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The Orion

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The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Speech and debate members honored, inducted into Hall of Fame

The inductees
From left: Kris Willis, Esther Austin, Katherine Lemke-Waste, Cindi Sellinger Peterson, Darren Peterson, Ron Reed, Ben Reed, and William Fort were among the speech and fame team alumni to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Photo courtesy of Peggy Armocido.

Most Chico State students hope to take away more than just an education when they graduate and start their careers. For past members of Chico State’s speech and debate team, their experience within the forensics community prepared them for the array of possibilities that awaited them.

On Saturday, Oct. 17, the Chico State speech and debate team inducted members into the Hall of Fame. The inductees included past members of the team, teachers’ associates and a past director. Members from the ’80s and ’90s joined together for an evening to reminisce on their years with the speech and debate team. Although each member moved on from Chico State to pursue a different type of career, each was able to take away something special from their time spent here. Here are a few of their stories:

Esther Austin, Katherine Lemke Waste, and Ronny Rubens-Garcia
From left: Esther Austin, Katherine Lemke-Waste and Ronny Rubens-Garcia, all past members of the speech and debate team, were inducted into the Hall of Fame. Photo courtesy of Peggy Armocido.

Katherine Lemke-Waste:

With a total of 10 years spent at Chico State during the 1990s, Lemke-Waste began as an assistant director before moving on to be the director of the speech and debate team. Following her leave, Lemke-Waste is now a full-time artist and board president of American Women Artists.

Kris Willis and Karen Cornwell
Kris Willis and Karen Cornwell were the two former teacher's associate inductees to be honored by the speech and debate team. Photo courtesy of Peggy Armocido.

Karen Cornwell:

Cornwell is recognized in the Hall of Fame for her work as a teacher’s associate from 1992-1994 while she was in the master’s program.

“It was a moment in time where I can’t fully describe what it meant to me,” Cornwell said of her experience with the speech and debate team.

Cornwell maintained her passions for teaching and communications and now teaches at Santa Rosa Junior College. She also works with the private jet company, Vine Jet, as she works to start her own business.

William Fort:

Fort competed in the individual events category from 1987-1989. Fort was the first member to win the national championship from Chico State for persuasive speaking. Currently, Fort works as a regional manager for Oracle.

“My time on the team helped me to become the best speaker that I could be,” Fort said.

Kenny Garcia:

Garcia’s award was accepted on behalf of his son and wife, Ronny Rubens-Garcia. The couple came to Chico State together and competed against each other in the same categories. Sadly, Garcia passed away two years ago at the age of 43. Garcia competed in individual events categories, including prose and poetry, from 1991-1993. His passion for performance continued as he opened his own acting studio, the Actor’s Studio of Orange County. He is truly missed by his speech and debate family.

Esther Austin:

Austin was a part of the team from 1993-1996 in which time she competed in the oral interpretation and prose categories.

“I became comfortable slipping in and out of characters,” she said. “People like to write about and perform what they see.”

Her time at Chico State prepared her for her career in the film industry as she currently works with the Formosa Group in Los Angeles.

Ron and Ben Reed
Father-son duo Ron and Ben Reed, both still residents of Chico, were inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Chico State speech and debate team. Photo courtesy of Peggy Armocido.

Ron and Ben Reed:

The father-son duo competed with the speech and debate team in 1981. After moving to Chico from Wyoming, Ron enrolled in Chico State while Ben was a high school student. They both joined the team where they competed as debate partners.

The Reed family is still located here in Chico where Ron works as an attorney and Ben as a contractor.

“My experience on the team gave me the confidence to go to law school,” Ron said, “And it taught me to think on my feet.”

Darren Peterson, Cindi Sellinger Peterson, Karen Cornwell, and William Fort
Photo credit: Courtesy of Peggy Armocido

Cindi Sellinger Peterson and Darren Peterson:

This is a true speech and debate love story. Darren joined the team in 1984 where he initially competed in the individual events category for persuasive and after-dinner speaking.

“Being a part of the speech and debate team was the single most important thing that happened to me while at Chico State,” Darren said.

Two years later, Cindi joined the team as a debater in 1986. Eventually, Darren made his way to debate, the two started dating and the rest is history.

The two now live in Seattle, where Cindi works for American Express and Darren is the vice president of R.R. Donnelley.

“The team makes you fearless,” Cindi said. “You know you can do anything.”

The two recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary.

Whatever these Chico State alumni chose to pursue after graduation, they certainly benefited from their time on the speech and debate team. All the tournaments, debate research and speech run-throughs were well worth the hard work for these hall of famers.

Sabrina Grislis can be reached at [email protected] or @sabrinagrislis on Twitter.

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