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AMERICUS, GA (January 30, 2020) — Georgia Southwestern State University (GSW) will honor eight of its most “outstanding” alumni Saturday, Feb. 22 during its annual Outstanding Alumni Awards Dinner in the Thomas O. Marshall, Jr. Pavilion of the Marshall Student Center.

At the event, notable GSW alumni will be recognized for their professional and personal achievements as well as their contributions to the University.

In addition to the Aeolian Award and GSW Athletics Hall of Fame inductee, there are three new awards this year: the Visionary Award, Young Alumni of the Year Award, and the Legacy Award. The modification to the awards gives the GSW alumni base opportunities to nominate, provides more alumni engagement, and casts a larger net amongst our alumni worthy of recognition.

2020 GSW Alumni Awardees:

Aeolian Award recipient:

  • Ronald Nix, ’72

Visionary Award recipient:

  • Robert Martin, Sr., ’90 and ’91

Young Alumni of the Year:

  • Heather Burgess Simpson, ’07

Family Legacy Award recipients:

  • Dr. John Watford, ’86 and ’89
  • Barbara Watford, ’85 and ’89
  • Dr. Lettie Watford, ’82
  • Mark Watford, ’13

Hall of Fame inductee:

  • Chris Fenn, ’78, Contributor

“I look forward to the Outstanding Awards Dinner each year,” said GSW President Neal Weaver. “It is a special time for the Georgia Southwestern family to honor graduates who have accomplished a lot in life and contributed to the successes at GSW. The 2020 awardees are a special group, and I am excited about the opportunity to recognize these distinguished individuals.”


More about the Outstanding Alumni:

Ronald “Ronnie” Nix

After earning a degree in recreation education from GSW, Nix began a successful career in parks and recreation. He has worked for departments in Macon, Statesboro and Dalton, Ga. In 2012, the Dalton Athletic Complex Park, where Nix served as Director of Parks and Recreation for 25 years, was renamed in honor of him and is now known as the Ronald R. Nix Athletic Complex Park. Since 2011, Nix has served as a consultant for recreation planning firm Barge Design Solutions.

Nix has also been active in his community, serving as President and Charter member for the Dalton Morning Rotary Club, deacon and Sunday School teacher at First Baptist Church of Dalton, and a variety of leadership positions in the Georgia Parks and Recreation Association.

The Aeolian Award is given to an alumnus/alumna who has distinguished his/herself in their profession as well as in their community. This award is chosen based on outstanding lifetime achievement as a distinguished alumni and community leader.


Robert “Rob” Martin, Sr.

From a young age, Martin was driven by an entrepreneurial spirit. He started his own lawn cutting service at age 11 and owned and operated an automotive detailing service in college. During an internship while at GSW, Martin also partnered with the Americus-Sumter County Chamber of Commerce to develop a marketing plan for the city.

Since graduating with a BBA in Marketing in 1990, Martin spent 13 years with Motion Industries, Inc., working his way up from a sales/management trainee to operations manager. From 2004 – 2015, he put his customer service experience to use as Director of Hospitality and Head Chef at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. While there, Martin revitalized the church bookstore with a new online webstore and designed and opened a new church coffee shop.

Martin now works for the University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center in Albany, Ga. as Area Director where he directs outreach and assistance to small businesses in the 27-county region in Southwest Georgia. He resides in Sylvester, Ga.

The Visionary Award is given to an alumnus/alumna who is an entrepreneur or innovator with the commitment to turn a vision into reality, the courage to assume risk, and the ability to make changes and take advantage of new opportunities.


Heather Burgess Simpson

A 2007 Early Childhood Education graduate, Simpson went on to earn master’s and specialist degrees in education and teacher leadership from the University of Alabama. In 2018, Simpson was one of 104 teachers nationwide to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. She received a certificate signed by the President of the United States and $10,000 from the National Science Foundation for her outstanding work teaching mathematics to kindergarten students at Hueytown Elementary in Hueytown, Ala.

Simpson now teaches kindergarten at Deer Valley Elementary in Hoover, Ala. Outside of the classroom, she is actively involved within her education community. She leads professional development sessions at the school, district and state levels, works as a trainer for the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative, and serves on a regional in-service board for the state of Alabama.

Simpson resides in Pelham, Ala. with her husband Micah (’03) and sons Daniel and Nathan.

Young Alumni of the Year is given to an emerging leader making waves in his/her field as a positive role model and positive reflection on the University. The recipient must have attended GSW within the past 15 years. Distinction in one’s career and/or community and service to GSW are also considered.


The Watford Family

With four family members across two generations graduating from Georgia Southwestern and seven GSW degrees between them, the Watford family have established themselves as leaders in local higher education and workforce development.

Dr. Lettie Watford served as Dean of GSW’s School of Education from 2007 to 2013, where she established a professional network of over 50 partner schools and a number of new graduate programs. She has served the Georgia Professional Standards Commission in several leadership capacities over the years and is an active member of the Tift College Alumni Association. Lettie continues to teach dual enrollment courses at Lee and Sumter County High Schools.

After earning two degrees at GSW in Mathematics and Management, Lettie’s brother Dr. John Watford went on to earn a graduate degree from Columbus State University and a doctorate from the University of Georgia. He is currently President of South Georgia Technical College in Americus, Ga.

John met his wife, Barbara Watford, while they were both students at GSW. After graduating with a Reading Specialist degree, Barbara spent 30 years at Sumter County Schools in Americus, Ga., retiring as Principal in June 2015. She is currently a part-time instructor in GSW’s College of Education, teaching Elementary Education courses and assisting with the graduate education programs.

 Mark Watford, one of John and Barbara’s three children, graduated with two bachelor’s degrees in 2013, one in Music and one in Mathematics. After graduation, Mark served as a mathematics instructor at Wiregrass Georgia Technical College. He is currently a teaching assistant at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fl., where he is pursuing a doctoral degree in music.

The Family Legacy Award recognizes one family with a tradition of attending GSW through multiple generations with continued interest in and support of the University. Outstanding service to GSW, the Alumni Association, their communities and their professions are also considered.


Chris Fenn

A 1978 history graduate and an Americus native, Fenn is now known as the “Photographer of the Hurricanes.” When he’s not keeping track of all the keys on campus as a locksmith with GSW’s Physical Plant, Fenn can be found volunteering his time and talent as the official photographer for the GSW Department of Athletics. Since 2002, he has covered hundreds of athletic events and has spent countless hours promoting the University and its athletic programs through his photography.

Fenn will be inducted into the GSW Athletics Hall of Fame as a Contributor for his contributions to the Hurricanes over the years.


The Alumni Awards Dinner will be held Saturday, Feb. 22 with a reception starting at 6 p.m. and dinner at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at $50 per person and can be purchased by calling the GSW Alumni Association at 866-673-0436, emailing alumni@gsw.edu, or visiting gsw.edu/alumnievents. Reservations are required by Feb. 15.

2020 GSW Outstanding Alumni Award winners web

Pictured are (top row, L to R) Ronnie Nix, Heather Burgess Simpson, Rob Martin, Chris Fenn, (bottom row) Mark Watford, Barbara Watford, John Watford, and Lettie Watford

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