Sam Houston State University will honor five alumni who have brought pride to the university through their achievements, examples of good citizenship, and their contributions to society at the Distinguished Alumni Gala on Oct. 11 as part of homecoming activities.
The honorees include Distinguished Alumni Damian Mandola, W. Sam Monroe and Trisha Pollard; the Outstanding Young Alumna Jenna Jackson; and the Distinguished Service Award recipient Wilfred O. Dietrich.
The gala will begin at 6 p.m. in the Lowman Student Center Ballroom with a cocktail reception, followed at 7 p.m. with a dinner and program. Tickets are $100 each and reservations are requested by Oct. 4.
For more information, contact the Office of Alumni Relations at 936.294.1841 or go online to alumni.shsu.edu.
Self-taught chef Damian Mandola has achieved celebrity status as one of the foremost authorities on Italian cuisine in the Southwest.
A 1977 graduate with a major in radio and television, Mandola was a catcher on the Bearkat baseball team and worked as a DJ for the campus radio station while attending Sam Houston State.
Acting on his passion for cooking, he opened Damian’s Fine Italian Food in Huntsville his senior year.
After graduating from SHSU, he enhanced his culinary talents and went on to many successful ventures such as Nash D’Amico’s Italian Restaurant, Damian’s Cucina Italiana, the nationally acclaimed Carrabba’s Italian Grill, and his current undertakings of Trattoria Lisina and Mandola’s Italian Market.
Mandola has served as the co-host of PBS-TV’s popular cooking shows Cucina Amore! and Cucina Sicilia! with nephew Johnny Carrabba. He is also the author of three cookbooks—Ciao Tuscany, Ciao Sicily and Ciao Y’all.
Over the years, Mandola and his wife, Trina, have raised more than $400,000 for the Burke Center Home for Boys in Driftwood. They have also hosted numerous fundraisers for the Ronald McDonald House and provided support to the 100 Club and Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
His love for “all things Italian” has led him to share his time and talent with functions such as the Sicilian tradition of the Saint Joseph Altar, the annual Italian Festival in Houston, and many others.
Mandola has supported his alma mater by serving as a speaker at the Elliott T. Bowers Honors College event “Let’s Talk! A Night of Conversation,” appearing twice by popular demand. He is also a Life Member of the SHSU Alumni Association.
He and Trina live in the Austin area. They have five children and one grandchild.
W. Sam Monroe
Sam Monroe, who serves as president of Lamar State College-Port Arthur, is known not only as an experienced and trusted leader in higher education, but also as someone who has worked diligently to highlight and preserve the music and arts legacy of Southeast Texas.
Monroe majored in business administration and graduated with his Bachelor of Business Administration degree from SHSU in 1965. He then attended Lamar University, where he earned both the Master of Education degree and an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
After serving on the Lamar University Board of Regents for five years, Monroe’s career at the former Port Arthur College began in 1973, when he was named executive vice president. The following year, he succeeded his father, Madison Monroe, as president. His presidency has spanned 40 years, making him the longest-serving president of a higher educational institution in the state.
Under Monroe’s direction, the college has experienced substantial growth and development, transitioning from a small technical school to a state college with a 50-acre campus and more than 50 programs of study. The institution was re-named Lamar State College-Port Arthur in 1999.
In recent years, the college has opened a $5.9 million Performing Arts Center and a 7,500 square-foot Student Success Center.
Monroe has overseen the addition of a men’s basketball team and women’s softball team, which have enhanced the college’s athletic program and created a full college experience for students.
In 1975 he was named one of the “Five Outstanding Young Texans” by the Texas Jaycees. The Port Arthur News named Monroe “Citizen of the Year” in 2004, and a year later he was the first recipient of the Quota International of Southeast Texas “Man of the Year” Award. For many years, he has volunteered with such organizations as the Sabine Pilots Commission, Medical Center of Southeast Texas, Rotary Club, Port Arthur Historical Society, and the United Methodist Temple of Port Arthur.
He was also instrumental in founding the Museum of the Gulf Coast, which preserves the history of the region.
He and his wife, Linda, also a Sam Houston graduate, have two children and two grandchildren.
Trisha S. Pollard
A former regent of the Texas State University System, Trisha Pollard has exemplified SHSU’s motto—“The measure of a Life is its Service”—since her graduation from the university in 1974.
She earned a Bachelor of Business Administration degree with a major in business education from SHSU, followed by a Juris Doctorate from South Texas College of Law in 1980.
Pollard’s professional career spans almost 30 years in the oil and gas industry during which she served a term as the chair of the Houston Bar Association Oil and Gas Section.
In 2003, Gov. Rick Perry appointed her to the Texas One-Call Board for which she served as chairman of the board’s Compliance Oversight Committee.
She was appointed to the Texas State University System Board of Regents in 2007. During her six-year term, she was vice chairman of the board; chair of the Rules and Regulations committee; member of the Audit and Finance Committee; member of the Planning and Construction Committee; local chair for Sul Ross State University; and chair of the Diversity Enhancement Committee.
She has served five terms as the Harris County Grand Jury foreman, including the May 2003 term, during which the greatest number of cases in history was handled by a Harris County Grand Jury.
Through the Houston Bar Association, Pollard has volunteered in the Lawyers in Public Schools program, participated in Habitat for Humanity projects, read to fourth graders in Houston schools on Constitution Day, and assisted senior citizens with preparing testamentary documents.
She has been active in her adopted hometown of Bellaire by serving on the city’s Building and Standards Commission and Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and has supported numerous community organizations.
As a member of the Sam Houston State University Alumni Association Board of Directors, Pollard proposed and initiated the Tuition Raffle Program, which has raised more than $125,000 in scholarships for first-generation students. She has also served on the development and scholarship committees for the association and rewrote the Alumni Association by-laws.
Pollard and her husband, Randy, are the parents of three children.
OUTSTANDING YOUNG ALUMNA
Legendary journalist Dan Rather describes Jenna Jackson as “a professional who is an exceptional investigative reporter and overall superb television news producer—plus she is one of the best writers of her generation of American journalists.”
Rather goes on to say, “Besides her many accomplishments as a professional, she is a kind-hearted, caring and generous person, deeply involved with many charities and much community service work in and around Houston.”
Jackson graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from SHSU in 1997 with a double major in journalism and political science. While attending Sam Houston State, she served as editor of The Houstonian student newspaper and worked as a criminal justice reporter for The Huntsville Item.
Following her graduation, she worked briefly as a newspaper reporter in Texas before heading to New York City, where she was employed in an entry-level position at CBS News.
She quickly moved up and was named a producer for CBS’s hit program 48 Hours. During her 14 years with CBS, she received several prestigious media awards, including an Emmy in 2012 for “Grave Injustice,” about Anthony Graves. Graves was sentenced to death in 1992 for a crime he did not commit and was exonerated and released from prison in 2010.
Jackson returned to Texas and in 2011 founded P&R Productions, a company that specializes in producing documentaries, films and commercials.
She has served her community in a variety of endeavors, including work with Candlelighters-Childhood Cancer Family Alliance; Texas Center for the Missing; Child Advocates, Inc.; St. Francis Episcopal Church; K9s4COPS; and Houston Boys and Girls Harbor.
She has supported SHSU through presentations for the Honors College fund raiser “Let’s Talk!” and for students in the College of Fine Arts and Mass Communication. She has been a sponsor for “Bearkats in Business” and various alumni events and is a past board member of the SHSU Alumni Association.
Jackson lives in Houston with her husband, Brendan Gilbert, and twin sons.
DISTINGUISHED SERVICE AWARD
Wilfred O. Dietrich
Known throughout the Brenham area for his commitment to education, historical preservation, and service, Wilfred Dietrich has long been dedicated to helping his community equip future generations with the work ethic and compassion he models in his life.
Dietrich earned an Associate of Arts degree in 1943 from Blinn College; a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1946 and a Master of Arts degree in 1948, both in history and English, from Sam Houston State; and a Ph.D. in English and curriculum instruction in 1978 from East Texas State University, now Texas A&M-Commerce. He took post-graduate classes in drama at SHSU, as well.
He spent 42 years as a professor and department chair at Blinn and was recognized for his accomplishments by being named to Blinn’s Hall of Honor in 2004.
Dietrich has actively supported the preservation of history in Washington County by founding the Brenham Heritage Museum and serving as chair of the Texas Historical Commission, Washington County Historical Commission, and Washington Historical Park Association.
He has demonstrated his commitment to education by establishing scholarship endowments at Kaufman High School, Burton High School, Sam Houston State University, Texas A&M University-Commerce, Howard Payne University, Texas Lutheran University, and the University of Texas.
He is president of the Washington County Arts Council, and his commitment to the arts was recognized with the naming of the Dr. Bobbie Morrow Dietrich Memorial Amphitheater in Brenham, honoring his late wife. During the Washington County Sesquicentennial and Bicentennial Celebrations, the Dietrichs hosted more than 1,000 guests at their home.
Since 1997, Dietrich has served as a volunteer every Wednesday morning and Sunday afternoon at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station.
He is a significant financial sponsor of the Brenham Children’s Chorus, Simon Theater Project, Senior Citizen Center, University of Texas Communications Building, and he personally funded markers for all unmarked graves at St. John’s United Church of Christ cemetery and other marker projects.
He contributed more than 25 years to scouting and has attended two International Jamboree events, including the one held in Valley Forge in 1950, where then-future President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered the address on the Fourth of July.
Dietrich lives in Brenham, where he and Bobbie made their home together for over 40 years.