Henderson to honor five at awards banquet

Henderson State will honor five alumni when the university’s Alumni Association hosts its annual awards banquet Feb. 15.

Distinguished Alumni awards will be presented to Eugene “Gene” Simonson, Don Ruggles, and Kinney Black. Ralph Edward “RJ” Taylor II will receive the “H” Award, and the Young Alumni Award will be presented to Dallas Hardison.

Gene Simonson received his diploma from Henderson in 1951. After graduating from Arkadelphia High School in 1942, he began working several war-related jobs. He enrolled at Henderson State Teachers College in 1947 as a 23-year-old freshman. In 1951, he received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve, and received his B.S. in chemistry with minors in math and physics. Simonson retired in 1975 as a colonel.

In 2001, Simonson became a Golden Reddie, visiting the campus many times over the years. He and his sister, Dr. Della Sue Simonson, gave $525,000 in 2005 to help build Henderson’s Simonson Biological Field Station at DeGray Lake. He currently lives in Huntsville, Alabama.

Don Ruggles is a 1958 graduate of Henderson. Upon his discharge from a second tour of military duty, he worked 25 years with a large Swiss pharmaceutical company before starting his own helicopter company and LifeNet of Texarkana. Ruggles developed a fleet of five helicopters and four airplanes prior to his retirement.

Ruggles served two separate tours of duty as an Army aviator during the Vietnam era before retiring with the rank of lieutenant colonel and a Master Army Aviator with 27 years of service. Ruggles commanded an Army medevac helicopter unit in the Army Reserves with his unit, becoming the first MAST unit for the Reserve/Guard, and was deployed to the Persian Gulf War. 

In addition to his aviation activities, Ruggles also tends to his family farm near Hope. He and his wife Mary are major contributors to Reddie Athletics. Henderson’s first artificial turf football field is named Ruggles Field in recognition of their generosity. Ruggles was just inducted into the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame.

Kinney Black graduated from Henderson in 1972 with a degree in business administration. He was one of the first two Henderson ROTC cadets to attend and graduate from Army Airborne training prior to his senior year. Black graduated as a Distinguished Military Graduate when he was 20, and was at Fort Benning, Georgia, the following Monday to start his Army career.

Black served his country for 28 years and retired with the rank of colonel. Following his retirement, Black served as a financial advisor with Edward Jones for 15 years. He has been active in his hometown of Malvern. He is the current fundraising chair and a past president of the Malvern Lions Club, and is vice president and a past president of the Hot Spring County Historical Society. Black is also chair of the College of the Ouachitas Foundation Board of Directors.

Both of Black’s children attended Henderson where they earned degrees in political science and mass media.

R.J. Taylor received his degree from Henderson in 2013 and currently is an advisor at Edward Jones Investments in Atlanta, Georgia.

Taylor is active in Omega Psi Phi fraternity and played football for the Reddies throughout his college years. He has participated in the “Black Rhinos,” a mentoring group designed to confront the academic, social, and community needs of students.

Dallas Hardison graduated from Henderson in 2015 with a degree in business administration in marketing, and went to work at Walmart’s home office where he has rapidly risen through the ranks. He is currently a portfolio manager for the company.

Hardison was a quarterback for the Reddie football team. He and a former teammate have begun a youth sports mentoring program in Northwest Arkansas. Hardison has also participated in Henderson’s Business Advisory Council, and is a member of the HSU Alumni Association Board of Directors.

Tickets for the event will go on sale on Jan. 2, 2020, and are $30 each or $50 for a couple. For more information about the banquet, contact Henderson’s Office of Development and Alumni at 870-230-5401.