Auburn Alumni Association names 2015 lifetime achievers and young alumnus

Published: October 09, 2014
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AUBURN UNIVERSITY – The Auburn Alumni Association has selected four Auburn University graduates as recipients of its highest honor, the Lifetime Achievement Award. They are: Samuel L. Ginn ’59, retired president and CEO of AirTouch, now Vodafone; Melissa Brown Herkt ’77, retired president of Process Systems and Solutions, a division of Emerson Process Management; David E. Housel ’69, Auburn University athletic director emeritus; and W. Michael Warren ’68, president and CEO of Children’s of Alabama. J. Benjamin Chappell ’03, owner and principal of Interior Elements, is the recipient of the Young Alumni Achievement Award, which recognizes extraordinary accomplishments of a member of the Auburn Family, age 40 and under.

After graduating from Auburn in 1959 with a degree in industrial management, Sam Ginn served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. He began his career in 1960 with AT&T as a student engineer. His early years at AT&T led him to increasing responsibilities in sales, engineering and operations. Ginn was transferred to California in a time of upheaval in telecommunications. Out of that upheaval came the creation of the wireless industry, where Ginn became founder, chair and CEO of AirTouch Communications, which later merged with Vodafone to become the world’s largest wireless communications company. Since the merger, Ginn has been active on charitable boards, startup companies and is chairman of the Ginn Family Foundation. In addition, Ginn made a gift of $25 million to Auburn University to establish an undergraduate degree program in wireless engineering, the first accredited wireless engineering degree program in the country. The College of Engineering was named the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering in his honor. He served on the Board of Trustees for the university from 2005-2013. This year, he was named to the Wireless Hall of Fame Class of 2014 by the Wireless History Foundation. Ginn and his wife, Ann, reside in Hillsborough, California, and they have three children and six grandchildren.

Melissa Herkt, who earned a degree in civil engineering in 1977, was the first female co-op student and worked for Alabama Power for three quarters. Following graduation from Auburn, she was hired by Exxon, where she became the first female engineer posted overseas. In that post, she was a construction engineer on a $30 million project in Denmark. She was later appointed the first female construction manager for Exxon, where she led a $300 million refinery expansion in France and a $400 million project in the UK and Denmark. She served as president of Process Systems and Solutions – Americas, a division of Emerson Process Management, one of the largest and most respected engineering companies in the world. Herkt was responsible for a half-dozen vital industries approaching $900 million in annual revenue. Through the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, she is actively involved with engineering student outreach and has traveled with student teams to Bolivia twice. She lives in Round Rock, Texas.

David Housel first came to Auburn University in 1965 and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism four years later. He left the Plains for a brief stint as news editor at The Huntsville News, only to return and start a career with Auburn Athletics. Housel spent two years in the ticket office before teaching journalism at Auburn from 1972-80. He rejoined the athletic department as an assistant sports information director, was named sports information director in 1981 and assistant athletic director in 1985. Housel became athletic director in 1994 and served in that capacity until his retirement in 2005. Under his leadership, the Tigers won eight national titles, 38 SEC titles and added softball and equestrian to the sports roster at the university. In 2005, the press box in Jordan-Hare Stadium was dedicated in his honor. For his significant contributions to the field of sports communication, Housel has been awarded membership in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, the Sports Information Directors Hall of Fame and has received distinguished service awards from the Walter Camp Football Foundation and the Alabama chapter of the National Football Hall of Fame. Housel has authored five books, including Saturdays to Remember (1973), Auburn University Football Vault (2007) and his 2014 publication, Auburn University Flashback: The History of the Tigers. He and his wife Susan reside in Auburn.

After graduating from Auburn and attending law school at Duke University, Mike Warren began his career practicing law with the Birmingham firm of Bradley, Arant, Rose and White. He joined Alabama Gas Corporation in 1983 and became president of Alagasco in 1984. He was named president and CEO of Energen in 1997 and chair in 1998. Under Warren’s leadership, Alagasco was named one of the 100 best companies to work for in America. In 2001, Warren was named Alabama CEO of the year by The Birmingham News and in 2008, he was named president and CEO of Children’s of Alabama, the state’s only free-standing pediatric medical facility. He and his family established the William Michael Warren Endowed Undergraduate Student Leadership Awards in the College of Agriculture’s Department of Animal Sciences to honor his father, a longtime faculty member, and to support animal sciences students who demonstrate both academic excellence and leadership. He and his wife, Anne, live in Birmingham and have three children.

Ben Chappell, who earned a degree of business administration in 2003, is the owner and principal of Interior Elements, a contract furniture dealership based in Jackson, Mississippi, which represents elite manufacturers Knoll, DIRTT, Kimball and KI. In 2010, Chappell became the youngest principal of a Knoll-aligned dealership in the world. Chappell has formed one of the largest contract furniture dealerships in the Southeast with IE’s four-state footprint. Chappell sits on the Advisory Board of Directors for the Mississippi State University School of Architecture and the Advisory Board of Directors for the Auburn University Interior Design program, which has been recognized as one of the top five interior design programs in the nation. Most recently, Chappell graduated from Auburn University in May 2014 with an Executive MBA. Chappell and his wife, Anna, have two children.

Ginn, Herkt, Housel, Warren and Chappell will be honored at a dinner and induction ceremony in March at The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center.

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