SJR State honors distinguished alumni

Judge John Alexander
Margo Cox Pope
Greg Baker
Sheriff David Shoar
Rebecca Faunce-O'Leary
Doug Wiles
Dr. Robert L. McLendon

“The truest measure of a college fulfilling its mission can be seen in the accomplishments of its alumni” – a defining statement that commenced the St. Johns River State College 2019 Distinguished Alumni Awards. More than 100 guests gathered Thursday to honor six St. Johns County professionals, recognizing the extraordinary citizenship and career paths of a judge, journalist, sheriff, orthodontist and two business leaders - all who began their journey at their local community college.

SJR State Vice President for Development Caroline Tingle continued her opening remarks, “Over the past 61 years, the College has made a profound difference in the lives of students,” she said. “We applaud the many alumni who identify themselves as SJR State Vikings and celebrate their many accomplishments.”

The evening echoed with memories, laughter and gratitude as the recipients reminisced over professors, debate teams, physics classes, and tales of the bus rides to the Palatka campus during the 1960s. Each shared their most rewarding experiences as well as accounts of self-discovery.

The six alumni honored were:

Judge John M. Alexander, class of 1974, 7th Circuit Administrative Judge for Family Court;

Margo Cox Pope, class of 1968, Journalist, St. Augustine Record;

Greg Baker, class of 1967, Chairman, ThompsonBaker Agency;

Sheriff David B. Shoar, class of 1987, St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office;

Rebecca A. Faunce-O’Leary, DMD, PA, class of 1985, President, Antigua Orthodontics; and

Doug Wiles, class of 1972, President, Herbie Wiles Insurance.

SJR State President Joe Pickens applauded the recipients, cited recent collegiate milestones, and spoke of the College’s “first choice” initiative. Pickens explained how the community college system is often lost in the shadow of the K-12 and university systems; yet, the College strives daily to position itself within its service district as the community’s “college of choice.”

“Thank goodness there is a St. Johns River State College that can and always will embrace every student with open access and open arms… We want all students, we believe all students can learn,” Pickens said. “And though we have focused on college readiness and bachelor’s degrees, and though we have changed our name, we will always be the community’s college.”

Special guests included the College’s former debate team coach and dean, C. L. Overturf, former physics professor Phil Johansen and Evelyn Hewett, 90, a member of the 1960 class of 22 students to first graduate from the College.

During the event, special recognition was given to the College’s former president of 36 years, Dr. Robert L. McLendon Jr. President Pickens, along with seven vice presidents, presented McLendon with the “Greatest Viking Award” in recognition of his extraordinary career and Viking spirit. “No one embodies the Viking spirit more than Dr. McLendon. He is the first person to receive this most prestigious award,” Pickens said. “In his 36 years as President, he achieved impressive records of accomplishment, with charisma and vision that inspired faculty, staff, and students to strive for new heights. Even after his retirement in 2008, he has remained close and keeps the College as a personal priority.”

A special thank you goes to the event sponsors ThompsonBaker Agency; Ron Brown, Attorney; Douglas Law Firm; Beck Automotive; Herbie Wiles Insurance; Margo Cox Pope; Oliver Oaks and Vines; and St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office.

St. Johns River State College opened in 1958 with 191 students on the Palatka campus. The College now serves approximately 10,000 students in three counties – Orange Park, Palatka and St. Augustine. For more information about SJR State, visit



Susan Kessler
Director of Public Relations and Publications
(386) 312-4020