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2012 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

  • Communications
  • December 1, 2012

Congratulations to the 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

John Blim

Vice President and Marketing Director, WHAS Crusade for Children

John Blim

John Blim's 30-year television career got its start in 1977, when he arrived at Harper College at the advice of his father, a college counselor at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights.

At Harper, Blim, set on a career in radio and TV, dove into Harper's WHCM radio station, serving as an on-air radio personality and station manager. The leadership experience he gained running the station, he says, helped him land a job immediately after transferring to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

"I cut my own path, chose something that most didn't do back then, and thrived because of it," Blim said of choosing Harper over a large state university. "Coming to Harper gave me the boost of confidence and purpose I needed."

Always at the forefront of new technology and new media, Blim has collaborated to accrue numerous awards and recognitions, including ten Emmys. With WHAS in Louisville, he helped develop the first television station website and partnered with American Forces Network to broadcast Thunder Over Louisville, the United States' largest fireworks display, to servicemen and servicewomen in 170 countries.

For the last ten years, he has served as Vice President and Marketing Director of WHAS Crusade for Children, a foundation that raises more than $5 million annually for special needs children in Kentucky and Southern Indiana. In that role, he has helped expand Crusade to 11 new markets. Blim credits his success in part to Jeanne Pankanin Leininger and Fred Waters of Harper's Office of Student Activities (now Student Involvement) who encouraged him to get involved in a variety of activities - a move that brought him out of his shell and helped him develop leadership skills.

"My dad still tells the story of my Harper graduation in May 1979 when Dr. McGrath, the president of the college, walked up to him and said 'Your son is a great student,'" Blim says. "He was impressed that I had a relationship with the president, but that was the best part of Harper: you were treated as an adult in a warm and friendly atmosphere that encouraged you to get involved."

Throughout his career, Blim has harnessed the power of radio and television to do good things - helping raise $100,000 for the Mississippi River flooding, $500,000 in disaster relief for the American Red Cross and $1.4 million in immediate response to 9/11 attack. He volunteers as a minister of hospitality for the canned food drive of the St. Vincent DePaul Food Pantry and is a supporter of the Louisville Ballet School.

 

Charles Cann

Writer, Producer, Director, and Editor

Charles Cann

While it was happenstance that brought Charles Cann to Harper College in 2001 - a detour on a leisurely drive while visiting Schaumburg from Ghana - the legacy he left behind was full of purpose, passion and the commitment to succeed.

During Cann's two years at Harper, he helped revive and became president of the Black Student Union; launched a multicultural festival with Dean Laura Labauve-Maher; wrote for the Harbinger student newspaper; served as student ambassador and was a member of the Excel Leadership Program.

Most notably, Cann launched a campus-wide drive in 2002 to provide costly school supplies to the children of Ghana.

With help from Harper's Library and the President's Office, Cann collected two 70-pound boxes of school supplies to take home with him on a visit to that country.

"Harper was my first taste of higher education in the United States, and attending really set the tone for me," says Cann. "At Harper, I had opportunity to do more than just sit in class; I lead student organizations. There are so many faculty, staff and administrators I am grateful for."

Cann continued his education as a scholarship recipient at Northwestern University, graduating with a bachelor's degree in communications in 2005. Four years later, he earned an MBA in Media Management from Metropolitan College of New York.

Today, Cann is a writer, producer and director with more than eight years of TV and film production experience. His specialty as a sound engineer has led to TV, commercial and film project work for ABC, Fox, NBC and VH1, interacting with well-known names like Maya Angelou and Bobbi Brown.

"I always wanted to be a journalist, and I'm finding that this is the best job for listening and finding opportunities to learn things," he says. "I remember Maya Angelou spent five minutes getting to know every single crew member on set before her interview. The Vice President of IBM, Nick Donofrio, once said, 'Wake up with an attitude to make a difference,' and I have never forgotten that, either."

Cann is the founder, creative director and chef of Tropical Ghana, an organization he founded in 2002 to offer assistance and encouragement to keep the country's young children in school. He's also the author and publisher of Tropical Ghana Delights, a cookbook featuring Ghana cuisine.

In his community, Cann volunteers as a speaker at New Heights Academy Charter School Career Day in Harlem and works on community gardens and paints schools for New York Cares.

 

Jim Inman

Owner, Elite Athletic Development, Inc.

James Inman

Jim Inman's enrollment at Harper College in 1997 kick-started his journey to complete the college degree he started 20 years earlier at Central Michigan University.

An endurance athlete who had completed multiple marathons, ironman triathlons and hundreds of local races, Inman knew how to tackle a challenge.

"Going back to school always felt like an unfinished goal," he says. "Initially, it was very intimidating to walk on campus at close to 40 years old with 18-year-old freshmen. However, after meeting my positive professors, I knew I had made the right choice."

One such professor was Greg Herriges, whose English 201 class inspired Inman to think differently about literature and writing. Later, Herriges submitted a short story Inman had written to the Harper Anthology, a collection of top student work.

Inman continued his education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he earned his bachelor's degree with a double major in marketing and management and a certificate of entrepreneurship, finishing in the top three percent of his class.

While the convenience and price of Harper were among the factors that led Inman to campus, "I especially found that the caliber of instructors was superior," he says. "It was a tremendous opportunity to be able to take business classes at Harper."

In 2006, Inman turned to a business idea he'd hatched in a Harper business administration course and opened Elite Athletic Development in Arlington Heights, an athletic training facility designed to offer "everyday athletes" the same strength and conditioning used by top-caliber collegiate and professional athletes

Under Inman's ownership, Elite Athletic Development has thrived even in the rough economy, being named "Best Alternative Exercise Studio" in the 2009 through 2012 Editions of the Daily Herald Readers' Choice Survey. The company boasts 10 performance coaches, two locations and more than 38,000 athlete training hours helping individuals of all ages and sizes improve their quality of life.

Inman has returned to Harper many times and for many reasons - taking summer courses and continuing education courses to expand his skills and using the athletic fields to train for a USA Masters Track and Field National Championship.

Inman's volunteer activities have included helping coach the Greenbrier Elementary School Running Club and Arlington Aces Soccer and serving as interviewer for Thomas Middle School Career Day. He has also helped provide key race operation insight to the Salute, Inc. got freedom? 5K/10K Run to support veterans and acted as volunteer race director for the Northwest Community Healthcare Foundation Run for the Million Half-Marathon.

 

Tom Kehoe

Owner and President, Kehoe Designs

Tom Kehoe

Tom Kehoe, one of the most highly regarded event specialists in the U.S., got his start in the design business at 16 years old, working summers and weekends at a florist.

After graduating from Harper in 1987 and receiving his bachelor's in business and hospitality management from Florida International University in 1989, he bought the company that had employed him. He grew the company by 200 percent in seven years before selling it to establish a full-service event décor company in Chicago that specializes in luxury weddings, corporate and social events.

As the current President and CEO of Kehoe Designs, Kehoe's attention to detail and passion for developing thrilling and unconventional décor has earned him recognition from the National Association of Catering Executives, the International Special Events Society, Chicago Social and Crain's Chicago Business.

His high-profile events have included the White House Halloween party, the 10th Anniversary Celebration for Chicago's Peninsula Hotel and multiple UNICEF galas.
Kehoe Designs, which employees more than 200 workers, is located on 110,000 square feet in Chicago's West Loop and houses three buildings, four showrooms and a greenhouse. The company recently expanded to include custom lighting, and acquired Floral Exhibits in 2008.

Kehoe is a board member of Design Industry Foundation Fighting Aids and the AIDS Foundation, and a former board member of Redmoon Theatre. He speaks regularly at industry and business forums and events and is a mentor to young college and university students pursuing careers in a creative field.

 

Angela LeMay

Chief Financial Officer, Refurbished Office Environments

Angela LeMay

Angela LeMay was 16 years old when she arrived at Harper College in 1987, an early graduate from Rolling Meadows High School unsure of her career goals. During her time on campus, LeMay gained self-confidence, discipline, independence and a variety of skills that she parlayed into a successful career in the financial field.

She continued her education and graduated summa cum laude from North Park University, earning both her bachelor's in business administration and a MBA.

"I'm very proud to represent women as a top executive in the finance industry," she says. "Coming to college as one of the youngest students, Harper taught me how to build confidence - an asset that has driven me to succeed and blossom in the business world. My family wasn't willing to pay for school when I didn't know what I wanted to do or study and Harper definitely provided that perfect base education."

While at Harper, LeMay says she took every class possible with French professor Vera Jeckyi, a move that fostered her lifelong passion for French language and culture. Jeckyi's insight helped LeMay land her first job as an international flight attendant, where she traveled France extensively.

Since 2008, LeMay has served as Chief Financial Officer for Refurbished Office Environment, a company she runs with her husband netting nearly $50 million in sales a year. Refurbished Office Environment focuses on sustainable alternatives to the manufacture of office furniture by recycling, refurbishing and reselling used office furniture.

Additionally, she collaborates professionally within the community as a member of the Barrington Area Chamber of Commerce and a member of the National Notary Association.

"I try to give back in every aspect of my life," says LeMay. "I think it is important to make an impact both in the local community and the world at large. I try to instill the same value and appreciation of caring for others in my children."

LeMay actively supports a number of organizations and sits on the Board of Directors for The Buddy Foundation, which she has been involved with since 2000. She regularly attends events and fundraisers on behalf of the shelter in addition to rescuing, fostering and volunteering care for animals, and mentoring other volunteers.

She also sits on the Advisory Board for the Barrington Youth Dance Ensemble, a not-for-profit promoting artistic integrity, involvement and awareness through exceptional dance training and performance in the Chicagoland area, and serves to host visiting dance troops in her home for the duration of their performance schedules. 

 

Don Plass

Director of Code Enforcement, Village of Hoffman Estates 

Don Plass

Since earning his Building Code and Enforcement certificate from Harper College in 1996, Don Plass has become a well-known and respected code professional, amassing certifications in 32 different specializations.

At Harper, Plass found a mentor in Instructor Rich Piccolo, whom he still turns to today for code interpretation and training methods. In 2000, Plass was invited by Piccolo to instruct three courses for Harper's Building Code Program where many current building officials and department directors learned from him.

"Rich taught us you can have all the certifications and book learning, but you need the experience to make the certifications and book learning work. As my supervisor, he taught me how to be caring, professional and respected in the community," says Plass, who keeps an "E" on his work shelf as a reminder that experience is paramount. "I had the best time of my life teaching at Harper. I still remember one particular lesson where we mixed concrete in the parking lot under a street lamp for my Construction Materials class. I always tried to provide hands-on learning."

Prior to attending Harper, Plass served in the United States Air Force, graduated with a bachelor's in business administration from Elmhurst College and ran a successful construction company originally started by his father.

As the current Director of Code Enforcement for the Village of Hoffman Estates, Plass oversees a staff of 14, reviewing plans, maintaining building property and completing health inspections and annual commercial fire inspections. He actively represents code officials in Illinois, serving on the Illinois Energy Conservation Advisory Council and the Illinois Terrorism Task Force and testifying in Illinois legislature on behalf of related bills.

"Much like emergency personnel are first responders, we are 'the first preventers' making sure all buildings in the Hoffman Estates are safe and up to code. We try to be as proactive as possible, so I'm a big believer in making sure my team continues their education as often as I continue mine," he says.

Plass' dedication and lifelong quest for knowledge has led to numerous honors. He was recognized for community service by the International Code Council in 2003; named an Honorary Member of the International Code Council in 2009; and receiving the prestigious Master Code Professional certification.

In 2009, Plass worked with the Village of Hoffman Estates and Willow Creek Community Church to restore a burned-out townhome, completely rebuilding a new interior for the displaced family of eight.