William Carey University inducted three people into the Carey Alumni Hall of Fame during Homecoming 2019: Philip Fortenberry, professional pianist; Vernon Mangum, military master instructor and cyber transport expert; and Ron Melton, lifelong educator. DiDi Ellis, founder and CEO of Hub Kids Advocacy Center, received the Young Alumni Award.
“It’s always difficult to choose our Hall of Fame honorees because there are so many outstanding Carey alumni making a difference in their communities,” said Pam Shearer, WCU director of alumni relations. “This year we covered four different academic areas – music, history, business/military and psychology.
“One of my favorite parts of homecoming each year is hearing our graduates tell their stories. I’ve learned so much about Carey history by listening to them recount their experiences. Seeing the joy on their faces as they reconnect with old friends and faculty members is priceless.”
The WCU Hall of Fame awards were presented March 22 during a banquet for family and friends at the university’s Hattiesburg campus.
DiDi Ellis (’12)
DiDi Ellis earned a master’s degree in counseling from Carey in 2012. After graduation, she worked as a therapist at the Southwest Mississippi Children’s Advocacy Center in McComb, providing trauma-focused mental health services to victims of child sexual abuse. She also worked as a multi-disciplinary team coordinator with the Family Resource Center, a child advocacy center in Tupelo.
At a symposium on child abuse, Ellis took to heart the speaker’s admonition to “fight the good fight until the good fight is no longer necessary.”
Already passionate about fighting child abuse, she used her WCU education and her work experience to take a leap of faith in 2014, when she began the journey of establishing a new non-profit organization. Kids Hub Child Advocacy Center opened in July 2015, and serves children involved with investigations of child abuse from four counties. To date, Kids Hub Child Advocacy Center has served more than 1,400 children in the Pine Belt.
Ellis said she chose to study at WCU and to establish Kids Hub for the same reason – to follow God’s lead and walk through the doors He opens. Her mission in life is to remain obedient to God’s call to fight for some of the bravest children in our community.
Ellis resides in Petal with her husband Tyler and son Miles. The family attends Petal Harvey Baptist Church.
Philip Fortenberry (’80)
Philip Fortenberry earned a bachelor’s degree in music from William Carey University in 1980, a master’s degree in classical piano performance from New Jersey City University, and is currently pursuing a doctorate in musical arts at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
A resident of Las Vegas since 2004, Fortenberry is the associate conductor/music director for Jersey Boys, serves as pianist for Faith Community Lutheran Church, and is the featured artist in a one-man show, “Liberace and Me,” at the Liberace Museum.
Fortenberry began his musical career at age 4 in his hometown of Columbia, Miss. He simply sat down at a piano and played. By age 7, he was the accompanist for his church. He studied piano at the famed Juilliard School and made his debut at Carnegie Hall in 1986 as the pianist/conductor for Eartha Kitt. He and has since performed with 10 Broadway productions and toured North America with “The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber.”
He has also performed at the White House, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and Kennedy Center, and completed a 14-city, 19-day national concert tour of China.
Fortenberry shares credit as producer, composer, and director of several musicals and is co-founder and host of "The Composers Showcase," a Nevada non-profit that provides opportunities for composers to present original music to an enthusiastic and supportive audience.
Vernon Mangum (’02)
Vernon Mangum earned a bachelor’s degree in professional aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University before attending then-William Carey College, where he earned a master’s degree in business administration in 2002. He went on to receive his U.S. Air Force commission from the Academy of Military Science on McGhee Tyson Air Base and leadership training from the Squadron Officer School from Air University on Maxwell Air Force Base.
A 25-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Mangum served in Bahrain, England, Germany, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, Texas, and New Mexico. He was a member of the 2000 Moss Point High School 5A Mississippi State Championship coaching staff and founded the Mangum Foundation, a non-profit mentoring foundation.
Mangum is a member of Omega Psi Fraternity and Military Officers Association of America. He is a former member of the Mississippi Association of Coaches. He served as vice president of Blacks in Government and first vice president of the Biloxi NAACP.
After the January 2017 tornado that devastated WCU’s campus, Mangum generously donated to his alma mater and is an avid supporter of the university’s athletic department.
He and his wife, Commissioner Sugar Stallings, are actively involved in the Gulf Coast community. Mangum’s awards for community service and leadership include the NAACP Southeast Region Medgar Wiley Evers Award and inclusion on the Mississippi Business Journal’s “Top 40 Under 40” list.
Ronald Melton (’70)
Thomas Ronald Melton earned the bachelor’s degree in history from then William Carey College in 1970. He went on to attend the University of Mississippi, where he earned the master’s degree and doctorate in history.
Melton began his teaching career at Brewton-Parker College in Georgia, where he was a faculty member in the history department and later joined the institution’s administration as vice president for academic affairs and provost. He was named the Distinguished Professor of History in 2011 and retired from full-time teaching in 2015.
For his four decades of service to Brewton-Parker College, Melton was inducted into the Hall of Fame and named Professor of the Year.
In addition to his academic duties, Melton serves as the eligibility chair for the Southern States Athletic Conference. He was awarded a place in the Hall of Fame for Meritorious Service and received the Wally Schwartz Award. He served as chair of the Council of Faculty Athletics Representatives, the National Coordinating Committee, and the Competitive Experience Committee, and as parliamentarian at the NAIA Annual Meeting.
A resident of Vidalia, Ga., Melton is a member of Phi Kappa Phi, Phi Alpha Theta, Pi Gamma Mu, American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians, Southern Historical Association, Georgia Historical Society, and Georgia Association of Historians.