Distinguished Educators inducted into 2023 UPIKE Hall of Fame

The University of Pikeville (UPIKE) honored the 2023 inductees of the Distinguished Educators Hall of Fame at a ceremony held on October 10, in Booth Auditorium. 

Since 2010, UPIKE has carried on the yearly tradition of celebrating those educators whose contributions to learning have inspired generations of students, providing them with unwavering support in their life-long commitment to the field of education.

This year’s inductees included Brandon Blackburn of Pikeville, Jerry Green of Hazard, Tammy Jarrells of Dunlow, W.Va., Dema Ann Litafik of Pikeville, Karla McCarty, Ed.D., of Dandridge, Tenn., Sarah Ruth Moon of Huddy, Kelly Scott of Pikeville, Dottie Stepp (posthumously) and Frank Wells of Staffordsville.

Brandon Blackburn (‘04), of Pikeville, is the principal of Pikeville High School. He is a graduate of then Pikeville College and went on to earn his teaching degree from Eastern Kentucky University as well as a master’s degree in career and technical education, later receiving his principal certification at Georgetown College. Prior to becoming principal, Blackburn served the Pikeville school system as a technology teacher and as a co-coordinator of technology for the entire district. He is a member of the Kentucky Association for School Administrators and the Kentucky Society for Technology Education (KySTE). His honors and awards include the Stilwell Honorary Meritorious Service Medal, the Kentucky Chamber Leadership Institute for School Principals, the Heart of a Bear award, and KySTE Recognition for Dedicated Service. He and his wife Sarah share two sons, Ian and Liam.

Jerry Green of Hazard, has served as Director of the Kentucky Valley Education Cooperative, one of eight education cooperatives in the state that serves 26 school districts in Eastern Kentucky. Previously, he served as superintendent at Pikeville Independent Schools for 18 years. He has also served as an assistant high school principal, middle school principal, elementary principal, and teacher within five different Kentucky school districts, spanning 30 years. Aside from the educational degrees and central office certifications, he has an M.B.A. and an additional bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Kentucky. Most importantly, he is a Christian and shares two sons, Jerry and Jonah, with his wife Phyllis.

Tammy Jarrells of Dunlow, W.Va., earned a bachelor’s degree in middle school education from Alice Lloyd College and two master’s degrees in special education and leadership studies from Marshall University. Jarells has been a passionate educator in Wayne County, W.Va., for 26 years. Through the years, her career path has branched into different positions, including as a special educator, 5th-grade teacher and middle school math teacher. Another passion she has enjoyed for most of her career is coaching girls’ basketball and serving as an athletic director. Jarrells is also a member of the Walnut Grove Church of Christ. She and her husband Dennis share a daughter, Dena, who will graduate from Youngstown University in May and begin her own teaching career.

Dema Ann Runyon Litafik (‘73), of Pikeville, has been an educator for 50 years, including 34 years as an elementary school classroom teacher in the Pikeville Independent School District. For the last 16 years, she has been the teacher for the Pikeville United Methodist Church Genesis Kids Preschool. Litafik holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Pikeville and a master’s degree from Morehead State University. She is from a long line of educators and she grew up knowing the expectation was for her to go to college. Litafik said it has been both rewarding and humbling to have helped place her students on the path to fulfilling their dreams by planting seeds early in their lives that blossomed in the future. Her son T.J. resides in Lexington and she visits often.

Dr. Karla McCarty of Dandridge, Tenn., began her education career as a high school English teacher and transitioned into the counseling role after spending ten years in the classroom, where she worked with students for another 14 years. She now serves as the chief academic officer for Paintsville Independent Schools and is also an adjunct professor at the University of the Cumberlands, where she earned her Ed.D. in educational leadership. She is also a professional development associate for Solution Tree Publishing. McCarty serves as the chairperson for the School Safety Committee with the Kentucky Association of School Administrators, and she was part of the Kentucky Department of Education’s Commissioners Counseling Advisory Committee, and Chairperson of the Annual Learning Institute Planning Committee for the Kentucky Association of School Administrators. In 2019 she was named Counselor of the Year by the Kentucky School Counselors Association, and in 2020 the Kentucky Association of School Administrators inducted her into the Kentucky Women in Educational Leadership. McCarty is an active member of the Eastside Free Will Baptist Church. She and her husband Randy share a son, Jerry Austin. 

Sarah Moon (‘04), of Huddy, is a graduate of then Pikeville College where she received the Rediford Damron Excellence in Secondary Education award. She went on to earn her master’s degree in counseling from Morehead State University, where she also obtained her dual credit mathematics certification. She spent nearly two decades working in Pike County investing in her students in various roles including math teacher, Gear Up interventionist, academics coach, and work with the Booth Scholars Program at her alma mater. Moon now teaches middle and high school math in the Virtual Learning Academy for Fayette County Public Schools. She is also a VBS teacher and pianist at the Coal Run Church of Christ and is a member of the Praise Team. She was named an Appalachian Renaissance Initiative (ARI) Next Gen Teacher and received an ARI classroom grant. She and her husband Matt share two sons, Jay and Jonah.

Kelly Scott (‘96), of Pikeville, is a graduate of then Pikeville College where she earned the Rediford Damron Excellence in Secondary Education award. She went on to earn two master’s degrees from the University of the Cumberlands. Scott has spent the last 13 years teaching high school science in the Pikeville Independent School District, earning her the Kentucky Green and Healthy Schools Teacher of the Year from the Kentucky Environmental Education Council. She volunteers her time at the Pikeville Wesleyan Church, she was the organizer of the first Paint Pikeville Pink, and she served on the fundraising board for Judi’s Place for Kids. She and her husband Dean have two children, Billy Jack, and Lucy, who has blessed them with a son-in-law, Stephen Davis, and a granddaughter, Lola.

Dottie Stepp (deceased) was inspired to become a teacher while watching her father, James Messer, serve their community as a preacher. She was the only child of ten siblings to graduate from college, earning her bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Marshall University. It was always Dottie’s passion to become a teacher, and began her career at Crum High School where she was a student herself, graduating in 1971. When local high schools were consolidated, she stayed on at the same building which became Crum Middle, teaching there for more than 20 years. She married Leon Webb and together they had a daughter, Tabetha, who recalls how her mother was always willing to help her students inside and outside of the classroom. She witnessed her mom buying food, shoes and clothing for her students, pushing them to realize they were capable of so much more than their circumstances. Her greatest reward was seeing her students succeed, and her greatest honor was that her previous students still carry the values she taught them.

Frank Wells of Staffordsville, earned his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in education from Eastern Kentucky University. He spent his career in education serving many roles in the Johnson County School district, including chemistry and physics teacher, science department chair, technology coordinator, chief information officer, and later became the regional engineer for Northeast Kentucky with the Kentucky Education Technology System. Wells has many memberships in professional organizations including the National Education Association, the Kentucky Education Association, former president and executive secretary of Eastern Kentucky Education Association, and former president of Johnson County Education Association. He served on the Paintsville First United Methodist Church Administrative Council and is an active member of the local Kiwanis Club. Wells was inducted into the Johnson Central High School Hall of Fame, named Outstanding Teacher by Who’s Who in American Teachers, selected as a Presenter at the American Chemical Society’s South East Regional Meeting for Chemical Research at EKU, and served as the Kentucky Department of Education’s representative to the Southern Regional Education Board Technology Cooperative. His wife, Janie McKenzie-Wells, is a retired Circuit Judge. Together, they share a daughter, Dr. Katherine Wells, who is a resident physician at Ohio State University.