comes with the territory for Chip Simmons, Escambia County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy. He believes part of serving your community is helping to protect it.
Making Escambia County safer has been a lifelong calling for Simmons who earned his associate degree in criminal justice from PSC and a bachelor degree in the same from Troy University. He went on to receive his master’s degree in public administration from Troy, and later graduated from the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
In 1984, he began his law enforcement career as a corrections officer. In 1986, he was hired by the Pensacola Police Department where he served for 29 years — moving up the ranks. Simmons retired as Pensacola Police Chief in August 2015.
However, for Simmons, being a law enforcement officer never left him. As chief deputy, he is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office which serves and protects nearly 300,000 residents. His assignments have included uniform patrol, investigations, narcotics and SWAT.
Community involvement also is important to Simmons who has served on the board of directors for the Favor House of Northwest Florida Inc. and the Ronald McDonald House — organizations that help women and children. He also was a Pensacola State College Board of Trustees member.
A Leadership Pensacola Class of 2004 graduate, Simmons has received numerous law enforcement accolades, including a Bronze Cross and the Gold Medal of Valor — the latter of which is the police department’s highest award for heroism.
He also has been named to the Police and Firefighters Heroes Hall of Fame and the Pine Forest High School Alumni Hall of Fame. In 2013, he received the Mayor’s Leadership Award.
But Simmons is also a hero at home. He and his wife, Susan, have been married 27 years, and have two sons, Christopher and Garet.
Barry Cole is indisputable evidence that persistence can beat great odds. At 17, the Washington High School graduate went from store to store in Cordova Mall until he was hired by Zales Jewelers. In 1985 at age 22, he partnered with Ray Jones, his former Zales Jewelers manager. With only a modest investment, the pair opened Beré Jewelers.
Sadly, Jones passed away in 2005. Undeterred by the loss, Cole continued to expand the business and in April 2017, he opened a Beré Jewelers flagship location on 12th Avenue. In the first year, the freestanding 7,350-square-foot store doubled its sales volume. Along with the flagship store, the Gulf Breeze location also is thriving.
October will mark Beré Jewelers 34th year in business. However, it hasn’t been all sparkle as Cole is quick to point out. When Jones was alive, one of the stores was robbed. Though Cole could have shot the robber, he chose to let the thief make off with $100,000 worth of jewelry so his partner wouldn’t be killed. Though it was the right choice given the circumstances, it was a setback that hurt the business for years.
A graduate of the Gemological Institute of America, Cole is a member of the Downtown Rotary Club and the Pensacola and Gulf Breeze chambers of commerce. He also has served on the Escambia County Public Schools Foundation, Sacred Heart Foundation, and Gulf Coast Kid’s House.
Cole and his wife, Laura, also support Independence for the Blind, Autism Pensacola, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. The Coles believe their generosity helps others turn probabilities into likelihoods. The couple — both educated in the public school system — say they will always support the College and consider an investment in education to be an investment in the future. Laura is also a PSC graduate.
The Pensacola area is important to Cole who through his personal and professional life, contributes to the local economy. His sons, Conner and Harrison, have taken an interest in the business and the way their father conducts it, so that they, too, can leave shining legacies.
Tom Vaughn credits PSC with helping him learn how to earn his way out of a challenging and disadvantaged childhood.
Vaughn grew up in a house without air conditioning or telephone service, with only a small black-and-white television for entertainment. At times, even food was scarce.
Despite growing up without creature comforts, Vaughn describes his parents and extended family as close and supportive. He kept a positive outlook and made the best of his situation.
Through the years of unrelenting challenges and obstacles, something inside Vaughn kept him going. He determined that he would not allow his past to predict his future.
Though many avoided the draft, he courageously accepted it as an opportunity to serve his country and to acquire knowledge and skills. Vaughn enlisted in the U.S. Air Force at age 17, balancing his duties with his studies. Sometimes he was forced to retake a class because of numerous deployments. This only served to increase his determination to obtain a college education.
While at John Hancock, Vaughn was able to help others achieve financial success. His early years with Northwestern Mutual were spent juggling career and single parenthood. Still, among other activities, he made time to coach his children’s sports teams and serve as a Boy Scouts Scoutmaster.
Vaughn has served on many boards and donated his time, talent and resources to many charities and organizations, including the Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital Foundation, the Ronald McDonald House, and Alex’s Lemonade Stand.
Helping others succeed by paying it forward has become one of his life’s primary goals. It all started with improving his odds with a college education and by continuously overcoming challenges.
Vaughn is married to Beverly and has three adult children.
Steve Olesky found his passion at PSC where he studied graphic design for three years and went on to receive a bachelor’s of fine arts from the prestigious Savannah College of Art & Design.
He credits supportive parents and family and some amazing professors for his life and career success. During his studies at PSC, Olesky brought home a Gold ADDY (American Advertising Awards) for editorial design/cover and two Silver ADDYs for stationary package and advertising/illustration. However the capstone of his community college career was winning the Anna Lamar Switzer Award in 2007.
Olesky put his education to work and is now senior director of the digital creative department at Ralph Lauren Corp. — the exclusive Parade Outfitter for the U.S. Olympics and Paralympic Teams. There, he creates visual shopping experiences that blend content with commerce and has been responsible for designing the Olympic digital experience on ralphlauren.com from 2012-2018. He also was a Webby Award honoree of 2014 Ralph Lauren Polo Fall Concept Show.
Though he’s reached a level of stardom in an extremely competitive field, Olesky hasn’t forgotten his beginnings. He says that his foundation was formed at PSC —that everything he learned, he carries with him. On an upward career trajectory, the future looks bright for Olesky.
“Play. Experiment. Create. Learn continuously. Be inspired by others, but find your own style,” is his philosophy.
For other content creators, it’s a few baily’s beads of wisdom: “It’s not about how to reach the stars but how to become one through education and imagination.”
Olesky and his wife, Lindsy, have two children, Asher and Elle, and reside in New York City.
An inspiration to all, decorated war hero and decisive community leader Denis McKinnon Sr., is known as a supportive mentor, loyal friend, and dedicated family man, and of course, a Pensacola State College Pirate.
After a bright start at PSC, McKinnon entered the U.S. Marine Corps Aviation Program in 1961, quickly earning the Naval Aviator Designation. McKinnon’s military career was replete with achievement and success. He served two tours in Vietnam, earning over 30 personal combat decorations during his 20 years as a naval aviator, including a Purple Heart and a Meritorious Service Medal, and was honored with a selection as aide to President Gerald Ford during the Michigan politician’s appointment as the House of Representatives minority leader.
In parallel with his many military achievements, McKinnon pushed himself to continually pursue higher education. His studies at PSC enabled him to experience success. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi, followed by a Master of Business Administration from the University of West Florida, and finally postgraduate studies at Nova Southeastern University.
Even though he traveled the world, McKinnon never forgot his roots. In 1981, after retiring from his distinguished military career, he returned to Pensacola. McKinnon immediately began establishing himself as a community leader, serving as president of First State Bank Shares and First State Bank and its subsequent transition to Wells Fargo. He was recognized as the Kiwanis Pensacola Business Leader of the Year, and was the recipient of two PACE Awards — 1989 Business Leader of the Year and 2004 Spirit of Pensacola. He served as the president of the Sacred Heart Foundation and of the United Service Organization. He truly is a pillar of the community.
Another recipient of McKinnon’s vision and generosity is his alma mater, PSC. He developed and built the PSC childcare center and served as a member of the Pensacola State College District Board of Trustees.
Continuing his legacy through family, McKinnon and his wife of 56 years, Maureen, have raised three children, Denise, Denis Jr., and Darin, and have seven grandchildren.
For a lifetime, McKinnon has demonstrated the drive, dedication and courage integral to the success of our college and our community. His is the spirit that exemplifies the greatness to which we all aspire.
Gary’s Family and Friends established the Gary A. DeLapp Alumni Scholarship fund to honor Gary for his life of accomplishments.
Gary was chosen as a recipient of the 2019 Pensacola State College Distinguished Alumni Life Achievement Award which was announced at the Awards Gala held on May 4, 2019, at the Jean and Paul Amos Performance Studio at Pensacola State College. Gifts to build this scholarship endowment are invited.
Delta Kappa Alpha Fraternity, in partnership with the Pensacola State College Alumni Association, has raised funds to establish a new endowed scholarship fund. This scholarship will benefit students at Pensacola State College who qualify.
Delta Kappa Alpha Fraternity was active from the early 1960s until the early 1990s. DKA (Deke) Brothers, PSC Alumni, and Friends are invited to contribute to this fund.
Established by Jarl “J.T.” and Deidre L. Young to provide opportunities for access to education and encourage and incentivize young African-Americans in Escambia County to reach higher and strive to do more. “J.T.” is the winner of 2019 PSC Distinguished Alumni Life Achievement Award and his wife Deidre served as a member of the PSC District Board of Trustees for 12 years.
Criteria: African-American resident of Escambia County with a 2.75 G.P.A. in a STEM or Business-related Degree field.
Established by Pensacola State College President, Ed Meadows in May 2019, this endowed scholarship will benefit a full or part-time PSC student enrolled in an A.A., A.S. or B.A.S./B.S.N. field of study with preference given to those students majoring in STEM, health sciences or nursing.
Criteria: The student must remain involved in student life at the college, demonstrate financial need and maintain a minimum 2.5 G.P.A.
When Pensacola State College opened in September 1948, only 136 students were enrolled in the courses being taught in the Aiken Boarding House at Palafox and Cervantes streets.
Since that inaugural class 70 years ago, more than 110,000 students have earned associate and bachelor’s degrees and workforce certifications from the College. Countless others have taken classes at PSC.
Public officials, astronauts, athletes, attorneys, business owners, designers, entrepreneurs, educators, physicians, and many others are among distinguished PSC alumni.
As we continue to celebrate our 70th anniversary, please join us as we honor some of our most-deserving graduates and former students.
While perusing the first Distinguished Alumni Awards program — meet some of Pensacola State’s most accomplished Pirates. The inaugural class includes:
- A local entrepreneur who started working as a teen and today is one of Pensacola’s most well-respected businessmen.
- An executive who once washed dishes but today his resume includes corporate leadership positions at major U.S. and international lodging chains.
- A beloved retired educator who discovered a second successful career in real estate and answered a call to public service.
- A highly-decorated veteran who served his country with distinction, and returned home to become a difference-maker in the community.
- A senior director for Ralph Lauren whose foundation for design was formed at Pensacola State.
- A public servant whose lifelong dream has been serving his community — as a law enforcement officer.
- A self-made man who lifted himself out of humble beginnings to achieve his dreams with the help of an education.
- A PSC dual-enrollee whose educational pursuits took him to the halls of Harvard University and top executive positions.
Our mantra is “Go Here. Get There.” and yes, all of these individuals attended Pensacola State College. With a rich history of student success, the College remains dedicated and committed to investing in the future by providing an educated and prepared workforce.
Join with me in celebrating the success of some of our most distinguished alumni!
This year marks the College’s 70th anniversary. At this time in our history, it is my extreme honor and good fortune to serve as President of the PSC Alumni Association Board of Directors. Following in the footsteps of past alumni association presidents, I am privileged to work alongside a group of dedicated, enthusiastic and engaged Alumni Association Board members.
When we reorganized in 2013, we set out to offer valuable career networking events, provide opportunities for alumni to join with our Board of Directors and members and reconnect with the College. With our new directives and support from College leadership, we serve more than 110,000 graduates of Pensacola State College. Together, with our sponsors, patrons and contributors, our combined efforts give back to the College in ways that engage and recognize outstanding alumni and support scholarships for deserving students.
We remain dedicated to building on our traditions and committed to investing in our future. Pensacola State College has a rich history of visionary leadership, student involvement and caring faculty. With these inaugural alumni awards, we celebrate that history and establish a new tradition for the students and graduates of tomorrow.
To understand the impact that PSC alumni have had on their communities, the country and their lasting legacies, consider our 2019 honorees who are being recognized for career achievement, lifetime service and community contributions. We sincerely appreciate the tremendous support from our scholarship contributors, event sponsors and volunteers. As we look ahead, we invite all to participate in future endeavors.
Again, on behalf of the Alumni Association Board of Directors, we thank you for making this all possible. In partnership with PSC, our alumni and community leaders, we are excited to recognize the achievements of our outstanding alumni and celebrate their accomplishments now and in the years to come.
Friends and Family of
Gary A. DeLapp
ΔKA Delta Kappa Alpha Fraternity
Jarl “J.T.” and Deidre Young
Pen Air Federal Credit Union
Nancy’s Haute Affairs Catering & Events
David Collins Schools, LLC
Wind Creek Hospitality
Levin Rinke Realty
The McKinnon Family
The Hurricane Review
Kelly Services, Inc.
Connell & Company Realty, Inc.
Lisa York, Attorney and Counselor at Law, P.L.
Larry & Patrice Whitten & Family
WSRE Amos Performance Studio
David B. Ackerman, LLC
Richard Fountain, in honor of Tom Vaughn
Bill and Lindsey Garner
Professor Michael Coleman (piano)
The PSC Foundation
Evan A. Studer
Stanley W. Connally, Jr.
Nicholas Masozera, M.D.
Gale Jones Carson
Sheriff David Morgan
Capt. Ken Simmons
Denis McKinnon, Jr.
For more information about our scholarships contact:
Office of Alumni Affairs
Pensacola State College Alumni Association
Patrice S. Whitten, Executive Director