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The Center Education Foundation Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes graduates whose deeds and character exemplify outstanding achievement in their life's work and/or service to their communities. The honorees' spirit and leadership are worthy of recognition and have inspired praise and gratitude among their peers.

Recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Award must be graduates of Center High School at least 10 years prior to their induction.  The award was started in 2012 and recipients are recognized annually at the Foundation Gala.

The 2024 recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award is Qiana Thomason (1995), presented the evening of April 5, 2024.

Qiana Thomason, a life-long Kansas Citian, has dedicated her career to the improvement of health and well-being across the region, with a special focus on powerful and resilient communities experiencing health injustices and people living in marginalized conditions. Thomason serves as the president and CEO of Health Forward Foundation, an independent purpose-led foundation with assets just under $1 billion serving urban, suburban, and rural communities in the Kansas City region.

Thomason is leading the foundation through a myriad of transformational pursuits spanning its leadership, advocacy, and resources. “Every day we work to build and support inclusive, powerful, and healthy communities characterized by racial equity and economically just systems.” She has led Health Forward to operationalize racial equity and economic inclusion in all areas of the foundation, including governance, grantmaking, policy and advocacy, investments, human resources, and procurement.

Thomason came to Health Forward from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City, where she formerly served as vice president of population health and community health. During her tenure at Blue KC, she led development and implementation of new care delivery and payment models, to include building innovative payment models for social care, in partnership with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation and primary care providers throughout Kansas City. She was also a successful champion for including health equity and the social influencers of health in Blue KC’s corporate strategy.

Thomason also spent eight years at Swope Health, a Federally Qualified Health Center, as program manager of a regional Mental Health Court and as the director of clinical operations, behavioral health. Qiana also served as deputy director and health and human services liaison for the late United States Senator Jean Carnahan.

She received her undergraduate degree in Social Work from her beloved Florida A&M University and has a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Kansas. In 2023 she was bestowed an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Kansas City University, the sixth largest medical school in the nation.

Proudly, Qiana shares that her real “gig” is chief encourager, often in no uncertain terms within the Thomason home and among family. Her most cherished roles are wife, mother (of two phenomenal daughters), sister, and daughter.

Past Recipients:


David is the U.S. Ambassador to Malawi. He heads the U.S. Embassy in the southern African country, which has more than 350 staff and promotes U.S. interests and programs focused on democracy and good governance, economic growth and trade, and health and education. He is a career Foreign Service Officer who has worked for the U.S. Department of State since 1989. He previously served in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa, including assignments in Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, Vietnam, Guatemala and Panama. He also served in the State Department Operations Center, the Office of International Religious Freedom, and the Office of the U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan. 

Over the past ten years David has helped lead U.S. embassies in African countries. In Zambia, he helped support a peaceful transition of power following the recent presidential election. He also helped gain the release from prison of LGBTQ+ persons and supported the life-saving work of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. In Nigeria he helped support religious freedom and mediation of interfaith conflicts, and he organized movement of internally displaced persons from areas affected by violence and terrorism. In South Africa he promoted trade and investment with U.S. companies.

David is an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church and has served in volunteer roles in churches around the world as he and his family moved to different countries. Prior to overseas postings, he volunteered as a Big Brother (in Big Brothers Big Sisters of America program) while living in the D.C. area.

David is married to Diane Weisz Young, and they are proud parents of Paul (27) and Sarah (25). He is a die-hard fan of Patrick Mahomes and the KC Chiefs, as well as his alma mater Missouri Tigers. David was a clear choice for this Award!

Bart exudes mentoring and leadership skills, highlighted by the various positions he holds, or has held, throughout his work and volunteer experiences. From being taught to teaching, Bart has had a positive impact on people’s lives.  After losing his brother, Andy, Center class of 1996, Bart made a commitment to support a cure for pancreatic cancer as an active volunteer.  His current position at Ernst and Young is in, you guessed it, leadership and serves as an Associate Director, Center for Board Matters, Americas. He is on the advisory board of the Sorkin Center, which works to improve the work of not-for-profit boards.

Bart’s other work experience has been with the National Association of Corporate Directors, where he served as Associate Director in the Governance Analytics and Products area. He led the product innovation, consulting/advisory content and data-based insight teams to come up with innovative solutions for more than 22,000 US-based corporate directors and their boards for their most pressing challenges. Bart holds a BA from Colgate University, a PhD from the London School of Economics, and for several years was an adjunct faculty member of the Tufts University political science department. His numerous other experiences, articles/blogs he’s written, and various volunteer offerings made it easy to select Bart for this Award.


Joe Carr (2000) - Joe is an entrepreneur and advocate for children. He started his own nonprofit, Growin’ Together Hands-On Afterschool and Summer Program teaching social skills, communication, cooperation, and hands-on learning to kids ages 5-14, including many children with special needs. He also founded, an educational and coaching resource to help autistic people and their families harness the gifts of their autism.

In 2016, he and his wife Serenity, founded Serenity Kids Baby Food, which creates foods for babies that are low in sugar and high in healthy fats, made from pasture raised meats and organic vegetables. 

Mark Garrett (1985) – Mark is a business leader with a focus on building systems to recruit talent and develop strong career paths for employees. He is also a leader in the community, providing wisdom and guidance to numerous organizations in the Kansas City area. 

Mark is the Chair the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, and Vice Chair of Phoenix Family Housing, and a board member on Rose Brooks Center. 


  • Ese Ighedosa, J.D. (2005) is an attorney who has built a stellar career in and around professional sports, especially the NFL. As a black woman, she has made significant inroads in the white male dominated world of sports executives.  While at the NFL, Ese helped start the Black Engagement Network (BEN), providing support and resources for black professionals working in pro sports in a variety of roles. In May 2020 Ese founded House of Athlete, a Florida based company focusing on wellness, performance, and social involvement for high level athletes. She continues her roles in promoting diversity in the ranks of sports executives as a founding Advisory Committee member of the Pro Sports Assembly, a national organization of executives committed to diversity, equity, and social responsibility for professional sports organizations.
  • Dr. Mark Kahler (1970) has impacted the health care infrastructure in Kansas City as a co-founder of one of the largest family care practices in the metro area, College Park Family Care. With over 90 physicians, the practice has provided compassionate and effective care for multiple generations of families. Dr. Kahler received his medical degree from the University of Missouri with further training at Baptist Medical Center. In 1980 Dr. Kahler, along with one partner, founded College Park, pioneering the concept of a large practice focused on family medical care.  In addition to serving thousands of families, Dr. Kahler and the staff at College Park have devoted countless hours of service in international health missions. Living his faith through medical service is a hallmark of Mark's career and life.


  • Carol DiRaimo (1979) is an award-winning corporate investor relations professional with over 30 years of experience in the restaurant industry including Applebee’s International, Inc. and Jack in the Box, Inc. and six years of public accounting experience at Deloitte where she practiced as a CPA. She has been named to Institutional Investor’s ALL-AMERICA EXECUTIVE TEAM for the last 10 years, and is a six-time winner of Best Investor Relations Officer for a small to mid-cap company in the United States by IR Magazine. In addition to her corporate work, Carol has served on the Board of Trustees for Rockhurst University since 2010 where she earned an Executive MBA. In 2019, Carol received the Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business Citation of Merit from the University of Missouri – Columbia, where she graduated summa cum laude and has an endowed scholarship supporting women from the Kansas City area
  • Dr. William Baskin (1964) is a leading physician, researcher, and clinical professor of medicine at the University of Illinois, Rockford Campus. After receiving his medical degree with honors from the University of Missouri, he practiced as a Gastroenterologist for many years in Rockford, Illinois, leading a flourishing medical practice. He has taught at the University of Illinois since 1983, receiving numerous awards for teaching from both faculty and student groups. He has participated in numerous research studies in the field of gastroenterology, with a long list of publications to his credit.
  • Tom Apel (1972). Tom was a member of the Center Education Foundation Board of Directors, serving as Treasurer, until his untimely passing in August of 2019. In addition to a stellar career as a finance executive, Tom served people in many ways, including co-founding and leading Gracious Promise Ministry, helping those impacted by incarceration to rebuild their lives.  Tom also served on the selection committee for the Center Athletic Hall of Fame and did many hours of research to uncover strong candidates for selection. He was also an active volunteer and supporter of the Center Museum. Tom loved his Center family and dedicated many hours to bringing friends together to share memories at reunions and other events.
  • Lori Borgman, CHS class of 1972, is a newspaper columnist, author and speaker. Her newspaper column touches on a wide array of topics ranging from the truth about nagging to the hazards of upper arm flab. She is also the author of the popular essay, “The Death of Common Sense” which has gone viral, having been published in the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Australia, Ireland, Finland, Iceland, Portugal, Spain, the Philippines and Greece.
  • Patrick Caffrey, Ph.D., CHS Class of 1973, is a licensed psychologist with almost 40 years experience as a rehabilitation psychologist and neuropsychologist. Dr. Caffrey provides direct patient care in brain injury hospitals and acute hospital settings, serving patients with neurologic conditions and diseases such as: M.S., spinal cord injury, stroke, traumatic brain injury, blind and low vision, and brain tumors. He has additional extensive experience as a vocational specialist, a regional manager in private sector rehabilitation, in a university-based technical assistance project to Missouri educators modifying curriculum for disabled students, as a site supervisor of psychological services, as a visiting university lecturer and in hospital settings.


  • Dr. Stephen Smalley (1973) - Dr. Smalley is a renowned Radiation Oncologist who has practiced medicine since his graduation from the UMKC School of Medicine in 1979. He did his internship and residency at the Mayo Clinic before returning to Kansas City in 1986 to practice, teach, and engage in research at the University of Kansas Medical Center. He is currently a Clinical Professor at KU and continues to practice in the Kansas City area.
  • Dr. Steven Currall (1977) - Dr. Currall is the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Prior to joining SMU, Dr. Currall held executive leadership positions at the University of California Global Health Institute, UC Davis, and the University College of London, and Rice University. His research area is Organizational Psychology and he has published numerous articles and books. His PhD is from Cornell University following a Masters from the London School of Economics & Politics and a BA from Baylor University. 


  • John Cassidy (1951) - John is the founder of the Winter Sports Program for Special Olympics of Kansas. As President of the Kansas City Ski Club, John got involved with the fledging Winter Sports Program in 1984. It became his passion. Working with volunteers and staff from the Ski Club and Special Olympics Kansas, John created the program that has been named in his honor, the John L Cassidy Heartland Winter Games. The competition includes over 350 athletes each year competing in Alpine and Cross Country Skiing, Snowshoe Racing, Speed & Figure Skating and Floor Hockey at venues including Snow Creek in Weston, MO.
  • Bob Beltz (1968) - Bob Beltz is a minister, teacher, author and film producer. Bob was founder and then Teaching Pastor of Cherry Hills Community Church in Denver, and Senior Pastor of High Street Community Church in Santa Cruz, California. Bob joined the Anschutz Corporation of Denver, Colorado as a special advisor to Philip Anschutz, Chairman of the Board. In this role Bob helped develop, produce, and market films for the Anschutz Film Group, parent company of Walden Media (Holes, Because of Winn-Dixie, Around the World in 80 Days, I Am David, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and Bristol Bay Productions (Ray, Sahara). Bob was the co-producer of Crusader Entertainment's film Joshua, based on Joseph Girzone's best-selling novel, and helped develop and produce Amazing Grace: the William Wilberforce Story.
  • John Kenneth Adams (1952) - John is a world renowned concert pianist and music professor. After graduation from Center, he received his bachelors degree from UMKC, his masters from Yale University followed by his appointment as a Fulbright Scholar and three years of study at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He has been a professor of music for over 50 years at the University of Texas and the University of South Carolina. He has performed in 22 countries worldwide and was recently named as a Steinway Artist.
  • Todd Dicus (1972) -Since 1993 Todd has worked at the American Academy of Family Physicians, one of the largest medical associations, with over 120,000 members, a budget of nearly $100 million, and a staff of over 400. He currently serves as the Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Executive Vice President, and has overall responsibility for development and implementation of operational strategy, including oversight of budgetary, information technology, human resources, legal and compliance functions.  Prior to assuming his current position, Todd practiced law in Kansas City and served as the AAFP’s General Counsel. Todd received his undergraduate degree at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri and his law degree from UMKC.


  • Gary Neal Johnson (1968) - Gary is a long time presence on the theatrical stages of Kansas City as well as other cities. Perhaps his best known role is Ebeneezer Scrooge in the Kansas City Repertory production of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
  • Jon Cook (1989) - As the CEO of Kansas City based advertising agency VMLY&R, Jon has led the company to significant international growth. During Jon's tenure at VMLY&R, the company has grown from 30 employees in Kansas City to over 13,000 spread over 100 locations.


  • Steven Koltai (1972) - As a social entrepreneur, Steven has done pioneering work in using entrepreneurial practices to help low income communities in the US and abroad to dramatically improve their circumstances.  
  • Ben Schafer (1989) - Chairman of the Department of Civil Engineering at Johns Hopkins University and a leading international researcher on the use of thin walled structures for more cost effective buildings.


  • Jerome Pearson (1956) - Space scientist and aerospace engineer, inventor of many technologies used in space exploration
  • Judge Lisa Hardwick (1978) - Attorney, legislator and judge.  First African American woman to serve on Missouri Court of Appeals
  • Julie Mattson (1966) - School Board members, volunteer and community leader.  Advocate for kids for many years


  • Dr. Cindy Frewen Wuellner (1974) - Architect and Futurist focused on the future of urban living
  • Dr. Loren Berenbom (1971) - Cardiac Electrophysiologist, pioneer in treating heart rhythm disease

If you would like to nominate a recipient for the Distinguished Alumni Award, download this form Nomination Form.docx

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