MTSU names 2015-16 Distinguished, Young Alumni honorees; four True Blue Citations of Distinction recipients named

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Richard Key
Jeff Bonner
Eric Paslay
Dr Derek Frisby
Charles Massey Jr
Britnee Kinard

Middle Tennessee State University is again recognizing outstanding alumni who bring the university prestige and distinction through their professional careers, loyal support and service to the wider community.

From 1960 to present, the MTSU Alumni Association has recognized accomplished alumni with the association's highest honor: the Distinguished Alumni Award. A younger alumnus who is making a positive impact in the world receives the Young Alumni Achievement Award.

For the second consecutive year, the True Blue Citations of Distinction are being awarded. Categories include Achievement in Education (current or retired MTSU faculty); Achievement in Education (outside MTSU); Service to the University; and Service to the Community.


This year's honorees include a career military officer who helped restore MTSU's military science program; a hit-making country music singer and songwriter; a popular 20-year MTSU faculty member actively involved with study abroad and a variety of committees; an internationally known artist; a longtime donor, supporter and board member; and a nationally recognized founder of a service animal organization.

All recipients will receive their awards at the Distinguished Alumni Awards Reception, which will be held at 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2, in the Sam H. Ingram Building, 2269 Middle Tennessee Blvd.


The public is invited. It is a complimentary event, but organizers request RSVPs to plan for food and space. To register, visit click on "Distinguished Alumni Awards Reception" under events.

A searchable campus parking map is available at Off-campus visitors should obtain a special one-day permit from MTSU's Office of Parking and Transportation at

With the exception of entertainer Eric Paslay, who will be on tour, all honorees will be attending the reception and Oct. 3 homecoming festivities.

Here are the 2015-16 honorees:

Distinguished Alumni

Col. Jeff Bonner (Class of 1982), Bachelor's in Business Administration

Bonner's career and service to both the military and the MTSU ROTC program are impressive. Attending MTSU on a full Army ROTC scholarship, he was the cadet commander and Distinguished Military Graduate as a senior, recipient of the Lt. George W. Burkheart Scholarship and received the prestigious George C. Marshall Award. He earned numerous awards -- including Legion of Merit and Bronze Star -- in a distinguished military career in active duty and reserve capacities. He finished his tenure rated as the best commander within each two-star commander's span of responsibility. In 1998, he returned to MTSU as an assistant professor of military science, joining a core group of fellow alumni to rebuild the ROTC program. They succeeded in elevating the program to No. 1 in the nation. A corporation owner, Bonner works with major hydrocarbon organizations to increase the effectiveness of their global corporate social responsibility programs in Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Syria and Kurdistan.

Young Alumni Achievement Award

Eric Paslay (Class of 2005), Recording Industry

Paslay creates music that becomes part of the soundtrack of people's lives. In doing so, he has helped shape the sound of country radio. Jake Owen's "Barefoot Blue Jean Night," which Paslay wrote with Dylan Altman and Terry Sawchuk, was named ASCAP's 2012 Country Song of the Year. The Eli Young Band's "Even If It Breaks Your Heart," written by Paslay and Will Hoge, was nominated for a 2013 Grammy for Best Country Song and CMA Song of the Year in 2012. He co-wrote Love and Theft's No. 1 hit "Angel Eyes," as well as Rascal Flatts' new single "Rewind." He has penned tunes for Amy Grant, Donny and Marie Osmond and Lady Antebellum. Dionne Warwick and Kenny Rogers sought him out to record duets; Grant recruited Paslay to join her and Sheryl Crow when she covered Paslay's "Deep As It Is Wide" on her latest album. He proudly admits he started his journey at MTSU and credits professors and the program in paving his journey. His bio is available at

True Blue Citations of Distinction

Achievement in Education (MTSU faculty, current or retired)

Dr. Derek Frisby (Class of 1994), History/International Relations

Several people nominated Frisby for this award, with similar sentiments: "He is ... a person of the strongest character and dedication to MTSU, not in mere word, but, most importantly, in deed and action." One of the most popular instructors on campus, Frisby serves as faculty coordinator for the College of Liberal Arts and faculty director and leader of numerous MTSU Signature Abroad programs. He is an instructor in the global studies and cultural geography program. Frisby has written and also directs the teacher licensure program for cultural geography. He is well known for the MTSU Signature Abroad program he created. Since 2012, he has led at least two trips per year including the highly praised 2012 trip to Vietnam, where MTSU students joined local veterans who were returning to the area for the first time in 40 years. Frisby, a veteran whose efforts assist MTSU student-veterans, is Blue Raider Athletic Association president and served on the Centennial and other committees.

Achievement in Education (non-MTSU)/

Charles Massey Jr. (Class of 1964), Art/English

Massey was chair of The Ohio State University Department of Art from 1982-88. His work, the majority of which is prints and drawings, has been exhibited internationally in more than 760 exhibitions; it has received more than 175 awards and has been included in more than 75 public collections, including the Library of Congress, Egypt, England, Iceland, Japan, Korea and Poland. He has been a lecturer, visiting artist, juror and consultant including residencies with universities worldwide. In the early 1980s he established the MTSU Department of Art's Charles and Ola Belle Massey Memorial Art Scholarship, which he still funds and manages.

Service to the University/Richard Key (Class of 1962), Business

Key has devoted himself to serving MTSU in various capacities through the years. He retired from teaching at MTSU, but continued in volunteer capacities. He has served as president of the Alumni Association and serves on the Past President's Council. A member of the Golden Raiders Society, Key has been a Blue Raider Athletic Association member since 1984 and is a member of the 1911 and Walnut Grove giving societies. He has served on the Dean's Advisory Council in the Jennings A. Jones College of Business. In 2014, Key established the Charlene Key and Jan Key Endowed Fund for Excellence, named after his late wife and their daughter, in the Jones College. His love and passion for MTSU is exemplified by his long MTSU career, his financial commitment to the future of the university and his continued involvement and input in university boards and organizations.

Service to the Community/Britnee Kinard (Class of 2005), Recording Industry

Kinard founded the SD Gunner Fund, providing assistance to soldiers and their families in Evans County, Georgia. The organization was inspired by her own 15-month struggle to obtain a service dog for her military-wounded husband, retired Sgt. Hamilton Kinard. His dog is the first mobility service dog approved in the Southeast coastal region. The SD Gunner Fund assists veterans and disabled children with the financial expenses associated with owning service animals. She expects to assist 3,000 military families in the coming year. Britnee Kinard is the recipient of the inaugural Lincoln Award. She's the first caregiver to receive this award, which was presented to her in Washington, D.C., by the Friars Club Foundation.

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