Julian Keikilani Ako conducts a Hawaiian songfest with the high school senior class.

Around the world, Mac alumni reach out, speak up, build bridges, and solve challenges. Alumni Awards—presented each year at Reunion by Mac’s Alumni Board—honor those who exemplify that spirit. This year’s award recipients have made a mark on communities near and far.

Julian Keikilani Ako ’65

While the Hawaiian phrase He ‘ōpū ali‘i literally means “having the stomach of a chief,” in Hawaiian culture it refers to people who prioritize the well-being of those they lead. For Julian Keikilani Ako ’65, this phrase embodies the servant leadership he has tried to practice throughout his career. “Much of my career is tied to Mac, with its strong commitment to service and achieving social justice,” he says.

An economics major, Ako studied abroad in Poland and later earned a master’s degree in Slavic and Soviet area studies from the University of Kansas. After teaching high school social studies in Kansas, he returned to his roots in Hawaii. For the next 36 years, Ako worked at the Kamehameha Schools, a private school system for students of Hawaiian ancestry where he had been a student. He retired as high school principal in 2015.

As principal, Ako led the school’s efforts to indigenize a Western education system, which had focused on assimilation, thus “alienating people from their language and culture, and devaluing them,” he says. “I worked hard to bring back the valuing of indigenous language and knowledge, seeking to achieve a balance between a Hawaiian and a Western worldview.” Macalester, he says, taught him how international experiences broaden perspectives, and he and his colleagues embedded that into the high school’s mission and vision.

At 48, Ako began studying the native Hawaiian language and composing Hawaiian music. He’s twice been recognized by the Hawai’i Academy of Recording Arts for his compositions.

Kenneth R. Beitler ’67

Two years after graduating from Macalester with a history degree, Kenneth Beitler ’67 tacked up a card in the West Bank neighborhood of Minneapolis. The card read, “Need help? Call Ken,” and included a telephone number. After that, the phone rarely stopped ringing.

Beitler was working for Campus Ministry. His neighborhood, like much of the country at that time, was buffeted by social and political unrest. When people were in trouble, there were few places to turn. “Macalester taught me about service to society, and people helping people,” Beitler says. “I saw a growing chasm between disenfranchised youth and the establishment who might be able to help them.”

Thus was born Youth Emergency Services (YES), a program that connected troubled youth to professionals who offered assistance on an ability-to-pay basis. Beitler recruited volunteers to help him answer phones each day from noon to 2 a.m. YES grew rapidly to a 24/7 service. He developed a comprehensive volunteer training program and a speakers’ bureau that raised funds and awareness. One of the country’s first hotlines, the YES model helped millions worldwide. Much of the YES work later grew into United Way 2-1-1, a statewide hotline that today provides some 500,000 referrals annually.

Fifty years later, Beitler continues to help others. As a Hennepin County Medical Center planning analyst, he improved patient experiences. In retirement, he’s an active volunteer at his church. He remains proudest, though, of the bridges he helped build in his community.

Ed Deutschlander ’93

Two days after graduating from Macalester, Ed Deutschlander ’93 started working as a North Star Financial Services advisor. Twenty-five years later, he’s still there.

Immediately connecting with North Star’s mission, Deutschlander took on increasing responsibility through the years and today leads the organization as its CEO. He’s a true global citizen, writes his nominator, who calls him “one of the foremost business executives and thought leaders in the Twin Cities and within the financial services profession internationally.”

Deutschlander was the youngest person to lead GAMA International—an association dedicated to promoting professional development in the financial industry—and has served on many boards. With his wife, Toni, and together with North Star’s foundation, Deutschlander started the Twin Cities chapter of Bikes for Kids, a group that has given 4,000 bicycles and helmets to Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities program participants.

A first-generation college student, Deutschlander says Macalester’s financial aid helped him afford higher education. During his junior year, he married Toni and became a father, often bringing his daughter to the dining hall. Mac’s closeknit community, especially on his football and baseball teams, made a mark. Deutschlander returns to campus regularly to talk with students about leadership and recruit interns and employees. His commitment to higher education has also led him to speak at more than 50 universities, motivated by a passion to mentor and connect with students launching their own careers.

Thea Gelbspan ’97

Even before college, Thea Gelbspan ’97 had traveled abroad, doing community organizing in Ecuador and Brazil. That passion continued at Mac, where she became interested in international human rights law as a Latin American studies and international studies major.

“I have always been haunted by the realization that, even though we live in a world of plenty, many people live hungry, and some are left homeless,” she says. “This disconnect between our current reality and what is possible has inspired my work.”

After a semester at the University of Chile, Gelbspan returned to Chile post-graduation for several years of community organizing, then moved back to the U.S. for a job with Oxfam America, the international anti-poverty organization. Ten years later, having earned a master’s degree in law and diplomacy, she joined the staff of ESCR-Net, The International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, based in New York. Over the years, Gelbspan has been proudest of the work she has done in empowering people to advocate for their own rights—like the time she supported local organizers in Manila to resist the mass evictions of homeless people there.

She describes her mission: “In a small way I think I have helped people understand how to act collectively and strategically to bring about more humane, sustainable, and compassionate policies and practices.”

Lisa Mattson ’85

Ever since graduation, Lisa Mattson ’85 has organized her life around this guiding principle: “Every day, I need to do something where I’ve made a difference.”

Mattson was already on that path at Mac, when she volunteered at United Hospital in St. Paul by helping out in the emergency room and playing with kids on the children’s ward. That same spirit drove her through medical school, where she found a calling as an OB-GYN physician. Wanting to make a difference in women’s health care, Mattson has devoted her career to the field by maintaining a private practice in the Twin Cities, volunteering with groups such as Planned Parenthood and the Phillips Neighborhood Clinic, and lobbying in Washington. She also has served as director of the University of Minnesota women’s health clinic, where she introduced transgender services.

“You can’t leave Macalester without having some increased sense of social responsibility,” Mattson says. “We can’t just complain about the world. We have to get involved, and look for solutions.”

Ann Mann Millin ’69

Ann Millin ’69 is an educational historian for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. She says, “It’s the perfect job for a Mac grad—I’m living out the ways in which Mac shaped me to be of service to the world.”

A speech and theater major in college, Millin later earned a PhD in Jewish history from the Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion. In 2007, after years of tireless diplomatic efforts, she was part of a museum-led team that opened the International Tracing Service. The tracing service was the largest closed Holocaust archive in the world, containing more than 109 million digital images of captured documents.

Because of a tremendous backlog, Holocaust survivors were dying without knowing the fate of their loved ones. The team cleared the backlog and created a searchable database for survivors and researchers. The research, Millin says, has fundamentally changed the way we think about genocide.

Millin also curated the website for the exhibit State of Deception: The Power of Nazi
Propaganda, and was a key production team member on the film The Path to Nazi Genocide, which has been translated into 11 languages and distributed worldwide. Most recently, she did research for the museum’s 25th anniversary exhibition, Americans and the Holocaust, which opened in April.

Her nominator noted Millin’s exceptional skill as an orator in educating thousands of teachers across the country about the history and continuing threat of anti-Semitism. “I use my theater training from Mac every single day to touch the audience and move them,” Millin says. “You need to work with others to change things.”

Eleanor Darden-Thompson ’71

In first grade, Eleanor Darden-Thompson ’71 decided that she would be a lawyer—and never changed her mind.

As a Mac student, Darden-Thompson studied political science, taking classes from Hubert Humphrey and spending a semester at Spelman College in Atlanta, where she interned with civil rights leader Julian Bond.

After graduation, she earned a law degree at Howard University and went on to become the Assistant U.S. Attorney in Tulsa, Oklahoma—the first woman ever to hold that position. “For 25 years I represented Native American tribes,” she says, helping them transition to sovereign nations after the passage of the Indian Self-Determination Act. “I also prosecuted bank frauds during the financial collapse. And for the last three years, I did nothing but write immigration appeals in courts across the United States.”

After her retirement from the U.S. Attorney’s office, Darden-Thompson followed another early interest, in mathematics. She tutors schoolchildren and works as a substitute teacher in Oklahoma City. “I only take long-term contracts. I’m always in for a month to six weeks,” says Darden-Thompson, who often fills the void when teachers quit mid-year. “Kids need that stability.”

Ariel Estrella ’15 and Merita Bushi ’14

This year’s Alumni Service Award is being jointly presented to Ariel Estrella ’15 and Merita Bushi ’14 for their work in developing the ’zines Facing Forward and Honoring the Journey Ahead. Separately, they reached out to Mac’s alumni office to express their desire to support recently graduated alumni of color and first generation alumni. They wanted to provide graduating seniors with advice and support and to create a reminder of the community to which they will always belong.

Ariel created the Facing Forward  ’zine as a sigil of hope for alumni and graduating seniors of color. “I believe in the importance of storytelling,” they said, “because we cherish our narratives by sharing them with friends known to us and friends we have yet to meet.” Ariel focuses their advocacy on fostering beloved communities in their work, volunteering, and writing. They have been published in several anthologies, and Ariel plans to further develop their scholarship through a career in academia.

Bushi organized the inaugural Honoring the Journey graduation ceremony her senior year with friends and staff. Moved by the emotion and belonging felt at that event, Bushi was eager to help first-generation alumni stay connected with each other and support current first-generation students. While creating the Honoring the Journey Ahead  ’zine, Bushi received an outpouring of support from first-generation alumni eager to give back. Two ’zines later, that community maintains its enthusiasm for finding new and creative ways to connect.

Ariel Estrella and Merita Bushi observed a need for community and, in the midst of their own busy lives, stepped up to fill it.

Jake Levy-Pollans ’09

For Jake Levy-Pollans ’09, a passion for political engagement started early in life and flourished at Macalester. Today he works as senior director of strategic services at Trilogy Interactive, a political digital organizing and messaging firm. At Trilogy, Levy-Pollans’s work has included serving as the digital force behind several Democratic leaders and maintaining an undefeated record with ballot initiative campaigns. “Fighting for progress on a national scale feels empowering and exciting, especially at this moment in history,” he says.

It’s the latest step in a career rooted in political leadership. Levy-Pollans served in 2012 as Obama for America’s Minnesota digital director, managing social organizing and online content to support the presidential campaign narrative. He also directed digital engagement at Wellstone Action, a St. Paul nonprofit.

Although Levy-Pollans majored in political science at Macalester, “my science and religious studies classes taught me to make complicated ideas understandable,” he says. “Every day, I solve challenges for clients who are mobilizing a movement. Macalester taught me how to handle nuance and complexity with joy and excitement.” His enthusiasm extends to Mac’s alumni community where Levy- Pollans serves as an Annual Fund Class Agent, interviews prospective students, and has volunteered on his Reunion committee.

His nominator calls him an inclusive, inspirational, and empathetic leader, adding, “A ball of energy, Jake has led the way for recent Macalester grads both professionally and in terms of giving back to Mac. He’s a ray of sunshine. All who encounter him leave smiling.”

July 25 2018

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