Lamar University announces 2023 Distinguished Alumni award recipients


Lamar University is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award. Established 53 years ago in 1970 by the Lamar University Alumni Association, the Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes LU alumni who have enhanced the reputation of the university by distinguishing themselves in their careers or life services. The award also recognizes those alumni who have made significant contributions to their community, state and nation through civic activities and professional and public service.

“Lamar University has so many outstanding alumni and the Distinguished Alumni Awards gives the university the perfect opportunity to recognize their achievements, service to the university, and how they are making a difference in their communities and around the world,” said Shannon Figueroa, director of Alumni Affairs. “The honorees serve as wonderful examples of what one could achieve with a foundation of a Lamar University education. I believe they inspire the entire campus community by the lives they live.”

This year, four alumni –– Hester Bell, Carl Griffith, George Hirasaki and Fred Vernon –– will receive the Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest award Lamar University bestows upon its graduates. The quartet will be formally recognized at the annual DAA dinner on Friday, February 24 at 6:30 p.m. on the 8th floor of the Mary and John Gray Library.

Figueroa said, “The 2023 honorees were chosen from a pool of talented, successful and loyal alumni. They represent the diversity that makes our university so great and represent the very best of the values we hold dear – extraordinary achievement, selfless service, and a lifelong commitment to Lamar University.”

Hester (Briscoe) Bell ’61

The youngest of three girls, Hester (Briscoe) Bell was born in Electra, Texas, in 1940. She graduated from high school in Liberty, Texas, in 1958, and in three years, she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Home Economics from Lamar University in the spring of 1961.  In 1975, Bell returned to Texas and became a licensed realtor, launching her successful career in real estate. She attained her broker's license and in 1989, Bell and five other ladies purchased the RE/MAX franchise for Beaumont. The brokerage was sold to Charlie Foxworth in 2010, and Bell continues to sell real estate alongside fellow realtor Katie Wallis. Bell quietly supports many organizations in Southeast Texas and serves on the board of Some Other Place and The Babe Zaharias Memorial Foundation. She continues to support Beaumont Main Street and The Historic Landmark Commission, and the wonderful work that her late husband Milton did with these organizations. Bell also invests her time with the Beaumont Board of Realtors, Greater Beaumont Chamber of Commerce and The Beaumont Heritage Society. She is active in her church and loves her Trinity United Methodist family. Bell is a long-time supporter of the Lamar University Friends of the Arts, served on the LU class of 1961 Reunion Steering Committee and is a member of the Mirabeau Society and the Lamar University President’s Circle.

Carl R. Griffith ’81, ’83, ’87

Carl Griffith’s connection with Lamar University spans nearly five decades, when he began his college education and his career in law enforcement, through his current alumni and business associations. At the age of 19, he accepted an officer position with the Lamar University Police Department and, when he turned 21-years-old, he became a deputy sheriff with Jefferson County, and later a district attorney investigator. While employed full-time, he attended Lamar University ultimately earning an Associate of Science degree in Law Enforcement in 1981, a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice in 1983, and a Master of Education in Guidance and Counseling in 1987.

Griffith’s 30-year career at Jefferson County included eight years as sheriff and culminated with his election as county judge, a position he held for 10 years. After retiring from the public sector, Griffith launched consulting firm Griffith Moseley Johnson & Associates, Inc., where he focuses on site selection and economic development across the country, primarily for clients in the heavy industrial sector. His clients include several international companies with a presence in Southeast Texas. Tireless in his support of Lamar University, he has continued to seek out opportunities for cooperative research initiatives between LU and the region’s industrial leaders, convening gatherings of research scientists from industry and Lamar University’s engineering and sciences faculty to explore the possibilities.

Carl and his wife Lori Ryerkerk-Griffith are members of the Lamar University President’s Circle

George Jiro Hirasaki ’63

George Hirasaki is the A.J. Hartsook Professor Emeritus in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Rice University and an expert in enhanced oil recovery. Hirasaki graduated Cum Laude with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Lamar University in 1963 and with a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Rice University in 1967.  He was employed by Shell Development and Shell Oil Companies from 1967 to 1993. After his retirement from Shell, he joined the Rice University faculty in 1993 as a professor.

Hirasaki has received several awards of distinction for his outstanding research and international relations including the prestigious Order of the Rising Sun by the Government of Japan. Hirasaki is a member of the Lamar University President’s Circle, Mirabeau Society and Chemical Engineering Advisory Council. He served on the Lamar University class of 1963 reunion steering committee and established the Dr. George J. Hirasaki Scholarship in Chemical Engineering to benefit Lamar University students.

Fred R. Vernon II ’12, 13

Fred Vernon is the founder and CEO of KLV Ventures Incorporated, a transportation and logistics company that specializes in mid to last-mile delivery with a unique focus in transporting industrial applications and parcel mail. After establishing his footprint in transportation, Vernon began to diversify his business holdings to include a residential service company and a real-estate portfolio with more than 30 residential and commercial properties. Vernon graduated from Lamar University with a BBA in Accounting in 2012, and in 2013, he graduated with an MBA and MSA.

In 2017, Vernon established an endowment at Lamar University in honor of his mother to benefit students in the School of Accounting and Information Systems. He is a member of the Lamar University President’s Circle, served as a host of the A Dinner and Conversation program, and served as the LU commencement speaker in 2020. Vernon is a former board member of Family Services of Southeast Texas and a past president of the Lamar University Alumni Advisory Board.