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Distinguished Alumni Wall

October 4, 2019

The 2019 SUNY Niagara Distinguished Alumni Award will be presented to Deborah Burns ’78, Peter I. Certo ’73 (posthumously), Rebecca Cali Cuddahee ’95, and Richard Frizzell ’67 at the annual SUNY Niagara Foundation Scholarship Gala on October 19, 2019, at the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute.

Deborah Burns graduated from SUNY Niagara in 1978 with her degree in Communications. She continued on to receive her Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Studies from Regents College and Master’s Degree in Education from Niagara University. She began working at SUNY Niagara in 1988 as an Adjunct Instructor and Academic Advisor for the Social Services Employee Training Program. She continued on her tenure at SUNY Niagara when she became a Counselor/Professor for the office of Student Development and the Academic Advisement Center. She has been an asset to the College, helping students achieve their goals as they began their higher education experience and volunteering for SUNY Niagara’s Foundation Scholarship Gala for countless years. Never stopping even with her retirement from SUNY Niagara, Debbie gives back to the community by volunteering at Mount St. Mary’s Hospital, Saint John De LaSalle Church, and is a co-founder of Confetti Cottage in Niagara Falls, NY.

Peter I. Certo graduated as a member of the first class from the new SUNY Niagara Sanborn Campus in 1973 with his degree in Business Administration. After graduating, Peter joined his family business, Certo Brother Distributing. He served as President and Chairman of the Board of Certo Brothers until his untimely passing in the summer of 2017. In addition, Peter served as a Board Member of the NYS Beer Wholesalers Association for 31 years and was elected Chairman for 2 years. Peter dedicated his time to giving back to SUNY Niagara. He was a Foundation Board Member from 1993-2017, Presidential Partner, and served as Honorary Chair during the SUNY Niagara Learning Commons Capital Campaign helping to raise $2.5 million. Peter and his father, Hank, started the SUNY Niagara memorial golf tournament in honor of his uncle, Albert J. Certo who was an original member of the Board of Trustees. From 1982-2004, the golf tournament raised over $250,000 for SUNY Niagara scholarships. He contributed annually to the SUNY Niagara Alumni Association 5K Run/Walk and SUNY Niagara Foundation Scholarship Gala.

Rebecca Cali Cuddahee graduated from SUNY Niagara in 1995 with her degree in Criminal Justice. She continued on to receive her Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University at Buffalo. She has had Anthropology teaching positions beginning in 2003 at SUNY Niagara, UB, and Duke University until 2012. She served two terms in the Niagara County Legislature from 2003-2006. In the community, Rebecca has been instrumental in saving several Niagara County programs at the Trott Building and continuing the Niagara County Jail Inmates Work Release Program. In addition, she has given back to her alma mater by serving as a guest lecturer and sitting on various SUNY Niagara committees.

Finally, Richard Frizzell graduated from SUNY Niagara in 1967 with his degree in Humanities and Social Science. He continued on to receive his Bachelor’s Degree in Education from SUNY Buffalo State and his Master’s Degree in International Relations from Troy State University of Alabama. Richard has supported his community as a member of the Niagara County Legislature from 1981-1992, a member of the SUNY Niagara Board of Trustees from 1984-1992, and served his nation as an officer in the U.S. Army rising to the level of full Colonel. Richard’s civilian career has consisted of serving as President of Sentrex Security Services, Inc. along with working as a Middle School Teacher and College Professor of Political Science and International Relations in Georgia until 2018. In his free time, Richard volunteers with the USO at the Jacksonville Airport every Saturday morning. He also works with Habitat for Humanity, the VFW, and the County Board of Assessors as Chairman. He has been recognized as Adjunct Professor of the Year from Coastal Georgia Community College, received the U.S. Army Logistics Program of Excellence Award, and the Legion of Merit for an exemplary career in the U.S. Army.

The 2019 Gala will take place at the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute and tickets are $125 per person.  SUNY Niagara Culinary and Baking & Pastry Arts students will prepare sweet and savory dishes from around the world. To purchase tickets and make reservations, visit the SUNY Niagara Foundation website at or call the office at 716-614-5911.