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2013 Alumni Association Award Winners Honored

November 6, 2013


Three Millsaps College alumni were honored during Homecoming for their professional accomplishments, service to others and leadership.

Sam Cole (1964), Rev. Keith Tonkel (1958) and Shane Townsend (2000)

The Rev. Keith Tonkel, a 1958 graduate of Millsaps who has served as pastor at Wells Memorial United Methodist Church in Jackson for the last 45 years, was named the 2013 Alumnus of the Year.

A graduate of Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, Tonkel was licensed as a local preacher in the Methodist Church in 1954 and ordained an elder in 1962. He served a psychiatric residency at Georgia Baptist Hospital and on the staff at Northside Methodist Church in Atlanta. After appointment to two churches in Mississippi, Tonkel was assigned to Wells Memorial United Methodist Church in June 1969. With Tonkel’s leadership, Wells Memorial has maintained an active witness to both its inner-city neighborhood and the larger Jackson community.
Tonkel, who has received numerous awards for his ministry, is the author of three books, Finally The Dawn, HeartStuff and GodStuff. He has been a featured preacher on the “United Methodist Hour” in Mississippi since its inception in 1971, has been acting director and has served as a presenter of the Sunday School lesson through that ministry.
In 2003, the congregation at Wells honored Tonkel with the establishment of the Keith Tonkel Endowed Scholarship Fund at Millsaps, designed to aid students engaged in the creation of a more equitable society through community service.

Sam Cole, a 1964 graduate of Millsaps College and a retired investment advisor, is the 2013 recipient of the Jim Livesay Award. The award honors the spirit of commitment in which Jim Livesay (March 31, 1920-Nov. 9, 2001) served as an alumnus, a member of the College administration and a volunteer.

After graduating from Millsaps with a degree in history, Cole worked for a year as communications manager for the Jackson Chamber of Commerce before joining the Office of Admissions at Millsaps. From 1965 until 1972, he served the College as an admissions counselor (one of the first full-time counselors) and later associate director of admissions. His later career was spent as an investment broker and advisor, first at Dean Whitter Reynolds, and later at Morgan Keegan.

Through the years, Cole has lent support to the College’s Office of Admissions, Millsaps athletics and the Annual Fund. He has served the College as an alumni advisor to the Alpha Mu Chapter of Kappa Alpha Order, an Annual Fund Phonathon volunteer, and on the Alumni Association Board of Directors. In 2012, Sam volunteered as a class agent for the Class of 1964, and through his outreach efforts has succeeded in reconnecting a number of alumni with the College, located many lost alumni, and helped the Class of 1964 achieve its Annual Fund Class Participation Goal.  He joined the Building Towards Excellence leadership team in 2013. The Building Towards Excellence initiative seeks to re-invigorate and grow alumni leadership in giving to the Millsaps Annual Fund.

Shane Townsend, a 2000 Millsaps graduate who is a writer, consultant, conservationist and outdoorsman, was named the 2013 Young Alumnus of the Year.

Townsend is the senior advisor for The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment in Austin, Texas. A Pascagoula native, he attended Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University before a chance meeting with Dr. George Bey on the Millsaps campus led him to matriculate here in 1998 and major in sociology/anthropology.

After graduation in 2000, he pursued a master’s degree in urban and regional planning at Virginia Commonwealth University. He worked with the Virginia Department of Emergency Preparedness, and later with FEMA after the September 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon. He decided to focus his career and training on emergency preparedness, and completed an international diploma in humanitarian assistance from Fordham University.

In 2003, Townsend volunteered for the Peace Corps and served in Bolivia for two years, working on emergency management and strategic security planning issues. He also worked in the Amazon Basin with the indigenous Chiquitano community on microenterprise development projects related to eco-tourism and artisanship. Returning to the United States in 2005, he played a role in recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, leading the first assessments of tent and trailer cities along the Gulf Coast as a disaster deployment program manager for Save the Children US.

From 2009 until 2011, he served as the assistant regional director for South Asia for U.S. Wheat Associates, an export market development organization. He has also worked stints as a project and development specialist with the Austin office of Campaign Consultation, Inc. A writer as well as a conservationist and outdoorsman, Townsend’s subjects include the natural world, America’s outdoor traditions, environmental and conservation issues.