Wayne State College honors alumni during Homecoming


Wayne State College honored several outstanding alumni on Oct. 1 during Homecoming. 

Alumni honored included Dr. Brandon L. Grimm, ’02; Joseph C. Guenther, ’88; Larry R. Guenther, ’91; Mary E. Haas, ‘92, MSE ’01; and Barry E. Thomas, ‘02.

Brandon L. Grimm is a native Nebraskan. He earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Wayne State College in 2002, a master of public health degree from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2005, and a Ph.D. in health promotion social and behavioral health in 2013 from the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC). 

Grimm is the Associate Dean for Public Health Practice and an associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion at the UNMC College of Public Health. He has been working in public health for more than 15 years and has been instrumental in enhancing the capacity of the current public health workforce. In 2004, Grimm co-created the Great Plains Leadership Institute, which has graduated more than 300 public health professionals from Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and South Dakota. 

Grimm established the Office of Public Health Practice at the UNMC College of Public Health in 2012. Faculty and staff of the office have provided resources for technical assistance, evidence-based programing, assessment and evaluation, practice-based research opportunities, and student field placements that support and impact the public’s health in Nebraska, the region, and the globe. Grimm’s research focuses on implementation sciences and the most effective models and approaches to build the capacity of communities to solve their most relevant and wicked public health issues. 

He is the past president of the Public Health Association of Nebraska, a board member of the Sarpy Cass Health Department, and is the past recipient of the Balderson Award from the National Public Health Leadership Development Network and the Academic Public Health Practice Excellence Award from the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health.

Joseph C. Guenther’s career has spanned more than 30 years in the financial services industry in Nebraska and Iowa. He works as a recovery representative in the First Bankcard Division of First National Bank of Omaha and serves as the company’s liaison with various legal teams working on behalf of the bank. 

After completing a Bachelor of Science in business administration (finance) in 1988, he began his banking career as a management trainee for the Lauritzen Corporation at their bank in Sibley, Iowa. Over the next five years, his career took him to Niobrara, Neb.; Fremont, Neb.; and to Omaha, Neb. in 1992. 

During this time, he held various positions including loan officer, ag loan officer, and farm inspector/manager. Guenther moved to the First Bankcard Division in 1997, which at the time was the largest division within First National of Nebraska. Also during this time, he successfully completed an Executive MBA from the University of Nebraska in 2002. 

He has held multiple roles over the last 20-plus years within the Bankcard Division including: financial analyst, associate manager, and legal administrator. He’s been in his current role for 10 years and currently travels throughout the Midwest for the bank. 

He demonstrated his strong sense for investing in his communities by earning the 2018 Good Neighbor Award from the Aksarben/Elmwood Park Neighborhood Association. He has worked with a variety of non-profits over the years and is focused on educational events with Holy Cross and Creighton Prep. He is also a Deputy Grand Knight for the Knights of Columbus Council No. 11364. 

He rejoined the Speakfirst Toastmasters Group to mentor young business professionals, a group that he helped found at First National in 1998.

Larry Guenther is the Nebraska market executive for JPMorgan Chase. He is responsible for delivering global resources of JPMorgan Chase to Nebraska, and he established the firm’s first commercial banking office in Nebraska in 2017.

During his 30 years in banking, Guenther has been involved with a variety of financings and mergers and acquisitions transactions across a broad array of industries throughout the Midwest. 

Guenther’s career began in Nebraska after graduating in 1991 from Wayne State College with a bachelor of science in business administration (management and finance). During his time at WSC, he completed the John G. Neihardt Scholars Program and graduated magna cum laude. He also began his lifetime membership in Delta Sigma Pi. 

After graduation, he began his commercial banking career in Blair, Neb. He completed his MBA in finance at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and headed east with career stops in Iowa and Illinois over the next 10 years. In Illinois, he worked for Bank One, which would one day merge into JPMorgan Chase. 

The Guenthers returned to Nebraska in 2003. His career advanced to the field of regional commercial banking, managing clients in multiple states throughout the Midwest. He was named the Omaha business banking manager for Great Western Bank (GWB) in 2008 to oversee three banking teams and help GWB successfully complete the acquisition and integration of the largest failed bank in Nebraska history. 

Throughout his career in commercial banking, Guenther has always placed a high priority on community service. He sits on the State Board of Community Health Agencies Drive (CHAD) and the State Board for the Alzheimer’s Association. Guenther also sits on the Board of the Nebraska Chapter of Financial Executives International and is a member of ACG-Nebraska.

He is a member of Rotary International and remains on the finance committee for St. Charles Borromeo Church. The Guenthers’ oldest daughter, Halsie, was named after Dr. Ken Halsey, a professor, Delta Sigma Pi advisor and WSC president. 

All seven members of Guenther’s immediate family have graduated from WSC: Joe, Lynn, Lori, Connie, Dennis, and Terri.

Mary E. Haas graduated from Norfolk High School in Norfolk, Neb., attended Northeast Community College, and continued her college education at Wayne State College. She received a bachelor’s degree in art education in 1992 and a master of science in education in 2001. 

Haas teaches Visual Arts Experience as an adjunct professor at Wayne State College and is a certified senior art clay instructor.

Barry E. Thomas serves as the senior consultant for human resources and diversity, equity, and inclusion projects at BCT Partners. He also is an adjunct professor in the Black Studies Department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. 

Thomas left Omaha Public Schools recently after serving as an educator for 19 years. He taught in various roles, but his last position was Director of Equity and Diversity. 

He obtained his social science education degree from Wayne State in 2002. Thomas has two master’s degrees in educational leadership and curriculum and instruction from Doane College. During his time in the social studies community, he has testified at the Unicameral in opposition to bills that would create barriers for graduation for students in Omaha Public Schools. 

Thomas was awarded the Distinguished Support for Geography Education award by the National Council for Geographic Education, the 2018 Leadership Award from Geographic Educators of Nebraska, the Nebraska Council on Economic Education 2019 Mary Lynn Reiser Award for Leadership, Paul Beck Outstanding Social Studies Educator Award, and the Urban League of Nebraska Outstanding Educator Award. He was awarded the Superior Service award (2017) by his state and district of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.