Medina honors new class of distinguished alumni

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 8 November 2014 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Medina Central School on Friday welcomed five graduates as distinguished alumni, including from left: Dr. James Ingram, Maureen Blackburn and the Honorable James Punch. The district also inducted the late John McElwain and Dr. Susan Hagood.

MEDINA – The school district added five more graduates to its wall of “Distinguished Alumni” on Friday. The new inductees include graduates who stayed in Medina for long careers of community service. Others excelled far away from their hometown.

The honorees were recognized during a school assembly on Friday afternoon in front of 600 students in grades 8 through 12.

“They remind students of what they can do in their lives if they make good choices,” said Mark Kruzynski, high school principal. “We wanted to highlight that community service is also just as important.”

The honorees include:

James Punch, Class of 1973

After graduating from Medina, Punch earned his bachelor’s degree from the University at Buffalo and then earned a law degree from the University of Dayton School of Law in 1980.

He returned to Orleans County in 1985. Two years later he was the youngest district attorney ever in the state. In 1990, he was elected as county judge. He continues in that role, leading County Court, Surrogate Court, Family Court and State Supreme Court. He has started the Crime Victims’ Unit, Youth Court, a Sex Abuse Task Force, Drug and Alcohol Treatment Court, and Domestic Violence Court.

He is active in the community, serving as legal advisor to Medina High School’s mock trial team. He also has been active with the Rotary Club, Knights of Columbus, YMCA Board, Boy Scout Executive Committee, and the Holy Trinity Parish. He is president of the Parish Council and a Eucharistic minister.

Punch addressed the students are encouraged them to always move forward. They shouldn’t sit back and dwell on either success or failure.

“Don’t define yourself as ‘having succeeded’ and decide nothing more needs to be done – ‘I’m perfect,'” Punch said. “Equally, don’t define yourself by your failure and decide nothing more can be done – ‘I’m hopeless.'”

Punch said he is grateful for a career in Medina and Orleans County. He told the students he hopes many of them will be able to stay in the Medina area and contribute to the community.

Dr. James Ingram, Class of 1965

After Medina, Ingram earned degrees at SUNY Geneseo and the University of Alabama School of Medicine, where he earned his medical degree and became a certified surgeon. He also served in Vietnam with the Navy.

In his career he pushed for innovation in electronic health records and his company developed patient management software tools for physicians. Ingram’s company went public in 2012 and was acquired by Vista Equity for $644 million.

Ingram lives in Carrollton, Ga. He said Medina provided a foundation for his career.

“Find a passion in life, find a direction,” Ingram advised students. “You’ll have challenges and misdirection, but keep up the course and you’ll be successful.”

Maureen Blackburn, Class of 1963

When she was a student at Medina, Blackburn had three lung surgeries. Doctors said she’d be lucky to live 20 years. She spent a lot of time in the hospital as a kid.

“It’s everyone’s choice on how you meet challenges,” she told the students.

She took on an attitude to embrace each day, to give of her talents and look for ways to encourage others.

Maureen Blackburn addresses Medina students on Friday when she was presented with a Distinguished Alumni Award. She is joined on stage by Dr. James Ingram and the Honorable James Punch, right.

Blackburn earned degrees from GCC, RIT and then her master’s in social work from the University of Buffalo. She worked for Medina Central School as a social worker. When she retired, she served on the Board of Education, including as its president.

She has been active as St. John’s Episcopal Church, the Red Cross, Medina Area Association of Churches and the Medina Sandstone Society.

“Each day is a gift, each day is a blessing,” Blackburn said. “Make it count.”

John McElwain, Class of 1959

After high school, McElwain served four years in the Navy. He returned to Medina and was active in numerous community causes. For 20 years, the electrician by trade designed and installed the lights for the Christmas displays at State Street Park, creating the nativity scene and electric candle advent wreath.

McElwain was 70 when he died on March 8, 2012.

He was very active with the Lion’s Club, served as past president and promoted a Lions Vision Screening Program at Medina schools and other districts in Orleans County.

He volunteered as a “Big Brother” in the Special Friends program through the Orleans-Genesee Minsitry of Concern, was recognized as a “Best Friend” by The Arc of Orleans County for his service at Camp Rainbow, and was a Boy Scout leader for many years.

“He was very active with kids,” his cousin Russ Martino said. “He was very down-to-earth and lovable.”

Dr. Susan Hagood, Class of 1975

Hagood completed her undergraduate studies at Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., and did graduate work at Louisiana State University. She received her Ph.D. in ecology from the University of Maryland at College Park in 2009. She dedicated the last 20 years of her professional career to the Humane Society of the United States.

During her career with the Humane Society, she worked with predatory control, wild horses and animal preservation funding efforts. She researched the effects of human-wildlife conflict, particularly with development and transportation.

Hagood was 54 when she died of cancer Nov. 8, 2011, at her home in Hanover, Pa. with her husband of 28 years, Jerry Boxman, at her side.

Each honoree will have a plaque in their honor on the “Alumni Hall” by the cafeteria.

“What they have in common is that they all began their paths to success at Medina High School,” Kruzynski said.