The Alumni Association at Missouri Southern State University has announced the Homecoming honorees for 2020 and 2021. 

 The recipients of the Distinguished Alum, Outstanding Alum and Outstanding Family awards will be recognized at a special dinner and ceremony, during the Homecoming parade at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 25, at downtown Joplin, and during halftime of the football game vs. Fort Hays State. 

 The traditional recognition activities were delayed in 2020 due to the pandemic, said Lee Elliff Pound, director of alumni and constituent relations at Missouri Southern. 

“We are so pleased to be able to host our annual events this year and are thrilled to welcome both the 2020 and the 2021 awardees,” she said.

2021 Distinguished Alum
Ron Mitchell, ‘71

Ron Mitchell graduated from Missouri Southern in 1971, and received his juris doctor degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1974.   

From 1974 to 2016, he was with the Joplin firm Blanchard, Robertson, Mitchell & Carter, where he tried more than 200 jury trials.  

Mitchell was chair of the Missouri Bar’s Young Lawyer’ Section in 1983-84 and president of the Jasper County Bar in 1988-89.  He served as an assistant prosecutor for Jasper County from 1978-86.  He served as counsel for MSSU from 1994 to 2006 and was a commencement speaker at the university. 

He currently serves as a mediator in more than 200 cases per year. He is a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, an invitation-only organization limited to 1% of attorneys; and a Distinguished Fellow of the International Academy of Mediators, which is comprised of 200 mediators from around the world, with less than half being from the United States. He is also a member of the National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals.   

He was president of the Missouri Bar 1994-95 and served on the Board of Governors from 1985-96. He was a longtime member of the Missouri Bar’s Legal Education Committee, and previously served as vice chair of that committee. He has made contributions to the Missouri Bar CLE as an author and lecturer.  

He received the Spurgeon Smithson Award from the Missouri Bar Foundation in 2005 for contributions for significant contributions to the administration of justice.” He was presented the Missouri Bar President’s award in 1999 for his work as chair of the Missouri Statewide Legal Services Commission.  He served on the Supreme Court Committee studying Regional Justice Centers, the Venue Commission, the Commission on the Impartiality of the Judiciary and chairs the Lawyer-to-Lawyer Dispute Resolution Committee. 

He also served in the House of Delegates of the ABA as the State Delegate for Missouri from 1998-2004, and chaired the ABA Judicial Advisory Council.  He is a Life Member Fellow of the ABA Foundation.  

He served as Chairman of the American Cancer Society’s Doctor/Lawyer Softball Games in 1982 and 1983.  In 1986-1987 he served as a Cub Scout Pack Master.  He has also served on the board of directors of such organizations as the Missouri Southern Alumni Association, Kiwanis, Boys and Girls Club of Joplin, the United Way, Sheltered Workshop and the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce. 

2021 Outstanding Alum
Nathan Bemo, ‘98

Nathan Bemo grew up as a missionary kid in Southeast Asia.  While visiting the U.S., he happened to check out a professional skateboard demo in Corpus Christi, Texas.  That day he purchased his first board and has been skateboarding ever since.   

Back in Asia, he fell in love with the sport even more and began building his own ramps since there wasn’t much to ride.  After he graduated from high school, Bemo moved to Joplin to attend college.  Since there wasn’t a skatepark in Joplin, he built his own and ran it and a small skate shop as a business until he graduated from MSSU in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in general business. 

Later that year he began American Ramp Company (ARC), which specializes in designing and building skateparks. Since its inception, ARC has built more than 4,000 projects in 45 countries.   

Seeing the huge need for storm shelters after the Joplin tornado hit, Bemo and his partners started Atlas Safe Rooms and have built more than 4,300 storm shelters in 28 states including some international projects.   

Additionally, he and his partners have investments in residential and commercial properties in Joplin and own and run Gusano’s Pizza just around the corner from MSSU. 

Bemo and his wife recently celebrated their 27th anniversary and have 3 daughters. Phoenix and Asia are graduates of MSSU. Their youngest daughter, Anea, just started her senior year at Webb City High School. 

2021 Outstanding Family
The Chad, ‘96 and Jennifer, ‘97 Wagoner Family

Dr. Chad and Jennifer Wagoner are both graduates of Missouri Southern. 

Graduating in 1996 with a bachelor’s of science in biology and a bachelor of arts in chemistry, Chad also served in the U.S. Air Force, where he received the Air Force Achievement Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal. 

 Since 2006, he has been a family medicine physician with Mercy Hospital, practicing in Carthage. He is the medical director for Carthage Health and Rehabilitation and serves as a clinical preceptor for medical students from KCUMB, UMKC and MU. He’s the president of the Joplin area alumni association of the Kappa Alpha Order, and is active in Missouri Freemasonry at the local and state level. 

 Jennifer graduated from Missouri Southern in 1997 with a bachelor’s of science degree in education-secondary mathematics and chemistry. She also received her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction and is a teacher at Carthage High School. 

She has been recognized by the school district for assisting with technology training for teachers and staff. She has served as a teacher mentor for MSSU students, as president of the Missouri State Teachers Association, president of the Carthage Community Teachers Association and color guard instructor for the Carthage Tiger Marching Band. 

Their daughter, Eryn, is currently a sophomore at MSSU majoring in biology and chemistry. 

2020 Distinguished Alum
Andy Thomas, ‘80

Andy Thomas, received his degree in marketing/management from Missouri Southern in 1980. He began his professional art career in the fall of 1991 after 16 years with Leggett & Platt Inc. He works from his studio – named Maze Creek – in Carthage, Mo., to create unique oil paintings that tell a story.  

He’s known for his action-filled Western art and has painted many subjects from American history, as well as a picnic by the river, kids playing sports and a brutal bear fight. His work has been featured in magazines such as Western Art Collector, Art of the West and Rural Missouri, National Park Service brochures and educational books by the Franklin Watts Children Press, Harcourt and others. 

He has also illustrated books and (with his permission) images have been used on many book covers. 

His books “The Artful Journey” and “The West in Action” contain more than 100 color images of his work. His work can also be found in videos produced by the NPS, US Federal Claims Court and National Geographic. 

Thomas’ work has won numerous awards and throughout his career he has been part of many shows from coast to coast.  

He had the honor of being the Artist in Residence at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas, where he lectured and gave painting demonstrations to college students and the general public. He was invited by the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Okla., to be the 2015 Rendezvous Artist for paintings. 

He has two series of paintings of the U.S. Presidents – a Republican version and a Democrat version – and adds to them as presidents change.  The most recent version, which featured Pres. Donald Trump, was displayed in the White House. 

2020 Outstanding Alum
Noppadol Paothong, ‘02

Noppadol Paothong, a 2002 graduate of MSSU, is a nature/conservation photographer who has focused on documenting rare and endangered species. 

A native of Thailand, he came to the United States and enrolled as a student at North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where he began shooting photos for the school newspaper. In 1998, he was recruited by Dr. Chad Stebbins to attend Missouri Southern, where he became photo editor for The Chart. 

Paothong, who graduated with a communications degree, served as a staff photographer for the Joplin Globe for five years, and later at the Springfield News-Leader. Since 2006, he has been a staff wildlife photographer with the Missouri Department of Conservation. He has contributed images and stories to the department’s high-quality publications, including the Missouri Conservationist and Xplore.  With a monthly circulation of over 500,000, the Missouri Conservationist is known as one of the largest and most high-quality state conservation magazines.  

For more than a decade, he has focused his lens on grassland grouse and their fragile habitat. In 2012, he published “Save the Last Dance,” capturing stunning images of the endangered grouse. He followed that up in 2018 with a second book, “Sage Grouse: Icon of the West.” 

Paothong is a member of the International League of Conservation Photographers, which accepts the world’s most elite wildlife, nature and culture photographers. 

His photography has received numerous awards from organizations such as the Outdoors Writers Association of America, the National Wildlife Federation and the Society of Professional Journalists. His work has also been featured in numerous publications, including Audubon Magazine, National Wildlife Magazine, Birding Magazine, Field & Stream and Missouri Prairie Journal. 

2020 Outstanding Family
The David and Laura Weaver Family, ‘89

David Weaver and Laura Weaver both graduated from Missouri Southern in 1989; David with a bachelor’s in general business and an associate’s degree in accounting, and Laura with a degree in elementary education/language arts. 

David is in charge of Missouri Southern’s Koinonia Christian Campus Ministry, and teaches accounting at Pittsburg State University. He has also owned Weaver Photography in Joplin for more than 20 years. 

Laura also received her bachelors in Christian education from Ozark Christian College in 1989, her masters in elementary administration in 1996 and her Specialist in elementary administration in 2003, both from Missouri State University.  She received doctorate in educational leadership from St. Louis University in 2005.   

She recently became the Special Services Director for the Diamond R-IV School District. Laura has held positions with College Heights Christian School, Carthage, Seneca, Joplin school districts prior to recently becoming the special Services Director for the Diamond R-IV School District.  

David and Laura have been married for 35 years and have four children: Michael, Rachel, Brandon, Joshua. 

Michael is a 2014 biology/pre-professional graduate of Missouri Southern. And is currently studying medicine through KCU.  

Daughter Rachel (Weaver) Johnson received her degree in elementary education from MSSU in 2016 and is a first-grade teacher at Columbian Elementary in Carthage.  

Brandon graduated from MSSU in 2012 with a CIS degree and a general business minor. He is a senior software engineer-developer for the Square Developers team. 

Their youngest son, Joshua, is currently in the eighth grade.  

The Weaver family members are strong supporters of Missouri Southern and the local community.