TJC Alumni Association honors alumni award recipients

Mar 30, 2015 by

The Tyler Junior College Alumni Association honored the 2014 alumni award recipients during the annual TJC Alumni Awards Dinner on Oct. 24.

This year’s TJC Alumni Awards honorees were: Ben Sutton ’48, Distinguished Alumni Award; Dick Johns ’48, Special Recognition Award; and Literacy Council of Tyler, Apache Spirit.

Ben Sutton ’48
Distinguished Alumni Award

The Distinguished Alumni award recognizes an individual who has brought honor to TJC through their distinguished professional achievement and contributions to society.

Ben Sutton

Ben Sutton

Ben Sutton fondly remembers his years as a Tyler Junior College student from 1946 to ’48. He lived with his grandparents in what was then considered south Tyler, just blocks from TJC’s first site – the old Tyler High School downtown. During WWII, Sutton had been stationed in Iceland with the 8th Air Force and had served as an aerial engineer and crew chief on various fighter planes.

His grandparents encouraged him to use the GI bill and attend TJC.

Sutton said, “Tyler Junior College was the ideal place for me to resume my education. The enrollment was only a few hundred, and the faculty was excellent, patient and understanding.” Sutton remembers the nurturing and welcoming environment including then president Dr. Harry Jenkins and dean Dr. Edward Potter greeting students at TJC’s main entrance each morning.

Sutton went on to finish his education at The University of Texas at Austin, where he studied business and completed a bachelor’s degree. After graduation, he was recruited by numerous oil companies but was recalled to the U.S. Air Force during the Korean Conflict. After serving two years as a second lieutenant, he would continue the family business, as his grandfather had moved to Tyler in the 1920s to work in the East Texas oil fields. For more than five decades, Sutton has worked throughout Texas for various oil companies including Sinclair Oil and Gas Company, Panhandle Eastern Pipeline Company and its subsidiary, Anadarko Production Company and finally, Nivla Oil Corporation, where he continues to work as president. Sutton has been affiliated with numerous professional groups and served as president for the East Texas Producers and Royalty Owners Association.

He has also volunteered for and led area government and nonprofit groups, including serving as chairman of Tyler’s Planning and Zoning Commission and as president of both the East Texas Symphony Orchestra and Tyler Civic Theatre.

Since he and his wife Elizabeth moved back to Tyler in 1977, they have been consistently involved with many worthy causes in Tyler and generously contributed to various initiatives at Tyler Junior College, including the new Robert M. Rogers Nursing and Health Sciences Center, which opened in January 2015.

They support TJC because they believe they are investing in an institution that continues to serve the educational needs of the community. As Mrs. Sutton said, “TJC is a driver of our local economy and one of our finest traditions.”

Dick Johns ’48
Special Recognition Award

The Special Recognition Award recognizes an individual for outstanding professional achievements and contributions to society and/or service to Tyler Junior College.

Dick Johns

Dick Johns

Richard A. (Dick) Johns is an artist and author who has lived in Tyler most of his life. He attended TJC from 1946 to ’48 and received his bachelor’s degree from the University of North Texas. Following duty in field artillery during the Korean Conflict, he served 10 years as engineering illustrations editor with General Dynamics Corporation in Fort Worth, where he was involved in assembly illustration of the B-36 and B-58 “Hustler,” the first supersonic bomber.

He currently does technical illustrations for Trane-American Standard and portraiture and structure renderings for a variety of clients, including TJC. Over the years, Johns has produced approximately 100 renderings for TJC, including a 75th anniversary collage of iconic TJC pioneers and historic landmarks. Johns’ artwork is created using stippling, a meticulous method of creating a pattern simulating varying degrees of solidity or shading by using hundreds or thousands of small dots.

A prize-winning author, Johns has three novels available on Amazon: “Thirteenth Apostle,” a story of the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul; “Return to Heroism,” a fictionalized tale of the disciple Mark’s encounter with the Qumran Essenes and their Dead Sea Scrolls; and “Garden of the Okapi”, a missionary adventure that was published in hardback. In addition, Johns is author of “The Beairds,” the story of the Beaird family of East Texas, early settlers and civic leaders in the region. The book tells the story of the contributions of the ancestors of Harold Beaird, a TJC alumnus, former TJC board member and longtime college supporter. Johns met Harold Beaird in 1945, before class on his first day as a student of Tyler High School, where TJC began. Johns’ mother, Annie Hill, attended TJC in its infancy years and is credited with suggesting the Apache mascot during a student assembly in 1928.

Literacy Council of Tyler
Apache Spirit Award

The Apache Spirit Award recognizes a person or group who has shown spirit and motivation through the contribution of time and energy to a program or activity that measurably benefits Tyler Junior College.

Nancy Crawford and Kristen Seeber

Nancy Crawford and Kristen Seeber

The Literacy Council of Tyler served approximately 2,000 individuals last year, tutoring students toward completion of a Graduate Equivalency Diploma and working directly with others whose desire it was to learn to read the English language. Several of the program’s GED graduates enrolled in a fostering transition program intended to lead toward associate degrees from TJC. The year didn’t come without challenges. In the summer of 2013, the Literacy Council of Tyler Board of Directors learned that the State funding authority for literacy efforts was shifting, from the Texas Education Agency to the Texas Workforce Commission. The LCOT Board and its executive director, Nancy Crawford, met the challenge in stride and worked with TJC to establish a work readiness component that is now required for continued funding.

The Literacy Council of Tyler has partnered with TJC since 2001, when the LCOT office moved into donated space on the TJC West Campus. The partnership between the Literacy Council and TJC has grown over the past decade to include joint operation of the Family Learning Center of Tyler (FLCOT) and the establishment of the Intensive College Readiness program. The FLCOT combines TJC’s early childhood program with a working childcare center and literacy and English fluency programs. Tyler ISD provides space for the FLCOT, which is located on the campus of Douglas Elementary.

The Intensive College Readiness program is a Literacy Council/TJC initiative that helps GED graduates transition successfully into college courses at TJC. Board chair Kristen Seeber said she feels the council is one of the strongest literacy programs
in Texas.

Seeber, whose husband Joey – a former Tyler mayor – was one of its early board members, said “We are very blessed with a strong board, a diverse group of community leaders, and a lot of different perspectives. Nancy is a hero, but of course the real heroes are the students. At each of our board meetings, we try to have a student come to speak to the board. It reminds us why we’re doing what we do.”

For more on the TJC Alumni Association, or to join, go to



Alumni, Fall/Winter 2014-2015

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