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2003 Distinguished Alumni Award

John Blackburn and Bruce Gebhardt

The outstanding accomplishments of John Blackburn and Bruce Gebhardt were recognized Saturday, May 10 when they were presented the Western Illinois University Distinguished Alumni Award at Spring Commencement Exercises.

The Distinguished Alumni Award, given since 1973, recognizes alumni who have reached the pinnacle of their careers and have brought credit to the University and themselves through their professional accomplishments or community service at local, state, or national levels and extended meritorious service for the advancement and continued excellence of WIU.

Blackburn, a 1970 English and physical education graduate, is the CEO of COUNTRY Insurance and Financial Services in Bloomington. He was named to this position in August 2001. As the chief executive officer, Blackburn is responsible for the overall direction, administration, profitability and investment of assets of each company. Prior to being appointed CEO, Blackburn was the senior vice president of marketing. He joined COUNTRY Insurance and Financial Services in 1982 as an agent in Christian County, IL. Blackburn has served in many field and home office capacities including agency manager, district director of agencies, regional vice president of agency and vice president of agency.

Previous to his move to financial services, Blackburn had a career as a teacher/coach where he became the first Class A boys basketball coach in Illinois to take two different schools to state finals in Champaign. A chartered life underwriter and registered securities principal and securities representative, Blackburn is a member of the board of directors for The National Association of Independent Insurers. He is also a member of the National Association of Financial Advisers and past president of the Lincolnland chapter. Blackburn serves as the secretary of the Abraham Lincoln Hospital Board in Lincoln, as well as a trustee for Lincoln College.

In addition, he continues to support WIU through financial contributions to the English and journalism department and Western Athletics. Blackburn regularly attends alumni and athletics events and most recently pledged support for the new football locker room and athletic weight training facility. Blackburn and his wife, Barb, a 1971 Western graduate, have been consistent benefactors of Western Illinois.

Gebhardt, a 1970 sociology graduate and member of the Leathernecks football team, is the deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). He received a master of criminology degree from Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX, and taught for one year at Sauk Valley Community College in Dixon. Gebhardt also taught for two years at Western in the law enforcement department.

In 1974, Gebhardt became a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). Following a period of training at Quantico, VA, he was assigned to the Denver FBI office for three years where he conducted criminal investigations. He then transferred to San Francisco where he worked primarily in organized crime matters. Gebhardt was a drug squad supervisor in Los Angeles and a supervisor in the criminal investigative division at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

He served in the FBI's inspection division before being promoted to assistant special agent in charge of the Newark office. He also served as the special agent in charge of the Phoenix and San Francisco field offices. Gebhardt was asked to return to FBI headquarters by Director Robert Mueller III, and served as one of four executive assistant directors. In August 2002, Mueller selected Gebhardt to be the deputy director, the second highest position in the FBI. In the absence of the director, he serves as the acting director of the FBI.

Gebhardt has held membership in numerous law enforcement organizations and currently serves on the executive board of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and is a graduate of the FBI's National Executive Institute. He has been the recipient of several FBI commendations and also received the FBI Medal of Valor.

Gebhardt is a longtime supporter of Western through gifts to the WIU Foundation in support of the Alumni Association and the Athletics Facilities Project. He has been married to Angie, a former Western Illinois student, for 33 years and has two grown sons.