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Snow College Distinguished Alumni Award

An annual honor given to a graduate of Snow College who inspires excellence in others by serving as a role model and has demonstrated significant commitment, career contributions, and community impact. This article can be found in the Alumni Magazine – Fall.

Nominate your fellow classmates for the Snow College Distinguished Alumnus Award. Do you know someone you feel is a good candidate?  Nominate someone today! (Deadline is April 30th of each year.)

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arrow Distinguished Alumnus Award Criteria
arrow List of previous Distinguished Alumnus Award Recipients

2021 distinguished Alumnus Award Recipient

Neal Cox ('68)

Neal Cox

Neal LaVaun Cox (1948-2020) loved Snow College. A previous student (graduating class of 1968), he returned to Snow College as dean of students and vice president of student life (1983-95). This position might conjure up an image of leadership behind a desk, but Neal is best remembered striding around campus, meeting and connecting with students. He led by example, through genuine connection, and in service of others. With great gratitude, we posthumously recognize Neal LaVaun Cox as the 2021 Snow College Distinguished Alumnus.

Neal’s son Jon often visited his father’s Snow College office while growing up in Ephraim. “One thing that encapsulates my dad very well is the way he went about his work: he very seldom spent time behind a desk,” Jon remembered. “He was always out and about with people, with students in particular. As somebody who is dean of students or vice president of student services, you need to be with students in order to help them and support them, and he really took that to heart.” 

Neal loved Snow College and its Badgers, and his young family shared this love. “As kids, it’s almost as if we lived at Snow College – always going to games, always in plays, and students were always coming over to the house … it was a home away from home for all of us,” Jon shared. His father would attend every football game in person, and if it were an away game, Neal would listen on the radio, no matter where he was in the state (and how bad the reception might be). In 1985, Snow College famously won the football National Championship. Jon recollects that when they won, Neal bundled the whole family into their old Volkswagen van and drove to the airport to welcome the team home: “He wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to celebrate student success in any way,” Jon said. 

After graduating from Snow College, Neal attended Utah State University, where he met Carol Lynn Martin on a blind date. It was a Halloween dress-up event, and they went as Raggedy Ann and Andy. Family lore dictates that Neal showed up without a costume, so Carol arranged his costume (complete with a mop on his head). Magic ensued, and Neal and Carol were married on September 2, 1971. Neal, Carol, and their eventual six children would find a home in Samoa, Illinois, and Utah. After his tenure at Snow College, Cox would further serve the students of Southern Utah University (associate vice president and dean of students, 1998-2007) and Brigham Young University (associate dean of students, 2011-14). “No matter where they lived,” Jon remembers, “Ephraim was always home, and when they retired, they came back to Ephraim.” 

One of Neal’s speeches is held in the online archives for Ensign College, formerly LDS Business College ( In this speech, he addressed the college’s business students, encouraging them to be leaders through service, one of his life’s philosophies. Neal vulnerably shared his own failed leadership when he was the senior class president in high school. He didn’t campaign; someone anonymous had nominated him. “I felt pretty important,” said Neal. “And then I spent that whole year feeling important but doing nothing, confident that when the yearbook came out, my picture would be bigger than the others, and it was. But I didn’t do anything.” His senior year came and went, events came and went, and opportunities for service came and went. Cox then vowed “that if I ever had a chance again to serve, I would do it differently.” This experience reframed Neal’s philosophy of leadership and the duty of leaders as servants to the public. Every leadership position he would hold – seminary teacher, mission president, administrator, bishopric member, mentor, friend, father, grandfather – would be defined by genuine service. People who served with him commented on his humble, caring nature, no matter how modest the position. 

Neal’s ability to support students and friends is also reflected in his gift to see their gifts and potential. This skill was just one way out of many that he served his community. “Especially for students,” Jon notes, “when it’s the first time away from home, you’re trying to figure out who you are and who you're going to be, and sometimes you don’t see yourself as clearly. And he was good at helping you see that before you saw it yourself sometimes.” 

This sentiment echoes a quote widely attributed to poet Maya Angelou but likely from Carl W. Buehner: “They may forget what you said – but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Memorials on Neal’s Facebook wall and obituary testify to his unique ability to help people see the most significant parts of themselves. 

The leadership of Neal LaVaun Cox will not be forgotten. In halls and hearts, his kindness is both mourned and emulated. His love remains and will be remembered. 


2020 Distinguished Alumnus Award Recipients

Daniel Maynes ('89)


In a quote widely misattributed to Socrates but most likely a variant of Plutarch’s, education is defined as “the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel,” meaning that a life of learning doesn’t end with the classroom door. The life of Dr. Daniel (Dan) Maynes (’89), a 2020 Distinguished Alumnus, reflects that adage: a life of curiosity and passion that warms his community, family, and students.

Snow College has long been a presence in Dan’s life. He grew up in Manti, as the youngest of 11 children. Ten of the Maynes children, including Dan, attended Snow College. “I think nine graduated,” he said. “This may be a record number of brother/sister Snow alumni.”

Dan’s childhood was strongly rooted in nature and the outdoors. “My friends and I were often found riding and repairing bicycles, fishing, hunting, camping, and participating in most outdoor activities. In the evenings through the summer, we could be found at the Manti city tennis/basketball courts. We played a lot of basketball, but we also spent a lot of time philosophizing.”

When Dan was 19, he left Sanpete County to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Oklahoma Tulsa Mission. Prior to his mission, Dan attended Snow College on an academic scholarship. With his five closest high school friends, he attended most of the home football games and celebrated when Snow College won the 1985 National Championship.

“I was undecided on a major, but knew it would be in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math],” Dan said. He described himself as a “fairly average student,” but he “enjoyed hanging out at the student union and institute building,” where he played ping-pong and foosball. Returning to sophomore year post-mission, he decided on his major: mechanical engineering. School became a higher priority, and Dan worked harder and studied more seriously.

“When I returned to Snow, I took all of the pre-engineering, physics, and math classes that I hadn’t already taken,” Dan recalled. “While taking these classes, I often found myself helping other students, and soon several of the students started to call me ‘Dr. Dan.’ This is what planted the seed for me to consider getting a Ph.D. and becoming a professor.”

After sophomore year, Dan left academia and worked for an engineering firm (Rollins, Brown, and Gunnell Engineers), where he conducted engineering tests between Green River and Salina. He then returned to the classroom, studying at Utah State University, where he received both bachelor’s and masters’ degrees. During this time he worked for the Space Dynamics Lab (providing engineering support for a small military observation satellite) and Argonne National Laboratory (analyzing nuclear power plant operations). The U.S. Air Force funded his M.S. research, where he explored the aerodynamic characteristics of air-to-air missiles.

During his time at USU, Dan met his sweetheart, Jilline Smith. Jilline hailed from Fairfield, California and transferred to USU after two years at Ricks College. After they were married, Dan and Jilline lived in Salt Lake while Dan worked on his Ph.D. at the University of Utah. Upon completion of his degree they moved to Provo, where they have lived for the past 23 years.

Dan and Jilline have five children: Alex, Lauren, Mark, Isaac, and Anna. “As a family, we enjoy the outdoors and can often be found hiking, biking, climbing, backpacking, and road-tripping,” Dan said. “We love hiking slot canyons in Southern Utah, ascending mountains all over the west, and going to Lake Tahoe.”

Together, Dan and Jilline share a love of fitness and endurance. They have both run several marathons and half-marathons. Dan has also ridden in the Logan to Jackson (LoToJa) bike race three times.

The two also share a love of learning. Jilline is a German research specialist and worked for Brigham Young University’s Center for Family History and Genealogy as a manager for the Nauvoo Community Project.

Dan joined the faculty at BYU in 1997, where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in mechanical engineering. His general area of expertise is in “fluid mechanics and energy systems, aerodynamics of trains, and turbomachinery.”

Dan’s service in the classroom and beyond includes directing 45 sponsored research projects (totaling over $6.5 million in award money), advising 44 M.S. and Ph.D. students, and serving as associate chair and chair of the ME EN (mechanical engineering) department. He and his graduate students have authored over 150 technical journal and conference papers that report on the research he has directed. 

Dan is beloved by his students. He has won the ME EN best teacher award multiple times. Students have extolled his clarity and professionalism: “most upfront and clear professor I’ve ever had,” details one anonymous review on More than one review cites that Dan memorizes the name of every single student. His decades-long career is intensely impressive, but what is perhaps even more impressive than his own path of curiosity and passion is the curiosity and passion he fosters in others.

Sampei "Sam" Nakao ('67)


Sampei “Sam” Nakao was one of Snow College’s first international students when he arrived in 1966. He heard about the college through missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whom he met in Osaka, Japan.  He decided he wanted to go to Snow because it provided the right environment for learning English and having personal living experiences to help him overcome cultural differences. Sam eventually finished an associate degree from Snow College and then a bachelor’s degree from Utah State University.

When asked about first arriving at Snow College, Sam reported: “I arrived in Ephraim late at night a few days before the first quarter began by a bus from Salt Lake City, and I then stayed at hotel near bus station. My new life in Ephraim began with exciting dreams in my mind. I woke up the next morning and decided to walk around the town. When I walked around the town, there was only one traffic light, one post office, one hotel where I stayed, and one grocery store. Honestly, I began to wonder how I could survive in this city for two years.”

Sam said that his attitude changed once he stepped on the Snow College campus. “If I think it about now, this moment became the first day of me becoming a member of a big family with the people of Snow College and Ephraim. Every person I associated with and met at the campus and in Ephraim was so friendly and accepted me as a family member, not as a Japanese person who did not even speak the language.”

Life in a small town without English language skills was not easy. Sam did not understand much of the material and spent countless hours memorizing vocabulary, studying concepts, and asking professors for help.  After a terrible exam score, he visited his economics professor to get some advice. “I was so depressed, but I decided to see Professor [Halbert] Jensen for his help.  He was so nice, kind, and open-minded to suggest to me to come to see him in his office every day after class and so I did. He then highlighted key points for the class and taught me how to read and study at a U.S. college. As a result, with his help and advice, I passed the final examination and received credits for the economics class.  His advice helped me not only for other classes but also lasted me for a long time, including my business career.”

While at Snow, Sam joined the baseball team and played local games and traveled to Arizona for away games. He also organized the first international club at Snow College, participated in dances, and made many friends during extracurricular activities.  During the club activities, he prepared international food and music to show the differences between cultures.  Sam also worked part time at a local turkey farm, where he woke up early to feed the birds.  “I learned a lot about work there,” he said.

After graduating from USU in 1970, Sam worked at an international accounting firm in their Tokyo, Los Angeles, and Honolulu offices. During this time, he became the first Japanese citizen to become a Certified Public Accountant in the United States. He then returned to Japan and has been very successful in business as a bridge between business in Japan and the United States. 

Sam and his wife, Mitsuko, first met in high school and will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in 2021. They have two sons, a daughter named Uta (Utah), and two grandchildren. 

Sam has a few words of advice for current and future students: “If I went to a large university either on the east or west coasts, I would not have been exposed to U.S. culture and English as I did at Snow and Ephraim. It is good to see your own country from the ‘outside’ when you are young. But it is very important to identify the right place for living and clarify requirements for education. Living life in Ephraim was very simple but the people at Snow and in Ephraim were warm, caring, and kind to a foreign student.  They still are. Like baseball, it is better to warm up before jumping to a major league.  Snow College helped me in so many ways for my future life.”