Brenham ISD honored four graduates as new members of its distinguished alumni during its 148th anniversary celebratory luncheon on Friday, 9/8/23.
This year’s honorees are Merle Picone, Beverly Hamilton-Roberts, Bill Rankin, and Wanda Smith.
Merle Picone, Brenham High School Class of 1959:
Merle Picone, a distinguished alumnus of Brenham High School Class of 1959, achieved the distinction of Valedictorian at Brenham High School and continued this academic excellence at Blinn College in 1961. Graduating with honors, she attained a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics from The University of Texas in 1963. Her dedication to education spanned an impressive 40 years across various institutions, including roles at Spring Branch Independent School District, Brenham Jr. High, and Brenham State School. Merle's passion for teaching led her to become the Math Department Chair at Brenham High School and the Math Curriculum Coordinator. Her teaching excellence was recognized with the University of Texas Excellence Award for Outstanding Teachers and the Tandy Corporation Outstanding Teacher Award. Beyond her classroom contributions, Merle also served as a Presenter for Texas Professional Development Appraisal Instrument and a trainer in Classroom Management. She was selected to the Texas Education Advisory Board for Prentice Hall and was a member of the Southern Association Accreditation Team. Merle's commitment to education was further highlighted by her role in the National Honor Society Advisory Council and her participation in the Texas Select Committee on Education, where she was one of only 10 Texas teachers invited to share her insights. Merle's impact extended beyond her classroom, as she was honored with the prestigious Mirabeau B. Lamar Award for Excellence in Education and the Brenham High School Teacher of the Year Award. She was also acknowledged for her indelible difference in education, earning the esteemed Brenham Independent School District You Make a Difference Award. In 1999, Merle was recognized as the Washington County Woman of the Year. Her dedication to the community extended to her involvement as Treasurer of Fortnightly Club Education Department, St. Peters Episcopal Church - Women, Brenham Library Board, BHS PTA, and BHS Band Parents. She was also a proud member of the Brenham Evening Lions Club and a Lions Foundation Progressive Melvin Jones Fellow. Merle shared her educational experiences and insights as a speaker around the world when her spouse, Joe Al Picone, served as Lions International Director. Her commitment to education further manifested through her role as an Endowed Scholarship Donor for Blinn College. Merle is celebrated not only for her significant contributions to education but also for her enduring commitment to her family. She is married to Joe Al Picone and they have two sons, Kyle and Kevin, daughter-in-law, Stacy, and granddaughter Landry.
Beverly Hamilton Roberts, Brenham High School Class of 1969:
Beverly Hamilton Roberts, a distinguished alumna of Brenham High School Class of 1969, achieved a historic milestone as the First African American Homecoming Queen for Brenham High School in 1969, leaving an indelible legacy. Her commitment to education led her to graduate from Prairie View A&M University with a Bachelor's Degree, followed by a Masters Degree, showcasing a commitment to scholarly excellence. Beverly devoted over five decades to the field of education, positively impacting countless students through her roles at Summerville Independent School District and Aldine Independent School District. Her distinguished career included serving as a Diagnostician at Aldine Independent School District, where she contributed significantly to the enhancement of special education services. Beverly's dedication extended to shaping future educators as she directed the Clinical Teacher & Field Experience Program at Prairie View A&M University. Her commitment to educational advancement was evident early on when she actively participated in the Upward Bound Program through Prairie View A&M University in 1972. Her exceptional teaching methods and dedication to public education were recognized when she earned the coveted title of Teacher of the Year at Aldine Independent School District. Beverly's contributions were further acknowledged with the prestigious Texas A&M University Chancellor’s Academy of Teacher Award. Committed to nurturing the next generation of educators, she established the Grace Hamilton Mays Scholarship for Future Educators. Beverly held certifications in Special Education, Diagnostician, and Principal roles, showcasing her diverse skill set and unwavering dedication to public education. Her impact extended beyond her professional life to influence several nieces and nephews, including those attending the event—Amy Colvin, Estella Bailey, Kevin Raven, and Kelvin Raven—representing a legacy that spans generations.
Bill Rankin, Brenham High School Class of 1970:
Bill Rankin, a distinguished alumnus of Brenham High School Class of 1970, embarked on an accomplished career path as the Chief Financial Officer of Blue Bell Creameries, where he dedicated 33 years of his life. He earned a bachelor's degree in Accounting from Texas A&M University and obtained a CPA qualification. Prior to his tenure at Blue Bell Creameries, Bill served his country as a pilot in the United States Air Force for six years after graduating from Texas A&M University. He further strengthened his credentials by obtaining a Master of Business Administration from Sul Ross State University. Bill's contributions and impact extended beyond his professional career, earning him induction into the esteemed Blinn College Hall of Honor in 2011. In 2014, he received the prestigious Sul Ross State University Distinguished Alumni Award. Bill's commitment to the community was evident through his appointment by Governor Rick Perry to contribute to the Board of the Brazos River Authority. He played an integral role at Blue Bell Creameries Board of Directors, initially joining as an Associate Director in 1993, and later as Director since 2004. His significance in the community was further recognized when he was honored as the Washington County Man of the Year in 2013. Bill's family also played a pivotal role in the community through the establishment of Holt Park, showcasing his family's influential role. His contributions to education were highlighted through the naming of the William “Bill” J Rankin Agricultural Complex in 2011, honoring his exemplary service and influence. Bill was a dedicated leader in various community organizations, including serving as Past President of the Washington County A&M Club and Past President of the Brenham Noon Lion’s Club, where he remained actively engaged. His commitment to his faith was evident through his roles as Past President of the Church Council for St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church and Abiding Word Lutheran Church. Bill also actively engaged with the Gideons, Lutheran Social Services of the South, and was a long-standing volunteer at the Lion’s Children’s Camp in Kerrville. Achieving the distinction of Eagle Scout, Bill continued to be a devoted advocate for the community. He served as the former President of the Boys & Girls Club of Washington County and continued to contribute by serving on the advisory council. Bill was also a strong advocate for the Margaret Blizzard Senior Center, making a substantial donation in honor of his wife Lois. Beyond his community involvement, Bill was engaged in the nursing home and jail ministry for over two decades. He cherished his partnership with Lois Rankin for 51 years and was blessed with two children, Johanna Rankin Gessner (Husband Thomas) and Tyler Rankin (Wife Jamie), both of whom are Brenham ISD graduates. He was also a loving grandparent to four cherished grandchildren: Miles, Mason, Grace, and Gunnar.
Wanda Smith, Brenham High School Class of 1981:
Wanda Smith, an esteemed alumna of Brenham High School Class of 1981, is celebrated for her significant contributions to education and the community. She is a proud graduate of both Blinn College and Sam Houston State University. Her remarkable journey in education led her to achieve the distinguished title of Teacher of the Year in 2019, a testament to her dedication and teaching prowess. Wanda's influence extended to national acclaim as the recipient of the National Teacher of the Year award in 2021. She played a pivotal role in shaping educational policies by serving on the Superintendent Advisory Committee. Wanda also contributed to educational enhancement through her involvement on the Campus Education Improvement Committee at Brenham Elementary, both as a parent and educator. Her impact reached a national audience when she was featured on NBC’s Today Show for her educational contributions. Wanda's dedication to her community was further acknowledged with the esteemed Wanda Smith You Make A Difference award, affirming her transformative influence. Beyond her professional life, Wanda co-facilitated the Church Home Group at Champion Fellowship, fostering a sense of unity and connection within her faith community. She devoted her time to the Washington County Historical Juneteenth Association, actively preserving local heritage. Wanda also volunteered at Mission Brenham, displaying a commitment to the community's well-being. Her contributions were formally recognized when Mayor Milton Tate Jr. proclaimed May 4 as “Be the Best You Can Be” Wanda Smith Day in 2021. Wanda's commitment to inspiring the next generation was evident when she took the stage as the commencement speaker at Sam Houston State University in 2021. She continued to promote an appreciation of local history as a volunteer at the Brenham Heritage Museum. Wanda also served as the keynote speaker at the Washington County Chamber Professional Administration Banquet, sharing insights and inspiration with her community. Her commitment to student success was exemplified through tutoring elementary students after school and offering mentorship to new educators. Currently, Wanda serves as Vice President on the Board of Directors for Evvaylois Academy School of Beauty, an institution offering cosmetology classes to students aspiring to be beauty industry professionals. She shares her life with her husband Darron Smith, and together they have three children: Dairius Smith, Shenearia Lott, and Steven Smith.
Brenham Independent School District
Mailing: PO Box 1147
Physical: 711 E. Mansfield
Brenham, TX 77834-1147
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