Pittsburg State University graduates are a diverse group, and while three recipients of the Meritorious Achievement Award share common backgrounds, their paths have taken them to some very different places.
Gary Grant, Catherine Stareck Linaweaver and David Osborne joined a group of 198 other alumni honored since the PSU Alumni Association established the award in 1958.
“Each of the recipients today have established themselves both professionally and personally,” said Chris Kelly, associate vice president of university marketing and communication, during a panel discussion with the three.
The recipients then had the opportunity to tell their stories.
Grant said he grew up in Frontenac and studied mathematics at Pitt State. He began working at State Farm Insurance in 1972 and finished his master’s degree in 1973.
As his time with the company grew, so did his responsibilities, beginning with a position that he referred to as a “grunt” and working up to the position of actuarial vice president, where he oversaw all the property and casualty insurance, and on to position of ensuring the insurance company was insured.
Stareck Linaweaver said she has enjoyed meeting the other honorees.
“We realized something quickly we all have in common,” she said. “We all come from small towns.”
She said she followed her heart in college and found herself married with a family and working at Lansing High School, when some significant events in her life forced a change and she began working in corrections as a teacher.
From there, she was promoted to regional administration and served in warden positions of various levels at several correction centers, including in Kansas City, Springfield, Mo., Big Sandy, Ky., and Chicago, before taking a new post eight weeks ago in New York.
She emphasized the opportunities to learn during each experience.
“You have to learn from the good just like you learn from the bad,” she said.
Osborne spoke of his love for the piano, the places it has taken him and the people he has met.
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“The sound of the piano called my name, and I always loved it,” he said.
Osborne did his undergraduate work at Oral Roberts University and said he learned a lot from the pastor.
“Expect a miracle,” Osborne said, adding, “don’t pray for a miracle if you haven’t rehearsed.”
He said his performance accelerated during his time in graduate school in Indiana, but he returned home and began coursework at Pittsburg State University when his mother was diagnosed with cancer.
Osborne then began performing in Florida and with then with the St. Louis Symphony, and he applied for a job in Las Vegas in 1999.
His time as a pianist has taken him all over and he has become known as the “Pianist to the Presidents.”
“I learned at Pittsburg State to tap into all the resources,” Osborne said, adding that those skills came in handy when planning a 75th birthday party for President Jimmy Carter.
“I have just learned that nothing’s impossible and to tap into every opportunity,” he said.
All three were presented with their awards during a reception following, and each had the opportunity to share a bit more.
Stareck Linaweaver thanked her family and said her fondest memory of PSU was the chance to network with so many people.
“It reminds me of how proud I am to be a Pitt State Gorilla,” she said.
Grant shared the work ethic that his father instilled in him.
“He seemed to know what he didn’t know,” Grant said, adding that he remembers his dad taking night classes in Russ Hall to learn how to run a business.
“If you want a result, you’ve got to put out the effort,” he added, before going on to thank his wife, Donna, for her unwavering support throughout the years.
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Osborne said his story is a reminder that a person can go anywhere if they put their mind to it.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re form or who you know,” he said. “It matters what kind of effort you want to put out.”