NSU Community Members Honored as Centurions | Local News


On Friday, Northeastern State University added 10 people to its centurion roster, honoring people who have made an impact on the school and the surrounding community.

Lifetime educators, faculty members, public servants, and alumni are among NSU’s 2022 Centurions. This year’s inductees include: Dr. William “Bill” Bright; Bob Ed and Jo Ellen Culver; Dr. Ebony Johnson; Dr. Debbie Landdry; Dr. Daniel Savage; Eldee Starr; Darrell Sullenger; Dr. Paul Westbrook; Richard Zellner.

NSU President Dr. Steve Turner compared them to the centurions of the Roman army, who were commanders of military units consisting of around 80 legionaries.

“Usually leading the front, Centurions occupy positions on the right side of the century formation, leading and inspiring by example,” he said. “They also sought to show skill and courage that could have brought them to their rank in the first place. They were well trained, well educated.”

In 2009, NSU celebrated its first 100 years as a public institution by recognizing 100 individuals who have made lasting contributions to the school. The institutions have since honored 227 people, including Friday’s new Centurion roster.

“Put simply, these recipients were top-notch leaders,” Turner said. “They are brave, courageous and often ahead of their time.”

Bright graduated from NSU with a bachelor’s degree in 1943. He founded the Campus Crusade for Christ and authored over 100 books, pamphlets, articles and videos. He received the NSU Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001.

Bob Ed and Jo Ellen Culver each attended NSU; Bob Ed graduated there in 1956, while Jo Ellen attended for several years before graduating from Oklahoma State University. Bob Ed served as the State Representative for Oklahoma’s District 4, served as the community’s first Director of Civil Defense, and was co-owner of Reed-Culver Funeral Home. Jo Ellen, meanwhile, has been a 50-year member of PEO, a philanthropic organization of women who celebrate the advancement and education of other women through scholarships, grants and loans.

Teaching at NSU after arriving in 1986, Westbrook eventually held several administrative positions, including assistant dean of arts and humanities and dean of the College of Liberal Arts. He helped establish the Cherokee Education Diploma, the only tribe-specific teacher certification program in the United States.

Johnson earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree from NSU, before receiving her doctorate in education from the University of Oklahoma. She has worked as a teacher and principal, and is now Director of Learning for Tulsa Public Schools. She is also an adjunct professor in the UO College of Education.

Another NSU graduate, Sullenger served in the United States Air Force. He became a member of the NSU Foundation Board of Directors in 1997, was inducted into the NSU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2005, and was named NSU Outstanding Alumnus in 2015.

Zellner received a bachelor’s degree in history education and a master’s degree in secondary education from NSU. He began teaching at Tahlequah Junior High School in 1974 and spent 29 years teaching.

Savage began teaching at NSU in 2005 and is currently Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Department of Geography and Political Science. He won the NSU Circle of Excellence Award for Teaching in 2012 and was the recipient of the Top Ten RiverHawk Recognition Award in 2018.

A graduate of Cherokee Female Seminary in 1899, Starr served more than 30 years with the Department of the Interior, where she taught others how to do Indian service work. She served on the faculty and administration of the Seminary until its transfer to Oklahoma State.

“Clearly, this year’s inductees have faithfully pursued the standards in life’s battles and opportunities. Their lives have touched and improved the circumstances of countless others,” Turner said.


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