Alumni awarded for their strides in community service, college engagement, and professional advancement

'24 Alumni Award Winners group photo
May 31, 2024
By Anna Boone
Flagler College’s Alumni Awards were initiated in 1999 to honor graduates who have made a significant contribution to their field, the College, or their own communities.

“Alumni Weekend isn’t just about looking back,” Director of Alumni Engagement, Whitney Shafer (‘07), said in opening the 23rd annual Alumni Awards Luncheon. “It’s about looking forward and celebrating the successes that we’ve all achieved in our time since we’ve been here at Flagler, and that is why the Alumni Awards Luncheon is one of my favorite events.” 

This year, four outstanding alumni were recognized for their community service efforts, commitment to the College, and professional success. 

“This year’s award recipients have demonstrated exactly what it means to be a Saint while exhibiting Flagler’s core values in their everyday lives,” President of the Alumni Board, Mary Beth Albritton (‘01), said.  


Jerry McLaughlin ‘77 | St. Charles, Ill. 

Community Service Award   

Studied Elementary Education (Special Education and Early Childhood Education) 

Jerry McLaughlin '77

Jerry McLaughlin '77

Jerry McLaughlin is described by peers as a “tireless fundraiser and volunteer.”  

Over the years, he’s used these strengths to support multiple organizations dedicated to cancer research. One such organization is Friends of Jaclyn, a foundation that pairs pediatric cancer patients and their families with local athletic teams. 

Jerry and Matthew

As Head Women’s Basketball Coach at Elgin Community College, McLaughlin was connected to an Illinois family whose son was born with a rare brain cancer. They later described McLaughlin as one of their family’s most “steadfast and dedicated” supporters. 

“From team practices, games, and team dinners, Coach Jerry has gone above and beyond to include [our son] and our family in his team activities,” they wrote. “Along the way, Jerry also organized several fundraisers for our family... He has a caring sensibility for his players as well as people in the community.” 

His connection with Friends of Jaclyn is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to McLaughlin’s track record of volunteer work. He’s also notably contributed more than 20 years of service to the V Foundation for Cancer Research, 17 of which he’s played an important fundraising role in the Foundation’s Dick Vitale Gala.  

Former Flagler basketball teammate, Ron Summers (‘77), presented McLaughlin’s award, describing his old friend's accomplishments as a volunteer and coach as “huge and many.”

Ron Summers holding folder that reads, "Jerry's Fundraisers"

Ron Summers holding folder that reads, "Jerry's Fundraisers"

McLaughlin recounted one mantra he tries to impart to his team members, “always be a giver, not a receiver.” 

It’s advice he doles out as a coach because he said it’s advice he lives by.  

“Always give back, be the best person you can be, and if you are able- learn to make somebody else’s life better,” McLaughlin said.  


Michelle Vijgen ‘01 | St. Augustine, Fla. 

Flagler College Service Award 

Studied English 

Michelle accepeting Alumni Award

Left to right: Whitney Shafer, Michelle Vijgen, Mary Beth Albritton, Margo Thomas

In presenting Michelle Vijgen’s award, fellow alumna Margo Thomas (‘06) said she felt like she’d been handed an “impossible task in giving proper justice,” to her close friend’s contributions to Flagler over the years.  

“It's like defining why ice cream tastes so good or why Ponce Hall always smells just like it does,” Thomas said. “But much like ice cream and Ponce Hall, Michelle is a beloved classic.” 

Vijgen, a local business-owner of the Panache salon, served for six years on Flagler’s Alumni Board acting as President for three of them. She was at the forefront of the College’s celebrations for its 50th anniversary and the Ponce’s 125th year. She was also a part of honoring Former President William Abare’s retirement and participated in the search for his successor.  

“She quickly distinguished herself as a leader among alumni and on campus,” Thomas said. 

Beyond her service to the Alumni Board, Vijgen has volunteered as a mentor with the Career Development Center, spoken at key College events like Commencement, and donated services from her local business.  

Vijgen, Love Your Mother Eco Fashion Show

Vijgen, Love Your Mother Eco Fashion Show

Simply put, “when Flagler calls, Michelle answers,” Thomas said.  

Vijgen credits much of who she is and her success today to her four years as a student at Flagler, one reason she’s chosen to give back to the College. But more than that, she said the reason it’s been “so easy,” to answer Flagler’s calls to service is because she believes in the institution's mission and core values.  

Thomas characterized Vijgen as bold, community-oriented, and generous with grace. She said she’s also continually impressed by the “sharp sense of business,” Michelle brought to her leadership on the Board.  

“Flagler will forever benefit from having Michelle in its corner,” Thomas said.  

Serving Flagler College is something Vijgen said she feels “called to do.” 

“I’ve loved that the opportunity to serve has kept me connected to our campus and students, engaged in the wellbeing of the institution, and has allowed me to serve as a bridge between Flagler College and St. Augustine’s business community,” Vijgen said.  


Amy Upchurch ‘06 | Jacksonville, Fla. 

Professional Achievement Award 

Studied Communications with a minor in Journalism & Advertising 

Amy Upchurch

Amy Upchurch '06

Founder and CEO of Pink Stork, Amy Suzanne Upchurch, accepted her award by first acknowledging the long journey she’s had with Flagler College as a St. Augustine native and student-athlete during her time as a Saint.  

“Those days taught me valuable lessons that transferred way beyond the classroom and into my professional career, helping shape my character and foundation of my future endeavors,” Upchurch said.  

The inspiration for Upchurch’s 2015 founding of Pink Stork, which supports women by “offering wellness products they can trust during their fertility, pregnancy, postpartum, and nursing journeys,” was her own turbulent journey into motherhood. 

“Her path to motherhood was filled with obstacles, including an infertility diagnosis, severe morning sickness, and a deathbed scare, all with military deployments [of her husband Thomas Upchurch] complicating these challenges,” fellow alumna and Pink Stork team member, Abigail Ostrander, (‘20) said.  

Amy Upchurch

Amy and her son at the Alumni Awards Luncheon

Since opening nearly a decade ago, Upchurch’s wellness company has gained traction as a widely recognized brand, climbing the ranks of “Top 100 Woman-Led Businesses in Florida” for two consecutive years. And in 2021 Pink Stork was also selected as the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year and one of “top 50 GrowFL Florida Companies to Watch”. 

“I am deeply passionate about my work, both in building Pink Stork from the ground up and in fostering a community of women who uplift and support one another,” Upchurch said. "My dedication to the wellness and empowerment of women has been a driving force in my career.” 

Flagler’s Senior Director of Athletics for External Operations and a family friend of Upchurch, Joey Wiles, presented the award. Wiles also spent more than 20 years as a St. Augustine High School football coach where he watched Amy and his daughter of the same age become best friends.  

Outside of her impressive success with Pink Stork, Wiles said what impresses him most about Upchurch is her heart “for others” and “love for her family.” 

He said her mother was in the medical field, and her father was a farmer, which he credits for putting “hard work into her DNA.” 

“As I reflect on [my professional] journey, I’m guided by the profound saying: to whom much is given, much is expected,” Upchurch said. “This serves as a constant reminder of responsibilities that come with the opportunities and blessings I have received.” 


Bruce Zagers ‘03 | Islands of Saba/ Curaçao 

Professional Achievement Award 

Studied Accounting 

Bruce Zagers grew up on the small Dutch Caribbean Island of Saba, which is only about five square-miles.  

After graduating as valedictorian from the Saba Comprehensive School, he made his way to St. Augustine. With an enrollment, at the time, equivalent to the total population of his home island, Flagler College was an “overwhelming change” for Zagers. 

Despite the jarring transition, he learned to enjoy the college experience, made lifelong friends, and fell in love with his wife Tracy Zagers (‘01). 

Tracy and Bruce Zagers

Tracy Zagers '01 & Bruce Zagers '03

“The memories I made here are etched in my heart,” Zagers said. “[My time here,] was undeniably rich with valuable life lessons.” 

His degree in accounting prepared him to serve as Internal Controller and Budgetary Controller with the Government Finance Office of Saba, positions he entered shortly upon returning home after graduation.  

Just a few years later, Zagers entered the political arena and was elected on his first run for a seat as an Island Commissioner. Since his initial election in 2007, Zagers ran successful campaigns to remain in office in 2011, 2015, 2019, and 2023. Each time, he earned his island’s popular vote and in 2019 he racked up the most votes in Saba’s history of Commission elections.  

“During his almost 16 years in public office, Bruce has become the steady presence in government for his island,” Tracy Zagers said. “Because of his work ethic and his honest and practical approach of governing, he has earned the respect of numerous governmental officials in the region, and even more so in the Netherlands.” 

Zagers at work

Photo Credit: BES Reporter

Throughout his political career, Zagers has been responsible for projects related to the Island’s finance, infrastructure, and sustainability. He’s played a key role in bringing funding to Saba across these areas. 

For example, he oversaw Saba’s finances through eight consecutive positive audit reviews which earned the Island an almost 50% increase in its budget from The Netherlands. He also recently sourced over $40 million to build a new harbor, Saba’s largest infrastructure project to date. 

“We have and continue to overcome challenges while spearheading transformative projects that impact the daily lives of our citizens,” Zagers said. “From resolving long-standing waste management issues to ensuring the availability and affordability of clean water... our collective efforts have my Saba a beacon of progress in the Dutch Caribbean.”