FREDERICKTOWN – Things came full-circle for five of Fredericktown’s most accomplished alumni on Wednesday.
The group included a real estate developer, two electrical engineers, an aeromedical innovator and a nursing professor/medical researcher. All have risen to the top of their respective fields, and all graced the halls of Fredericktown High School at one point in time; the oldest graduated in 1966, while the youngest graduated in 2000.
GALLERY: Fredericktown Hall of Honor induction ceremony
Five esteemed Fredericktown alumni were inducted into the Fredericktown Local Schools Distinguished Alumni Hall of Honor on Wednesday. This year's inductees: Tom Carter (Class of 1976), Terry Divelbiss (Class of 1966), Jeremy Freer (Class of 2000), Jeremiah Friend (Class of 1995) and Rebecca Mitchell (Class of 1979).
These five individuals were back at the high school Wednesday to be inducted into the Fredericktown Local Schools Distinguished Alumni Hall of Honor, in front of friends, family, community members and current high school students. Tom Carter (Class of 1976), Terry Divelbiss (Class of 1966), Jeremy Freer (Class of 2000), Jeremiah Friend (Class of 1995) and Rebecca Mitchell (Class of 1979) joined seven other esteemed Freddies in the Hall of Honor, which was established in 2013.
The inductees were asked to share life advice with the Fredericktown juniors and seniors in attendance, and several became emotional when talking about their hometown.
Betty Weller, a former Fredericktown business teacher and current Hall of Honor Committee member, hoped the high school students could gain inspiration from the inductees. These men and women grew up in the same community years ago, and now their impact is global.
“Yeah, we’re in Fredericktown and there are 2,400 citizens, and 1,200-some of us K-12 – but it’s a great education that you’re getting here. And it’s a great community in which you are growing up,” superintendent Matt Chrispin told the students. “And you’re gonna find out, there’s a great foundation within you, when you leave here, to do just about anything you desire.”
This was the third induction ceremony for the Hall of Honor, which also includes Julie Cochran (Class of 1959), John Fisher (Class of 1964), Weston Miller (Class of 1996), Betty Boyd Caroli (Class of 1956), Roger F. Davis (Class of 1961), Dr. William Elder (Class of 1972) and Robert W. Levering (Class of 1932).
Anyone can nominate a potential inductee; all they have to do is pick up an application form in the superintendent’s office. There are only two requirements for nomination: they must have graduated from Fredericktown High School, and they must have done it at least 10 years ago. Inductees can be living or deceased.
The Hall of Honor Committee judges nominees based on their academic and professional achievements, as well as their focus on community service. While most of this year’s inductees came from STEM-related backgrounds, Weller said the committee is impartial when it comes to the nominee’s field of work. Most are innovators and risk-takers, Weller said, and they also have a passion for serving others.
This year’s inductees were chosen from a pool of nine applicants. Those who were not chosen this year can apply two more times, Weller said. Given Fredericktown’s pending administrative transition, Weller is unsure whether future Hall of Honor inductions will be held every year or two years moving forward.
Here were this year’s inductees:
Tom Carter, Class of 1976
For the last three decades, Carter has worked as a senior real estate developer for projects across the country – some totaling more than 6 million square feet and $950 million in value.
He was the head of real estate expansion (western U.S.) for Barnes & Noble, taking the 12-bookstore chain and expanding it to over 500 stores. He also developed a freestanding store design for Pier 1 Imports, then oversaw an eight-state region as a real estate manager.
He’s made his mark in central Ohio, too. He served as the developer of the second phase of Easton Town Center, one of the nation’s largest and most-recognized lifestyle shopping centers. Within the last decade, he revamped Worthington Mall, which had lost around 50 percent of its businesses prior to his purchasing. Carter also designed and developed the new Bob Evans Farms, Inc. headquarters in New Albany, a 175,000-square-foot facility on 40 acres.
Eventually, his work brought him back to Fredericktown. He created, financed and developed the Taylor Street condominiums, providing additional senior housing to the community.
Carter became emotional when talking about his hometown on Wednesday. He’s traveled across the world, he said, but “Fredericktown is still special – very special.”
“Every time I’ve done it, I’ve sat there and said, ‘What is a Fredericktown Freddie doing in a place like this,’” said Carter, who currently resides in Worthington with his family. “But it just goes to show that we’re all the same. There are no impediments to success or adventure. You just have to get out there and do it.”
Carter credited his teachers at Fredericktown and his involvement with various clubs, including Fellowship of Christian Athletes, as key influencers in his development. Carter grew up on a farm and raised cows for the county fair. He participated in 4-H, school athletics and other extracurriculars during his time in Fredericktown.
Carter graduated with a degree in architecture from Ohio State in 1981 and has since traveled to 48 states and 20 countries – some work-related, some not. He encouraged current Fredericktown students to take risks, see the world, and experience nature. It doesn’t matter where you grow up, Carter said, it’s about having reliable mentors and a hunger for success.
“Above all things,” he told the students, “seek out what your passion is and pursue it.”
Terry Divelbiss, Class of 1966
45 years ago, Divelbiss launched a startup business that he ran from a second-story office in downtown Fredericktown. Now, Divelbiss Corporation – which designs and manufactures industrially hardened electronic control solutions – employs 22 local residents in a sprawling facility on the west end of the village.
Divelbiss Corporation has designed and manufactured electronic controls for customers across the world. Its controls can be seen on military aircraft, in subway systems, in Department of Defense projects and elsewhere. The company has grown under the vision and leadership of Divelbiss, who has spent his entire life serving the Knox County community.
“Terry believes the way to improve economic development in a community is through the creation of jobs in the private sector,” said former Fredericktown superintendent Dan Humphrey, who introduced Divelbiss on Wednesday.
Outside of work, Divelbiss has been involved in a long list of local organizations. He recently spent 10 years with the Knox County Foundation (formerly the Community Foundation of Mount Vernon and Knox County), where he served as chair and awarded over $1 million in scholarships to Knox County students.
Divelbiss has been involved with the Fredericktown Community Development Foundation and was formerly the president of the Area Development Foundation. He served for 18 years on the Knox County Airport Authority, and he called the airport “the gateway to business.” He was also active on the Fredericktown Board of Education and currently serves on the advisory committee for the electronics program at the Knox County Career Center.
Divelbiss has been a longtime member of Fredericktown United Methodist Church and is currently involved in its remodeling process.
Humphrey commended Divelbiss for his life of service to the Fredericktown (and Knox County) community. Divelbiss had a message to those who are just beginning their journey:
“I have been involved at the church, city and county levels,” he said. “To you juniors and seniors, get involved in your community and you’ll be surprised at what can be accomplished.”
Jeremy Freer, Class of 2000
When Freer was a freshman at Fredericktown, he became the village’s youngest volunteer fireman. He’d earn his paramedic credentials three years later, marking the beginning of a career in emergency medical service that would quickly make him one of Fredericktown’s most esteemed alumni.
After working as a flight paramedic in Arizona and simultaneously earning a degree in biomedical sciences, Freer launched his own company at the age of 25. It was called Angel MedFlight Worldwide Air Ambulance, and its purpose was to streamline the ambulance process for patients and their families. He wanted to make emergency aeromedical service quicker and more personable.
Freer struggled to gain financial support for the startup due to his age and perceived lack of experience, so he funded the company through personal loans and credit cards, amassing almost a million dollars in debt. But Freer kept pushing, and once healthcare professionals and hospital case managers realized Angel MedFlight’s effectiveness, his business began to grow.
When he saw the need for more aircraft, Freer purchased the company’s own aircraft fleet. Since then, Angel MedFlight has transferred patients from six continents, making it a leader in domestic and international aeromedical transport.
By the time he was 30 years old, Freer had become a millionaire. He then returned to his agricultural roots by launching Movers and Shuckers, LLC, a custom farming business with many other services, including equipment rental, excavation, hauling and maintenance. The company is a sponsor of many local initiatives and has provided jobs and resources to those in the Fredericktown area.
Weller, who had Freer in business class, introduced him Wednesday. She said he can be compared to some of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs, such as Bill Gates and Andrew Carnegie.
“Jeremy ranks right there with these notables,” Weller said.
Freer encouraged the next generation of Freddies to think of themselves as problem-solvers, and to use their ambition to make the world a better place.
“One thing that I would mention to the juniors and seniors is that, if you’re trying to think about becoming an entrepreneur, don’t think about ideas you could use to start a company,” Freer said. “Take a problem and build everything around (solving) that.”
Jeremiah Friend, Class of 1995
Friend has gained national recognition for his work as a senior electrical engineer at ZIN Technologies (Cleveland), which serves as the prime contractor for the NASA Glenn Research Center. He has helped develop space flight hardware that supports microgravity research at the International Space Station.
Friend also designed, developed and tested a Pump Motor Inventor Unit for the Ares I Upper Stage rocket as part of a constellation program contract proposal. Plans are to use the Ares I spacecraft for a return trip to the moon in 2020.
In addition, Friend was the lead electrical engineer for the Zero Boil-Off Tank Experiment, an International Space Station research project. His work will be used for propulsion and life support systems, and it will allow reduced launch mass and the ability to perform sustained near-earth and deep-space science and crewed missions.
According to his online bio at Ohio State University (where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees), Friend’s experiment is “of utmost importance to NASA because the data gathered in microgravity will be used to design long-term cryogenic fluid storage solutions for space travel. This effort will allow us to realize long term human missions to Mars and beyond in the near future.”
Currently, Friend is the co-founder and vice president of WaveFlex, Inc., which uses cutting-edge, wireless technology to develop a custom intentional transmitter product. The company has been approved for global sales and is developing a purchasing agreement with a $5 billion customer.
Friend has two patents (one for a nozzle fluid flow indicator system and one for flood prevention systems for appliances) and has two more pending. He is involved with several academic honorary societies, including ETA Kappa Nu, an academic honorary for electrical engineers.
Friend credited his full-go mindset to his father, who pushed him to give 100 percent at everything he did.
“When I was young, I spent a lot of time working on different projects with my dad. And when he would catch me slacking off or trying to cut corners, he would say to me, in his best hillbilly dialect, ‘Son, it ain’t worth doin’ if it ain’t worth doin’ right,’” Friend said with a chuckle. “Those words were truly powerful and became something that I apply to everything I do.”
He also spoke fondly of his upbringing in Fredericktown, which he believes positioned him for success.
“I don’t want you to be fooled into thinking that your ability to be successful is in any way impacted by growing up in a small community like this. In fact, I would argue the exact opposite,” Friend said. “I believe that growing up in a small town and being mentored by the wonderful staff here at Fredericktown was the perfect combination to set me up for success.”
Friend encouraged Fredericktown’s youth to take advantage of every opportunity presented to them. However, he also advised the youngsters to live a balanced life – one that’s centered around family and friendships.
“Am I successful? I suppose, if you write down all of these accomplishments, you could argue that I am. However, I would suggest that these academics and career achievements are only a small part of that picture,” he said. “While I urge you all to go all-in with every opportunity presented to you, you must be careful to maintain a healthy work-life balance.”
Rebecca Mitchell, Class of 1979
Mitchell has devoted her life to medical research, with the goal of impacting younger learners and improving the quality of life for those suffering illnesses, syndromes or disorders.
Her doctoral thesis dealt with the relationship between athletics, healthy living and conflict resolution. She found that students on sports teams were less likely to become overweight or drink alcohol, and more likely to use multiple ways of resolving conflicts.
She now works as an assistant professor for undergraduate nursing at Ursuline College in Cleveland, and also serves as a project liaison for research at Case Western Reserve University.
Mitchell has long had a passion for nursing education, as she previously taught nursing research and nursing pharmacology. She has instructed future nurses at several northeast Ohio institutions, including Lakeland Community College, the University of Akron and Lorain Community College.
Her work at the Cleveland Clinic prepared her for a future in research and education. She practiced at the Center for Personalized Genetic Healthcare and Genomic Medicine. She performed direct patient care in several areas of the clinic, including the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit and the Medical/Surgical Unit.
Mitchell has produced peer-reviewed articles on migraine headaches, mitochondrial disease associated with autism, and bacterial meningitis/the meningitis vaccine. She has presented her research at universities across the country.
While Mitchell lives in Cleveland now, she says she still returns to Fredericktown often. She credited her hometown for developing the traits that have carried her to this point, including her work ethic and leadership.
“The roots of my accomplishments are planted firmly in the values that I gained and the lessons that I learned at Fredericktown High School, within the Fredericktown community, and with my family,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell encouraged those in attendance to embrace the idea of teamwork in all aspects of life.
“I wish you all success, whether you are here as a student, a junior or senior, whether you are a community member and are older,” she said. “Understand that teams can grow and become at any time in our lives, and I wish you success in discovering, building and maintaining your teams.”