Since 1970, the Longwood Alumni Association Awards have been presented to individuals in honor of their outstanding achievements and service to the community. This year, the awards recognize a range of career choices and talents—from a hardcourt star and a Wall Street wizard to two individuals working behind the scenes who have made an impact on the lives of millions.
Jerome Kersey ’84/’06
William Henry Ruffner Alumni Award / Posthumous award
In 1999, the San Antonio Spurs beat the New York Knicks for the NBA Championship. Wearing No. 25 for the Spurs, at that time in his 15th year of professional basketball, was Jerome Kersey. It had been a long journey from his hometown in Clarksville, by way of an impressive college career at Longwood, to that day on the court in the Big Apple.
Kersey, who died Feb. 18, 2015, set school records for points, rebounds, steals and blocked shots before his four years on the Longwood court ended in 1984. More than 30 years later, his name is still well-known to Lancer fans.
“It was a proud day for my family,” Kersey said about going to Longwood, in a January 2015 interview. “I was a small-town kid, and Longwood gave me a great opportunity—one that my family couldn’t afford—to get my education and play basketball. I still have great friends today that I met at Longwood. I wouldn’t trade the experience for any other college I could have gone to.”
On the court, Kersey led all Division II players nationwide with an average of 14.2 rebounds per game his senior season, good enough to get him drafted in the second round of the NBA draft by the Portland Trail Blazers. He played 11 of his 17 years as a pro in Portland, where he remains among the team’s top all-time performers. But many NBA fans remember best the 1987 NBA Slam-Dunk Competition, where Kersey finished second to Michael Jordan in one of the event’s most amazing displays. Google it.
After a great career, Kersey spent some time coaching and pursuing business opportunities. At the time of his death, he was back where he got his professional start as the director of alumni relations for the Portland Trail Blazers, where he created and supported community outreach efforts for the team. Kersey also was seen on pre- and post-game shows on the regional Comcast Sports Network.
While Kersey received many accolades, including his induction into Longwood’s first Hall of Fame class in 2005 and both the Virginia and Oregon Sports Halls of Fame in 2008, he counted among his proudest achievements receiving his Longwood degree in 2006 after completing a few final classes.
“Longwood asked me once to come back and speak at a commencement, and I turned them down,” he said in the January interview, getting serious. “I realized I couldn’t preach my daughter the importance of an education until I completed what I started at Longwood—my education—and showed her the right path.”
Longwood invited Kersey to speak at commencement again in 2009, and this time he had the credential he felt was necessary.
He said giving that speech was one of the most intimidating and important experiences of his life.
Kersey leaves his daughter, Kiara; his wife, Teri, and her children, McKenzie, Brendan and Maddie; his grandmother, Elizabeth Kersey; and the latest member of his team, a granddaughter approaching
her first birthday.
Dr. Donna M. Gibson ’72
Thomas Jefferson Professional Achievement Award
Donna Gibson’s parents encouraged her to forgo college and become a secretary, but she had other ideas.
With thoughts of becoming a teacher or a librarian, she chose college and followed her sister to
Dr. Gibson ’72 did finally make it to the classroom—at Cornell University, no less, where today she is an adjunct professor—in addition to spending more than 30 years as a biochemist conducting groundbreaking research for the Agricultural Research Service, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
From work on anti-cancer drugs to alternatives for chemical pesticides, she has made a career out of making people’s lives better and safer.
“It makes you feel good knowing that you helped to solve big problems,” Gibson said from her office in upstate New York. “It has been much more than a career for me, and I have never been bored.”
This particular, very productive career got its start in a biology class at Longwood. With help from teachers who made the subject come alive, the future scientist found a calling.
“I was never encouraged to explore science in high school, but thanks to a wonderful biology teacher during my freshman year of college, I was hooked,” she said. “I ended up switching to biology, took every science course I could and practically lived in the science building. I had a childlike curiosity and wanted to learn it all.”
That thirst for knowledge continued to serve Gibson well in her doctoral studies at the University of South Carolina and in her career.
In the 1980s, she worked on a USDA project to find synthetic alternatives to the anti-cancer drug Taxol, whose only source was the bark of Pacific yew trees in the old-growth forest habitat of spotted owls—the perfect storm of rare, expensive and environment. Later she helped search for biological control agents to reduce farmers’ dependence on potentially harmful chemical pesticides. And she played a vital role in the team of researchers who created an enzyme additive for animal feed that can reduce phosphate runoff in the environment.
“A lot of people don’t hear about the work we do in the Agricultural Research Service, but most of the products you see in the grocery store we had a hand in some way,”
These days, while she is newly retired and starting yet another chapter in her life, Gibson continues her faculty appointment at Cornell, where she tries to instill in the next generation of scientists the kind of passion she discovered in that Longwood biology class.
Nancy Birdsall Bain ’55
Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry Humanitarian Alumni Award
There are times a song can change your life. Nancy Birdsall Bain ’55 grew up in Dinwiddie County and followed in her mother’s footsteps by attending Longwood. Her mother was a teacher, but Bain studied business education with hopes of charting a different course. Then one day in the early 1950s, she heard the band from a nearby Army base perform.
“Of course, I had lived near Fort Lee but really didn’t know too much about it other than they kept us safe,” said Bain, who still lives not far from the base. “But just hearing the band made me want to be out there marching, too.”
During spring break of her last year, Bain took the civil service exam, aced it and went to work on the base for the United States Army Quartermaster Corps, the Army’s oldest logistics branch, just days
“The soldier needs to be ready, and we do what’s necessary to be sure a soldier is ready if he has to go to war,” said Bain, who did her part to keep the Army moving for 41 years. I’ve seen a lot of soldiers grow up, and it’s been a privilege to see them advance to their potential as leaders.”
Bain had been retired only one month when she was asked to return to work for the Army Quartermaster Foundation, a fundraising organization that also supports a museum preserving the history of the corps. The museum is visited each year by more than 70,000 people, including thousands of soldiers required to pass through as a way of appreciating what it takes to keep them fed, clothed and on the move.
Looking back at her time at Longwood, Bain credits close relationships with helping her grow up.
“Freshman year I was homesick, and the upperclassmen took me under their wing,”
she said. “The girls were like your sisters.”
She also recalls the time students spent on the train going back home to Petersburg.
“It was fun riding home with the boys from Virginia Tech,” she said with a smile. “Some of my friends met their future husbands on that train.”
Bain met her future husband through a Longwood connection: Warren Bain was the brother of one of her classmates. Their family includes two sons, one daughter and 11 grandchildren, all still living nearby
Evan J. Weinstein ’04
Rotunda Young Alumni Award
When he moved to New York to launch his career in investment banking, Evan Weinstein ’04 ran into an army of analysts with Ivy League pedigrees. But he soon discovered one big advantage from his time as a student at Longwood University.
“When I first started, most of the analysts hired around me came from nationally recognized colleges that didn’t have undergraduate business programs,” said Weinstein. “I found I was further up the learning curve because I was able to major in finance at Longwood, while many of my peers didn’t have that opportunity at some of the more well-known liberal arts schools.”
Another advantage was something that was brand new when Weinstein was at Longwood and has been providing valuable experience to Lancer graduates ever since.
The Lancer Student Investment Fund gives students the opportunity to invest real dollars with the help of advisers. Started in 2002 with an allocation of $250,000 from the Longwood University Foundation, the
fund now has assets of more than $500,000. In his senior year, Weinstein served as the fund’s second manager.
“The fund was a big leap of faith by school administrators,” said Weinstein.
The opportunity to invest real capital was a great experience and has helped many graduates pursue successful careers in the investment community. Many alumni owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Frank Bacon and Brad Watson, who were key in getting the fund off the ground and continue today as the fund advisers.”
Originally from Toronto, Weinstein has had an interest in business since his lawn-mowing and snow-shoveling days and CD business in high school. Today he is a vice president at CI Capital Partners, a private equity firm that invests in companies with anywhere from $50 million to more than $1 billion dollars
in revenue. In appreciation of what he learned at Longwood, Weinstein takes the time to talk with students currently working with the Lancer Fund and meets with them on an annual trip they take to New York.
An outstanding business education wasn’t the only thing that drew him to Longwood, however. He also came to pursue his second passion: baseball. He was a starting pitcher and Academic All-American in 2003 and 2004, the last Lancer to receive the award until soccer player Kelsey McDonald earned the honor this past season.
“I loved playing baseball at Longwood and Coach [Buddy] Bolding was a great coach,” Weinstein said of the revered former coach. He was what made it such a storied program and strong tradition.”
These days Weinstein has added another passion to his life: fatherhood. He and his wife, Leah, welcomed daughter Madeleine in 2013.
By: Dan Cawley