Exceptional Eagles

A newly envisioned awards event shines a spotlight on accomplished alumni and EWU benefactors.

Exceptional Eagles

A newly envisioned awards event shines a spotlight on accomplished alumni and EWU benefactors.

Each year the EWU Alumni Association holds a gala event to honor Eastern’s most impactful alumni. This year’s gathering was dubbed “1882: Honoring Outstanding Eagles” to commemorate the year of Eastern’s founding. It included an added bonus: a partnership with the EWU Foundation that celebrated our most generous benefactors, including a corporation and two individuals whose philanthropic contributions have been particularly helpful to Eastern and its students. View the photo album.

Benjamin P. Cheney Lifetime Achievement

Lori Wyborney

At Cheney and Wahluke high schools, Lori Wyborney ’86, ’92, ’95, the 2023 Benjamin P. Cheney Lifetime Achievement Award winner, made a name for herself as the educator and coach who spoke out against inequalities in women athletics (while bringing a tenacious style to building winning softball teams). But her true legacy was created at John R. Rogers High School, where she became principal in 2010. At the time, Rogers and its students were struggling, with graduation rates among the state’s worst. Wyborney turned things around. Graduation rates went up. Way up. “She was the right leader at the right time,” recalls Shelley Redinger, then Spokane School District superintendent.

Wyborney’s success at Rogers attracted national media attention and made her an in-demand speaker across the U.S. Since retiring in 2021, she has continued her strong commitment to community service. As a consultant with the Spokane Public Schools, she helps principals adopt innovative student-success strategies. Her work with the Gonzaga Family Haven project, meanwhile, is providing permanent housing for more than 70 unhoused families. At Eastern, Wyborney has for years volunteered as a speaker and lecturer. As if this weren’t enough, she is also a big booster of Eagle athletics, not just attending games but serving on the board of the Eagle Athletic Fund and working to support the Fast Break Club.

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Lt. Col. Daniel M. Carter Military Service

Brad Liberg holding his 1882 Award for military service.
Brad Liberg

Our honoree for military service, Lt Col. (Ret.) Brad Liberg ’81, studied industrial engineering while serving in the EWU ROTC Corps of Cadets. Over the course of 22 years of service in the U.S. Army, Liberg earned numerous awards and citations while playing an integral role in developing and maintaining the readiness of some of our nation’s (and the world’s) most advanced missile systems. Among these were both the Stinger missile and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) that have proved decisive on the battlefields of Ukraine.

After his promotion to commander of the Army’s Combat Equipment Battalion in Hythe, England, Liberg was positioned on a solid track to further advancement. Instead, he chose to continue his service in a different way, moving into another high-pressure engagement demanding vigilance and unwavering dedication to duty — that of public educator. For the past 11 years at West Valley High School, he has served as the career and technical education director, a dean of students, assistant principal and, currently, as principal.

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Gov. Clarence D. Martin Educator of The Year

Marty Robinette holding his award for educator of the year.
Marty Robinette

From the very first time he set foot in a classroom, Marty Robinette ’76, ’07, the Gov. Clarence D. Martin Educator of Year Award winner, has been fiercely determined to see each of his students succeed. In his first teaching job, for example, Robinette developed a successful after-school academic support program so that struggling students might have a better shot at success. His next position also involved improving student prospects, this time as an assistant principal at Spokane’s North Central high School, a place that had never quite developed, as educators say, a “college-going culture.” Robinette changed that, bringing the GEAR UP program to North Central and so helping an entire cohort of seventh-to-twelfth graders get college-ready.

In 2011, he joined the staff of Principal Lori Wyborney, our lifetime achievement honoree, at Spokane’s Rogers High School. There he played a key role in administering the programs that helped turn around Rogers’ notoriously poor graduation rates, while at the same time advocating for better Advanced Placement options. “He never gives up on any student,” Wyborney says.

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Tawanka Service

Patricia Chandler, award winner
Patricia Chandler

Giving back started early for Patricia Chandler ’57, the Tawanka Service Award winner. As an undergraduate at Eastern, she was active in the Tawanka service organization (while also serving as president of the 100-plus member Future Teachers Club). As Tawanka wound down, Chandler helped establish a scholarship fund so that former members might continue to participate in Tawanka-style service work. Her fundraising for that effort led to twice-annual Tawanka meetings on the west side of Washington (where Chandler worked at Brier Elementary as a classroom teacher, a specialist for staff development and, finally, principal).

Over the years Chandler has given generously to EWU while leading outreach efforts that encouraged other Tawanka alumni to do the same. More recently, Chandler and her late husband, Leo, established the Leo & Pat Chandler Leadership Scholarship endowment to assist Eagle students who, like them, aim to use their leadership skills to uplift people and communities.

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Sandy Williams Trailblazer

Lili Navarrete holding her award.
Lili Navarrete

A friend, neighbor and activist collaborator with the late Sandy Williams, Lili Navarrete ’99 is the first recipient of EWU’s inaugural Sandy Williams Trailblazer Award. Like Williams, Navarrete is a powerful advocate for the underserved: In Navarrete’s case, immigrant communities, both documented and undocumented, and others who suffer from social marginalization and workplace exploitation. In her current position as director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood’s Raíz (Spanish for “root”) program, she works tirelessly to promote health equity and better outcomes for vulnerable immigrant woman.

As a community activist and volunteer, meanwhile, Navarrete has an extensive track record of effective engagement. She has served, for example, as vice president of Spokane’s Hispanic, Business, and Professional Association; is an active member of the Spokane Immigrant Rights Coalition and the Washington Immigration Solidarity Network; and is currently serving in her second term as a commissioner on the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs. Among the many ways she has given back to Eastern has been her service as the 2020 Women’s and Gender Education Center’s Activist in Residence, while her ongoing participation in university workshops has enhanced the reach and effectiveness of education and outreach programs related to race, gender and health outcomes.

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Eagle4Life Spirit

Eagle alumni are famous for their pride and dedication, but among the Eastern faithful Kory Kelly ’16 stands out as a true Eagle4Life. At every home football game, for example, you’ll find him, in his time-honored parking spot, hosting a boisterous tailgate for fellow alumni and friends. Behind the scenes, meanwhile, his work with the Eagle Athletic Fund has helped grow financial support while expanding EWU Athletics’ fan base.

Beyond sports, Kelly gives back to current Eagles as the president of the Alumni Volunteer Corporation of the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity, where he mentors undergraduates who often go on to serve in key student-leadership roles. In addition to all this, Kelly has taken on the broader role of alumni-involvement contact for EWU’s fraternity and sorority life staff, and has generously offered his time and insights as a member of the editorial advisory board for this magazine.

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Rising Eagle

As a communications studies student at Eastern, Isabella Robertson ’22, distinguished herself as an exemplary young scholar, community leader and advocate for campus diversity and multicultural activities, efforts that resulted in her receiving EWU’s Frances B. Huston Award for meritorious service. After graduation, she has wasted no time in bringing this spirit of service to the national stage. First she served as an intern with the office of Rep. Kevin McCarthy — now U.S. House Speaker — and, more recently, has entered the professional political ranks as an aide to Rep. Brian Mast of Florida’s 18th Congressional District, where she handles constituent services related to immigration.

What’s the next step up for this Rising Eagle star? Robertson says she hopes to complete a law degree, and then to continue to serve her country as a U.S. Armed Forces JAG lawyer. “Isabella embodies the spirit of an Eagle: loyal, tenacious and fiercely dedicated,” wrote one of her biggest fans, Robertson’s sister, Catherine ’21. “She has always sustained these characteristics — as well as a true heart of kindness, justice, and courage — for her entire life. It’s an honor to be her older sister and fellow EWU alumna.”

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Alumni Philanthropist of the Year

Barbara Shields accepting her award.
Barbara Shields

Barbara Shields ’92 found her professional niche right out of high school as a phone operator for Pacific Northwest Bell. Over the years, even as Shields’s career blossomed with promotions and additional responsibilities, one thing continued to bug her — her lack of a college degree. As she neared retirement, Shields did something about it. Taking advantage of a tuition reimbursement program offered by her employer, she enrolled at Eastern. It didn’t take long for Shields to accomplish her goal, graduating magna cum laude in general studies.

As a retiree, Shields decided she’d like to give a boost to others, who, like her, may have deferred their dream of a degree. “I decided to endow a scholarship while I’m still alive to see students benefit from it,” she told InsideEWU. In 2008, Shields established two separate endowments: One funds two undergraduate scholarships each year, the other provides two graduate-student scholarships. “There’s so many wonderful young people who just need a hand up,” she says.

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Philanthropist of the Year

Bill Youngs

Bill Youngs, a professor of history at EWU, has served the university — and the larger Eastern community — for more than 50 years. Over the course of this fruitful career, Youngs has written five books, published numerous academic papers and given countless presentations to audiences both in the United States and abroad. He has received research grants from the American Philosophical Society and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and is a recipient of EWU’s Trustees’ Award. Beyond these accolades and accomplishments, however, it is his steadfast commitment to his students that has distinguished Youngs’ time at EWU.

Just over two years ago, two of these former students, Mike Clawson and Alicia Kinne-Clawson, chose to honor Youngs by establishing the Bill Youngs Endowment. The fund helps undergraduate students in history, environmental science and/or interdisciplinary studies with the cost of tuition, research projects and publishing expenses. Since the endowment’s establishment, Youngs says he has been personally compelled to work to extend its impact: “If this young couple can dig deep to contribute to the university, so should I.” 

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Corporate Philanthropist of the Year

Ezra Eckhardt, CEO, STCU

For close to a century, STCU has been one of our region’s most generous corporate citizens, providing financial, in-kind and volunteer support to schools, colleges, universities and nonprofit organizations. At Eastern, STCU has long been a valuable partner, helping the university provide opportunities that help students in need reach their full potential. 

Over the years they have also lent crucial support to projects as varied as the installation of EWU’s iconic One-Room Schoolhouse and the founding of the Eagle Career Network, to support for the Innovation Hub at the Catalyst and funding for the electronic-reader board that greets students and visitors as they pass by Roos Field. 

This is an especially apropos time to honor STCU with EWU’s Corporate Philanthropist Award. Recently the company and its CEO, Ezra Eckhardt, formed the Here for Good Foundation, a philanthropy that will allow STCU  “to double down” on its giving, ensuring that its tradition of service remains robust for decades to come. 

Watch the Nomination Video