A civic leader/philanthropist, a national education leader and an award-winning songwriter/producer will join WKU’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni this fall.
Jerry E. Baker, Vicki Phillips and Norro Wilson will be inducted during WKU’s Homecoming celebration.
The 20th class of noted alumni will be inducted during a Homecoming week luncheon at 11:30 a.m. Oct. 21 at the Sloan Convention Center. For ticket information, contact the WKU Alumni Association at 1-888-WKU-ALUM.
Jerry E. Baker
Jerry E. Baker is a business owner and philanthropist who has shared of his time and resources to benefit WKU, the Bowling Green area and the Commonwealth.
Baker, a 1951 graduate of Bowling Green Business University, served as Chairman and in various other leadership positions of Airgas Mid America until 2010. He was owner of Southern Welding Supply, which was acquired by Air Gas in 1986. Airgas has since become a $4 billion national company. Baker has established professorships and scholarships in music and horticulture, as well as scholarships in art, dance and athletics.
In April 2006, Baker made a $15 million gift to WKU that included his home, art and arboretum, making it at that time the single largest gift by an individual to a public university in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The Baker Arboretum is used as a retreat center/meeting facility and for horticulture studies. The Downing Museum, which officially opened in 2009 as a part of The Baker Arboretum, displays a vast collection of artwork by the late Joe Downing. Joe Downing was a world-renowned artist, WKU alumnus and brother of the late WKU President Dero Downing. Baker and Joe Downing were longtime personal friends who collaborated on the design of the Downing Museum.
Baker is a member of the Cupola Society, the Society of 1906, the Cherry Society and the WKU Alumni Association and has served on the WKU Foundation Board of Trustees and several other WKU committees.
Baker received an honorary doctorate from WKU in 2001. He was named as a 2002 Distinguished Service Medal recipient, Volunteer of the Year from the WKU Foundation and was selected WKU’s Philanthropist of the Year in 2005.
Baker also supports the Phoenix Theatre, the Symphony at WKU and Orchestra Kentucky. In 2009, Baker received the Milner Award in the Arts for his contribution to the arts in Kentucky. Baker resides in Bowling Green.
Vicki L. Phillips
Vicki Phillips, a native of Falls of Rough, Ky., never expected to attend college and has spent her career making sure all young people have educational opportunities and understand the value of a college education.
Phillips is Director of Education, College Ready in the United States Program for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle and manages a portion of the $36.9 billion endowment for the world’s largest foundation. She oversees work to ensure U.S. students graduate high school ready for success in college, career and life.
Phillips never thought much about college when she was growing up on the family farm in Falls of Rough. But thanks to a persistent friend at Breckinridge County High School, she decided to attend WKU.
Phillips, a 1976 graduate of Breckinridge County High School, received a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education in 1980, a master’s degree in School Psychology in 1987 from WKU and a doctorate in Education in 2002 from the University of Lincoln in England.
After beginning her career as a teacher in Simpson County, Phillips remained committed to increasing educational opportunities for young people as a school superintendent, a leader of local and state school systems and as an administrator in the non-profit sector.
Phillips has served as Special Assistant to the Deputy Director of the Kentucky Bureau of Instruction, Chief Executive Assistant to Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education, Superintendent of Schools in Lancaster, Pa., Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Superintendent of Portland (Ore.) Public Schools. She also has worked as an advocate for education reform for the National Alliance for Restructuring Education and the Children Achieving Challenge.
WKU presented Phillips with an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree in 2010. Phillips resides in Seattle, Wash.
Norris “Norro” Wilson
Norris D. “Norro” Wilson, a native of Scottsville, Ky., has written some of country music’s most recognizable hits – The Most Beautiful Girl, A Picture of Me (Without You) and The Grand Tour – and is a legendary record producer.
Wilson graduated from Scottsville High School in 1956 and attended Western Kentucky State Teachers College on a music scholarship. He was a member of a barbershop quartet in high school then later joined the Southlanders Quartet and The Omegas. As a solo artist, Wilson scored a top 20 hit in 1970 with Do It to Someone You Love.
His success has come as a writer and producer for artists including John Anderson, Kenny Chesney, Sara Evans, George Jones, Sammy Kershaw, Reba McEntire, John Michael Montgomery, Steve Wariner, Tammy Wynette and more.
Wilson joined the songwriters at Acuff-Rose in Nashville in 1962 and then began working for Al Gallico Music in 1967. He accepted an A&R-producer position with Warner Bros. Records in 1975, moved to RCA in 1982 and became CEO of Merit Music in 1987. Wilson started Norro Productions in 1990 and formed Bud Ro Productions with Buddy Cannon in 1998.
In the 1970s and ’80s, Wilson wrote several No. 1 hits, including Charlie Rich’s The Most Beautiful Girl and A Very Special Love Song, Wynette’s He Loves Me All the Way and Another Lonely Song, George Jones’ The Grand Tour and Charley Pride’s Night Games.
Wilson’s numerous awards include induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1996 and the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame in 2008, a 1974 Grammy for Best Country Song for A Very Special Love Song and more than 30 BMI Awards, including country songwriter of the year in 1973-75. Wilson resides in Nashville, Tenn.
Contact: Tracy Morrison, (270) 745-4395.