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Peninger, Sparks and Wilson Receive Appalachian’s Distinguished Alumni Award

imageRTN.jpgBOONE—Three Appalachian State University graduates who have risen quickly through the ranks of their chosen professions have received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Appalachian State University’s Alumni Association.

The Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes extraordinary distinction and success in a graduate’s career field and those who have demonstrated exceptional and

sustained leadership in their community. The awards were presented during the university’s homecoming festivities.

Maria Peninger, a 1983 graduate, is a regional vice president of sales for Avon Products Inc., and resides in Georgia. Richard G. Sparks earned a bachelor’s degree from Appalachian in 1976 and a master’s degree in 1978. He is president and CEO of Watauga Medical Center in Boone. J. Bradley Wilson, a 1975 graduate, is general counsel and senior vice president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. He lives in Cary.

“You can ignite an eternal flame and chart the future of a lifetime for students here,” Peninger said of Appalachian’s administrators and faculty.

“The globalization of the world’s economy, means that Appalachian State University’s reach extends far beyond our state lines, our national borders, our neighboring continent. America’s leaders today often manage unfamiliar and uncertain conditions, seek out uncommon talent and harness untold resources,” Peninger said.

“ASU is there to train and prepare the leaders who will define our future and protect our way of life.”

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Appalachian, Peninger, of Alpharetta, Ga., joined Avon as a district sales manager.

She has held positions as field trainer and division sales manager for Tennessee. Peninger earned the World Sales Leader title eight consecutive years.

In 1992, she was promoted to division sales director, then field business unit leader in early 1996.

Peninger was named regional sales vice president in July 1996. Peninger and her team oversee the Southeast region’s 170,000 sales representatives who generate more than $1 billion in annual retail sales across 12 states.

“I came to Boone as a shy young man,” Sparks said. “The university gifted me with knowledge and a sense of purpose. I am deeply humbled,” he said accepting the award.

Under Sparks’ leadership, Watauga Medical Center in Boone has grown to a 117-bed facility with 100 physicians and more than 850 full-time staff.

Sparks, a native of Shelby, interned at Cleveland Memorial Hospital between his junior and senior years at Appalachian. He began his career as an assistant administrator at Watauga Hospital Inc. in 1978. He became administrator in 1989 and president and CEO in 1990.

During Sparks’ tenure the medical facility has expanded its facilities to include the Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center, the Sanger Cardiology Clinic, Mallard Kidney Dialysis Center and the Paul Broyhill Wellness Center.

“A talented team has afforded me the time and opportunity to accomplish things I might not otherwise been able to attempt, Sparks said of his tenure at Watauga Medical Center. “I was urged by the (medical) board to dream and to make those dreams happen.”

Specialty areas including neurology, gastroenterology and pediatric cardiology also have been developed. The medical center is in the midst of an $18 million renovation and expansion project involving the cancer center, construction of a parking deck, an outpatient diagnostic center and a cardiac catherization lab.

Sparks is a member of the Walker College of Business Advisory Council and the N.C. Hospital Association Policy Committee.

He has represented North Carolina on the American College of Healthcare Executives Council of Regents and as a delegate to the National Congress on Medicine/Public Health Initiative. In 1994 he was appointed to the N.C. Health Planning Commission Committee on Community Health Districts by former Gov. James B.Hunt.

Sparks is a former member of the Centura Bank Board of Directors, Boone Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and the Hospice of Watauga County Advisory Council.

He has chaired the Wake Forest University School of Medicine Northwest Area Health Education Center’s board of directors, the local American Red Cross chapter, and is a former president of Boone Rotary Club.

“I am forever connected to this place, said Wilson. “Wonderful and dedicated faculty gave me the tools necessary to meet the challenges of live. The Appalachian spirit is so much a part of who I am that it is impossible to distinguish me from all of those who have touched my life through this wonderful place,” he said.

After graduating from Appalachian, Wilson entered law school at Wake Forest University. He earned a juris doctorate in 1978, and began practicing law in Lenoir, becoming a managing partner with Carpenter, Wilson, Cannon and Blair, P.A.

After 15 years with the law firm, Wilson joined state government as Gov. James B. Hunt’s general counsel. As senior advisor to the governor from 1992-95, Wilson provided counsel on all legal matters and assisted with policy, budget and programming issues related to state government. He also was named acting secretary of the N.C. Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, serving a one-year appointment.

In 1995, Wilson became general counsel, senior vice president and corporate secretary for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. In this capacity, Wilson is responsible for law and regulatory affairs, corporate communications, and issues relating to customer satisfaction, business development and governmental affairs.

Wilson is active on a variety of boards and in public service. He is a member of the Meredith College Board of Trustees and the UNC Board of Governors, vice president of the N.C. Railroad Company, and a member of the N.C. Child Advocacy Institute and the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina. He currently serves on Appalachian’s College of Arts and Sciences Advisory Council.

In 1997, Wilson was included in Business Leader magazine’s “Impact 100.” Wilson is a member of the N.C. Bar Association, American Bar Association, the Caldwell and Wake County bar associations, the National Health Lawyers Association and the American Society of Corporate Secretaries.


Picture Caption: Richard Sparks of Boone, left, Maria Peninger of Alpharetta, Ga., and Brad Wilson of Cary have received Appalachian State University’s Distinguished Alumni Award. (Appalachian photo by University Photographer Mike Rominger)

Photo available by request. Call the Office of Public Affairs at (828) 262-2092.