Three University of Central Arkansas alumni were honored during the university’s seventh annual Night of Distinction Saturday in the McCastlain Ballroom.
Hundreds gathered to recognize Herby Branscum Jr. and Charlie Strong, who both received the Distinguished Alumni Award, and Sue Voegele, who was given the Alumni Service Award.
"By definition, the word distinguished means successful and commanding great respect," Kale Gober, the vice president for institution advancement, said. "I can say without hesitation, that the Distinguished Alumni Committee has chosen two individuals this year who [embody all that] the word distinguished means."
Gober said according to the award criteria, a distinguished alumnus for UCA is recognized based on outstanding contribution to the university, outstanding achievements in a particular field of endeavor, possessing a reputation that enhances UCA’s image and contributes to the goals and the welfare of the university.
Upon accepting his honor, Branscum, who graduated from UCA in 1963, said there were a lot of people at the event that he considered distinguished in his life, including family and friends at tables spread throughout the room.
"I don’t know how to put it, Houston, other than we have a rich feeling and heritage with UCA," he said, adding all his children had attended the university through the years.
Branscum said he was grateful to receive the award.
"I’m honored to be here and I’m honored for you to put this medallion around my neck," he said. "I will try to proudly wear it and uphold the tradition of this university. Thank you for this honor. I will continue to support UCA."
Current University of South Florida head coach and 1982 UCA graduate, Charlie Strong said he was honored to be recognized as a distinguished alumni.
"I know that it’s been a good journey for me," he said.
While he hasn’t finished that journey, Strong said, it started many years ago, even before stepping foot on the UCA campus.
Coming from a small town, one of several children living in a house with inadequate water supply, Strong said he never let how he grew up keep him from doing what he wanted to accomplish.
"I think about just how good God has been to me and how far he has brought me," he said.
Whatever he does in life, especially in coaching, Strong said he wanted to touch lives and impact young people.
"My foundation was built right here at this great university and that’s why I’ve been able to take the steps and make the moves that I’ve made," he said.
Being able to come back and be on campus is always great, Strong said.
"I’m always proud of this university," he said. "I always say, yes, I graduated from UCA."
The Alumni Service Award, established in 2007, was created to honor an individual or couple who reflect the significance of the UCA Alumni Association — which celebrated it’s 106th birthday in 2017 — through deeds and actions that display commitment, dedication, service and loyalty to the association.
The event — which had more than 300 attendees — has previously been held at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion the past two years, but returned back to the campus this year. Proceeds from the event went to benefit student scholarships.
Herby Branscum Jr.:
The 1963 UCA graduate, practiced law in Arkansas for more than 50 years and served eight years as District Judge of Perry County, 11 years on the Arkansas State Claims Commission — the last six years as chairman — and 10 years on the Arkansas Highway Commission.
He served as president of the Arkansas Young Democrats, hosted the National Convention of the Young Democrats of America in Hot Springs, was chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party and was on the National Democratic Committee for six years. Branscum was also awarded the Harry S. Truman Award for outstanding leadership by the Young Democrats of America in 1979.
While practicing law, he was involved in the local banking industry and served on the board of directors of Perry County Bank and Chart Bank, where he served as chairman of the board with his partner, Robert Hill. Branscum was instrumental in organizing First Community Bank in Conway, which was later sold to First Security Bank of Searcy, and served on the First Community Bank Board of Directors for three years.
He has been active in his local community by organizing a Jaycees chapter in his hometown, serving as its president and also president of the local Lions Club. He and his wife regularly attend First Baptist Church in Perryville, where he has taught an adult Sunday school class for 37 years.
Growing up in the 1940s and 1950s as one of 11 children, he understood the importance of working hard and obtaining a higher education. This understanding led him to establish the Herby Branscum Jr. Scholarship at UCA more than 15 years ago.
In addition to Branscum graduating from UCA, his wife, Billie Jo, and their three children, James, Chris and Elizabeth, have all attended UCA. He has maintained a close relationship with UCA, having served on the board of trustees from 1985 to 1991 and on the UCA Foundation Board from 1989 to 2004.
In 2016, Branscum received the Governor Ben Laney Alumni Award for leadership and achievements from UCA’s Sigma Tau Gamma Chapter.
Strong, a 1982 UCA graduate, is head football coach at the University of South Florida.
He is a two-time conference coach of the year, a proven recruiter and one of the best defensive minds in college football. Since 1995, Strong has coached 15 players selected in the first round of the NFL Draft and had 37 taken in the first four rounds.
Strong, a Batesville native, was a three-year letter winner and three-time all-conference safety while playing football at UCA, which reached the NAIA Playoffs each of his final two seasons.
He entered the coaching profession after graduating from UCA and after several stops around the country, he received his first defensive coordinator assignment at the University of South Carolina under legendary coach Lou Holtz from 1999-2002. While at South Carolina, he helped guide the Gamecocks to a Top 20 national ranking in 2000. This success earned Strong his first finalist nod for the Frank Broyles Award, which goes to the top assistant coach in college football.
Strong served four separate stints working for the University of Florida’s football program in various capacities. Strong was a vital part of two national championships as defensive coordinator at the University of Florida. In 2009, Strong was named a finalist for the Broyles Award for the second straight year.
He made his head-coaching debut at the University of Louisville in 2010. The Cardinals made four consecutive bowl appearances under Strong, winning the Sugar Bowl over Florida in 2013. He was also recognized as a two-time Big East Coach of the Year.
Strong became the head coach at the University of Texas in 2014 and rebuilt the roster, put his stamp on the culture and elevated the program’s infrastructure. His tenure at Texas included wins over Oklahoma, Baylor and Notre Dame.
Strong was inducted into the UCA Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.
Voegele, a 1962 UCA graduate, has been an active UCA Bear since 1958, when she first came to the campus.
After graduating from UCA, then Arkansas State Teachers College, Voegele worked as a teacher for 35 years and also coached volleyball and tennis.
Sue — and her husband, Bud — is a life member of the UCA Alumni Association, is serving her second term on the UCA Alumni Board of Directors and is on the scholarship committee.
Voegele also served as the chairman for the Class of 1962 Half-Century Club Induction and the Alpha Sigma Tau Housing Committee. She has only missed two UCA homecoming games since graduating in 1962.
In addition to the UCA Alumni Association, Voegele is a member of the Women’s Giving Circle and Purple Circle, a member of the North Little Rock Women’s Club, P.E.O., the board of trustees for the First United Methodist Church in North Little Rock and Beta Sigma Phi and is also a volunteer with community ministries.