As members of the University of Missouri–St. Louis community wrap up the semester and observe the holiday season, the university is also celebrating hundreds of newly minted UMSL diplomas.
On Saturday, nearly 700 people crossed the stage in UMSL’s Mark Twain Athletic & Fitness Center, marking a significant achievement for each of the graduates. The day’s events also featured commencement addresses by three influential leaders in the St. Louis region.
Robert G. “Bob” Heil, founder and CEO of Heil Sound in Fairview Heights, Ill., spoke at the 10 a.m. ceremony, which honored graduates of the College of Education, College of Fine Arts and Communication, School of Social Work and Master of Public Policy Administration program. Heil also received an honorary doctoral degree during the ceremony.
It was Heil’s talents that saved the day in 1970 when the Grateful Dead showed up to play St. Louis’ Fox Theatre without their sound system. Heil recalls band member Jerry Garcia saying over the phone, “Hey man, I heard you have a really big PA.” Heil – a sound and radio engineer as well as a talented organist who performed at venues including the Fox even as a teenager – worked his magic that evening, which became known as “The Night that Modern Live Sound Was Born.”
The concert’s success was a turning point in Heil’s career. He accompanied the Dead on the road, and in the years since Heil Sound has pioneered and supported systems for customers ranging from the Who and Jeff Beck to Billy Graham and hundreds of radio and TV stations. He is a teacher and the author of five books as well as a musician, engineer, entrepreneur and recipient of numerous awards. Heil enjoys hosting the weekly “Ham Nation” podcast and lives in Pleasant Hope, Mo., with his wife, Sarah.
At the 2 p.m. ceremony for graduates of the College of Arts & Sciences, those in attendance heard from Jorge Riopedre. As the executive director of Casa de Salud, Riopedre leads the nonprofit clinic’s efforts to provide a path to health and wellness for the uninsured and underinsured in St. Louis – particularly new immigrants and refugees.
A leader in the region’s Hispanic community, Riopedre was executive director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan St. Louis before joining Casa de Salud. He also served as the chamber’s volunteer chairman and president in 2008 and 2009.
Riopedre earned his bachelor’s degree in broadcast communications from Loyola University in New Orleans. In 1994, he launched a media production company specializing in the Hispanic market with clients as diverse as Anheuser-Busch, the Campbell Soup Company, Catholic Charities and the Federal Aviation Administration.
He serves in advisory capacities for the Central Institute for the Deaf, UMSL’s College of Arts and Sciences Leadership Council, and the Brown School of Social Work Advisory Committee at Washington University in St. Louis. Riopedre and his wife, Shera Dalin, have a daughter, Mereya.
The 6 p.m. ceremony, honoring graduates of the College of Business Administration, College of Nursing and the UMSL/Washington University Joint Engineering Program, featured Karla Bakersmith. Passionate about helping other women and young entrepreneurs grow their businesses, Bakersmith has been growing her own since 2000, when she started Scrubs and Beyond. It’s now the largest retailer of medical apparel, shoes and accessories in the country.
As president and chief executive officer, Bakersmith has overseen Scrubs and Beyond’s growth into a chain of 150 stores, plus a catalog division, outside sales division catering to hospitals and a large Internet business. She was honored by the St. Louis Business Journal as one of its 2004 Most Influential Business Women and is a 2014 recipient of the Alumni Merit Award from the Harrison College of Business at Southeast Missouri State University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in 1981.
A member of the advisory boards for UMSL’s College of Nursing, St. Anthony’s Charitable Foundation and Barco’s Nightingales Foundation, Bakersmith also serves on the board of directors for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri. She spends countless hours giving back as a coach and mentor helping others grow their careers.