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Veteran winemakers among SIU Alumni Association’s 2023 distinguished alumni

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University Communications and Marketing
The SIU Alumni Association recently honored distinguished alumni. From left are SIU Chancellor Austin Lane, SIU student Jack James, Michael Behrmann, Rachel Brewster and Michael Lewallen (representing SIU Young Alumni), Cheryl and Albert Kellert, Steve Falat, Marty Murray, Jr., Daniel Booth, SIU President Dan Mahony, and Jeff Gleim, SIU Alumni Association executive director.

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Albert M. Kellert and Cheryl Greeley Kellert were honored as the SIU Alumni Association’s 2023 Distinguished Alumni during an April 28 ceremony at Walker’s Bluff vineyard.

The distinguished alumni award is the SIU Alumni Association’s highest honor. Nominations are solicited, and the candidates are selected by a committee of members on the association’s national board of directors.

“We’re proud to continue such a great tradition and honor the Kellerts for this year’s Distinguished Alumni Award,” said Jeff Gleim, SIU Alumni Association executive director. “Their accomplishments and contributions to the winemaking industry are a perfect example of how Salukis find success and create impacts on their communities using the skills and knowledge they gained at SIU.”

Also recognized during the event were four SIU Carbondale alumni, the SIU Young Alumni Group and Jack James, a junior from Gardner, Illinois, studying physiology.

Full bios and photos of each award recipient are available on the SIU Alumni Association website.

Honorees and their awards are:

Albert M. Kellert and Cheryl Greeley Kellert (Distinguished Alumni)

The Kellerts first met at SIU Carbondale in 1967; Cheryl Kellert earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism, and Albert graduated in 1970 with a degree in chemistry. Albert Kellert served as military police officer during the Vietnam War, and Cheryl Kellert worked as a staff writer for the State Journal-Register in Springfield, Illinois. After getting married in 1971, the couple moved to Smithfield, Virginia, where Albert worked for Smithfield Foods and later the U.S. Postal Service.

The couple purchased a small farm in 1986 and began planting grape vines, opening Gray Ghost Vineyards the next year. The popular and award-winning producer of wines has received more than 3,000 awards, including Best of Class honors in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sonoma, California; Best of East Coast consumer wine awards and Best of the East for four consecutive years by Vineyard and Winery Management magazine.

They have also worked closely with Virginia Tech agriculture research on studies to control the grape berry moth’s reproductive cycle and methods to organically control weed growth in vineyards. The Kellerts have become prominent speakers throughout the United States on subjects ranging from the history of grape growing to developing marketing programs for new and existing wineries. The couple have also helped nearly a dozen new wineries get started.

The couple received the 2023 Wine Grape Productivity Award from the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association for their contributions to the East Coast Wine industry over the past 28 years.

The Kellerts’ two children, Amy and Al, and their four grandchildren are also involved with the winery, making it three generations who are involved in the family business.

The couple recently celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary and have a great love for SIU Carbondale, which is responsible for bringing them together.

“We have always taken great pride in attending SIU and knowing our years there were instrumental in who we are today,” Albert Kellert said. “We also followed SIU over the years as it had its ups and downs. We are truly encouraged with where this great university is going today, and hope that the young men and women attending it will have as rich an experience as we had.”

Mike Behrmann (Volunteer Excellence)

Behrmann is a three-degree graduate and emeritus chair of the School of Automotive and emeritus associate dean in the College of Health and Human Sciences. With over 35 years of experience in the global automotive and ground mobility industry, Behrmann has been involved in the numerous facets of retail and wholesale operations, industry development and the higher education system supporting the industry both nationally and internationally.

He is an energetic and experienced leader with extensive background in domestic and international workforce training, business development, academic accreditation and program development/administration. Currently sharing his knowledge by consulting with startup companies, architectural firms, global vehicle manufacturers, educational institutions, and international economic and accreditation partners, he continues his passion of accelerating forward both organizations and people.

Behrmann helps build the Saluki nation by volunteering his time with university leadership, faculty and students. He works to link alumni from across the nation with various alumni groups, supports various alumni events and inspires the Saluki spirit within students and graduates.

Daniel Booth (Diversity and Inclusion)

Booth, the superintendent at Carbondale Community High School, earned a bachelor’s degree in health education and master’s degree in educational administration from SIU. He is an educational leader in the community, serving elementary and high school students as a teacher, coach, principal and now high school superintendent.

He is also an active collaborator with SIU, working with the university to provide students better access to the resources and knowledge base on campus. Booth is working with the School of Education on the Saluki Teacher Residency Partnership, which helps fast-track people seeking education degrees to address a nationwide teacher shortage.

Jack James (Outstanding Student Leadership Award)

James, a junior studying physiology with a minor in chemistry, has been active in a pre-professional association on campus, as a medical assistant, the Student Alumni Council (SAC) and Specialized Equine Services while at SIU.

James was nominated by his SAC peers for the Outstanding Student Leadership Award. James said his time with SAC has been incredibly rewarding, as it is a tight community of friends and colleagues. It has allowed him to make friends who will last beyond his college career. He has also taken to hiking Southern Illinois’ many trails and become proficient in identifying various kinds of mushrooms growing in the area.

Marty J. Murray (Young Alumni Achievement)

A 2012 graduate from SIU’s College of Business and Analytics, Murray, a first-generation college student, held campus leadership positions in organizations including Undergraduate Student Government, Black Affairs Council and the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. During his time with the Paul Simon Institute, he served as ambassador and was awarded the Vince Demuzio Governmental Internship, where he worked for then-Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Murray founded the Boomer Hall Perseverance Scholarship.

In 2016, Murray beat a 23-year incumbent to be elected Democratic committeeman of St. Louis’ 7th Ward and represents for than 50,000 Missourians as 5th Senate District state committeeman for the Missouri Democratic Party. In giving back to his community, he created the Roy L. Clay community computer lab for disadvantaged youth and teaches international business at Harris-Stowe State University. He founded Gloves4Grades, a charitable organization responsible for hiring several tutors to assist at-risk youth with academic challenges and provides hundreds of students with school supplies.

Murray has worked for companies such as The Federal Reserve Bank, Centene, Express Scripts/Cigna and Worldwide Technology. Murray currently delivers artificial intelligence technical solutions for international companies such as the London Stock Exchange, John Deere, NBC Universal and The Gap. He lives in St. Louis with his wife, Danielle, and daughter Makayla.

Steve Falat (Saluki Spirit)

Falat is general manager and market manager for River Radio, a six-station group in Southern Illinois that is the official radio home of Saluki athletics. He is a former vice president of the SIU Alumni Association board and served on various committees. He serves as master of ceremonies for university and community events and fundraisers and is notably the official public address announcer for Saluki athletics, where his voice is a signature element of SIU football and basketball games. His dedication and enthusiasm for his alma mater ring loud and proud wherever he goes, and he frequently attends alumni events locally and around the country.

Falat earned his undergraduate degree in radio and television from SIU in 1987 and was a paid student staff member of WSIU-FM, eventually becoming the assistant student operations manager. He was also the continuity announcer and a news update anchor for WSIU-TV. Falat’s professional on-air career included stints at WINI-AM and WTAO-FM in Murphysboro, WCIL-AM-FM in Carbondale, WDDD-FM in Marion and WOOZ-FM in Carbondale.

SIU Young Alumni Group (Innovation Award)

The association’s Young Alumni Group came together as a mechanism to get recent SIU Carbondale graduates more involved in efforts to support the university and share Saluki pride, separate from more traditional fundraising requests.

In addition to engaging young alumni in professional networking and developing, the group wants to keep things fun. In 2022 and 2023, the group established a golf social at Kokopelli Golf Club in Marion, Illinois. This event was designed to help young professionals learn the basics of a game that is typically played among professionals during community events. Participants learned tips on the game from former Saluki women’s golf coach Dianne Daugherty and SIU golfer Molly Hudgins. The event was also a casual, after-work social for young alumni in the area to get to know one another.

The group has also hosted a handful of online events, as well as social gatherings in connection with Saluki Takeover Tours in St. Louis and Chicago.


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