WILBURTON, OK (April 28, 2021) – Although the 2020 Sapphire Ball had to be canceled and the 2021 event scaled back due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Eastern Oklahoma State College’s donors and supporters still helped raise more than $27,000 to ensure students can achieve their dreams of earning a college degree.
Eastern celebrated its 11th Sapphire Ball with a limited attendance event on April 24, honoring supporters of the college and raising $27,098.91 for student scholarships.
“Student debt has become a major topic of conversation at the national level, and we can help alleviate this problem through scholarship development,” Wansick said. “The students we serve in southeast Oklahoma need financial support as they pursue a college education. Many families are facing hardships as a result of the ongoing pandemic and we are committed to making a college degree more affordable as our students aspire to a brighter future. The Sapphire Ball is a wonderful opportunity to recognize esteemed members of our community, while also supporting students in need.”
The annual black-tie event was canceled in 2020 just as the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning. This year, Eastern officials decided to move forward with the event to recognize the honorees and allow a limited number of their guests to attend. Eastern honored four individuals and one organization that have made a significant impact on the college or in their community.
Stephenie Ingram of Wilburton and Kerri Jones of McAlester received the Distinguished Alumnus Award, presented annually to alumni who have distinguished themselves professionally and through service to the college.
Ingram is a nurse practitioner and opened the Wilburton Family Medical Clinic in February 2018 to provide primary care to the citizens of Latimer County and the surrounding areas. A Quinton High School graduate, Ingram earned a nursing degree from Eastern in 1999. She spent 12 years as a public health nurse at the Latimer County Health Department from 2000-2012. During this time, Ingram earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Oklahoma Wesleyan University and completed a master’s degree in nursing and the family nurse practitioner program from the University of Central Arkansas. Before opening her own clinic, she worked as a nurse practitioner in Internal Medicine at the Warren Clinic in McAlester.
Jones has worked in retail pharmacy for the past 26 years. A native of Crowder, Jones attended Eastern on basketball and academic scholarships, earning an associate degree in pre-pharmacy in 1995. She graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from Southwestern Oklahoma State University in 1998. Jones is a full-time pharmacist at Pruett’s Pharmacy in McAlester and a part-time pharmacist at Walmart in Stigler. She is a member of the Oklahoma Pharmacists Association and serves as vice president of the McAlester High School Pom Booster Club.
Sam Wampler’s Freedom Ford of McAlester received the Community Spirit Award for outstanding support and service to Eastern and the local community. Sam Wampler opened Freedom Ford in November 2014 and he has been an active member in the community. Freedom Ford donates thousands of dollars annually to local causes, organizations and communities in southeast Oklahoma, including Future Farmers of America (FFA), 4-H, the Armed Forces Day Parade, Marine Corp Ball, Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) Rodeo, the McAlester Regional Health Center Cancer Center, fall festival car shows, and more. The business also hosts community events such as a Halloween costume contest and the annual Eggstravaganza Drive 4 UR School event that benefits McAlester Public Schools. Wampler also supports veterans, retired and active-duty military personnel, as well as first responders including police officers, firefighters, paramedics and 911 dispatchers with special discounts.
The President’s Excellence in Teaching Award was presented to Heather Spiegel of McAlester. She has taught nursing at Eastern since 2008 and currently serves as the sophomore level coordinator for the program. She has also worked as a case manager for Heartland Hospice in McAlester since 2015. An Eastern alumna, Spiegel earned an associate of applied science in nursing in 2002. She earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Northeastern Oklahoma State University and a master’s degree in nursing education from the University of Oklahoma. Prior to joining Eastern, Spiegel worked as a staff nurse at the McAlester Regional Health Center and Tahlequah City Hospital. In 2016, she was recognized as one of the top 100 nurses in the state of Oklahoma by the Great 100 Nurses Foundation.
The J.C. Hunt Award for staff excellence was presented to Marci O’Donley of McAlester. O’Donley spent 36 years at Eastern before retiring in July 2020. She began her career at Eastern in the loan collections office in 1984 and later worked in the Office of Academic Affairs before transitioning to Student Services as a dorm coordinator to work directly with students. Throughout her career at Eastern, she worked in the president’s office for four different college presidents. Most recently, she served as the executive assistant to the president and administrative assistant to the EOSC Board of Regents. O’Donley earned an associate degree in secondary education from Eastern in 1990 and graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in management and leadership in business administration from Oklahoma Wesleyan University in 2004.
A total of 35 corporate, organization and individual donors contributed to the success of the event as event sponsors and fund donors, while another 72 businesses and individuals donated items for the online auction.