Alumni Achievement Awards

The Alumni Association Board recognizes and celebrates outstanding alumni who demonstrate high levels of achievement and/or service in one or more of Converse’s Seven Core Values: Excellence, Integrity, Exploration, Diversity, Respect, Community, and Progress.

2020 Alumni Achievement Award Winners

Our Alumni Association Board is honored to recognize our outstanding Alumni with the following awards:

The 2020 Undergraduate Distinguished Alumna Award is presented to Karen Waters Thomas, DC ’84

Dr. Karen Waters Thomas owes this award to her brilliant and gifted mother, Katherine, for recognizing the benefits of a Converse education. Karen graduated from The Spartanburg Day School ’81 where she was chosen the Converse Scholar. Graduating Converse with a degree in Biology ’84, she interned locally in orthopedics and completed her doctorate at Sherman College of Straight Chiropractic ’88. She shares her Converse legacy with sister, Rev. Kelli Waters Taylor ’89 and daughter, Kristen Thomas Lambert ’13.

Dr. Karen Waters Thomas

With postgraduate degrees in sports medicine and physical therapy, her 32-year private practice is a mainstay in the upstate of SC. While serving four generations of patients including Converse students, faculty and alumnae, she has earned the nickname “DRMOM” which she proudly displays on the license plate of her Tesla. Many pieces of Converse memorabilia are displayed in their family-owned practice in Greer, SC from the alumnae lamp to paintings and prints from reunions and events. Even though she was a commuting student (referred to then as a Day Student), she was always a self-motivator and truly enjoyed membership in the Converse Dance Ensemble. From ’84-’90, she was director/choreographer for the Converse Dance Team. She served on the Alumnae Board from 2010 to 2012, during which time she and her daughter entered a replica of Main Hall in the former Grove Park Inn Gingerbread House contest. It was on display at the college following the event. She and her husband, David spearheaded “Art in Motion” that brought a Concourse D’Elegance style event to back campus. Depicting an automotive history of life at Converse, 100 car owners sported period-appropriate costumes and enjoyed lunch in Gee Dining Hall. She gives all glory to God. As a Lay Servant for The United Methodist Church and a Racers for Christ Chaplain, she has opportunities to share her faith and use her spiritual gifts to help others. Today, along with family and her practice, she is taking Converse ‘in the fast lane of motorsports’ as she competes nationally. The world’s fastest Tesla Model X is immediately recognized by media outlets from the larger than life Valkyrie displayed on the Falcon wing doors. The car is also featured at special events on campus. Along with her Tower charm and her cherished memories, Karen literally takes Converse wherever she goes.

The 2020 Community Service Award is presented to Lynda “Smitty” Smith Swann ‘70

The description for the Community Service Award winner says the award recognizes an alumna who displays qualities of a vibrant citizen through actively being involved in her community, church, and state. Smitty is a vibrant citizen with everything she does. She is an active citizen in her community – Lexington, North Carolina, through volunteer work, and through being an economic leader in Lexington as President of National Wholesale Company, the business begun by her father. As a woman with strong faith, Smitty is active with her Lexington church. Because she spends many weekends in the mountains, she and her husband Michael are regular members of a church in Blowing Rock. You will not hear Smitty talk about her service, involvement, or achievements. She may be vibrant, but she is more comfortable in the background.

Lynda Smitty Swann

Smitty began her career working in counseling and social work. When she and husband Michael moved back to Smitty’s hometown of Lexington, she joined the management at National and later became President. She continues to be committed to her full-time job because of what the company means to the local economy and to the approximate 200 employees who work at National. Smitty recognizes the importance of providing jobs where she lives – especially to the mostly female workforce at her company who make up 95% of her employees. While many companies outsource jobs such as the call center, National keeps it local. These women are heads of single households or the main breadwinners of families. Not only has Smitty demonstrated empowering women through her tangible actions to employ women, she also believes in the value of women’s educational institutions. She told both of her daughters they could choose either a women’s prep school or a women’s college, and that they were going to have the women’s educational experience at one of those levels because of what it does for a young woman. They each chose prep school for this experience. Rather than have the spotlight on herself, Smitty would rather praise her employees and have the spotlight on them for the good deeds her company does for the community. Through the company, her employees generously support causes, whether thousands of dollars worth of clothing to the local Salvation Army, needed clothing to local victims of domestic violence, needed supplies to those displaced by hurricanes, or large amounts of food to the local food pantry. Her employees also sell overstocks in the parking lot annually and donate proceeds to the Relay for Life to assist cancer patients. Once a year they give proceeds from catalog sales to the Lineberger Cancer Center. Smitty feels all the credit for these acts of kindness and generosity should go to her employees. They demonstrate Christian love, and this comes from the freedom they feel because National is an openly Christian company. Prayer requests are sent out every morning. Smitty gave the example of requesting that some employees join her in praying for a co-worker’s daughter who at the time was critically ill. Rather than the 10 people she hoped would come, the entire plant came and stood in a circle while Smitty prayed. Smitty might keep quiet about her leadership and setting the tone at National for community service, but she is not shy about her commitment to Christianity and living her faith. Smitty is active in Bible study programs, church services, and supporting the church’s mission. The faith and active church lives of her daughters are a testament to the example Smitty set for them. Over the years, Smitty has been active in Lexington by being involved with supporting local organizations/agencies, serving on Boards, and serving on committees. Organizations include: Health Sciences Center at Davidson County Community College, Junior Orphanage, Family Services Home for Women, and the Lexington Hospital. Smitty has been and is continuing to make a difference in Lexington, North Carolina, through her community service.

The 2020 Mae Elizabeth Kilgo Spirit Award presented to Christi von Lehe Sellars ’76

Christi von Lehe Sellars is a 1976 graduate of Converse College where she received her Bachelors degree in Music Education, Piano Performance. She received her Master’s degree in Music Education in 1987. A native of Charleston, Christi has lived in Spartanburg since her graduation. Married to Robert, she has two children, Katherine Sellars Johnson, a CRNA at Lexington Hospital in Columbia, and Patrick Sellars, an administrator in Spartanburg School District Six.

Christi Sellars

She has two granddaughters, Ella (7) and Wallis (5). Converse grads are a tradition in the family. Her husband and son both received Masters degrees in Education from Converse. Christi worked in the Converse Admissions office after graduation. She has previously taught music at Spartanburg High School and at Spartanburg Day School where she began the Day School Singers. She served as Director of Music at Cannons Campground UMC for 22 years. She retired in May from Wofford College where she taught music for 26 years. She was the creator of Wofford StARTS (Students in the ARTS), offering monthly art lessons to Boys and Girls Club members. She was also instrumental in the development of the recently created Music Minor and on May 29, 2020, Christi was granted emeritus status from Wofford. Christi’s professional affiliations include the Music Educators National Conference, The South Carolina Music Educators Association, and The American Choral Directors Association. She has served on the boards of the Music Foundation of Spartanburg, The Spartanburg Little Theater, The Lady Gainsborough Debutante Club, The Spartanburg Philharmonic Music Club, and the Spartanburg Repertory Opera Company. She has served as her Converse class representative several times and has recently served on the Converse College Alumnae Board.

The 2020 Young Alumnae Award presented to Kaylee Boalt ’14

alumni achievement award

A native of Greer, SC, Kaylee Boalt is the Program Director at the American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL), a Washington, DC-based non-profit that facilitates bipartisan politically-themed exchange programs. In her role, Kaylee liaises with the US Department of State, US Embassies abroad, and other international partners to implement exchanges for both American and international political leaders. She also oversees the ACYPL program team. Previously, Kaylee was the Director of Student Programs at the National Council on US-Arab Relations where she administered leadership development programs and facilitated short-term exchanges for American professors and students studying the Arab World, traveling to Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Qatar. Kaylee graduated from Converse College in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in politics and music. During her time at Converse, she performed in opera productions in the US and Italy and was a member of the Model Programs team. She currently sings soprano with the Choral Arts Society of Washington, a symphonic chorus that performs concerts throughout Washington, DC, including at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The 2020 Career Achievement Award presented to Missy Stuart Dillmon ’95

After receiving her Medical Doctorate degree from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC, Dr. Dillmon completed her residency at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. Dr. Dillmon completed her Fellowship in Hematology and Oncology at the Comprehensive Cancer Center at University of Alabama, She is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine (Internal Medicine & Medical Oncology). Dr. Dillmon is a member of the Medical Association of Georgia, the American Society of Clinical Oncology and a board member of GASCO.

Converse achievement award

Dr. Melissa Stuart Dillmon, doctor of Hematology and Oncology, was recently named a Fellow by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). The title of Fellow is bestowed upon ASCO members who have accomplished extraordinary volunteer service, dedication and commitment to the society that benefits the ASCO, the specialty of oncology, and most importantly, the patients whom they serve.The ASCO is the world’s leading professional organization representing physicians who treat people with cancer. “It is a huge honor to receive the Fellow of the American Society of Clinical Oncology designation,” Dillmon said. “I am extremely dedicated to my field and it’s been very fulfilling to provide complete care to my patients at the Harbin Clinic Cancer Center.” “Dr. Dillmon’s leadership has been critical to the development of Harbin Clinic’s state-of-the-art cancer care center,” said Harbin Clinic Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ed McBride. “We are pleased to see her recognized by her peers in the American Society of Clinical Oncology, as her service to our clinic and the community at large is extraordinary.” Dr. Dillmon, who also serves on the board for Harbin Clinic Cancer Center, has accomplished extensive work with the ASCO. She served as the chair of ASCO’s State Affiliate Council, which gave her the opportunity to network with physicians throughout the country, discussing how to bring the best possible care to oncology patients. She was recently named chair of the Government Relations Committee which will allow her to continue to influence legislative issues impacting cancer patients.

The 2020 Career Achievement in Music presented to Regina Pettit Ziliani ’95

Ask Regina Ziliani what served as the greatest inspiration in her career, and she will credit the years spent growing and learning in the Pre-college of Music at Converse, known today as The Lawson Academy of the Arts. Those formative years provided such a wonderful experience, Regina decided to remain at Converse to pursue her undergraduate degree. She maintained a large piano studio throughout her college years. While a student at Converse, Regina also enjoyed playing violin with the Converse Chamber Ensemble and the Greater Spartanburg Philharmonic. Regina Ziliani was blessed to study with wonderful pedagogues and performers such as Dr. Hao Huang, Dr. Henry Janiec., Dr. George Lucktenburg, Elizabeth Jennings, and Lera Borden.

Regina Ziliani Converse music

After teaching piano in San Jose, CA for three years, Regina and her husband moved to Charlotte, NC. Regina never expected her home studio in Charlotte to grow so quickly, but soon she would hire an assistant teacher and grow to 84 piano students. As successful as her home studio was, she missed the experience of having different musical instruments on recitals, opportunities for students to learn valuable accompanying skills, and many of the other facets of her experience she enjoyed as a child. In August of 2008, Regina founded Charlotte Academy of Music, realizing a lifetime dream of providing a studio where students of all ages and instruments have opportunities to study with master teachers and participate in many enriching musical classes, ensembles, workshops, summer camps, and other events. Today Charlotte Academy of Music has a faculty of 25 exceptional music educators providing lessons in piano, guitar, voice, strings, woodwinds, and percussion teaching students ages 18 months and up, including adult students. Having accepted her first piano student at the age of 15, this year marks the 32nd year of teaching for Regina. She was honored to receive the Top Music Educator Award by Steinway and Sons in 2017 and 2019. Over the course of her career, she has taught both private and group piano, Kindermusik, summer music camps, and choral programs. Regina’s piano students are active participants in the Royal Conservatory of Music Piano Examinations, the NFMC Music Festival, and the NCMTA Piano Contest. Many have gone on to music-related careers. Regina joyfully conveys that her proudest career achievements include the bonds created between educators and students at her studio, as well as the important life skills her students gain because of their music study. Regina shares, “We need opportunities today for more face-to-face human interaction, and positive role models for our children. One of the most fulfilling parts of my day is walking the hallways of my studio and seeing our exceptional teachers inspiring and encouraging their students. It’s a beautiful thing, and I am so grateful to make music my life’s work.” Regina is married to Jeff, her favorite piano duet partner. They have an energetic almost 8-year-old son, who also plays piano.

The 2020 Honorary Alumna Award presented to Gayle Magruder

Gayle attended Vanderbilt University; earned her BS in Physical Education from Auburn University; and received her MS in Physical Education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Converse Honorary Alumna

During the beginning of her career, she taught physical education at the elementary, junior high and high school levels. Although she loved teaching these children, she quickly decided this was not how she wanted to spend the rest of her career. She always dreamed of teaching on the college level and found true happiness and, also, her husband, Nat, when she found Converse College. She became immersed in the Converse way of life and enthusiastically taught physical education classes and worked with the synchronized swim team for thirty-four years. In the early years, the Tarpon-Shark Club was a member of a predominately Southern synchronized swim organization. Our team hosted and attended many conferences and swam many routines! Our synchronized swim team practiced throughout the school year and performed an annual synchronized swim show. This took lots of time, energy and work, but it sure was fun! Gayle served many years on the Converse College Faculty Senate and served as President of the Faculty Senate for two years. This was definitely a learning experience for her, and she found the politics of a small college to be fascinating and very interesting! Gayle has been an active member of Altrusa International of Spartanburg since 1999, serving on the Board as Director, President-Elect and President (2 terms). She currently coordinates Altrusa members who deliver our Mobile Meals route once a week. She also served on the Altrusa of Spartanburg Foundation Board for many years, holding every office except Treasurer. Gayle has been very active on the district level as well, serving on the Altrusa District Three Foundation Board for seven years and holding every office except Treasurer. She was recently elected to a new term and will serve as Secretary for the coming year. Gayle is an active member of Trinity United Methodist Church, frequently helping with the monthly Sunday brunches, and enjoying the church services and other church activities. After living in her Converse Heights home for forty-six years, she finally decided it was time to let someone else worry about the upkeep of the house and yard. In the summer of 2018 she sold the house and moved to White Oak Estates. She thoroughly enjoys her new life, new friends and new digs and plans to stay here forever!

The 2020 Converse 100 Award is Presented to Sarah Hartung ’95

Sarah Johnson Hartung, class of ‘95, resides in Greenwood, South Carolina with her husband Andy Hartung and their two children, Joe and Libby. She graduated Converse with a double major in Early Childhood and Elementary Education. Since graduation, she has worked in Marketing, as Preschool Director and served as Executive Director for a local non-profit for the past two decades. She is currently the Patient Family Experience Coordinator at Self Regional Healthcare in Greenwood, South Carolina. Her greatest joy is being a mother to Joe and Libby Hartung. Sarah has proudly served on the Board of Visitors for Converse since 2015.

The 2020 Converse 100 Award is Presented to Carolyn Block Rasche ’70

Carolyn Block Rasche, class of 1970, grew up in Camden, SC, Waynesboro, VA, and Richmond, VA. She has lived in Atlanta since 1970. She has an MSW from the University of GA and a Ph.D. from the Fielding Institute. She has been a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist for over 40 years and specializes in trauma. She is an Approved Consultant and trains other therapists in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) since 1996. She and her husband Rick have been married for 41 years and have one daughter together and 2 boys. She has helped to organize the Atlanta EMDR clinician community and has been involved in organizing a trauma response team in Atlanta. She enjoys nature, painting, and having fun.

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