60 for 60: Joseph Castellano, Frank Cusumano, Rollo Dilworth, Terry Freerks, Martin Hayes and Annie Mbale honored as exceptional alumni

by | Mar 22, 2024

To celebrate its anniversary, UMSL is spotlighting 60 alumni who apply one or more of the university's core values in the world and help to make it a better place.

60 for 60 Alumni graphicThe University of Missouri–St. Louis is proud of the economic and philanthropic reach of its programs and partnerships, but it’s the people UMSL most wants to honor as it celebrates its 60th anniversary. Throughout the year of celebration, UMSL will be spotlighting 60 alumni who apply one or more of the university’s core values in the world and help to make it a better place.

This month’s honorees are Joseph Castellano, Frank Cusumano, Rollo Dilworth, Terry Freerks, Martin Hayes and Annie Mbale.

Joseph CastellanoJoseph Castellano, OD 2011

Henry David Thoreau once said that the eye is the jewel of the body. Dr. Joseph Castellano’s passion is to make sure it stays that way. Castellano, who was born and raised in St. Louis, has committed his life to eye health after earning his Doctor of Optometry from the UMSL College of Optometry.

“The small class sizes and individual attention we got from each instructor made for a great experience,” Castellano said. “The professors in the UMSL optometry program provided me with the skills and confidence I needed to be successful in my career.”

Since 2011, Castellano has provided eyecare to thousands of people across the St. Louis metropolitan area as an optometrist at Koetting Eye Center, which is owned by his father, Dr. Carmen Castellano. Joseph Castellano’s brother Nick is also an optometrist at the family practice.

“My parents were good about encouraging us to create our own paths.” Castellano said. “However, because we were so familiar with the field, optometry was a natural choice. When we were young, occasionally we would go to the office to help with odds and ends. Once we were in college, we would work over the summers as technicians.”

Besides his practice work, Castellano has served clinical externships in primary care optometry, low vision, vision therapy, geriatric care, ocular pathology and contact lens care. He has treated patients at the Kansas City VA Medical Center in addition to Pepose Vision Institute in St. Louis.

Castellano continues his connection with UMSL, serving as an adjunct assistant professor in the College of Optometry. He has served as president of the St. Louis Optometric Society and is a fellow of the prestigious American Academy of Optometry and a member of the American Optometric Association and Missouri Optometric Association.

Frank CusumanoFrank Cusumano, BA 1984

From the basketball court to the broadcast studio, Frank Cusumano has combined a spirit of passion and perseverance to distinguish himself as one of St. Louis’ most beloved and enduring sports figures.

As an athlete growing up in St. Louis, Cusumano was a basketball captain and all-district guard on De Smet Jesuit High School’s prolific hoops teams that won 63 consecutive games, including a 32-0 state championship run in 1979. Cusumano was then a standout with the UMSL men’s basketball program, playing in 94 career games from 1980-84 while earning a bachelor’s degree in speech communication.

His athletic and academic journey grew from his childhood love of sports, which took root at age 6 when he began memorizing the names of all the quarterbacks in the NFL, and later as a teen when he hosted a mock Brent Musburger radio show. While pursuing his passion for sports at UMSL, Cusumano says the university’s public radio station stoked his drive to be a sports reporter.

“That radio station had a lot of student involvement,” he said. “We were doing sports reports there all the time and I absolutely enjoyed it.”

He also earned an internship opportunity with KMOX and sports broadcasting legend Bob Costas while in college. He went on to hone his sports journalism skills in smaller television markets in Tennessee and Kentucky, driving thousands of road miles to cover the Southeastern Conference. Cusumano returned to KDSK (Channel 5) as a sports reporter in 1993, contributing stories to the station’s Sunday show Sports Plus, and eventually becoming 5 On Your Side sports director in 2016.

“Some kids want to be doctors, others want to be lawyers,” Cusumano said. “All I have ever wanted to do is to talk about sports on television and radio in St. Louis. I am honored to be able to tell the stories of these incredible athletes in our town.”

At KSDK, Cusumano has won dozens of local, regional and national awards for his storytelling and sports coverage. He was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2018 and the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame in 2022. He remains involved with UMSL and has served as emcee of several events, including last fall’s Founders Celebration and the recent UMSL Sports Hall of Fame induction.

Rollo Dilworth, MEd 1994

Music is often described as the language of the soul – and one of its most prolific interpreters is a graduate of UMSL. Rollo Dilworth, who was born and raised in St. Louis, is today a giant in the world of choral music, renowned for his multifaceted talents as a composer, conductor and educator. Dilworth combines innovative compositions with an unwavering commitment to diversity and inclusion, bringing people together around choral music to learn more about each other and themselves.

Dilworth’s own journey of music discovery began while singing in school and church choirs, and by age 11, he was already experimenting with music pitches and rhythms. After high school, he studied voice and piano at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, then spent a year teaching elementary school music while attending UMSL, where he completed a master’s degree in secondary education in 1994.

“Some 30 years later, I find myself employing many of the techniques and concepts I learned while at UMSL,” Dilworth said. “Professor Robert Ray was a major highlight of my UMSL experience, teaching me how to lead a chorus with humility, warmth, heart and artistic integrity. He also taught me how to find my voice as a composer and arranger.”

After earning a Doctor of Musical Arts in conducting performance at Northwestern University, Dilworth taught at various institutions while beginning his publishing career. Since 1998, more than 200 of Dilworth’s compositions and arrangements have been published by major companies. He has written works for school, church, community and professional choral ensembles.

Today, he is vice dean and professor in the Boyer College of Music and Dance at Temple University, chairing the music education and music therapy departments. In every student interaction, Dilworth relishes the role of mentor as he uplifts the next generation of choral music professionals.

“I believe that every single person has the ability to compose,” Dilworth said. “Whether it’s words, whether it’s music, or a combination of both – we just have to be quiet enough to listen to what the voice is within.”

Terry FreerksTerry Freerks, BA 1977, MEd 1979

If swimming is moving meditation, as Cesar Nikko Caharian once said, then University of Missouri–St. Louis graduate Terry Freerks is a Zen master of the water.

Freerks, who was born and raised in St. Louis’ Central West End, has spent a lifetime swimming after her initial introduction to the sport by her father when she was just 4 years old. Freerks would go on to become a national record holder as a competitive youth swimmer, one of the longest-tenured women’s swim coaches in the U.S., and a successful organizational leader and counselor – learning a lot about herself along the way, including how to overcome mistakes and passing those lessons along to her students and clients.

“As a mental health practitioner, a competitive swimming coach and a CEO, I focused my career on facilitating health, well-being and an enhanced quality of life for my clients’ athletes and staff,” she said. “My UMSL education ignited and guided me throughout the course of my journey.”

At UMSL, Freerks earned a BA in history in 1977 and an MEd in 1979. She went on to earn a PhD in counseling from Saint Louis University. While in college, she first started coaching with her former club team, the Clayton Shaw Park Tideriders, working her way up to the rank of head coach and eventually to the club’s executive director, while building a career as a licensed professional counselor. Freerks has never forgotten UMSL’s role in preparing her for success, giving back freely of her time through the years through various campus positions including the Chancellor’s Council and the College of Arts and Sciences Leadership Council.

“UMSL taught me independence of thought and provided me with all the academic tools I needed to pursue my passion and chart my career,” she said. “My most powerful UMSL experiences resulted from interactions with the outstanding faculty who challenged me to think outside the box and nurtured my confidence and resolve to contribute to others.”

Freerks and her husband, Stan, are recipients of the UMSL Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Award. They also received the E. Desmond and Mary Ann Lee Medal for Philanthropy in 2016 after becoming the first couple to pass the $5 million milestone in philanthropic gifts to the university.

“It goes back to enhancing quality of life and creating opportunities,” she said of their support of UMSL. “If people are educated, then they have more opportunities and they are able to recognize them better.”

Martin HayesMartin Hayes, BA 1999, BS 1999

The journey to a college degree sometimes deviates from the straight and narrow highway. Just ask St. Louis native and UMSL graduate Martin Hayes, whose academic path featured a significant detour.

“I had taken time off from school after a very underwhelming and forgettable freshman year at a school on the east coast,” he said. “After a couple of years experiencing the real world without a college degree, I took stock of my options and realized that if I committed to my own development by going back to school, I could do a lot better in this world.”

Hayes soon started classes at UMSL to test his resolve through a rigorous curriculum. What started with a few classes quickly blossomed into a passion for the physical sciences, which led to two bachelor’s degrees, a PhD and two decades as a leader in the pharmaceutical industry.

“I gained a tremendous amount of practical lab experience and exposure to modern techniques with more than a year of undergraduate research at UMSL,” he said. “I often joked that because we used the same books as students at Ivy League schools there’s no reason we can’t have the same education. Over time, I think that observation has held true.”

After graduating summa cum laude in 1999 with degrees in chemistry and mathematics, Martin earned his PhD in synthetic organic chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2004 before joining Abbott as a medicinal chemist in immunology therapeutics. For the past 14 years, Hayes has worked with AbbVie, where he currently leads strategic initiatives to deliver innovative therapies as chief of staff for global neuroscience research.

“I feel privileged to be able to create something that can transform someone’s life,” Hayes said. “It is truly a humbling experience to see how much work it takes to go from an idea in the lab to a medicine on the pharmacy shelves that people rely on to live a normal life.”

Annie MbaleAnnie Mbale, BSBA 2017, MBA 2019

Annie Mbale has always had the spirit of an entrepreneur. Born in Rumphi, Malawi, her passion was ignited during childhood, when she lived in the city with her parents and helped them with their various small businesses before they both passed. Mbale took up arts and crafts based on her mother’s interest in knitting.

But by 2011, Mbale decided to expand her world experience and immigrated to the United States. She attended Jefferson Community College in Missouri before transferring to UMSL, where she graduated from the Pierre Laclede Honors College with a BSBA in 2017 and an MBA in 2019. Additionally, she earned a graduate certificate in digital and social media marketing from the College of Business Administration.

Mbale says the global community she discovered at the International Student House was one of her defining experiences at UMSL. She continues to apply the knowledge she gained from her UMSL international business and marketing education in her current role at the World Trade Center St. Louis.

“It was more than just a place to live,” Mbale said. “It was a vibrant hub where American and international students came together, forming deep connections and lifelong friendships.”

She also credits UMSL for empowering her to be brave and take chances, something she says she could never have imagined as a village girl from Malawi. The result? Mbale put herself out there to run for and win student officer positions while creating opportunities to strengthen student experiences.

“Creating the Women Empowering Women organization at UMSL and witnessing its continued growth is incredibly rewarding,” Mbale said. “Knowing that I have a lasting university legacy fills me with immense pride and gratitude.”

Her involvement in UMSL’s Women’s Empowerment Network also inspired her to help initiate a movement among African women in the diaspora, aimed at giving back to others in the continent called ACAFE – A Community for African Female Entrepreneurs.

After completing her master’s, Mbale became project manager for both World Trade Center St. Louis and the St. Louis Mosaic Project. She says working with international students at UMSL helped shape her commitment to supporting immigrants in St. Louis through the Mosaic Project.

She has integrated skills in event management, marketing, communications and stakeholder management to strengthen the brands of both organizations. In 2023, she was named an emerging leader by Vintendo 4 Africa and an honoree of the St. Louis American Foundation Salute to Young Leaders. She is also on the board of the African Chamber of Commerce St. Louis and the Immigrant Home English Learning Program Young Friends Board.

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Eye on UMSL: ‘The Impresario’
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University of Missouri–St. Louis students Rachel Anthonis, Rita Schien, and Vanessa Tessereau rehearsed for the UMSL Opera Workshop’s production of “The Impresario,” Mozart’s one-act comic opera.

Eye on UMSL: ‘The Impresario’

University of Missouri–St. Louis students Rachel Anthonis, Rita Schien, and Vanessa Tessereau rehearsed for the UMSL Opera Workshop’s production of “The Impresario,” Mozart’s one-act comic opera.

Eye on UMSL: ‘The Impresario’

University of Missouri–St. Louis students Rachel Anthonis, Rita Schien, and Vanessa Tessereau rehearsed for the UMSL Opera Workshop’s production of “The Impresario,” Mozart’s one-act comic opera.