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Mercyhurst honors Distinguished Alumni

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Mercyhurst University honored six outstanding graduates as Distinguished Alumni during its annual Reunion Weekend, held June 9-12 on the Erie campus.

President Michael T. Victor welcomed hundreds of Mercyhurst alumni and their families back to campus for Reunion Weekend, which also featured induction of former student-athletes into the Mercyhurst Athletics Hall of Fame; presentation of the “Golden Gates Award” to a graduate “who has lived the spirit of Mercyhurst as a student within our gates and in their life beyond our gates”; and gatherings of classes marking milestone anniversaries, including the 50-year Class of 1966, which presented a gift of nearly $60,000 to Mercyhurst.

The Sister Carolyn Herrmann Award was presented to Joseph NeCastro ’78. After graduating, he had the highest score in the state on Pennsylvania’s CPA exam and went on to earn a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard University. He retired earlier this year as chief development officer for Scripps Networks Interactive, overseeing the company’s growth through domestic and international acquisitions, joint ventures, investments and partnerships. NeCastro co-chaired last year’s presidential search and now serves as vice-chair of the Mercyhurst Board of Trustees.

The award for Outstanding Service to Mercyhurst was presented to Sister Bernadette Bell ’53, who joined the Sisters of Mercy during her senior year and was one of Mercyhurst’s first two elementary education majors. She has had a distinguished career as a teacher and school administrator and holds a master’s degree and an administration certificate from Duquesne University. She has served on the leadership team for the Sisters of Mercy in Erie and now is the community’s development coordinator. A former Mercyhurst faculty member, she served on the university Board of Trustees for many years, as well as on the boards of a variety of Mercy ministries in the area.

Awards for Outstanding Achievement in a Chosen Field went to Eric Opron ’88 and Matthew Whelan ’86.

Opron majored in hospitality management and captained the Laker baseball team. He spent the first 15 years of his career at Nashville’s Opryland Hotel, rising to the post of director of sales. Today he’s assistant general manager of the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin resort, the largest hotel in Orlando with 2,265 rooms, and the largest Starwood Hotel in North America, He and his sales team have repeatedly earned awards from the Starwood chain.

Whelan, a former admissions counselor and admissions director at Mercyhurst, is now considered an expert on enrollment management for colleges and universities nationwide. He achieved record numbers in enrollment and net revenue at a variety of other schools as well, including Hofstra University, St. John’s University (NY) and Stony Brook University. He’s been at Stony Brook for the last decade, first overseeing admissions and financial aid, and later serving as vice president for strategic initiatives and interim vice president for facilities and administration. He holds a master’s degree from William Paterson University and a doctorate in education from Dowling College.

Two awards were also presented to Outstanding Young Alumni Benjamin Bluemle ’06 and John Egbert ‘05.

Bluemle excelled on Mercyhurst’s football team and had many opportunities to play professional football. Instead he entered the real estate business and, at age 27, moved to Savannah and created his own company, Seaport Real Estate Group. Today it’s a leading firm in Savannah, and Ben has been listed as the top agent in Savannah and as the Number 206 broker in the nation. Away from the office, much of his time is dedicated to battling ALS, the disease that claimed his mother’s life. He’s been involved in events in Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Erie, where he organizes the “All In for ALS” fundraiser each year with the Mercyhurst football program.

Egbert, a standout finance student in the Walker School of Business, has worked his way up through several prominent investment firms to his current position as vice president in equity research with Stifel in New York. His niche is companies that deliver services through the internet, and his research is read, followed and acted on by some of the most sophisticated investors in the world. He has been a key contributor on several major IPOs, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pandora Media, GrubHub and Alibaba. And he’s researched and analyzed companies that are at the forefront of the global economy, including Amazon, Google, Netflix and Yelp.

The “Golden Gates Award,” which was inaugurated last year, was given to Patricia Schramm ’72. A sociology major, she returned home to Syracuse and within five years completed a master’s degree in psychology at Syracuse University and began her life’s work counseling troubled students at Bishop Ludden Junior-Senior High School. She also now works at Immaculate Conception Elementary School two days a week. Last year the Diocese of Syracuse presented Schramm with the “Witness to Faith” award for her lifetime of work as a school counselor and for guiding thousands of youth.

The Athletics Hall of Fame inducted eight individuals, as well as the 1994-95 women’s basketball team. For details about these honorees, visit


Photo: Patricia Schramm '72, John Egbert '05, Ben Bluemle '06, Sister Bernadette Bell, RSM '53, Joseph NeCastro '78, Eric Opron '88 and Matthew Whelan '86