Barbara Bass is this year’s Distinguished Alumna.
Hailing from Longview, Bass sees KC as a critical foundation for where she is now.
“I was 17 when I went there and I was very shy back then. Kilgore has opened many doors for me,” Bass said.
Elected Mayor of Tyler in May 2008, Bass was the first female in Tyler’s history to hold this position.
“Historically, it’s significant. I notice it meant a lot to other people. Not just women, but for other cultures as well. It was one more door opened [for Tyler] when the election was based on what the candidate had to offer,” Bass said.
She recently started her third term as mayor, running unopposed for the last two terms.
Mayor Bass is a Certified Public Accountant with more than 30 years of experience with a BBA in Accounting from A&M- Commerce and is a Partner with Golob Morgan Peddy PC, Certified Public Accountants.
Bass has been a resident of Tyler for more than 30 years and has become very involved in the community. She is currently serving as Foundation Treasurer for Pollard United Methodist Church.
In the past, Bass has served as chairman of the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce, the Tyler Economic Development Council and the Better Business Bureau of Central East Texas.
Bass also served as board chairman for Hospice of East Texas, which she assisted in beginning, and was treasurer of the East Texas Symphony Orchestra. She also was a member of the Texas Society of CPAs, her state professional association board, for more than 20 years, including three terms on the Executive Board.
Bass has received numerous awards including public service awards from the Texas Society of CPAs for her community involvement, along with many other local and state awards and recognitions.
Her seemingly inexhaustible drive stems simply from her love of helping other people.
“It’s knowing I can affect change by working with the community as a volunteer,” Bass said.
Bass said her recognition as Distinguished Alumna was very humbling.
“It’s a huge honor. I’m extremely blessed,” she said.
Ex-Students of the Year
The Merritts have been announced as this year’s Ex-Students of the Year for their many contributions to the community. For the Merritt siblings, success simply runs in the family.
Merita Merritt Barbee, the eldest of the Merritt siblings, graduated from Kilgore High School before attending Baylor University.
In 1965, Merita married her high school sweetheart and they have two children.
Merita taught at Kilgore ISD for 29 years and is now retired but still maintains close ties with education. She often volunteers at KISD by helping with testing, reading and many other school-related activities. Merita is also a lifetime member of the P.T.A, the Daughters of the American Revolution and Colonial Dames of the XVII Century.
Merita enjoys spending time on their new farm and can be found watching her grandsons play baseball and soccer.
A.P. Merritt Jr. attended KC after graduating from KHS. He went on to attend the University of Houston and graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree.
A.P. has been married for 45 years and they have two children and eight grandchildren.
In 1967, A.P. Jr. returned to work for his family’s business, Merritt Tool Company Inc., founded by his father. He later took over the company in 1981.
The company merged with Triumph Group to create Triumph Structures- East Texas, Inc. in 2009.
He was recognized by the Small Business Administration as “Small Business Person of the Year” in 2008 for the Dallas/Ft. Worth 72-county district in Texas. He has served on several civic, church, bank, municipal and county boards in the community.
A.P. Jr. continues to play an important role for the company by overseeing development and customer relations.
Tommy Merritt graduated from KHS and attended KC. During his time at KC, Tommy was inducted into the NJCAA Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame due to his significant contribution to the 1966 Kilgore College National Championship Football Team.
Tommy later graduated from Texas Christian University with a Bachelor of Business Administration.
He has been married for 40 years and they have three children.
Tommy served as a postal inspector from 1971 to 1974 before returning to Kilgore to work for the family business. He then founded his own company, Gregg Industrial Insulators, Inc. in 1976.
Tommy has been involved in several community organizations, such as the East Texas Police Academy, Junior Achievement of East Texas and Kiwanis Club. He was appointed to the Sabine River Authority by former Texas Gov. Bill Clements in 1990 and served until 1995. The next year, he was elected to the House of Representatives and served House District 7 from 1997-2011.
Mike Merritt, the youngest of the family, was also born and raised in Kilgore. His role as a KC student, however, was cut short after he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1972 where he served for two years.
In 1975, Mike married his wife and they have two children.
He is currently the President of Gregg Industrial Insulators. One of his passions is raising cattle and horses on the Double M farm with his family.
Ex-Teacher of the Year
Marion Turner has been chosen as this year’s Ex-Teacher of the Year.
Tuner graduated from Wilmer-Hutchins High School where he ran track, played football, basketball and baseball.
After high school, Turner attended KC where he played football for two years.
After KC, he transferred to East Texas State (now Texas A&M University–Commerce) where he played football and received a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science.
His first job after college was at Palestine Independent School District where he taught math and was an assistant football coach. He then moved to Garland Independent School District to continue teaching and coaching.
Turner moved back to Palestine in 1972 where he served as athletic director and head football coach for Palestine High School.
In 1975, Turner returned to KC as an assistant football coach for the and worked under two head coaches. Turner was head football coach for the Rangers from 1992 to 1996.
He also served on the KC Board of Trustees from May of 1999 through February of 2008.
Turner met his wife, Sandra Kay Sturkie, at church.
“I had talked to the high school secretary about her and one day I finally called her and we started dating; then what do you know? We were engaged and married,” Turner said.
They have three children: Melinda, Laura and Russell.
Turner now seasonally sells student accident insurance to schools.
His advice to current students is, “Study hard, work hard and pay attention to what’s going on in the world, particularly the U.S.”
Marvin “Leon” Dodgen is being recognized as this year’s Honored Retiree.
From the encouragement of former KC President Randolph C. Watson, Dodgen began working at KC in 1972 and eventually had a 28-year career at the college.
“He said it would be worth my while and it was,” Dodgen said.
His work began at the Physical Plant. He later was named maintenance supervisor where he was in charge of physical maintenance and eventually became the director of physical plant where he was in charge of the grounds and custodial employees.
The KC Board of Trustees honored Dodgen in 1997 by voting to name the new plant building in his honor.
The Leon Dodgen Physical Plant Center was dedicated on Nov. 18, 1997, the same year Dodgen retired from full-time work at KC.
He remained on staff as a part-time employee until 2001.
Dodgen was born in Alexandria, La., to Leona Pearl and Marvin O. Dodgen. He grew up in Hot Springs, Ark., where he graduated from Hot Springs High School in 1951.
After graduation he joined the U.S. Navy so he could see the world.
He attended boot camp in San Diego and was sent to Machinist Mate School at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Chicago.
Dodgen was assigned to the AF-48 refrigerated supply ship based in Yokosoka, Japan, which replenished food supplies to the 7th Fleet at sea off the coast of Korea.
Dodgen discharged from the Navy as 2nd rank Class Machinist Mate at Treasure Island, Calif.
“I liked it the first few years, but it got old,” Dodgen said.
After the Navy, he attended Southern Nazarene College in Bethany, Okla.
Dodgen said the best thing that happened to him in Oklahoma was meeting his future wife, Ruby.
“We just started hanging out and before you know it, we were engaged,” Dodgen said.
He transferred to The University of Texas at Austin and married Ruby.
When he was not in class, he worked for the Technical Products Air Conditioning Company in Austin.
The company went out of business and former customers began calling Dodgen, giving him the opportunity to begin his own air conditioning business. Because of the demand for his services, he left UT one semester early to run his business.
In 1968, Dodgen and Ruby sold the company and moved to Kilgore where Ruby had grown up.
“I bought a piece of property 25 acres across from where Ruby’s parents lived,” Dodgen said.
He owned his own air conditioning business in Kilgore until 1972 when he began working for KC.
Since retiring, he and Ruby have traveled most of the U.S. and parts of Canada in their RV, flying to Hawaii and cruising to Alaska twice.
For their 50th wedding anniversary, their children arranged for the entire family to go on a cruise out of Galveston.
Every other year for their anniversary the family travels to Gulf Shores where they rent a house on the beach.
Dodgen is fully retired and enjoys making dirt bike trails for his grandchildren.
One of his favorite memories at KC was when he was first employed.
“KC had a small workforce, so in the summer instructors worked with maintenance, “ Dodgen said. “We had good times getting to know each other and working together.”
Dodgen’s advice to current students is to “Go on to finish your degree.”