Twelve distinguished alumni of Hattiesburg’s city schools will be inducted into the HPSD Foundation Hall of Fame October 7 at 7 p.m. via a virtual presentation streamed live from the organization’s website: HPSDFoundation.org.
JENNIFER ABRAHAM (Hattiesburg High, 1991), as an external relations officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, gets celebrities involved in supporting the UN Refugee Agency.
She works with celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Cate Blanchett, Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Scarlett Johansson and Meryl Streep, getting them involved in the mission of protecting and assisting refugees around the world.
Abraham was involved in events in New York and Los Angeles that raised $1.5 million and $1.2 million for UNHCR. But not all her job activities are in the U.S.; Abraham has traveled throughout the world in an effort to make people’s lives better.
In a previous job, Abraham managed the day-to-day business affairs of five-time Grammy-winning singer Christina Aguilera.
At Hattiesburg High, Abraham was in Student Council, Mu Alpha Theta, National Honor Society and was the valedictorian, a cheerleader and on the homecoming court.
ROSIE M. BUTLER (Hattiesburg High, 1974) is a former model with Ebony Fashion Fair and businesswoman, but she changed directions after her youngest son was born with a liver disease.
That’s when Butler became a champion in raising funds for the medical community. Over 30 years, Butler raised more than $22 million.
She sold cosmetics in her younger days in Hattiesburg, and later founded the Alabama Chapter of the American Liver Foundation and served on the executive committee of the National Board of the America Liver Foundation, becoming responsible for 25 chapters. She started the fundraising arm for the Liver Center at the Alabama-Birmingham Hospital and raised more than $800,000. For her efforts, the hospital established the Rosie M. Butler Endowed Support Fund for Viral Hepatitis in 2008.
Butler, who has faced several health issues and is now semi-retired in Texas, was active in pageants and talent shows during her school days.
LARRY DOLEAC (S.H. Blair, 1970) is Vice-President and co-owner of Doleac Electric Company, Inc., who spent decades running Hattiesburg’s Dixie Youth Baseball program.
Doleac Electric’s main markets are industrial, heavy commercial and government work. It is one of the largest electrical contracting companies in the South.
Doleac became a coach in the Hattiesburg Dixie Youth Baseball Association in 1983, was appointed to the Board of Directors in 1985, became director of the program in 1990, was co-chairman of the Dixie Youth World Series in 1989 and chairman in 1998.
He spearheaded a campaign to create a youth baseball complex at Tatum Park in 2008. Now named the Larry Doleac Youth Baseball Complex, it hosted the Dixie Youth World Series in 2015.
Doleac has served as the president of the Hattiesburg Exchange Club three times and is past president of the Hattiesburg Country Club.
Doleac was in the Tigermen and Sock & Buskin clubs in school.
MILDRED GADDIS (Hattiesburg High, 1972) has been a broadcast journalist on radio for 45 years and has done political commentary with CNN, CBS, NBC and ABC.
Time Magazine says Gaddis is one of the most politically astute minds in southern Michigan, where she has lived for decades.
Her career began in 1975 at KENR Country Radio in Houston, then she spent 10 years at KMOX radio in St. Louis. She moved to Detroit after that and became well known for her “Mildred in the Morning” radio show.
Gaddis has been news director at Booth Broadcasting at WJLB-FM and has served as host of “The Mildred Gaddis Show” and has been Director of Community Affairs for Radio One’s radio cluster.
Gaddis also is president and owner of Media Advantage One imaging and marketing company and is a communications professor at Wayne County Community College.
JEREMY HIRSCH (Hattiesburg High, 1995) is co-founder of Spartan Mosquito, a South Mississippi company that has seen tremendous growth since its conception just a few short years ago to become one of the fastest growing businesses in the country.
While Hirsch’s goal was to control the mosquito population in back yards without using chemicals that are harmful to humans, his efforts have led him around the world in an effort to save lives.
He has built a school in Laos and has sent Mississippi teachers there to help educate students in learning English during summer workshops. Hirsch’s company has made donations to multiple natural disaster relief programs, veteran support through free product giveaways, law enforcement, assistance for local school and community athletic programs, the Civitan Camp and Girl Scouts of Greater Mississippi.
At Hattiesburg High, Hirsch was a thespian, cast in two plays, “A Few Good Men” and “The Diviners.”
JOHN R. HUFF (Hattiesburg High, 1964) was Governor of Boys State who became Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Oceaneering International, Inc., a company that employs more than 12,000 people.
Huff retired as active CEO in May and is now Chairman Emeritus of Oceaneering, which provides technical solutions for industries working in harsh environments, principally underwater to the offshore oil and gas business.
Huff, who played football, basketball and baseball at Hattiesburg High and was All-Big 8 Conference in football, currently serves as Chairman and CEO at Huff International, a company that invests in international energy and technology opportunities.
He has been inducted into the Ocean Energy Museum Hall of Fame, the National Academy of Engineering and the Georgia Tech Engineering Hall of Fame and earned a Financial World CEO of the Year Bronze Award.
Huff said his greatest accomplishment was having his family say that he is “a good man.”
ROBERT E. JAMES, SR. (L.J. Rowan High, 1964) played tuba in the Rowan and Morris Brown College bands but made a name for himself in the field of banking.
In 1971, after Harvard Business School, James became President and CEO of Carver State Bank in Savannah, Ga., one of the oldest African American-owned commercial banks. With 50 years at the helm, he is the longest serving African American bank president.
James also served as Chairman of the National Bankers Association, purchased two newspapers in Georgia and was Chairman of the Foundation for Public Broadcasting in Georgia.
James was named one of the 100 Most Influential Black Americans by Ebony Magazine in 2003, and has been awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the National Bankers Association.
At Rowan, James was also in the Esquire Organization for Males, the Glee Club, played baseball, was the Student Council President and was the Mississippi State Student Council President.
LARRY LEFLORE, Ph.D. (L.J. Rowan High, 1967) is a Professor and Dean Emeritus at Texas Woman’s University since his retirement in 2016. He has published referred articles and book chapters in the areas of children and youth development, family and juvenile justice.
Other jobs in LeFlore’s career were Executive Assistant to the President and Assistant Vice-President for Academic Affairs at Southern Miss and Chair and Professor in the Department of Family Sciences at TWU.
He also was Regional Director of the Mississippi Department of Youth Services and held posts at West Virginia University.
Leflore, who ran track at Rowan, has received a Most Distinguished Alumni honor from William Carey and is in WHO’S WHO Among Black Americans.
He has served on multiple boards, including the Pine Belt Boys and Girls Club, the District Boy Scouts of America and the Greater Hattiesburg ADP.
DEAN MEADOR SMITH (S.H. Blair, 1971) is a former high school cheerleader, teacher and show choir director who became a playwright, a national bestselling author and more.
One of Smith’s books is “Momma Dean’s Southern Cooking at Meador Homestead.” Meador Homestead is a bed and breakfast that Smith owns on the outskirts of Hattiesburg that was ranked the No. 1 bed and breakfast in Mississippi. She also owns Simply TeaVine, which has been ranked the No. 1 tea room in the state.
Smith wrote a play, “Riding the Wind,” about the Meador family, one of the oldest in Hattiesburg, and has served many years at various church positions and as an English Language Institute instructor at Southern Miss.
Smith taught in several public schools, including Hattiesburg High and Rowan Junior High.
She was a sophomore class favorite, a Key Club sweetheart, Miss Hawkins Junior High, on the Student Council and in the All-School Productions, Mam’selles and Meistersingers.
ANDY STETELMAN (Hattiesburg High, 1979) began working in the commercial real estate business when he was in high school, got his real estate license two years after graduating from Hattiesburg High and has been in the business ever since, with London & Stetelman Commercial Realtors.
He has served on the Hattiesburg Area Association of Realtors Board of Directors and was president in 1992. Stetelman also was the Hattiesburg Realtor of the Year and was the first Mississippi Commercial Association of Realtors Realtor of the Year, also in 1992.
In addition, Stetelman has been named the William Carey University and Area Development Partnership Small Businessman of the Year, a Chamber of Commerce Leader for a New Century, is a member of the Forrest County Economic Development Foundation and numerous other boards and is in the University of Southern Mississippi Hall of Fame. He also was the recipient of the prestigious 2019 Hub Award.
LARRY WHIGHAM (Hattiesburg High, 1990) played nine years in the National Football League, was selected to the Pro Bowl twice as a special teams player, and also played in the 1997 Super Bowl.
Whigham helped the Tigers to a South State title and later played at Pearl River Community College, where he made the state all-star team as a defensive back.
Whigham signed with Northeast Louisiana, starting as a safety. He was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks but was cut and claimed by the New England Patriots. There, in 1996, Whigham was voted by NFL players as the American Football Conference Special Teams Player of the Year. He made the Pro Bowl twice, once for the Patriots and once for the Chicago Bears.
Whigham, who has coached football at several schools, including Hattiesburg High, is in the Pearl River and Mississippi Community College Sports Halls of Fame.
ANDREW WIEST, Ph.D. (Hattiesburg High, 1978) is a Distinguished Professor of History and Founding Director of the Dale Center for the Study of War and Society at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Wiest has written several books, including “The Boys of ’67,” which had a National Geographic “Brothers In War” documentary based on it. Dr. Wiest was lead historian for the documentary, which received an Emmy nomination.
His “Vietnam's Forgotten Army” won the Society for Military History's Distinguished Book Award. Wiest was Chief Historical Consultant for the Vietnam in HD documentary, which won the New York Film Festivals Gold World Medal.
Wiest, who has written 14 historical books, coaches youth baseball and basketball and plays drums and sings in the popular local band The Mississippi Tornados.
At HHS, Wiest was in the Key Club, the band and all-school productions and won the Leadership and Social Studies awards.