Extraordinary Eagles

Each year the EWU Alumni Association holds a gala event to honor a select group of Eastern’s most impactful alumni. This year, as always, the stories of our inspiring Eagle honorees made it an occasion to remember.   


Benjamin P. Cheney Lifetime Achievement

Before he retired as an account executive at Avista, Doug Kelley ’83, our 2024 honoree for Lifetime Achievement Award, was always known as the guy who said “yes.”

“Yes” to projects with vision. “Yes” to opportunities in the making. “Yes” to empowering the dreams and ambition of his co-workers and staff.

Doug Kelley ’83

When, in 2019, Kelley was honored with another Lifetime Achievement citation — this time from the West Plains Chamber of Commerce— it was this spirit of positive influence that the Chamber celebrated. “Our winner is one who has not only been a champion in the West Plains, but throughout the greater Spokane region,” said the board’s executive director at the time, Toby Broemmeling.

Given that his degree from EWU is in recreation management, it’s not surprising that Kelley has most often said “yes” to supporting projects and programs involving recreation, especially when these involved the great outdoors. Over the years he has served in countless local and regional volunteer committee positions — so numerous, he says, that the actual number eludes him — as well as the race director for the quintessential Spokane event, Bloomsday. As a graduate of Leadership Spokane, he has also said “yes” to participating in solutions to one of our region’s most devastating challenges: violence against women.   

Along with Manny Hochheimer of Numerica, Kelley was a founding member of the YWCA Spokane ‘Good Guys’ group — men from Spokane who have joined together to support the YWCA’s efforts to end domestic violence. He has also been proud to volunteer at Hope House, a transitional living facility for women, many of whom find themselves in need of assistance due to violence directed against them and their children. 

Finally, there is what might be Kelley’s most consuming post-retirement passion: international travel. It may be that visiting foreign lands is just an extension of his lifetime obsession with making connections; of sharing with strangers that affirmative energy that has for so long defined Kelley’s life and work here in the USA.

Or maybe he’s just determined to monopolize the “On the Road” section of this magazine (see Page 30).


Lt. Col. Daniel Carter Military Service

Just after earning his bachelor’s degree in history, our alumni honoree for military service, Command Sergeant Major Christopher D. Clapin ’97, entered active-duty service in the United States Army.

His decision to serve his country didn’t surprise those who knew Clapin. Even as a young person, the talented musician and athlete chose to dedicate himself to service and teamwork. His first duty assignment was with 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Moore, Georgia. He has continued to serve for 26 years, 23 of them with the Rangers, rising to the rank of Command Sergeant Major for two different battalions.

Command Sergeant Major Christopher D. Clapin ’97

Clapin’s awards, citations and decorations, which include the Purple Heart, are far too many to detail here. But the long list is a testament to a career of dedication, courage and heroism. This telling detail from his nomination letter tells you all you need to know: “Even when injured in Afghanistan, and waking up paralyzed in a German hospital, Clapin was most concerned about his Rangers remaining in Afghanistan, not himself. It was his determination to be there for his troops that helped him recover and return to serve his nation and his band of brothers.”

More recently, Clapin successfully completed a 16-month peacekeeping deployment in the Sinai. He is now working towards a master’s of science degree in organizational leadership at Eastern. EWU celebrates his return, a true eagle among Eagles.


Rising Eagle

This year’s Rising Eagle award honoree, U.S. Army Captain Katie Emery ’15, is another Eastern profile in courage.

As a member of EWU’s ROTC Cadet Corps, Emery left no doubt that she had the right stuff for success. A communications major with minors in military science, psychology and Spanish language, she graduated from Eastern with a summa cum laude distinction. After receiving her honors degree, she was commissioned as a U.S. Army Aviation Officer while also being recognized as a Distinguished Military Graduate — an honor distinguishing her as one of the top 20 percent of all ROTC cadets nationwide. 

Captain Katie Emery ’15

 After first completing a challenging training course to become a pilot of Apache attack helicopters, Emery landed at Fort Riley, Kansas, where she joined the fort’s elite Aviation Attack Battalion. Soon, she and her comrades were headed off to Syria in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, a joint task force leading our nation’s ongoing fight against the Islamic State.

From a remote outpost in Syria, Emery led a platoon of four attack helicopters as they logged more than 300 combat flight hours, missions which often encountered fire from hostile forces.

At every stage of this, her first deployment, Emery distinguished herself. When assigned the role of assistant battalion operations officer, for example, she stepped up to plan attack, reconnaissance and security missions — operations that she herself participated in.

These efforts, according to her nomination letter, “directly contributed to the significant elimination of hostile forces, which enabled stability in the region.

“Captain Emery’s story serves as an inspirational example of the success that EWU students can achieve immediately after graduation by demonstrating the traits of an Eastern Eagle: grit, grace, gratitude and greatness. Captain Emery also serves as an outstanding example for women who are aspiring to lead, on and beyond the campus.”


Sandy Williams Trailblazer

Back when she was a 21-year–old freshman at Eastern, Freda Gandy ’96, our Sandy Williams Trailblazer Award honoree, got an early lesson in the importance of feeling included and supported as she started her journey to earning a bachelor’s degree.

Gandy had traveled from her home state of Mississippi to study developmental psychology at Eastern. As she recalled in a 2022 interview, she knew she’d arrived at the right place as soon as she stepped into the classroom of Scott Finnie, beloved professor of Africana Studies at EWU. “Walking into Dr. Finnie’s class and seeing another person of color, and other students of color made me feel welcome here in Spokane and made me feel a sense of pride to be here,” Gandy told The Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls Press.

Freda Gandy ’96

Over the years, Gandy has worked tirelessly to ensure that other young people feel similarly supported, included and positioned to succeed. Even before graduation, she began working as a volunteer at Spokane’s Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center, then joined the staff as a teacher after earning her degree. As her contributions at the center grew, Gandy rose through the ranks to serve as family services coordinator, then director of children’s services. She was named the center’s executive director in 2010.

Through it all, she has never tired of advancing the center’s critical mission; that is, “improving the quality of life for children, youth and families in Spokane through an array of culturally responsive educational and social services within the framework of Dr. King’s vision of equal respect, treatment and accessibility for all people.”

Among the nominating materials filed on behalf of Gandy, Chad Heimbigner’s letter — he is the COO of Coffman Engineers in Spokane —  described her perfectly: “Gandy is an incredible person with a huge heart. She constantly and unconditionally gives her time, shares her talents, and does whatever she can to positively impact the lives of others. The programs she leads make a huge difference in the lives of newborns to seniors … and every age in between.”

As Gandy told The Spokesman-Review back in 2019 after being named a YWCA Women of Achievement: “I just have a passion for helping people.”


Gov. Clarence D. Martin Educator of the Year

While an undergraduate education major at EWU, Kevin Alley ’07, our Gov. Clarence D. Martin Educator of the Year honoree, received a shocking diagnosis that no young person should ever be forced to face: He had a life-threatening form of cancer.

Multiple surgeries followed. These seemed to be a success, and Alley was able to return to Eastern and resume his previous role as an RA in Eastern’s Dressler Residence Hall.

Kevin Alley ’07

Unfortunately, Alley’s health care odyssey wasn’t over. After waking up with back pain during Finals Week, Alley learned that he had shattered a vertebrae in his spine (a consequence of the earlier cancer treatments). And there was even worse news. The cancer was back — this time at Stage 4.

Alley spent the next nine months in a Seattle hospital bed, his mom constantly by his side. Support also poured in from his church, his hometown community and, of course, his fellow Eagles. Especially his fellow Eagles. Here’s how Alley puts it: “We were so surprised by the flood of support from Eastern: professors, students, dorm officials and athletic staff.  Coach Giacoletti of our 2004 EWU men’s basketball team delivered a signed ball, EWU Residential Life held 3-on-3 tournaments, and others held fundraisers to support me and my family. And, most special, were the letters, emails and cards that were sent from so many in my Eastern Eagle family.”

Alley beat the odds, and returned to EWU — cancer free — to complete a bachelor’s degree in special education and, later, a master’s degree in educational leadership with a principal’s certification. Today his experience informs every aspect of his career as a beloved teacher and coach in Washington’s Columbia School District, where, outside of the classroom, he has provided guidance to young male athletes as a baseball coach and football coach, helping them to become, as he puts it, “a great son, brother, husband, and father.”

Alley’s drive and dedication have not gone unnoticed. Earlier this year he was honored with the Crystal Apple Award for Teaching Excellence in the greater Tri-Cities area, a distinction that is given to teachers that go above and beyond in their classrooms and schools.


Tawanka Service

Erik Puthoff ’05, our 2024 Tawanka Service Award honoree, moved to Spokane from his hometown of Chewelah in 1999. After starting out at Spokane Falls Community College, he transferred to EWU to pursue a degree in communication studies.

It was no accident that Puthoff became an Eagle; his mom and sister had gone to Eastern, and their experience instilled in him a strong desire to finish his studies in Cheney.

Erik Puthoff ’05

To make that transition work, however, Puthoff, like a lot of Eagles, had to help finance his Eastern education by working in Spokane. This meant he didn’t have time to participate in the campus-based clubs and activities that help define the collegiate experience for so many EWU students.

But that didn’t stop him from making the most of his time as an undergrad. On a personal level, he made lasting friendships and found a sense of belonging. As a scholar, he found inspiration from professors like Jeff Stafford, a renowned communication’s faculty member who has always put his students first.

These days, as a successful member of the community development team at STCU, Puthoff is committed to making his own contributions toward putting student success first at his alma mater.

The nomination letter of STCU’s Traci McGlathery provides a sense of his commitment: “Puthoff has served on the EWU Alumni Association board, delivered financial education to EWU classrooms, and served as the STCU representative for STCU and EWU partnerships for nearly 10 years. From serving pancakes at Moonlight Breakfast, quizzing students on the campus STCU golf cart, or connecting with others via the Eagle Career Network, I know he takes great pride in his connections and affiliations with EWU.


Eagle4Life Spirit

This year’s Eagle4Life Spirit honor went to not one, but two exemplary Eagles: Paul Terrell ’05 and Landon Luiten ’03. Both Terrell and Luiten have long been among Eastern’s most tirelessly enthusiastic backers, sharing their love for the university in countless ways. But it’s a more recent, behind-the-scenes project which will ensure that the generosity of their Eagle spirit will be felt for years to come. 

Together, Terrell and Luiten spearheaded the effort to remake EWU football’s locker room. It was a much-needed face lift that has transformed the severely outdated space into an attractive, functional place. Funding from the generous backers of the Eagle Football Network made the work possible, but Terrell and Luiten made it sing.

Paul Terrell ’05

Both put in countless volunteer hours on design, construction and recruiting the volunteers who stepped up to assist in the project. Last summer, for example, they were often on site until the early morning hours. The result is a new, fresh space that every Eagle, and potential Eagle, can be proud of.

“You do it for your football family first, and then hope that enhances the football family in the future,” Coach Aaron Best told The Spokesman-Review last summer. “The newness of something in a place we hold sacred makes it that much more special. The guys hang out, play games, watch film, dress and have some of their greatest memories in that room.”

Landon Luiten ’03

For Terrell and Luiten, the locker room renovation project was just the latest iteration of their Eagle4Life spirit, according to their nominating letter. “A great deal of the branding,” the letter read, “was designed by Terrell himself. Luiten is very engaged with basketball’s 6th Man Club. Both of their families also represent EWU on a regular basis. And you can be sure that both of these individuals are going to be first in the tailgating lot on Eagle football Saturdays.”