LU taps four as Distinguished Alumni for 2018

James Bell
Angela Blanchard
Ellen Rienstra
Don Shaver

The Lamar University Office of Alumni Affairs has named four alumni as Distinguished Alumni for 2018, noting that their dedication to their professions, service to their communities and loyalty to their alma mater epitomizes the Lamar University spirit, officials said.

“The Distinguished Alumni Awards are the highest honor presented to alumni from the university and these individuals not only represent excellence in their careers but also a genuine love for their alma mater,” said Shannon Copeland, director of LU Office of Alumni Affairs. “It is an honor to name them as our Distinguished Alumni for 2018.”

Nominated by their peers and selected for the honor by the Distinguished Alumni Awards committee comprised of Alumni Advisory Board members are James Bell of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, and of the classes of 1977 and 1984; Angela Blanchard of Houston and a member of the class of 1984, Ellen Rienstra of Beaumont and a member of the classes of 1962 and 1980, and Don Shaver of Beaumont and a member of the class of 1976.

The four will be honored Feb. 23 with a reception, dinner and award presentation program at the University Event Center. For more information on the event and to register, visit

James Bell

James Bell is a retired program manager at United Launch Alliance (ULA), headquartered in Denver, Colorado. ULA, a 50-50 joint venture between Lockheed Martin Corporation and The Boeing Company, is the nation’s most experienced and reliable launch service provider. ULA designs, manufactures, integrates, and launches Atlas and Delta launch vehicles that have successfully delivered to orbit more than 120 satellites that aid meteorologists in tracking severe weather, unlock the mysteries of our solar system, provide critical capabilities for troops in the field and enable personal device-based GPS navigation. Launch service customers include the Department of Defense, NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office, the U.S. Air Force, and commercial organizations.

In his last position before retirement, Bell was ULA’s program manager leading a team responsible for mission integration, mission management and launch services for cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station. Prior to this role, he progressed through several positions of increasing responsibility including integration manager, mission manager and program manager for a variety U.S. Air Force and National Reconnaissance Office missions. He also held the position of program operations manager for Atlas Launch Operations at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Bell is a native of Port Arthur, and a graduate of Lamar University, where he earned an Associate of Applied Science degree in drafting technology in 1977 and a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering in 1984. He and his wife, Jenny, a graduate of Colorado State University, reside in the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch. In addition to tackling projects around their home and caring for their dog and two cats, the Bell’s enjoy fitness training, swimming, biking, and golf at a variety of scenic courses in and around the Mile High City.

While at LU, James was active in the National Society of Black Engineers where he developed some lifelong friends with fellow classmates and his faculty mentor longtime mathematics professor Richard Price. He contributed to help establish the Dr. Richard L. Price Scholarship in Engineering, Math and Science, and was the featured speaker at the 5th annual Lamar University STEM Conference in October 2017.

Angela Blanchard

Angela Blanchard is President Emerita of BakerRipley in Houston, the most ethnically diverse and fastest-growing city in the U.S. Blanchard is a globally recognized expert practitioner in community development, disaster recovery and effective long-term integration for immigrants and refugees. She joins the Swearer Center at Brown University as a Taubman Fellow and Social Entrepreneur in Residence at Brown University in Providence, R.I. for the spring 2018 semester.

Ranking in the Top 1 percent of charitable groups nationwide, BakerRipley is the largest community development organization in Texas. It serves more than half a million people in nearly 50 counties and operates with an annual budget of more than $250 million.

Blanchard, who grew up in Beaumont and graduated Lamar University in 1984 with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration in accounting, is known for her breakthrough strategies that have successfully revitalized neighborhoods by leveraging Houston’s diversity, while providing a powerful model for cities across the globe facing the complex challenges of community transformation.

Blanchard was March 2017 keynote speaker at LU’s Women and Philanthropy Luncheon and shared her experiences in other public lectures on campus that day, and spoke to LU’s College of Arts and Sciences graduates at the December 2017 commencement.

Her breakthrough achievements in community revitalization have resulted in numerous accolades: elite awards from top institutions including the Heinz Award in the Human Condition category, three invitations to the White House, and extensive press coverage. She has been profiled in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and on CNN and NPR. Fast Company magazine named Blanchard one of the most creative people in the nation. She is a Nonresident Senior Fellow in the Centennial Scholar Initiative at the Brookings Institution and serves on the Board of the Business Innovation Factory and the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.

Ellen Rienstra

Writer and historical consultant Ellen Rienstra graduated from Lamar University in 1962 with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature with a minor in History. While attending, she was a member of Alpha Delta Pi Sorority and played in the Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, and Marching Band. In 1980, she earned a Master of Arts in English Literature from LU. Her education prepared her for a career rich in history and literature, specifically involving the history of her hometown, Beaumont.

Rienstra is currently a contractor for historical research and writing for the Nelda C. and H. J. Stark Lutcher Foundation.

In her career, she has published more than 10 novels, journals, plays, and articles, and has written many more. Her book Giant Under the Hill: A History of the Spindletop Oil Discovery at Beaumont, Texas, in 1901 was named the second Best Book in Texas History in 2002 by the Texas State Historical Association and received the Otis Lock Award for the Best Book in East Texas History in 2003 from the East Texas Historical Association. A Pride of Kin was chosen by Texas A&M Press as one of three books to launch their Frank Wardlaw series, and The Long Shadow: The Lutcher-Stark Dynasty won an Award of Merit for Leadership in History from the American Association of State and Local History in 2017.

She has been a keynote speaker, led programs, workshops, and seminars, and presented information to a variety of clubs and organizations, including the East Texas Historical Association, the Texas State Historical Association, Daughters of the American Revolution, Beaumont area schools, TV and radio stations, and more. Rienstra was also honored with an award for Outstanding Contribution to the Humanities in 2016 by the Southeast Texas Arts Council.

Besides her work in literature and history, Ellen has been a contract violinist for more than 30 years in the Symphony of Southeast Texas, Lake Charles Symphony, and several freelance orchestra, solo, and small ensemble performances.

She is a past president of the Lamar University Alumni Advisory Board, a member of the Lamar University Foundation Board, a member of the Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum Board, and a member of the Center for History and Culture of Southeast Texas and the Upper Texas Coast Board at Lamar University. She is a member of the Authors Guild, Texas State Historical Association, East Texas Historical Association, and a former Board member for the Texas Gulf Historical Association and the Beaumont Heritage Society. She continues to serve Lamar University and the community through her efforts to preserve Beaumont’s rich history and make it known to the world.

She supports Lamar University Athletics as a season ticket holder, has established the Ellen Rienstra Scholarship in Music at Lamar University, hosted the A Dinner and 12 Strangers mentoring dinner for history majors in 2006 and 2007, is a member of Women and Philanthropy, and served on the Lamar University Class of 1962 50th Reunion Committee.

Her familial connections to Lamar run deep, including her late husband, John Rienstra, a 1960 graduate; her three children all attended Lamar University, the late Dan Rienstra, Judy Rienstra Farrell, and Allen Rienstra, as have two grandsons. Her late parents, John and Esther Rienstra were 1929 graduates of South Park Junior College, which in later years became Lamar University. Her father served as the Lamar University Alumni Board President, 1977-1980.

Don Shaver

Don Shaver was born in 1954 in Ganado, Texas, and moved to Beaumont in 1964 with his mother and father, Rena and Darrel Shaver and sister Jana, when his father accepted the head football coach position at Beaumont High School.

Upon graduation from Beaumont High School in 1972, Shaver enrolled at Lamar University. During his college years, he was a member of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity, Blue Key Honor Society and a two-year letterman on the golf team. After earning his degree, Shaver joined international public accounting firm, Price Waterhouse, and along with his wife, Diane Howell Shaver, spent four years in Houston. Shaver received his CPA in 1980 and returned to Beaumont to continue his public accounting career.

Soon, he and two partners launched their own firm that grew rapidly over the next 25 years. In 2007, Shaver stepped away from public accounting, and along with a long time client, formed several equipment rental companies, of which he was a partner and Chief Financial Officer, before selling the businesses in 2014. After the sale, he found he was not ready to retire. Today, he is an investor in several operating companies and also provides consulting services to companies involved in acquisition and disposition transactions.

Shaver has shown dedicated support to Lamar University by serving as an accounting instructor in the College of Business, as a member of the Lamar University Alumni Association Board and the Lamar Accounting Department Advisory Board, and as an honorary member of the Lamar Chapter of Beta Alpha Psi Accounting Honorary Society. Currently, he is a Trustee of the Lamar University Foundation.

The Shavers have generously supported the Friends of the Arts, Alumni Affairs, the Cardinal Club, the College of Business, the Speech and Hearing Department in the College of Science, the Dishman Art Museum, the University Theatre and Men’s and Women’s Golf. In 2015, the couple endowed several major gifts and joined the President’s Circle. One, the Diane and Don Shaver Master of Science in Accounting Scholarship, provides four students $5,000 each year. The Diane and Don Shaver Speech and Hearing Sciences Scholarship also provides four students $5,000 annually. In addition, the Diane and Don Shaver Presidential Innovation Fund is used to further the mission of the university through support for critical strategic initiatives.

Finally, the gift also created six distinguished faculty fellowships to recognize faculty performance and leadership in research, creative activity, and teaching and is awarded to faculty members for a three-year period. Three Faculty Fellows hold named fellowships: The Diane and Don Shaver Distinguished Faculty Fellowship, the Dr. James M. Simmons Distinguished Faculty Fellowship and the James G. Crump Distinguished Faculty Fellowship.