Six Alumni Inducted into the Reich College of Education Rhododendron Society

Appalachian State University alumni Jack Hoke ’74 ’82 ’84, Dr. Susan Dianne Little ’71 ’96, and Dr. LaTonya M. Summers ’94 ’96 were inducted into the Rhododendron Society on July 9 at a brunch held at the Grandview Ballroom in Boone, North Carolina. 

Additionally, the 2020 inductees -  Dr. William “Bill” Brown ’55 ’58, Carol Deal ’67 ’73 ’80 ’83, and Phillip Riggs ’88 - were recognized due to last year’s ceremony being canceled. 

New inductee membersLeft to right: Rhododendron Scholarship recipient, Heath Robertson; 2020 inductee, Carol Deal; 2021 inductee, Dianne Little; Reich College of Education Dean, Melba Spooner; 2020 inductee, Phillip Riggs; and 2021 inductee Jack Hoke. Photo by Chase Reynolds.

The brunch was attended by the award recipients and their guests; past winners; Reich College of Education (RCOE) Advancement Board members, and college leadership, including RCOE Dean Melba Spooner, Associate Deans Monica Lambert and Terry McClannon, and Assistant Dean Hannah Reeder. 

The RCOE established the Rhododendron Society in 1999, Appalachian’s centennial year. It is named for Appalachian’s former yearbook “The Rhododendron,” which captured the university’s historic moments, activities and accomplishments.

As the highest honor given by the college, the award honors alumni for their exemplary service to education and to their communities. The society recognizes RCOE graduates whose service as teachers, librarians, human service professionals or administrators has reflected great credit on themselves, the field of education and the university. Brown, Dean, Hoke, Little, Riggs, and Summers joined a distinguished group of Rhododendron Society members, bringing the total to 71.

All Rhododendron Society membersRhododendron Society members, along with Rhododendron Society Scholarship recipient, Heath Robertson (far left) and Reich College of Education Dean, Melba Spooner (far right). Photo by Chase Reynolds. 

Society members give back to the RCOE through an annual scholarship, which is awarded to an undergraduate and a graduate student who are outstanding in their course of study. 

RCOE encourages Rhododendron Society nominations of Appalachian alumni currently working in the field of education as well as those who have retired. To learn more about the Rhododendron Society or to view nomination materials visit

2021 Inductees

About Jack Hoke

Jack Hoke and Angela QuickRhododendron Society member Angela Quick, left, with new inductee, Jack Hoke. Photo by Chase Reynolds.

Originally from Lenoir, North Carolina, Jack Hoke has served his community in virtually every position in K-12 education: teacher, assistant principal, principal, associate superintendent, and superintendent. 

Hoke began his academic career at Appalachian as a business major. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in business, he returned to App State to complete his teaching certification for business education. After teaching for a few years, he completed his master of arts degree and education specialist degree in public school administration and moved into school administration roles. 

As one nominator noted, “[Jack] was a teacher that students wanted to have as their leader.” In his role as executive director of the North Carolina School Superintendents’ Association, Hoke created two programs to support and mentor new and aspiring school administrators - Next Generation Superintendent Development Program and Aspiring Superintendent Program - and his work is being replicated in other states. 

Hoke has been recognized for his contributions to education, including twice being named the Northwest Regional Service Alliance Superintendent of the Year. He also received the North Carolina Association of School Administrators Raymond Sarbaugh State Leadership Award and the North Carolina High School Athletic Association “One Hundred to Remember School Administrators” award.

In 2010, Hoke was a finalist for the A. Craig Phillips North Carolina Superintendent of the Year, and in 2012, he was honored with the “Long Leaf Pine Award” by the governor of North Carolina for his leadership in education.

About Susan Dianne Little

Dianne Little and Ann Wadsworth-ReishNew inductee, Dianne Little, left, with alumna Ann Wadsworth-Reish. Photo by Chase Reynolds.

“Dr. Susan Dianne Little has five successful decades of dedication to her students as an exceptional teacher, principal, and college administrator in the state of North Carolina,” said one nominator. She has taught and been an administrator at high schools and community colleges. 

Little received two of her four degrees from Appalachian: a Bachelor of Science degree in English and an Educational Specialist degree in administration. She received her Master of Arts in Teaching degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her Doctor of Education degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She also completed the Principal’s Executive Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

Little is consistently recognized for her commitment to excellence and education from the local to the national and international level, including being appointed by Governor Jim Hunt to the North Carolina Teacher Advisory Committee, being inducted into the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, and being named an outstanding educator and administrator many times over. 

Recently, Little was appointed to the North Carolina Education and Workforce Innovation Commission by Governor Roy Cooper. 

Little has channeled her love of education through philanthropy as well. Last year, she established the Jeannette Hartsell Little Scholarship at Appalachian, to honor the memory of her mother, who was unable to attend college due to a physical disability. This scholarship is for students with physical or learning disabilities and supports their academic pursuits at Appalachian. 

About LaTonya M. Summers

LaTonya SummersNew inductee, LaTonya Summers. Photo submitted.

LaTonya Summers received her Bachelor of Science degree in psychology with an emphasis in child development and her Master of Arts degree in Agency Counseling with an emphasis in addictions, both from Appalachian, and her Ph.D. in counselor education and supervision from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

“[LaTonya] has furthered (and will continue to do so) the knowledge of counseling professionals in working with minority and underserved clients and families,” said one nominator.

Summers served as a professional counselor and supervisor for over 20 years before transitioning to a counselor educator and assistant professor. During her time in North Carolina, she founded the LifeSkills Counseling and Consulting Group, which was an outpatient mental health practice that provided a free counseling clinic for the unemployed and uninsured.

In 2005, Summers published her book, Good to Me, and became a critically acclaimed author on a national book tour. Since 2016, she has organized the Black Mental Health Symposium, an annual conference dedicated to helping counseling professionals decrease the stigma of mental illness, increase access to care, and improve the wellness of the Black community.

Summers has received many accolades for her work, including the National Board for Certified Counselors Minority Fellowship Award, the Chi Sigma Iota Outstanding Contribution to Social Justice and Advocacy Award, and the Chi Sigma Iota International Outstanding Practitioner Supervisor Award.

Her research interests focus on multicultural issues in counseling and supervision, and social justice and advocacy.

2020 Inductees

About William “Bill” Brown

Bill and Jewel Brown2020 inductee Bill Brown, left, with his wife Jewel Brown. Photo by Marie Freeman.

William “Bill” Brown’s nominator wrote, “[Bill] has been a difference-maker in education for a long time.”

Brown attended Appalachian State on a basketball scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in grammar grade education in 1955. In 1958, he returned to Appalachian to receive his Master of Arts in public school administration and elementary education. Bill received his Doctor of Education degree from Duke University in 1977. 

For over 30 years he served in public education as a teacher, coach, principal, assistant superintendent, and superintendent. 

After retiring as superintendent of Albemarle County Schools in 1986, Brown worked for Wilber, Kendrick, Workman and Warren Architectural Firm in Charlotte, North Carolina, doing marketing. He also wrote a book, Around These Tracks, about his life growing up in Mooresville and the story of the events that shaped part of Mooresville’s history.

Brown continues to give back to Appalachian. He served as the president of the Appalachian Alumni Association, the president of the Yosef Advisory Board, a member of the Former Athletes Association Board of Directors, and a member of the Reich College of Education Advancement Board. In 2007, Bill was honored with the Appalachian State University Outstanding Service Award. In 2011 when the college's building was opened, Brown and his wife, Jewel, named the Dean's Suite. 

Brown’s goal through all his volunteer work has been to repay the university for providing the way which led him to a successful career in public education.

About Carol Deal

Carol Deal and Mary Moretz2020 inductee Carol Deal, left, with Rhododendron Society member Mary Moretz. Photo by Chase Reynolds. 

All of Carol Deal’s nomination letters note her “commitment to excellence” and impact on education.

Deal received four degrees from Appalachian: Bachelor of Science in early childhood education, Master of Arts in reading education, Educational Specialist in reading education, and Education Specialists in curriculum specialist. 

She has made many contributions to the field of education, including her work in Watauga County Schools with her construction of a state-of-the-art program of instruction in the area of developmental reading. 

One of her nominators said, “When [Carol] saw a need for enhanced teacher training, she worked tirelessly to fill the gaps by providing in-service training to both elementary and secondary teachers.”

“She was innovative in determining special program needs within the schools that would best create opportunities for all students to meet their potential,” they added.

After her retirement from Watauga County Schools as the associate superintendent, Carol continued to teach for the Reich College of Education’s reading education program as an adjunct instructor. 

In 1992, she was honored with the “Long Leaf Pine Award” by the governor of North Carolina for her leadership in education, and in 1996, she received the Governor’s Excellence in Education Award for her work on the First Steps Program, an early intervention reading program.

About Phillip Riggs

Phillip Riggs and Todd Wright2020 inductee Phillip Riggs, left, with alum and Hayes School of Music professor, Todd Wright. Photo by Chase Reynolds.

Phillip Riggs received his Bachelor of Music in music education from Appalachian and his Master of Education in curriculum instructional specialist and instructional technology specialist from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He is also a National Board Certified Teacher. 

A former student wrote, “Mr. Riggs has made a sincere and lasting mark upon his students through his dedication to music education.”

Riggs has served as a cooperating teacher for student teachers from Appalachian State University, Elon University, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Greensboro, and Western Carolina University. 

One nominator spoke to Riggs’s willingness to collaborate with other teachers, specifically as a “driving force in a North Carolina mentoring program for new and younger band directors.”

In 2019, after a 30-year teaching career, Riggs retired from the North Carolina School of Science and Math. His reach spans not only across North Carolina, but nationally and internationally as well. He continues to be an active leader in professional organizations and community groups. 

Riggs currently serves as a guest conductor with the World Adult Wind Orchestra Project (WAWOP) held in Austria each summer. He is a co-founder and conductor of the NC Youth Wind Ensemble. He is a Past President of the NC Band Directors Association. He also served as chair of the North Carolina High School All-State Band, chair of the NCMEA Technology and founding chair of the NCMEA New Teacher Committee. He was the coordinator of the National Association for Music Educators, (NAfME) National Wind Ensemble at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. He has also served as the Southern Division Representative on the NAfME Council for Band and is the NC chair of the National Band Association. Riggs, a Conn-Selmer Educational Artist, is active as a clinician and adjudicator throughout the United States, Austria, and China.

In 2016, Riggs was awarded the Grammy Music Educator Award by the Recording Academy and Grammy Foundation. He has also received two awards from the UNC Board of Governors - in 2011, the Exceptional Contribution in Teaching through Outreach Award and in 2018, the Outstanding Teaching Award.

Rhododendron Inductees
Published: Jul 15, 2021 3:11pm