Introduced in 1972, The University of Tulsa Alumni Association annually presents accomplished alumni with the association’s highest honor – The Distinguished Alumni Award. Here are the 2019 recipients:
William and Robert Thomas
In 1976, twin brothers Bill and Bob co-founded Gemini Properties — a real estate operating and investment company. The company’s focus evolved toward senior housing in 1989 with the founding of Senior Star. The company’s living and care options for aging adults include independent living, assisted living, and memory support. A growing company with strong leadership has enabled the brothers to focus their energies on senior and community issues.
Longtime Tulsa Area United Way (TAUW) supporters, Bill and Bob chaired the 2002 TAUW capital campaign, raising a record-breaking $25 million in the midst of the country’s financial recession. The following year, the pair served as board co-chairs of TAUW.
Bill and Bob have had the unprecedented honor of receiving three distinct awards from the Association of Fundraising Professionals Eastern Oklahoma Chapter — being named as the 2000 Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser, the 2007 Outstanding Philanthropist, and most recently the 2016 Pillar Award Recipient for philanthropy leadership benefitting the Tulsa community. The Retired Senior Volunteer Program of Tulsa granted Bill and Bob their 2001 Leadership Award and their alma mater, the University of Tulsa, named the brothers 2011 Outstanding Entrepreneurs, inducting them into the Collins College of Business Hall of Fame.
William Thomas (BS ’74)
Bill served as chairperson of the Philbrook Museum of Art Board of Trustees, as well as for the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA) and The Tulsa Community Foundation. He also serves on the boards of Philbrook, AHSA, the University of Tulsa, and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Sooner Chapter.
Bill and his wife Susan have chaired fundraising galas and capital campaigns for LIFE Senior Services, Domestic Violence Intervention Service, Project Woman and Street School. They also chaired the Philbrook Wine Experience twice, leading it into one of the top three fundraisers of its kind, nationwide.
Among Bill’s most significant contributions to Tulsa is his seven-year term of board service to the Housing Authority of the City of Tulsa, which included his chairpersonship of HOPE VI, a Public Housing Revitalization Program. This $60 million public-private undertaking eliminated 1940s vintage housing and made way for “Country Club Gardens” — 396 units of exceptional residential apartments for low income and market rate housing.
Robert Thomas (BS ’74)
Fueled by a passion to help end Alzheimer’s disease, Bob served on the Alzheimer’s Association National Board of Directors for eight years and was a founding board member for the Alzheimer’s Impact Movement, where he continues to serve as treasurer. As volunteer lobbyists, he and his wife Jill routinely travel to Washington D.C. to promote increased Alzheimer’s research funding.
Jill and Bob have chaired several galas in the Greater Tulsa area. Bob chaired the 2015 Alzheimer’s Association Oklahoma Chapter Memory Gala, an event known as being among the top three fundraisers of its kind, nationwide. Bob received the Maureen Reagan Outstanding Advocate Award from the National Alzheimer’s Association.
Bob holds advisory board positions for the American Seniors Housing Association and LIFE Senior Services. For LIFE, he also co-chaired two capital campaigns. Bob served as the Tulsa Opera Ball Patron Chair and chaired the Mental Health Association of Tulsa Gala.
Sanjay Meshri (BA ’92)
Admired and respected for his selfless support of philanthropic projects in northeast Oklahoma, Meshri’s contributions to enhance civic organizations and community initiatives mirror the success he has experienced as an executive at Advance Research Chemicals in Catoosa. He embodies a strong sense of civic responsibility because he learned it firsthand as a student at The University of Tulsa.
After graduating, Meshri became the sixth employee at his father’s company, Advance Research Chemicals (ARC). Meshri proved himself, working double shifts and weekends. Later that year, General Motors awarded ARC a large contract to produce a new coating for radiators. The company doubled in size and began building a factory for fabrication.
As ARC continues to grow, the core values Meshri inherited from his family and alma mater guide his leadership style and business decisions. “I try to stay very focused, listen carefully, always tell the truth. Your reward for doing a good job is you get another job,” he explained. “Even in the bad times you learn.”
Meshri is honored to serve on the many community boards and leadership teams he devotes time to in Tulsa, including the TU Board of Trustees. He is a member of the TU President’s Council, Circle Society and Golden Hurricane Club. He chaired the Alumni Association’s annual TU Uncorked fundraiser in 2017 and helped establish the Dr. Indu Meshri Memorial Scholarship Endowment in Geosciences in 2007 to honor his late mother, who earned a doctorate in geosciences from TU in 1981. Meshri’s father, Dayal, is ARC’s founder, president and CEO and is also a generous TU supporter.
Meshri is a founding member of the Patriot Golf Club and serves on the board of directors for Saint Francis Health System. He was inducted into the Tulsa Hall of Fame by the Tulsa Historical Society in 2017.
At 49 years old, the sky is the limit for Meshri. His ARC leadership, philanthropic endeavors and TU alumni recognition hold enormous potential to positively impact people around the world — a job he does not take lightly. “It makes me want to do even more and try and make everyone proud,” he said
Paula Kuykendall (BSBA ’86)
“You can be anything you want to be, you just have to work hard. Play fair. Do everything with integrity — it’s the one thing you can give away that you can never get back.” Her father’s simple but prescient advice shaped Kuykendall’s approach to success in life and in business. Recently retired, she reflects on these principles and the TU foundation that helped launch her career, which spanned from public accounting to an executive position in a Fortune 100 company.
Kuykendall didn’t take the traditional route to TU. She started at Oklahoma State University but returned to Tulsa after two years to get a job and to figure out what she wanted to do next. It was the oil boom of the early 1980s, and Kuykendall secured a job at Occidental Petroleum, which offered the opportunity to fund her tuition at TU. She worked full time and took nine hours a semester until the oil bust, when she was laid off. In lieu of a traditional severance package, Occidental agreed to fund a semester of Kuykendall’s TU tuition and books. Her husband, Patrick (MTax ’90), urged her to enroll as a full-time student and finish her accounting degree.
Jim Miller (BSBA ’66) was managing partner at Arthur Andersen when he hired Kuykendall as an accountant. “He took a chance on me, and I owe a lot to him,” she said. The two remain close friends and are staunch TU supporters.
After 10 years in public accounting, Kuykendall sought a career in private industry and went to work for Snappy Car Rental.
Looking back on her career, she said the relationships she built along the way stand out the most. “The thing I’m proudest of is the people who have worked with me along the way and seeing what they’ve accomplished. That means way more to me than anything I’ve been able to accomplish myself.” And while female executives in the accounting field were historically uncommon, Kuykendall says she never looked at herself as a woman in business. “It just didn’t seem different to me. I never carried that chip on my shoulder. If you’re good at what you do and you treat the people who work for you well, you will have success.”
Celebrating this honor means even more to Kuykendall that it occurs during the university’s 125th anniversary. “My grandparents had season tickets for as long as I can remember growing up. I was born and raised here, and TU is part of who we are. I couldn’t be prouder to be a distinguished alumna in our 125th year.”