Eastern honors alumni during 2016 Homecoming celebration
WILBURTON, OK (Nov. 21, 2016) – Eastern Oklahoma State College alumni from around the country returned to Wilburton this past weekend to take a trip down memory lane and celebrate their beloved alma mater. Three of those alumni, as well as a former student organization, were also honored during the college’s annual Homecoming Dinner.
Leland Walker, a 1974 Eastern graduate and longtime educator, was inducted as the 33rd member of the EOSC Alumni Association Hall of Fame. Walker, of Panola, spent 38 years dedicating his life to inspiring young people in agriculture education. He taught at Moss, Roff and Wilburton High Schools, as well as at Eastern from 1984-2012.
During the event, Walker spoke about his career as an educator and mentor and the impact working with young people has had on his life.
“During my 28 years at Eastern, I had the pleasure to work with hundreds and hundreds of young people. Some of those young ladies and young men were brilliant, while a few were marginal students, but I found value in each one of those individuals,” Walker said. “I want to thank Eastern Oklahoma State College for the educational foundation it provided me and for extending me this high honor. Most importantly, I want to thank the young men and women who allowed me to be a part of their lives, especially those that participated in the soils and crops judging teams.”
More than 70 current agriculture instructors in Oklahoma were taught under Walker’s leadership. His students are involved in conservation, extension, farming, ranching, forestry, landscaping and more. Walker said he and his wife, Sally, often run into former students at various places around the state. He described those chance meetings as mini family reunions.
Dr. Dustin Hulsey, a 2003 Eastern graduate, was honored with the Outstanding Young Alumnus Award. A Wilburton High School graduate, Hulsey opened his own veterinary practice in Red Oak and grew the operation from a mobile practice to a 4,000-square-foot facility with modern equipment including digital radiography, hematology capabilities and ultrasound viewing and technology.
Hulsey said that as a high school student, he knew he wanted to be a veterinarian. He thought about going directly to Oklahoma State, but ultimately decided Eastern offered an advantage with smaller class sizes, more hands-on teaching and caring faculty that helped him succeed.
“After I finished at Eastern, I went on to Oklahoma State but I never forgot the experiences and fun that I had here at Eastern. Still to this day, I continuously try to get young students graduating from high school to pursue an education here at Eastern. I try to get them to come join the Eastern family. This institution is full of instructors that honestly and truly care about the success and progression of their students,” Hulsey said.
Estella Bennett-Mask of McAlester was presented the Distinguished Former Faculty Award. An Eastern Alumna, Bennett-Mask taught a total of 33 years in higher education with 31 of those at Eastern. She taught various business courses in entrepreneurship, management and marketing while also coaching many students who placed in the top five nationally in business competitions.
“I have been fortunate through the years to receive several honors and hold positions of leadership in several organizations. However, nothing was as gratifying as coaching students as they prepared for competitions and to see their growth in knowledge and self-confidence as they won their event,” Bennett-Mask said. “Teaching at Eastern wasn’t a job, but a career and a way of life.”
Eastern’s former student organization Angel Flight was recognized with the Heritage Award for the significant role the group played in shaping and molding the history of Eastern. Angel Flight served as a student drill team and service organization that helped plan various campus activities and performed at marching competitions, parades and other college events. Eastern alumna Anita Risner, Class of 1967, accepted the award on behalf of the organization.
“Angel Flight was an important part of our lives. We learned to build leadership skills, social skills and the importance of volunteering outside of the classroom,” Risner said. “I developed some wonderful friendships and discovered a hidden talent that changed the way I thought about myself. And it was just plain fun.”
Eastern President Dr. Stephen E. Smith (far left) gathers with the 2016 EOSC Homecoming Award honorees including (left to right) Estella Bennett-Mask, Distinguished Former Faculty Award; Anita Risner, representing Angel Flight for the Heritage Award; Dr. Dustin Hulsey, the Outstanding Young Alumnus Award; and Leland Walker, the 33rd member of the EOSC Alumni Hall of Fame.