Alumni Awards

Alumni Spotlight

Warriors Helping Warriors

Submitted by Frank Johnson ’74

In late September, Hurricane Ian caused massive destruction in Southwest Florida, especially a swath between the Fort Meyers area and south of Venice. One community that was savagely hit was Englewood, home of the Florida Suncoast Chapter of ESU Alumni. Many people completely lost their homes or were so badly damaged, they will need to be demolished. Those that were deemed salvageable will require years to approach their pre-hurricane condition. Volunteers from all over Florida and many other states helped to provide aid to those affected by Ian. Food, shelter, equipment, manpower—anything that could provide comfort and literally survival to the overwhelmed population of Englewood.

One such story involved a number of ESSC/ESU alumni who rushed to the aid of a fellow Warrior. The details are probably common to the many who survived this life-changing event but this one is all about the bonds of friendship that were forged many years ago on the third floor of Shawnee Hall.

Sarah and I did not know what to expect when we arrived at our home in Lemon Bay Isles, Englewood, Florida, five days after Ian blew into town. Due to the flooding, wind damage, power lines down, and incredible amounts of debris, we had to wait until we were allowed to enter our community. The house was still standing but had absorbed a terrible beating. The carport, lanai, and attached shed were gone, all that remained was a pile of debris. The sunroom porch roof had been ripped off, along with a large portion of the sunroom’s roof, leaving it and the great room exposed. Ceilings had collapsed, insulation was everywhere, windows were blown out, and wind and rain had soaked every inch of carpet. Water damage to the sheetrock was evident in several rooms. The county had placed an orange sticker on the door, declaring the structure unsafe and uninhabitable.

Then came assistance from the ESU connection. Dave Hair ’76 and Moi Hair ’77 arrived from the east coast of Florida with their trailer to provide a place to stay. They brought tools, food and a great big dose of hope with them. They immediately pitched in to begin the massive cleanup job to salvage what could be saved. The emotional support from the Hairs was immeasurable. Local volunteers arrived to aid in the removal of carpeting, sheetrock and destroyed furniture. In a few days, things looked a little bit better, and it was determined that the house could be saved.

With that determination came another wave of Warriors. John Helgesen ’74 and Frank Newby ’75 drove all the way from Philadelphia in a van full of materials, tools, generator, nail gun, ladders, etc., to begin the process of rebuilding and restoring the roof. The power was back but the house was far from watertight, and it would take a herculean effort to get the job done. John is an accomplished carpenter, Frank has experience with construction and, flying down a few days later from central Pennsylvania, was Dean Gardner ’74, a retired contractor, to complete the team. Working ten-to-twelve-hour days on the roof and in the heat, the transformation was unbelievable. Rafters, sheathing, shingles, fascia, windows, a laundry shed—they kept at it until the job was done. Evenings were spent reminiscing about those “college days” and cheering on the Phillies. And then they packed up and returned home to their families, taking for granted the incredible transformation they were responsible for.

Bottom line, we were lucky and got to keep our house. It will take years to return it completely to pre-hurricane condition, but we were able to hang on to our “little slice of paradise” in Englewood. But more importantly, is how lucky we are to have lifelong friends who embody everything that is good in this world. And to forever cherish the strength of the bonds and ties that have lasted over fifty years, and that were born on Third Floor Shawnee. 

Kristin Ellis ’09

Kristin Ellis graduated from ESU in May 2009 with a bachelor's degree in Speech Language Pathology and earned her master’s degree In May 2011. She is a former member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors.

Opening her mobile private practice for speech therapy, Time 2 Talk Therapy Services, LLC, in July 2020 was the silver lining out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of her clients weren't comfortable going to crowded health clinics to receive their speech therapy services, and her caseload built quickly. By the end of 2021, the mobile practice was servicing clients in Carbon, Monroe, Luzerne, Lackawanna, Northampton, and Lehigh Counties. In January 2022, Ellis hired a second Speech Language Pathologist and began looking for a physical space that could be turned into a speech therapy clinic for her growing client list.

Ellis officially signed a five-year lease on a building in her hometown of Lehighton, Pa., and added another clinician in the summer of 2022. They now run the only summer camp in Northeastern Pennsylvania that focuses on utilizing Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC) for elementary-aged kids. "Everyone Deserves a Voice AAC Camp," is a state-of-the art facility with therapy rooms, conference room, offices, and a large sensory room.

“I want all current and past ESU students to know that hard work really does pay off and leads to your dreams becoming reality!” Ellis says. She owes a huge thank you to ESU and all the organizations that she was a part of as an undergraduate and graduate student as well as an alumna.

Conner Bayer ’14

Conner Bayer graduated from East Stroudsburg University in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and history. Living in East Stroudsburg his entire life, he began researching other locations while substitute teaching after graduation. After attending a job fair in Raleigh, N.C., in 2015, he began teaching with the Wake County Public School system at Athens Drive Magnet High School.

Bayer teaches history to high school students with courses in AP World History, American History II, and an elective course on the Vietnam War to juniors and seniors. For the Vietnam War classes, he invites a group of veterans to speak about their experiences to the students.

In addition to teaching, Bayer is a coach, leading the varsity girl’s volleyball team for four years. He also spent two years coaching JV baseball and a year with the football team. The past year has been rough for the young volleyball team. Wake County is a very competitive county for volleyball, having crowned the state champ the last four years running.

Bayer was named School Teacher of the Year, 2019-2020, by his peers and was a semi-finalist in the Wake County Public School System competition for that award. Teaching runs in the Bayer family, his brother Kyle graduated from ESU in 2012 and teaches in the same county at a different high school.

Always a big fan of history, Bayers credits ESU history professors Dr. Gray and Dr. O’Donnell with sharpening his interest and shaping his career. Dr. Lare’s course in education impacted his choice to become a high school teacher. Along with many memories of ESU basketball games and flag football, Bayer remembers the friends who helped advance his education. “My time at ESU was well spent,” he said.

Michele Lapchak Gresh

Michele Lapchak Gresh graduated from ESU in 2001 with a B.S. in Recreation and Leisure Services Management and a concentration in therapeutic recreation. She shares her post-ESU career below.

After graduating from ESU, I accepted a position as a creative therapist in adolescent psychiatry for Northeast Counseling Services in Nanticoke, Pa., as part of their inpatient and outpatient programs. I married Jeremy Gresh ’02 in 2002 and we moved to the Philadelphia area. I spent the next 10 years in the subacute rehabilitation unit at the hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, working as a recreational therapist specializing in neurological rehabilitation as part of the brain injury team.

My love of neurological rehabilitation later led me to work as a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) for ReMed Recovery Centers in Paoli, Pa., on both inpatient and outpatient levels, doing community reintegration with traumatic brain injury. In 2016 I accepted my first managerial role as a CTRS with Fox Subacute, a ventilator-dependent nursing home in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., as their Recreational Therapy Director. That same year, I discovered I was pregnant with our daughter, Henley. After a very difficult pregnancy, I decided to take a step back from my career and focus on being a mother.

During my years at ESU, I struggled with obesity and developed a genuine love and passion for fitness and wellness. Having directed myself through a weight loss journey and overcoming the battle of postpartum recovery, I decided to take a turn with my career. In 2018 I became a certified personal trainer.

While continuing as a CTRS on a per diem basis, I accepted a part-time position as the group fitness coordinator at our local community center in Plymouth Meeting, Pa. When Covid 19 hit and the world shut down, I made it my mission to help people continue to stay both mentally and physically healthy. For nine straight weeks, I went live every day on social media, offering free fitness classes.

Realizing the lockdowns weren’t about to end anytime soon and receiving the news that I had lost my job, I took the biggest chance of my life. The fitness classes I started had a solid following and they developed into my own virtual fitness program called G-Fit. This online fitness community now has over 400 members across the country many of whom are ESU grads. More than 1,600 pounds have been lost within the group since the start of the pandemic.

I am still able to tie my love for fitness and recreation into my career and thanks to Brad Seid and his commercial recreation classes at ESU, I had the tools I needed to start my very own business. From a therapeutic standpoint, it was Angela Vaute, who gave me the knowledge that it takes to confidently accommodate people with underlying conditions into my wellness program. I am forever grateful to East Stroudsburg University for helping me become who I am today—a successful CTRS, a business owner and, most importantly, an influencer within the community.