Who’s behind the NVLF? The stories below, explain why these individuals invest their talents and energy to make a difference for our country’s military community as they transition to university campuses and ultimately meaningful careers.
Some dedicate their work to remembering their time or a family member’s time in the service, others hope to create meaning after the loss of a loved one and some want to lend support to those who have done so much for us.
For many, the transition from the military to a college campus and ultimately a fulfilling career can be challenging. The NVLF is helping America’s universities to develop a smooth pathway for successful transition.
A Lifetime of Leadership and Nurturing the Success of Others
Building people up and enabling them to succeed is central to Don Barger, NVLF Board member. Whether in his personal, professional or military life, putting people first has been his primary philosophy as a leader. He has spent a lifetime caring for the community and stresses how important it is to give a little bit of yourself back to philanthropy without recognition.
A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Don has a strong connection to the military. Both he and his wife Linda have a rich family history of service, with all males on both sides of the family having served in World War II. Don’s great grandfather was in the U.S. Army during World War I in France. His uncle served in the U.S. Navy, while his father was a bombardier in the Army serving for 40 years. Linda’s father, uncles and brothers all served in the armed forces. “These men were truly part of the greatest generation,” said Don.
The Barger family developed a lasting friendship with NVLF President and Founder Jim Miller over the years. Don and Jim’s fathers are both buried at Arlington National Cemetery just 14 spaces apart. Don’s unwavering support of the NVLF since its launch has been crucial to the organization’s success.
“What better way for Jim to honor his dad than to help veterans get through college and become productive citizens,” said Don. “I am humbled and proud to support the Foundation to ensure the success of every military-connected student.”
Don achieved much professional success after leaving the military. He was Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at YRC Worldwide Inc. before retiring in 2008. As a leading finance executive, Don also served as Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for Yellow Corporation, and Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for Hillenbrand Industries, Inc. From 1993 to 1998, he was part of the executive leadership team at Worthington Industries in the role of Vice President, Chief Financial Officer.
Having a generous spirit and maintaining a simple belief of treating people the way you would want to be treated are approaches that Don continues to live by. Former employees describe him as an empowering leader who had a genuine interest in knowing his team personally and helping them all develop professionally.
Don Barger, left, with fellow submariners.
Don’s five years as a Navy officer taught him the importance of teamwork and giving people responsibility and feedback to support the broader mission. “Some of the smartest people I ever worked with were on a nuclear submarine,” said Don. “There was real comradery and everyone was competent. The military exposes you to sound leadership characteristics and when properly developed, these traits should transfer to civilian life and be a basis for success.”
For Don, the success of the people around him is a direct reflection on his success. Seeing his children, grandchildren, team members, and the causes he values thrive are the most rewarding and gratifying for Don, knowing he played a part for the greater good.
A Story of Courage, Purpose and Resilience
NVLF Board Member Jody Davids experienced a life-shattering loss when her oldest son, Marine Lance Cpl. Wesley “Wes” Davids was killed serving in Operation Freedom Iraq. As her family faced their pain and worked to rebuild their lives, one last letter from Wes helped Jody understand the true meaning of sacrifice and the power of purpose.
In the aftermath of the terrorist bombings of 9/11, Wesley’s purpose became clear. He determined that he wanted to do something to prevent any future terror on U.S. soil. After graduating from high school, he left for boot camp at Parris Island, SC, becoming a U.S. Marine in 2003.
Tragically, Wes and 22 other Marines from Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines perished in 2005. Shortly after his death, the Marine Corps delivered a box containing his belongings from Iraq. In it was one of those, if you are reading this letter, the worst has happened letters.
“Wes wrote to us describing pride in his service, belief in the mission, and that he knew the risks were high, but had chosen to accept them. He went on to describe that he was motivated by love – love for his country and love for his family.”
Steven, the youngest of her two sons, was 17 at the time of Wes’ death. Up to that point, he struggled in school, and this was exacerbated by his brother’s death. Finding inspiration in Wes’ final letter, Steven enlisted in the Marine Corps and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Becoming a Marine gave Steven his own sense of purpose and helped him honor his brother’s memory. Jody is incredibly proud of both of her American heroes.
Wes’ letter was a gift that impacted Jody, not just as a mother, but also in her leadership practice. Turning to military and corporate leadership experts, she became a student of the idea of inspiring people with the power of a mission and helping them to achieve their own personal goals by working as part of a mission-focused team.
Before retiring in 2019, Jody was the chief information officer for Fortune 100 companies, including Cardinal Health, Best Buy and PepsiCo. Her purpose is to develop leaders and help others achieve their career goals. Post-retirement, she continues this focus as an executive coach, and serves on several corporate boards and on two veteran-focused nonprofit boards.
Jody has a heart for the military. She views the work of the NVLF as critical for our veterans. “It is difficult for vets to come back from being deployed and transition into a university setting. They often do not identify with the other students, and it can be isolating. The NVLF is helping military-connected students succeed on campus.”
Even after experiencing such devastating loss, Jody remains resilient, hopeful, and full of purpose. She drew inspiration from the Lima Company Marines as part of her own recovery.
Jody Davids talks about her son, Wesley, with NVLF Leadership Fellows.
“Several times over the course of that summer in 2005, Lima Company Marines were killed. While still mourning the loss of their brothers, these Marines had to get up the next day and continue their work. I took that as inspiration to choose to get up every day and choose to take one step and then another in the journey. It was truly an exercise in developing resilience.”
To aid her in her resilience journey, Jody has adopted a philosophy. “You can’t always choose what happens to you. You can choose how you respond to it.”
Service and Giving Back Form Her North Star
Ami Scott can be identified many ways, including volunteer, career coach, corporate lawyer and NVLF Board member. She often describes herself as an Air Force “brat” whose life in the military helped to shape her. Lessons in service, resilience, and discipline from her family’s time in the military contributed to the leader she is today.
The military had a significant presence in Ami’s life. Her father served 24 years in the Air Force and her paternal grandfather served for three years in the U.S. Army in a segregated unit. Her mother was a full-time military spouse, who created a nurturing and stable home environment for Ami and her two older brothers wherever her father was stationed. The military provided her father with educational options along with opportunities for the family to travel.
“My dad was able to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees through his GI Bill benefits,” said Ami. “I love the idea of helping people who are juggling what it means to be in the military and a non-traditional student. This is what drew me to the NVLF and its support of military-connected students and their families.”
The military gave Ami her first insights into leadership. Ultimately, she credits her parents and grandparents as role models on how to be a leader and give selflessly of yourself. This is how Ami developed her own identity as a principled leader and decided how she would live a purpose-driven life.
“My grandfather was a janitorial supervisor with only an elementary school education,” said Ami. “Yet he was a mentor to many people who looked up to him. My grandparents were incredibly honest, forthright, kind and caring. They had very little in the material sense, but what they did have they shared with others.”
Ami’s father devoted his life to service and helping the underserved find better opportunities. After his retirement from the Air Force he worked at Head Start, the federal school readiness program for disadvantaged youth. Her mother is a tireless volunteer who dedicates a great deal of time to charitable causes.
All these factors heavily influenced Ami’s approach to life and her vocation. Early on she made a conscientious decision to focus on what she could give, not what she could get. Her career with a private law practice provided her with some financial freedom so she could support her philanthropic interests. Ami has personally invested in students’ education throughout her life and donates to a number of education and arts-related nonprofits, including the NVLF.
In 2021 Ami left behind her law practice to begin a new chapter as a career coach, helping lawyers set and achieve personal and professional goals and navigate challenges. Each day she is putting her self-described “super power of empathy” to intentional and good use. “There is a huge level of personal satisfaction helping people find themselves and build their confidence,” said Ami. “I can see the positive influence I’m having on others and it feels really good.”
Whether it’s leading by example or helping others with her time, talent and treasure, Ami constantly strives for excellence and authenticity for herself – now and into the future.
Scott’s grandfather served for three years in the U.S. Army in a segregated unit.
A Family’s Legacy of Military Service
From a young age, the desire to serve and be a leader in the military was strong for Illias Simpson. After enlisting in the U.S. Air Force, the then 18-year-old Ilias already had his first taste of leadership on day two of boot camp when he was named Dorm Chief of his unit. This marked the beginning of a leadership journey where he would recognize the importance of integrity, accountability and doing the right thing even when no one is watching.
Ilias’ deep-seated pride and respect for the military stems from his mother and maternal grandfather. Too young to enlist, his grandfather lied about his age and joined the U.S. Army at 16 to fight in the Korean War and later in Vietnam. His grandfather served 32 years and was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart medals.
This military connection was passed on to the next generation as Ilias’ mother served in the Army as a nurse. She later received her nursing degree through the GI Bill. In 2000 Ilias joined the Air Force where he served as an Airman 1st Class in Iraq and stateside through rescue work with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Simpson military legacy continues to this day as Ilias’ nephew currently serves in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“Coming from a family of veterans, it was important for me to join the NVLF Board to help military students have a positive college experience,” said Ilias. “Having access to educational opportunities helped me attain my goals. Now I want to help other student veterans achieve their career objectives by earning a degree.”
Education and youth-based philanthropic causes are a priority for Ilias. In addition to the NVLF, he is involved with the Boys & Girls Clubs and serves on the Advisory Board at the University of Dayton School of Business, his alma mater. Ilias established a scholarship endowment at the University in honor of his maternal grandmother who was a nurse.
“Family legacy and honoring those who came before me is important,” said Ilias. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for my mother and grandparents. They all set the standard for what it means to lead with compassion, empathy and strength.”
The majority of Ilias’ leadership development came from the military and his family, in particular his mother, who was known as ‘Sergeant Stovall.’ “Growing up on a military base, people asked who my mom was and the answer was always Sergeant Stoval,” said Ilias. “She balanced this cool toughness as a military leader with the soft-heartedness of a nurse in the maternity ward. This same woman who is shooting rifles was also caring for babies.”
Ilias is shocked by how few people engage with the military and feels that the institution is always going to be under-appreciated since the pay is lower than in civilian jobs. He believes that it’s not always about the money. The military provides valuable character strength development and enables a person to be part of a larger mission.
”Serving in the military is what I’m most proud of in my life,” said Ilias. “The Air Force has a saying, ‘service before self,’ and this way of living defines me. My mother bred into me that if you have the means, you must give back. And always remember where you came from.”
Ilias Simpson’s mother was an Army nurse.
By listening to his mother’s advice and leveraging his military experience, Ilias has quickly advanced his professional career success and achievements. He currently serves as President of Modivcare Mobility, a leading healthcare technologies provider. Ultimately, Ilias views true success by how he is able to inspire, lift up and motivate others. “Success is about the positive influence you have on people,” he said. “I want to use the platform I have to help others and leave this world in a better place.”
Success Rooted in Curiosity, a Disciplined Mindset and Hard Work
Hard work and discipline have taken Chuck far from his humble beginnings in rural northwestern Ohio. Yet despite setbacks, he had clear aspirations and put himself through college, earning degrees from Bowling Green State University, Case Western Reserve and Harvard Business School. He credits much of his business success to five mentors during his varied career paths. Chuck went on to have a 50+ year career in the financial services industry. He was the Founder and CEO of Charles Webb & Company; Executive Vice President at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods; President and CEO of General Ohio S&L Corporation; Partner at Deloitte; and Co-founder and Chairman of Ernst & Webb, LLC.
“My grandfather grew up in an environment that was stacked against him to succeed,” said Tyler Webb, a physician in the U.S. Army. “Still he had this incredible discipline that he always lived by. A discipline to do the things you need to do even when you don’t want to do them. Discipline is the most important thing he taught me.”
Chuck has been a positive and nurturing influence on multiple generations in his family. His son, Ryan, served in the Navy for eight years, four of which were active duty and four in the reserves. Chuck also had a close relationship with his grandson Tyler, who he spent many hours discussing a variety of topics with, including the military, history, medicine, science, and education.
“My grandfather and I had lots of conversations where there was this openness and willingness to listen and bounce ideas off of each other,” said Tyler. “He also has a great sense of curiosity, which I inherited from him.”
Chuck and his grandson Tyler.
Having mentored and guided many people throughout his life, Chuck leads by example and collaboration, never by force or dictating what to do. This powerful approach has helped many of his mentees reach their own level of success.
And true to his curious nature and being fully immersed in everything he does, Chuck’s charitable efforts go far beyond monetary support. Organizations like the NVLF, The Ohio State University and countless other causes have benefitted not only from his generosity but his full commitment to furthering the institution’s mission.
After hearing about the positive impact of a new study abroad program for Veteran students at The Ohio State University, Chuck worked with the University to create an endowed scholarship so more students could have an immersive learning experience. His family also established the Charles R. Webb Professorship in Finance at OSU’s Fisher College of Business, endowed two additional scholarships, and launched a research endowment at the University’s College of Medicine.
“If you are fortunate enough to have the monetary means, you should have to share it with others,” said Chuck. His other charitable work includes the support of food pantries in the fight against hunger. Chuck also served on the boards of the University of Toledo and Mount Union College.
Along with his success in business and dedication to philanthropy, Chuck created a strong framework for his family to grow and thrive. He is most proud of this legacy, helping two generations of his family achieve their own success.
Debbie Liebert Karl with here father, Jack Liebert.
Witnessing the incredible outcomes realized at Ohio State, philanthropist Debbie Liebert Karl expanded the work to her alma mater, Ashland University. She supported the creation of a world-class facility, the Jack W. Liebert Military & Veteran Resource Center, in honor of her father, Jack Liebert, a U.S. Navy veteran who served in World War II and enlisted to fight in the Korean War.
Debbie’s vision for expanding military support programming from one university to many others sparked the creation of the National Veterans Leadership Foundation — an organization based on the belief that great things happen when we work together and learn from one another.
HARRY THOMAS MANGURIAN, JR.
Born and raised in Rochester, New York, Harry enlisted in the navy in 1943, where he served in the pacific theatre during World War II. Upon returning to Rochester, he took a local family-owned furniture store through a nationwide expansion program, ultimately leading the company to public ownership and an eventual merger.
This led him to establish a permanent residence in Florida, where he expanded his business ventures into real estate construction and development, plus sole ownership of professional sports franchises in basketball and soccer, and a world-renowned thoroughbred racing and breeding operation. He also acquired the Southeastern Jet Corporation, a jet charter company which he operated for over 30 years. Consist with his interest in serving others, he oversaw the philanthropic and charitable activities of a private foundation he and his wife, Dottie, established in 1999. The foundation has supported a range of good work related to medical research and treatment, education, and environmental causes. The foundation has also supported national disaster relief efforts. In particular, Harry’s initial million-dollar contribution to the ‘New York Heroes Fund’ following the attacks of 9/11 inspired others to contribute millions to that fund.
The National Veterans Leadership Foundation was inspired by efforts undertaken in honor of Major Lawrence Miller, a two-time alumnus of The Ohio State University who passed away in 2011. Philanthropic gifts from family and friends established the creation of several university-wide initiatives including the Major Lawrence Miller Community Advocate Program and the Major Lawrence Miller Flag Ceremony.