2022 Alumni Awards
Each year, the University of Dayton Alumni Association highlights the amazing things our alumni have done, including their service to communities around the world.
Our alumni create new ways to serve and meet needs. Our alumni take what they learned as students and use it to make things better in their work, where they live and for the people closest to them. They embody the calling of UD to learn, lead and serve. Congratulations to the 2022 recipients.
Jon Dekar ’11
Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering
Right place, right time … right idea, right motivation — everything was aligned when Jon Dekar walked onto the University of Dayton campus.
Just a week into his first semester, Dekar was introduced to a young girl named Hope who wanted to be able to eat with the dignity that her disability had robbed her of. That meeting marked the beginning of the creation of Obi, a revolutionary eating device Dekar invented to help individuals with upper extremity limitations gain much-needed independence.
“My personal end game is all about being useful to others,” Dekar said. “I want to do everything in my power to be a force for good within my family, community and, to the extent possible, society at large.”
The device that got its start in Dekar’s UD dorm room is now available in more than 20 countries and is helping thousands of people gain independence. Feeding themselves — something most people take for granted — has become a reality for young children and older individuals alike because of Obi.
“It’s fascinating how little decisions in our life can change them forever,” said Dekar, founder and CEO of DESiN LLC. “Obi has certainly come a long way since first inception, now being distributed all over the world. I believe that when we act on our inspiration, take responsibility and focus one day after another, almost any goal is achievable.”
Honored and grateful, Dekar is also hopeful that his success will inspire other students to set high ambitions and push themselves to make the world a better place.
Tracy Irvine Janess ’87
Bachelor of Arts, Communication
Despite unimaginable grief, Tracy Irvine Janess, in time, was able to turn her tears into smiles — Secret Smiles.
Janess vividly remembers the day she lost her younger sister Kristy Irvine Ryan ’93 in the 9/11 attack that took down the World Trade Center, where Kristy worked. The loss was heartbreaking, but Janess was determined to continue her sister’s legacy of the Secret Smiles charity that she had established in New York City.
“Kristy and her best friend Meredith O’Neill Hassett ’93 met impoverished families and ‘secretly’ provided them with basic household necessities,” Janess said. “When Kristy tragically died, I — with the help of some close friends — brought Secret Smiles to Dayton in her memory.”
Janess quickly realized that the greatest need locally wasn’t household goods, it was beds.
“So many children in our community were sleeping on the floor or sharing beds with multiple siblings and newborn babies were without cribs,” she said. “We changed our focus to getting beds to kids.”
With the help of a dedicated community of volunteers and generous businesses, Secret Smiles has provided more than 8,500 new beds and bedding to Dayton-area families since the organization’s inception — approximately 500 per year. A true nonprofit organization — with no paid employees and no dedicated office space — Secret Smiles works with a variety of social service organizations and churches to meet the needs of local children.
“While we were helping local families, Secret Smiles was helping me through the grieving process,” Janess said. “This is Kristy’s legacy, and I feel blessed to be able to continue her work.”
C. LaShea Smith Lofton ’91
Bachelor of Arts, International Studies
Mother knows best. Just ask LaShea Smith Lofton.
Lofton’s college plan was set until an announcement was made at her church about the University of Dayton’s W.S. McIntosh scholarship, initially developed to assist Dayton Public Schools students.
“We got home from church and my mom told me, ‘I think you should apply,’” Lofton said. “She wanted me to find out more about it and talk to my pastor about Mr. McIntosh.”
The self-proclaimed history buff quickly discovered how impactful McIntosh — the father of the civil rights movement in Dayton — had been. The U.S. Navy veteran and longtime businessman was active in the civil rights movement, organizing marches in Washington, D.C., and Selma, Alabama.
“I was blown away by all he accomplished, and I put my application in.”
Lofton earned the distinction of being the first recipient of the scholarship, an opportunity that changed the trajectory of her career and her life as it also included a four-year internship with the city of Dayton.
“I was an international studies major, so
I never thought I’d be serving my local community as a career, but God had other plans and I’m glad he did,” she said.
Lofton’s city of Dayton career spans almost three decades including stints as director of the department of finance, director for the department of recreation and youth services. She is currently deputy city manager. It has come full circle as she now facilitates the internship for a new generation of McIntosh Scholars.
“That’s probably the biggest blessing, being able to give back to them.”
And mother still knows best, as Lofton encouraged her daughter, Adanna Smith ’16, to become a Flyer.
Thomas Seamands ’81
Bachelor of Science, Management
Tom Seamands’ career choice was determined long before he stepped foot on the University of Dayton campus.
“I think probably in first or second grade — my dad was in the Army, and he loved what he did so much I used to think he probably had to pay to be in the Army, which made me wonder how we got money,” Seamands said with a smile. “My dad was a true patriot and served 30 years in uniform, including service in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Watching him only reaffirmed my desire to be in the Army.”
From the strong ROTC program to the supportive faculty and staff, not to mention meeting his wife, Melissa Kelley Seamands ’81, on the first week of classes his freshman year, the retired lieutenant general’s career was built on a solid foundation from UD.
“The ROTC program was a great fit for me. I got to do things I had never done before and work with an amazing cadre and fellow cadets. There was a wonderful competitive cooperation to the program,” he said.
“My wife took a leap of faith with me — having no military connection — and 41 years later, she is still my best friend, the reason I smile every day and why I was able to do all I did.”
Seamands, a recipient of the United States Army’s Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit and Bronze Star Medal, remains connected to UD’s ROTC program.
“It’s inspiring to meet the young women and men who are stepping up to serve our nation,” he said. “Dayton attracts amazing applicants and those who choose to pursue the path in the military are truly remarkable and selfless.”
James Stitt ’71
Bachelor of Science, Technology
From teenage years spent working in the family plumbing business to a successful career at CUTCO Cutlery that spans decades to founding the University’s Stitt Scholars program — the challenges have varied, but the common thread that is woven throughout Jim Stitt’s career is community.
“I learned from my father the value of working together as businesses to build a better and longer-lasting community,” Stitt said. “And at CUTCO, as the largest employer in town, we feel a strong social responsibility to the community.”
Stitt found a welcoming community on campus when he arrived from his hometown of Chillicothe, Ohio, in the late 1960s.
“I was fortunate to have received deep-rooted values from my family and 12 years of Catholic education,” he said. “And the values that I had grown up with were reinforced at UD.”
Those deeply rooted values have guided him throughout his career and his many philanthropic endeavors. Stitt, who served on the UD School of Engineering Advisory Council for almost a decade, established the Altha P. and John F. Stitt Endowed Scholarship in honor of his parents in 1998 and funded the Stitt Scholars program, which provides engineering and business students with experiential learning opportunities through collaboration with clients in the Dayton community.
“What makes the Stitt Scholars program so exciting is that it puts engineering and business students together to find great solutions through collaboration,” he said.
And, true to form, the community reaps the benefits of the collaborations.
To see past recipients of the Alumni Awards and to submit your nomination for a 2023 honoree, visit udayton.edu/advancement/alumni-awards/index.php.