Each year, the Shenandoah University Alumni Association honors five deserving alumni with the Distinguished Alumni Awards. To be selected, alumni must make significant achievements in their chosen profession; contribute to the betterment of their community, state, nation, or the world; or demonstrate ongoing dedication to the university.
Award recipients are traditionally honored during Homecoming each year, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 award winners will be honored in-person at a later date. Congratulations to this year’s 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients! They are:
Nicholas J. Ruxton ’14
2020 Distinguished Alumni Award for Young Career Achievement
Ruxton is the video and interactive media specialist for Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia. Before his current position, he was a videographer for the Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church for six years. In this position, he primarily traveled around the state highlighting churches and their stories. The videos ranged from informational videos about events to community outreach programs. The conference has multiple mission partnerships, so Ruxton also traveled across the country and internationally to Cambodia and Mozambique to cover stories. He redeveloped the conference’s videography program after more than five years of vacancy, and has been recognized by the United Methodist Association of Communicators with seven awards for videos, three awards for photography and one award for writing. When Ruxton isn’t working, he is a pilot for the Richmond chapter of Cycling Without Age, a member and small group leader at Boulevard UMC, and a Richmond District At-Large Lay Member to Annual Conference for the Virginia Conference of the UMC. He also loves staying connected with Shenandoah through activities on- and off-campus, including participating on an alumni panel for current students of the College of Arts & Sciences. Ruxton received his Bachelor of Arts degree in mass communications and a Faith Seeking Justice Certificate in Christian Leadership in 2014.
Molly Connor-Hall ’13, ’21
2020 Distinguished Alumni Award for Service to the Community
Connor-Hall is a pediatric occupational therapist with Valley Health in Winchester, Virginia. During her time at Valley Health, she has continuously worked to improve the quality of life for children with special needs in her community. Connor-Hall is co-director of a yearly, week-long day camp called Camp Follow the Leader. She also spearheads a quarterly “sensory friendly” night at the local children’s museum for families of children with physical, cognitive, emotional and sensory challenges. An average of 70+ children attend these nights each quarter. Connor-Hall leads a support group for parents of children with special needs and has organized an event to engage the community in spreading awareness about the need for universal accessibility. In 2018, she was WINC FM’s Hero of the Week. Connor-Hall received her Master of Science degree in occupational therapy in 2013 and her Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree in 2021.
Robert D. Crawford ’56
2020 Distinguished Alumni Award for Service to the University
Although Crawford graduated from Shenandoah nearly 65 years ago, he is still one of the most involved alumni the university has ever had. He has served as president of the Dayton Alumni Society and has been a member of the Shenandoah University Alumni Board of Directors for more than 15 years. During his time as president of the Dayton Alumni Society, he has been involved in the creation of the Dayton Gallery (located in the lower level of the Brandt Student Center), the Dayton Alumni Scholarship (which has grossed $75,000), the Dayton Alumni Choir, the Dayton Alumni Hall of Fame and the Shenandoah University Historical Marker that will be installed in Dayton, Virginia. He also helps lead the planning and execution of the annual Dayton Alumni Weekend. When he’s not volunteering his time to Shenandoah, Crawford is the lead bass singer for St. John’s Lutheran Church in Hagerstown, Maryland. Before his retirement, he was a public school band director, he worked in sales and sales management for 35 years, and was a director of music at two United Methodist Churches for 35 years. Crawford received his Bachelor of Music Education degree in voice in 1956.
Robert E. Beery ’69
2020 Distinguished Alumni Award for Professional Achievement
Beery’s career in education spanned 41 years with the Prince George’s County Public School System in Maryland. From 1969 to 1989, he was a choir teacher, first at Parkdale High School in Lanham, Maryland, and then at Largo High School in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. While in the classroom, Beery produced and directed the first musical at Parkdale, and 38 more plays and musicals at Largo High School. His choirs toured the mid-Atlantic region each year, singing at choral festivals and visiting schools with great success. Beery also coached outdoor track for 18 years, indoor track for nine years and football for 10 years. He moved from the classroom to administration in 1989 by becoming the activities coordinator at Forestville High School, making him the first person to hold such a position in the state of Maryland. In 1992, he transitioned into the role of assistant principal and held this position at several different schools. During his tenure, he brought about innovative ideas that allowed students to achieve their maximum potential, and his ideas helped usher in a significant reduction in school suspensions. In 2004, he was selected to spearhead a new program in Prince George’s County to assist at-risk students, and he concluded his 41 year education career with Prince George’s County Public Schools in 2010. Beery received his Bachelor of Music Education degree in 1969.
James E. Mason ’74
2020 Distinguished Alumni Award for Lifetime Achievement
Mason has devoted his life to music. In 2019, he retired from the Kitchner-Waterloo Symphony in Kitchner, Ontario, where he was the principal oboist for 40 years. During this time, Mason went on 10 international tours with the Canadian Chamber Ensemble. Along with his wife, Julie Baumgartel, he founded the Grand River Baroque Festival in Ayr, Ontario. When not performing, Mason was guiding the next generation of musicians by teaching music as an oboe instructor at Wilfrid Lauier University from 1979 to 2015. He has also served his community by coaching baseball and being active with Habitat for Humanity. Mason received his Bachelor of Music degree in 1974.
(If you would like to nominate a Shenandoah University alumna or alumnus for a 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award, visit https://bit.ly/3bN9YiK)