Central Michigan University’s new Media Hall of Fame inducts six

Watch any broadcast news program in Michigan and there is a very good chance the on-air talent is a graduate of Central Michigan University. Odds are: some of the team behind the cameras and in the production booth did their academic training at Central, too. Across the nation, newsrooms team with reporters, editors, and photojournalists who learned their craft on campus in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.  

Central Michigan University has long been a national leader in marketing, public relations, and media. That tradition was celebrated Saturday, November 4th as CMU hosted the Media Hall of Fame Gala and Awards Ceremony in the Bovee University Center Rotunda.  

The Media Hall of Fame is the reconstituted Journalism Hall of Fame, originally founded in 2002. The change in the Hall of Fame’s name reflects larger transformations in Central’s College of the Arts and Media. After receiving approval from the university’s Board of Trustees in December 2022, a new academic department was introduced with the fall 2023 term.  

Dr. Heather Polinsky, chair of the new School of Communication, Journalism, and Media at Central Michigan University, said the change was in response to rapidly changing professions.  The change combined departments to allow more collaboration amongst faculty and afford students great opportunity to develop a diverse range of skills.

Chad Livengood, politics editor at the Detroit News and a 2005 Central Michigan University graduate, was excited about the change. 

“The new School reflects changes in the industry,” says Linvengood. “Traditional print and broadcast journalism are now one and the same—it’s a shared skillset.”  

Livengood was a member of the event’s organizing and selection committee, as well as an event sponsor. 

The new Media Hall of Fame inducted five CMU graduates and one former professor in recognition of their careers in print journalism, television, public relations and higher education.  Throughout the evening, each inductee’s professional accomplishments were applauded, but the loudest cheers and heartiest laughs came as they regaled the crowd with stories from their time on campus and in Mt. Pleasant. 

Leanne (Gilbert) Smith, class of 1983 was the first inductee to be honored at the event. Smith has worked in newsrooms across Michigan, beginning her career at the Jackson Citizen Patriot as a high school sportswriter and pioneering motorsports reporter. In 2018, Smith accepted a new editor role with MLive leading teams of reporters at the Jackson Citizen Patriot and Ann Arbor News. Earlier this year, she was promoted to senior editor at MLive for east Michigan news, overseeing editors and reporters and news production in Jackson, Ann Arbor, Flint, Saginaw and Bay City.

In her remarks, Smith offered praise for many who supported her in her journey as a writer, starting with an inspirational first grade teacher and continuing through her time at Central. In a Moore Hall classroom, Smith was a student of Dr. Joe Misiewicz, who was inducted alongside her Saturday night.

Joe Misiewicz Photo: Dan Gaken / Epicenter Mt. Pleasant
Dr. Joe Misiewicz, affectionately called “Dr. Joe,” by students, served as a faculty member in the Broadcast and Cinematic Arts department from 1976 to 1985. At the Media Hall of Fame Gala and Awards Ceremony, Dr. Joe was introduced by his son, stand-up comedian Dave Misiewicz—former students could readily see the similarities between Misiewicz’s teaching style and his comedian son.

Misiewicz excitedly talked of Moore Hall in the late 1970s and early 1980s. 

“Our studio and facilities were way ahead of their time,” he shared. “I remember, way back then, stopping in the hallway to talk with Jim Wojcik and saying, ‘This field is changing, and we need to change, too.’ Dr. (Peter) Orlik built an incredible academic program and we gave them the opportunity to try things.” 

Misiewicz said students were excited about the opportunities. Journalism students could be on-camera or the radio; the journalism students honed their writing working on the news. 

“They made cue cards and a weather map and the next thing I know they’re doing the nightly news,” he said. “I really don’t know how, but these kids came together, took control, and built a multimedia program.”

Misiewicz smiled at CMU president, Bob Davies, and joked, “This learning was outside of class hours, and I think a lot of what we did was outside of university policy.”

Misiewicz recalled a group of students that wanted to do remote broadcasting, but there was no budget. Then the faculty found a used van at an Army surplus store in Georgia for $300. 

“That summer, we drove it all over Mt. Pleasant,” Misiewicz remembered. “A builder installed gutters so we could run cable, one furniture store gave us a couch, a tire company even donated tires. By that fall, our remote bus was at the football stadium with miles and miles of cable and was doing a remote game!”  

Misiewicz said he loved his time in Mt. Pleasant. “I never owned a car! I lived two blocks from campus and I could walk to campus every day. Our news programs connected with the community. I still watch NewsCentral every day when I get that email.” 

After leaving CMU for Bradley University, Misiewicz found his way to Ball State University where he was professor and chair of the Department of Telecommunication from 1990 until his retirement in 2012. One of his proudest moments was recruiting two former Central Michigan University students, Tim Pollard and Suzy Smith, to leave careers at CNN to join him on the faculty at Ball State. Pollard succeeded Misiewicz as department chair, and Smith currently holds the seat. 

Another of Dr. Joe’s former students was amongst the honorees. Dave LewAllen, class of 1979, recently retired after 35 years on air with WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) in Detroit. When he retired in April, LewAllen was the longest-tenured TV personality in Michigan’s largest media market. 

Dave LewAllen Photo: Dan Gaken / Epicenter Mt. Pleasant
LewAllen told a story of a career born from a love of sports. 

“In addition to playing three sports, I was editor of the school newspaper and yearbook in my senior year,” LewAllen shared. “But what was a dream only would become a reality because of my years at Central Michigan University. Professors like Dr. Joe, and all opportunities at CMU in radio and television, for all of us to try new things, to fail, to succeed, to find out what we were good at, what maybe wasn't a fit for us, find out what we were passionate about, and then to begin to see a path to what might be.”

“Dr. Joe has been a mentor still, a sounding board, and a friend. And it's a friendship I cherish,” LewAllen added.

Steve Morse, a 1976 journalism graduate was inducted posthumously. Morse worked in newsrooms in Michigan and Kentucky before moving to Florida in a career that spanned more than four decades. 

Steve Morse was inducted posthumously, his wife, Jennifer Rich, accepted the award on behalf of the Morse family. She is pictured with Rick Fitzgerald, associate vice president for public affairs for the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. Fitzgerald was a fraternity brother of Morse at CMU; he nominated Morse for the honor and introduced him at the event. Photo: Dan Gaken / Epicenter Mt. Pleasant
Morse’s wife Jennifer Rich accepted the award.

“Steve loved sports,” she stated. “Basketball, football, golf, baseball, you name it.”  

“Steve loved the Detroit Tigers and I’m a huge fan of the Boston Red Sox. One day, when he was busy and distracted, I asked him excitedly if he had heard the news: the Tigers traded Miguel Cabrera to the Red Sox! Of course, he didn’t believe me,” Rich recounted the memory. “But the initial look on his face was priceless.”

Morse passed away in 2020 from complications of his battle with cancer compounded by COVID-19. Rich said their plan for retirement had been to travel the country in an RV and see as many baseball stadiums as they could. 

Courtesy Kristina Hajjar
Kristina (Betrus) Hajjar was awarded a journalism degree from Central Michigan University in 1980. Although unable to attend the ceremony in person, Hajjar watched via livestream and shared her acceptance speech live from Los Angeles via Zoom.

“Those years at CMU were the best years of my life,” she shared. “Learning opened my world, especially my journalism courses. I was always an avid reader, but when I took those courses, I realized how much I enjoyed writing, putting facts together, and just telling the story. I was just naturally curious about the world and what was happening in it.

While at Central, Hajjar bartended at Mt. Pleasant’s Green Spot on Mission Street. “I learned how to make great cocktails, but that wasn't part of the curriculum.”

“Graduation day was thrilling,” she recalled. “Dad came to town for the big day. After the ceremony, he treated me to lunch at the Embers. He split a piece of paper across the table, and he said, ‘This is how much I spend on your education. This is my investment in you.”

Hajjar detailed how, without a job after graduation, she headed west to Los Angeles.

“In two weeks, I did find a good job, and I spent my first decade in the private sector,” Hajjar said. “Then I moved to the Children's Hospital in Hollywood before I was recruited to become the assistant public affairs director for the nation's largest public hospital in LA County, the USC Medical Center. My office was in the real-life General Hospital building that you see in soap operas. In 1998, I was recruited to the County Fire Department and spent 17 magical years there as their first communications director.”

In total, Hajjar served Los Angeles County for 31 years handling communications for every major disaster from wildfires, earthquakes, floods, and terrorism. But, when asked about her greatest impact, Hajjar is quick to talk about her work to make sure Californians were aware of the state’s Safe Surrender Baby Law.

After a baby was left beside a California highway, Hajjar launched a massive PR campaign to promote awareness of the Safe Surrender law. Since then, over 250 babies have been safely surrendered and adopted into loving homes.

Brett Holey Photo: Dan Gaken / Epicenter Mt. Pleasant
The evening’s final inductee was Brett Holey class of 1982. Immediately after graduation, Holey began working for ABC Sports covering the Indianapolis 500 auto race. After 13 years with ABC, Holey joined NBC as director of NBC Nightly News. Under his leadership, NBC Nightly News has been the most-watched newscast in America. For his work, he has been recognized with 13 Emmys and several Edward R. Murrow and Columbia duPont awards. Holey was congratulated via video by Lester Holt, weekday anchor for NBC Nightly News.

Like the other honorees, Holey shared humorous anecdotes from his time as a student in Mt. Pleasant. And, like his fellow inductees, he alluded that perhaps some of their best memories may have been out of line with university policy. In jest, Holey called out retired professor Peter Orlik for (what he believed to be) harsh grading in his BCA 210 class. He also marveled at classmates who were able to calculate winners in football betting pools in the days before computers.  

Holey said, “I was blessed to be here at a very special time with a group of people that challenged themselves and each other to make the most of the time at Central. It was a group of talented, smart and scrappy students paired with a faculty that tried valiantly to impose academic rigor, with modest success, while providing valuable practical experience. That time, that experience, continues to bear fruit in the professional arena, certainly for me, and I know for many of my classmates.” 

However, in his return to the CMU campus, Holey also issued a call to action, saying, “The pandemic hit everybody hard; I think higher education had it harder than many. After spending the last 24 hours on this campus, it’s quite clear that CMU has not been spared. It is clear that these people, and this school, is fighting back. It is a critical time that the people in this room be key to maintaining the legacy of programs we celebrate. I would like to challenge my fellow alumni to give back. Raise your hand, don’t wait to be asked.”

Holey closed by thanking the students in attendance. “If you're lucky, you get 130 Saturday nights in your college career, and you chose to spend this one here, and that deserves recognition.” 

The Media Hall of Fame Gala and Awards Ceremony was a night that celebrated giants in print media, public relations, and broadcasting, whose careers shaped the way America sees the world, and remembered a time when each of those stories convened in Mt. Pleasant on the campus of Central Michigan University. 
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Read more articles by Dan Gaken.

Dan Gaken is a documentary-style photographer who creates dynamic images to tell stories. Gaken has ten years of experience as a professional photographer, with image credits appearing in Trains magazine, the Chicago Sun Times, and the Sony Television-produced series Battle Creek. Gaken serves as the photographer for Special Olympics Michigan’s State Games. Gaken is also the Director of the Central Michigan University Leadership Institute. He is a sought-after speaker and trainer for organizations seeking to enhance their leadership. Gaken has been invited to speak at more than 25 colleges and universities across the United States and Canada. Gaken holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, MI. Find more of Dan’s images at www.DanGakenImages.com or on Instagram at @DGaken.