March 01, 2016 8:15AM
Pittsburg State University honored two of its alumni for their volunteer service to the university as part of its Apple Day celebration on Thursday, March 3. PSU’s Alumni Association presented its Ralf J. Thomas Distinguished Service Award to Shirley J. Palmer and Monica Hartong Murnan.
The PSU Alumni Association established the Distinguished Service Award in 1991 and presented the first award later that year. In July 2000, the award was re-named the Dr. Ralf J. Thomas Distinguished Service Award in memory of retired faculty member Ralf Thomas, who volunteered his service to the Alumni Association for 22 years and was the first recipient of the award in 1991.
Shirley Palmer (BS in elementary education 1965, MS in school administration 1971, EdS 1979) has a long history of voluntary service and leadership for PSU. She has served in leadership roles on the Alumni Association Board, the PSU Foundation Board, the PSU Education Advisory Board, the Fort Scott Alumni Chapter and as a PSU Phonathon volunteer.
As Alumni Association National President, Palmer traveled to nearly 100 percent of the Gorilla Gatherings across the U.S. and hosted every home football game in the Rua Press Box. Palmer developed a theme for her year as national president, “Ignite Your Passion for Pittsburg State,” and designed lapel pins that she gave to outstanding members of each alumni chapter.
Palmer, now retired, taught elementary school for 40 years, was named Kansas Teacher of the Year in 1982 and was inducted into the Kansas Teachers’ Hall of Fame in 2002.
Palmer served as the state representative from the 4th district for four years. Later, she served seven years on the Kansas Board of Regents, including one term as president. The Topeka Capital-Journal named Palmer one of seven Kansans of Distinction in 1993.
Palmer continues to serve in her community as a 4-H club leader and as an Auxiliary Volunteer at Fort Scott Mercy Hospital.
Palmer and her husband, Ron, live on a farm near Fort Scott. They have two sons, Brian and Gary.
Monica H. Murnan (BS in education 1987, MS in Special Services & Leadership Studies 1994) is a native of Erie, Kan., and was one of four children in her family to attend Pittsburg State University.
Murnan has served two terms on the Alumni Association Board, with one of those years as president. As president, she represented the Alumni Association at a long list of Gorilla Gatherings and other functions both on campus and across the U.S. She has also provided important leadership to the College of Education through her service on the Education Advisory Board.
Murnan began her professional career as a K-1 teacher in Wichita. She returned to Pittsburg to serve as the Executive Director of the Family Resource Center, where for 15 years, she worked with and mentored the many Pittsburg State students who worked for the FRC.
Today, Murnan serves as the director of student support services at the Southeast Kansas Education Service Center, Greenbush.
Murnan, who says her overriding goal is seeking equal access for all, whether it be in education, health care or mental health, continues to provide leadership in her community. She is in her third term on the Pittsburg City Commission, was a founding board member of the Community Health Center and has or does serve on the boards for Wesley House and the Pittsburg Public Library.
Murnan and her husband, Rob, who is also a PSU grad, have three daughters, Alexandria, Francesca and Gabrielle.
The PSU Alumni Association hosted a public reception on Thursday, March 3, in the Heritage Room of the Overman Student Center to honor this year’s award recipients. They were also recognized at the Apple Day convocation that day in McCray Hall.