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UMO Presents Awards to Outstanding Alumni

UMO Alumni 1

MOUNT OLIVE— The University of Mount Olive (UMO) Alumni Association recently honored eight individuals for their outstanding service, contributions, and achievements.  The awards were presented during the Alumni Awards Ceremony held in Rodgers Chapel.  The event was part of the University’s Annual Homecoming celebration.

Francine Elks Cooke, from the class of 1976, received the Dianne Brown Riley Distinguished Service Award. While at Mount Olive, Cooke served as Vice President of the Student Government Association, as a Trojan cheerleader, and as the 1976 Pickle Classic Queen.

Cooke has served on the UMO Alumni Board for 18 years, two of which, she was President of the Association. She presently serves as a member of the Senior Advisory Board. One of Cooke’s most notable contributions to the association was her involvement with the Winter Glitz Scholarship Gala, which generated thousands of dollars in scholarship support over several years.

Beyond her UMO involvements, Cooke volunteers in her community with the “Senior Check” program and serves as Community Relations Chairman for Samaritan's Purse/Operation Christmas Child. She attends Open Door Church, where she has done mission work in Africa.

Cooke, and her husband, Tommy, live in Greenville, NC, where they own several car businesses. The couple have three adult children and five grandchildren. Francine is fondly called “Franny,” by her grands.

Brandon Hickey, from the Class of 2018, received the Young Alumni Achievement Award. Hickey has a long history of service dating back to 2008 when he volunteered with the Melrose Volunteer Fire Department in Melrose, NY. Since that time, he has worked at several North Carolina fire departments including Cleveland Fire Department, Town of Hope Mills Department of Fire, and most currently as a Career Shift Lieutenant with the Ulah Fire Department in Asheboro, NC.

Among other things, Hickey’s work has encompassed coordinating public education and outreach programs, responding to basic life support calls, participating in rescue situations, and assisting with missing person searches. Putting his life on the line for his fellow man is a service that Hickey feels passionate about, and one that requires continual training and certification. Hickey is a former member of the New York Firemen’s Association and North Carolina Association of Rescue & EMS, as well as a current member of the North Carolina State Firefighter’s Association.

Recognized by his peers and coworkers, for his dedication to saving lives, Hickey is the recipient of the 2013 Field Birth Award; the 2017 FEMA Award, the 2017 State Disaster Award, the 2017 Home Town Hero Award, the 2018 Advanced Professional Firefighter Award, and the 2022 Life Save Award.

Beyond his professional acumen, Hickey is currently seeking his master’s degree in history from Liberty University. He is the owner and operator of Antique Resurrection, and in his spare time he enjoys buying and selling antique U.S. coins.

In his acceptance speech, Hickey said, “UMO was the university that I wanted to attend as far back as I can remember. UMO not only gave me a great education it also left a lasting impression on me that I will remember for the rest of my life. I am proud to be associated with UMO, and I would like to express my sincere gratitude to everyone at the University for allowing me the privilege of receiving this award.”

Genevieve Taylor, from the Class of 1957, received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Taylor went on to obtain a secondary social studies degree from Atlantic Christian College (now Barton), and her master’s degree in education from UNC Chapel Hill. Taylor’s early teaching career included working with Johnston County Schools and Goldsboro High School. After her teaching stints, she got married and moved to Greene County where she worked for 35 years in curriculum and accountability. Taylor has served as a district committee member of the NC Secondary Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and as a certified facilitator for AdvanceED.

Taylor has been an integral part of the UMO Alumni Association since its inception, having served on countless committees and in the capacity of secretary. In 2002, the Association recognized her with the Distinguished Service Award. Taylor has served the University’s founding denomination as the UMO Greene County Free Will Baptist Dinner Chairperson and she is a Sunday school teacher at Free Union OFWB Church. In 1978, she received the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award. In 1997 and 1983, Taylor received the NC Education Office Personnel Administer Award.

Sarah Williamson, from the Class of 2017, received the Lorelle F. Martin and Michael R. Pelt Excellence in Teaching Award. After graduating from UMO with a degree in elementary education, Williamson earned her master’s degree in special education from Liberty University to better serve the students with special needs, in her general education classroom. She did this as both a new and pregnant mother while working full-time.

Williamson’s love of elementary education has led her to teaching positions from kindergarten to fourth grade at several Wayne County Schools including Grantham Elementary, Tommy’s Road, and now at Northwest Elementary. She advocates for her students daily and is a leader in the field. She has served as grade chair multiple times and as an ECU student mentor. Williamson is active in Alpha Delta Kappa, an educational sorority, that serves local schools and the community and offers educational scholarships. As a result of her tenacity to fund her students’ needs, Williamson has been awarded the Bright Ideas and multiple other grants. Williamson and her husband, Ian, reside in Goldsboro with their daughter, Abigail.

Michael Burkette Hood, from the Class of 2016, received the W. Burkette Raper Leadership Award. Hood graduated from UMO with a bachelor’s degree in religious studies and earned his M.Div in 2019 from Wake Forest School of Divinity.

Apart from his academics, Hood served as a Pastoral Intern at Green Street United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem. There, he oversaw their youth ministry, preached regularly, and participated in many small group sessions. Hood served for two years as a member of the Wake Divinity Worship Planning team where he helped plan and execute their twice-weekly chapel services.

In October of 2020, Hood became the Youth and College Minister at First Baptist Church of Raleigh. In this role, he plans and writes weekly curriculum, plans and leads retreats, and leads weekly events for all ages. This year, he was ordained by the church and has since performed four marriages. Hood and his wife, Sarah, reside in Raleigh, NC.

James Cahoon, Class of 1975, received the Alumni Hall of Fame Award. Cahoon earned his associate’s degree from Mount Olive College, his BS degree in sociology from Atlantic Christian College, now Barton in 1977, and his master’s degree in education from East Carolina University in 1983. Cahoon is a former Assistant Superintendent of Tyrrell County Schools. In 1997, he received the Outstanding Educator Award from ECU, and in 1996 was named the Tyrrell County Schools Principal of the Year.

Cahoon has served several terms on the UMO Alumni Association Board, including as the 2003–04 President. Cahoon is an outspoken proponent of the institution, having been quoted as saying, “The two years I spent at Mount Olive College were the most fulfilling years of my life. My time spent at the College allowed me to redirect my life in such a way that I was able to discover a purpose for my life beyond me as an individual.”

Cahoon is an active member of Sound Side Free Will Baptist Church, where he has taught Sunday school since 1990 and currently serves as a Deacon. Throughout his life. Cahoon has been heavily involved with the FWB denomination having served on the FWB Children’s Home Board of Directors for 26 years, as a member of the Cragmont Assembly Board of Directors, and as a previous summer camp program director, among other things. He has been on several mission trips and participates in a backyard missions program to build wheelchair ramps for those in need. Cahoon is also the past president of the Columbia Rotary Club.

Cahoon is mayor of Columbia, NC, a position he has held since 2017. His public service has also included serving as Alderman of the Town from 2012 to 2017. Cahoon served in the United States Army on active duty from August of 1970 until May of 1972. His permanent duty assignments included 18 months with the 69th Ordinance Company in Vicenza, Italy working with nuclear warhead storage, maintenance, and safe transportation. He was honorably discharged on August 25, 1977, as a Specialist 4th Class. Cahoon has been married to fellow Mount Olive alumnus Kathy Cahoon for 45 years. Their daughter, Kat, and son-in-law, Andrew Alphin, are also UMO graduates. Their two grandchildren are their pride and joy.

Dr. Sandy Maddox was named an Honorary UMO Alumnus. Maddox has had an extensive career in agriculture spanning over four decades. At the University of Mount Olive, she has served as Assistant Professor of Agricultural Education, Director of the Lois G. Britt Agribusiness Center, Chair for the Division of Agriculture, and as the founding and recent Dean of the School of Agriculture and Biological Sciences.

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Maddox’s vast network of both agricultural and non-agricultural partners in education has enabled her to secure over $6 million to provide scholarships and educational opportunities for UMO students. She is a master relationship builder, and the countless hours she has donated to farmers and students are staggering. Former students call her friend, mentor, and coach.

Before arriving at UMO, Maddox worked at NCSU and the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. She worked in the Soil Science Department at NCSU in research, was a Horticultural Agent and County Extension Director for Cooperative Extension in Pender County, served as the Superintendent of the Horticultural Crops Research Station in Sampson County, and lastly served as the Director of the Division of Research Stations with NCDA, retiring from state service in 2007.

Maddox has been a member of the Wayne County Cooperative Extension Advisory Board, Wayne Extension Community Association Advisory Board, Tobacco Farm Life Museum Board of Directors, participated in the Karl Best Leadership program, Leadership Wayne, and much more.

In May, Maddox was awarded the state’s highest civilian honor, The Order of the Long Leaf Pine. In November, she received the National FFA VIP Citation award for over 20 years of service to FFA and agriculture education.

UMO President Dr. H. Edward Croom said, “Dr. Maddox has touched the lives of so many North Carolinians in such a positive way. Her work at the University of Mount Olive has been instrumental in guiding the growth and direction of the Lois G. Agribusiness Center and the School of Agriculture and Biological Sciences.” Maddox resides in Surf City, NC.

The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University was founded by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists. For more information, visit

—Rhonda Jessup, Director of Public Relations

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