Photos are from last year's Reunion

St. Paul, Minn. – Nine Macalester alumni will be honored during Reunion Weekend 2019, June 7-9. They all represent the best of Macalester’s ideals and principles and have lived their lives giving back to their communities. The awards they are receiving reflect their service and leadership which was nurtured at Macalester and which they have carried with them ever since.

“Reunion is an important time at Macalester as we recognize these alumni for their exemplary lives,” said Katie Ladas, Assistant Vice President, Engagement. “When they came to Macalester they were already exceptional people, and what they took away from Macalester has and continues to be a focal point in the way they live.”

Here are the nine awardees and award descriptions:

The Honorable Michael Davis ’69, Minneapolis, Minn.
Catharine Lealtad ’15 Service to Society Award is given to an alumnus or alumna of color who has used his or her education to distinguish themselves in service to community.

In the years since he studied political science at Macalester and law at the University of Minnesota, the Honorable Michael Davis’s career has focused wholeheartedly on four words: equal justice under law. As a United States District Judge, he has strived to make the court system fairer to poor people and minorities, diversify the ranks of the federal court, and rebuild community trust in the justice system through inclusion. In his words: “We will always be dealing with issues of unfairness, bias, and prejudice, and so those are issues that I will always be a foot soldier fighting for.” That spirit took root long before Davis became Minnesota’s first black federal judge in 1994. It was through his work organizing an urban crisis symposium at Macalester that he connected with the event’s keynote speaker, Hubert Humphrey, who suggested that Davis go on to law school. As an attorney in the Twin Cities, Davis was a fierce advocate at the Legal Rights Center, the Neighborhood Justice Center, Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission, and the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office. He served as a state court judge for a decade before the late Senator Paul Wellstone urged then-President Bill Clinton to nominate Davis for the federal bench. He later served for seven years as Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court in the District of Minnesota, before taking senior status in 2015. As a federal judge, Davis created outreach programs to welcome the community into the courthouse and educate the public about historical events that shaped the laws we have in place today. In the spirit of equal justice under law, he also created the first-ever Pro Se Project to assist those who cannot afford an attorney navigate the federal court system. His honors include the Minneapolis Urban League’s Trailblazer Award, 2016 Lifetime Local Legend Award and Lifetime Achievement Awards at the MLK Breakfast, the SMRLS Lifetime Leadership Award, and the Federal Bar Association’s Sarah T. Hughes Civil Rights Award. In 1989, Davis received the Outstanding Alumni Award from Macalester College, and in 2001, he received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree.  Davis delivered Macalester’s Commencement address in 2001 and 2010 and serves on the Board of Trustees. “He sets the standard very high,” says friend and colleague U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank. “As a person and a judge, he has the passion and compassion to give true meaning to the words, ‘equal justice under law.’ He has this unparalleled commitment to the advancement of civil and human rights.”

Lowell Gess ’42, Alexandria, Minn.
Charles J. Turck Global Citizen Award honors the legacy of Charles J. Turck, president of Macalester College from 1939 to 1958. Lawyer, educator, social activist, internationalist, and churchman, President Turck championed internationalism throughout his tenure. This award recognizes an alumnus or alumna who has advanced the spirit of internationalism and lived up to the exhortation, “to be a worthy son or daughter of Macalester, you must listen to your hopes and not your fears.” 

In the 1950s, Lowell Gess was a general surgeon in Sierra Leone, Africa, when he realized that his patients’ visual needs exceeded the care he could provide. He changed plans, trained to perform eye surgery, and later completed an ophthalmology residency at the University of Minnesota. “I was the only ophthalmologist for a country of six million,” Gess says. That’s only the start of Gess’ leadership and legacy, especially in Sierra Leone, where he and his late wife, Ruth, set up the Kissy UMC Eye Hospital in 1982 to expand access to visual care. Later, the hospital became an Ebola virus research and treatment hub. In his years at Macalester, Gess took geology because he needed a science course to graduate. “That made an impact on me,” he says. And so did the Macalester community: “Macalester students—now and back then—are prepared to go out into the world and have a base from which they can really move.” He went on to attend seminary, served two years as a pastor, and then went on to medical school. His work has served countless patients—and yet one of the most pivotal discoveries of Gess’ career only recently took shape. Though vision problems are a common post-Ebola complication, it was discovered that patients can harbor the virus in their eyes after recovery—and if active Ebola is present, any procedure would put the surgical team in danger. Researchers had to find out how long the virus could linger. As part of this project, Gess has visited the hospital five times since 2016. “The results were exactly what we’d been praying for,” he says. “After 18 months, there were no viruses left. Those who had lost vision due to Ebola-complicated cataracts could now undergo surgery and regain vision. Our team has been actually doing cataract extractions, enabling adults to resume their occupations and thankfully for children to return to school again.” Gess turns 98 in July. In his medical missionary work he has crossed the ocean 194 times and published six books, with a seventh near completion that highlights missionary family life and is intended for his six children. And the hospital’s work will expand, thanks to a commitment from Emory University. In Gess’ words: “For me to see what has happened in my lifetime is hardly believable.”

Broderick Grubb ’73, New Orleans, La.
Alumni Service Award is presented to an alumnus or alumna of Macalester whose significant service and consistent loyalty to the college has set an outstanding example of volunteerism.

After graduation, Broderick (Rick) Grubb returned to his home state of Texas to start a career in the insurance industry, thanks to guidance from former trustee Carl Drake. A decade later, the political science and economics major joined a newly formed alumni committee. Little did he know that in the years that followed, he’d go on to serve in nearly every alumni volunteer leadership role available at Mac. In New Orleans, he has served as an alumni chapter leader and hosted gatherings, both formal and informal, for Mac alumni of all generations. He also supported the annual New Orleans trip for Macalester’s Bonner Scholars, a four-year civic engagement program. During six years on the Alumni Board, Grubb chaired the board’s diversity working group, strengthening the college’s commitment to equity and inclusion. Grubb has also led Reunion committees, most recently this weekend’s Alumni of Color Reunion celebration and the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Expanding Educational Opportunities (EEO) program’s first year on campus. He has worked tirelessly to engage alumni worldwide as well as collaborate deeply with campus partners to create a meaningful and engaging experience for all who participate in Reunion. He also supports Macalester generously as part of the Summit Society, Grand Society, and James Wallace Society.  Grubb is motivated by a dedication to give back. “As you get older you start to reflect on the blessings you’ve received,” he says. “People who didn’t know me signed checks so that I could have the opportunity to have a college education that my parents couldn’t afford to give me. Being at Macalester was a life-changing experience—and those who receive much, have much to give back.” As former Alumni Board representative Aramis Mendez ’17 explains, Grubb is simply one of a kind: “He’s proud to wear his passions, his thoughts, and most importantly his wit and humor, everywhere he goes. If every graduating class produces at least one Rick Grubb, my student loans are worth every penny in that gamble.”

Emma Mondadori ’09, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Young Alumni Award recognizes alumni who have graduated in the past 15 years. This award pays tribute to those who are making an effective contribution to the community in which they live, or moving forward rapidly in their career, and living the kind of unselfish, caring life for which their Macalester education prepared them.

In her senior year at Macalester, Emma Mondadori interned at The Advocates for Human Rights, working on a toolkit about the right to a clean environment. This made a certain amount of sense for the environmental studies major, even if she wasn’t sure it would turn into a long-term career. “Then I found out the immigration team needed an interpreter,” Mondadori says. She spoke decent Spanish from her courses at Mac and studying abroad in Argentina, so she volunteered. Soon she was accompanying undocumented immigrants to immigration court, interpreting so they could understand what was happening and what their rights were. “That was a turning point,” she says. Since then, Mondadori has dedicated her career to helping immigrants and refugees. After graduation, she moved to New York and joined the International Rescue Committee, an international humanitarian aid organization. For almost seven years there, she assisted immigrants with navigating the citizenship process, settling in the U.S., and reconnecting with family members in distant countries. Among her proudest accomplishments there, she says, was witnessing people she’d shepherded all the way through from refugee status to becoming full-fledged U.S. citizens. In 2017, she joined the office of U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Now the senator’s director of immigration and foreign affairs, Mondadori assists constituents across New York State with their immigration needs. “Whatever platform and resources I have just by virtue of sitting in this office,” she says, “it feels really good to be able to use those to have some positive impact on people’s lives.”

The following will receive the Distinguished Citizen Award that recognizes alumni who have exercised leadership in civic, social, religious, and professional activities. It is given because the Alumni Association, the Board of Trustees, and the faculty of Macalester believe that a college education should be the training and inspiration for unselfish and effective service to the community, the nation, and the world. Recipients demonstrate a practical acceptance of these obligations in their lives and work.

Bob Rose ’48, Minneapolis, Minn.
Bob Rose has always been a helper. Back in his college days, he remembers seeing “something on the bulletin board to help a student” with cerebral palsy. So he got in touch, recruited a dormmate, and for the next two years he excused himself early from classes every day to go and assist her around Macalester’s campus, so she could attend her own classes. “That was a wonderful experience,” he remembers now. “She just blossomed.” After graduation, Rose went on to a long career teaching in schools across Minneapolis, including a 10-year stint where he focused on helping students with disabilities. One year he even organized a field trip for them to Washington, D.C. to speak with legislators. At the sight of 25 students in wheelchairs and their chaperones crossing the street, he says the D.C. police soon began escorting them around the capital. In addition to inspiring students in his classrooms, Rose got involved in the Minneapolis teachers’ union in the 1970s, when the union president asked him to lead a strike. “That was kind of my baptism into politics at the local level,” he says. Eventually he’d become the president of the union, too, a post he held for nearly seven years. “I realized that politics is one way to get things done,” he says, “and that’s still something I think about now.”  Now in his 90s, Rose still gives back, making time to write and telephone his representatives to ask for increased special education funding. As his nominator wrote: “I don’t know if anything could better embody the Macalester legacy.”

Stuart McDowell ’69, Dayton, Ohio
When theater major Stuart McDowell spent the summer of 1968 in Berlin on a DeWitt Wallace scholarship, it changed his life. “I interviewed all these people, including two actresses who played the first Mother Courage—a landmark production of Bertolt Brecht,” he says. He returned to Berlin with Macalester’s Student Work Abroad Project (SWAP), and again as a Fulbright Scholar in the ’70s researching Brecht, “continuing the same work that I had done at Macalester for my honors thesis.” In February, he came full circle, directing Mother Courage for the first time in his life at Wright State University, where he was chair of the Department of Theatre, Dance, and Motion Pictures for 22 years, and now is artistic director and the Frederick A. White Distinguished Professor of Professional Service. After graduate school at the University of California–Berkeley, McDowell and his wife, Gloria Skurski, founded the Riverside Shakespeare Company in New York in 1977, which he led for a decade. The company produced numerous classical works, including the first New York stage production featuring Tom Hanks. “What was distinctive about Mac was that you got to do everything,” says McDowell. “I couldn’t have founded the Riverside Shakespeare Company without having had that breadth of experience.” Ann Millin ’69, who nominated McDowell, says, “Those of us who trained with Stu at Mac know that through his work as a dedicated, inspired, and inspiring teacher, Stuart has had an impact on the American theater that few have had.” Today, McDowell is at work on a book about the history of Riverside Shakespeare Company. “Life is just a joy,” he says. “I love what I’m doing, and I have no intention of retiring anytime soon.”

James Thompson ’71, San Jose, Calif.
“I have a high degree of love for Macalester, even though I didn’t graduate,” says Jim Thompson, whose first-year seminar with philosophy professor David White was “all I wanted college to be.” He calls White “pivotal to my whole being and identity.” With Dr. White’s support, in 1969 Thompson helped establish “Inner College,” an experimental college within Mac in which 30 students who lived together were guaranteed credit. After junior year, Thompson left Macalester. He worked at the Behavioral Learning Center, a St. Paul public school for children with behavior problems. He says the school’s relentlessly positive culture resulted in “miraculous changes in the kids.”  After moving west to run Oregon’s energy conservation efforts, Thompson earned his MBA from Stanford University and headed up the school’s Public Management Program, named the best nonprofit business program in the country by US News & World Report.  When his son started playing sports, Thompson was stunned by the negativity. He started coaching the team himself, “using relentless positivity, which worked like a charm,” he says. “Kids tried harder and bounced back from mistakes, we won a lot, and parents asked how they could get their kids on my team.” In 1998, he founded a national nonprofit, Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA), to create “Better Athletes and Better People” through sports.  PCA, named a top nonprofit by The Nonprofit Times, has 18 chapters nationally, conducted more than 3,000 live workshops last year alone, and has reached more than 10 million athletes. Thompson is writing his 10th book focusing on how coaches can use identity, character, and culture to create “Elevaters,” people who look to elevate every situation. Thompson and his wife, Sandra Hietala, are co-founders of Recovery Café San Jose, a healing community for people traumatized by homelessness, mental illness, and addiction. Their son, Gabriel Thompson, is an investigative journalist.

Sue Abderholden ’76, Minneapolis, Minn.
“It’s not that we have a broken mental health system,” says Sue Abderholden. “It’s that we never built one in the first place.” Abderholden has endeavored for more than 17 years to change that fact as the executive director at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Minnesota. Under her leadership, the Minnesota chapter has grown extensively, and she’s helped develop and fund new programs in suicide prevention, children’s mental health, and outreach to diverse communities across the state. Among the many bills she’s worked on with state legislators was one making Minnesota the first state requiring teacher training to recognize early symptoms of mental illness. Ever since graduating from Macalester, Abderholden has worked in the public sector in some capacity—both in politics and with other nonprofit groups, including ARC Minnesota, where she helped close Minnesota’s state mental institutions and advocated for people with disabilities. For her work there, she was honored with a seat on the White House lawn for the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Abderholden credits her sense of compassion to her father, a family physician in small-town Illinois, and her drive from her mother, who struggled under the limited roles for women at the time. Once she came to Macalester, those qualities were united with a sense of needing to go out and work in the local community. “One of my favorite quotes is, ‘We make the road by walking,’” she says. “I use it all the time, to get people to think about making the world the way they want it to be.”

Kristina Krohn ’05, Minneapolis, Minn.
“My German classes were by far the most difficult classes for me at Macalester,” says Dr. Kristina Krohn, “even harder than organic chemistry.” Krohn, now assistant professor and hospitalist in the Department of Medicine at the University of Minnesota, majored in biology with an emphasis on neurobiology before attending medical school at the University of Minnesota. In addition to German, Krohn speaks three other languages conversationally and is often able to welcome her patients in their mother tongue, says Marc Rodwogin ’05, who nominated her.  “She makes a point to try and meet her patients where they are in their journey of life, and provide them with the support they need,” he says.  A commitment to global health has taken Krohn all over the world. Following medical school, she received a Stanford/NBC Global Health and Media Fellowship, where she worked with the World Health Organization in New Delhi and Geneva to advance global health messaging. Most recently, she served as Health Frontiers coordinator in Laos, where she worked with her Lao counterparts to organize a new emergency medicine residency program that will help local patients get better care throughout their hospital experience. Wherever she is, Krohn takes a little of Mac with her. “It’s very hard to form relationships with people who are not like you if you don’t see them as people, or if you don’t see them at all,” she says. “If you are too busy, it’s hard to see anyone. Just being present and open allows you to connect with people who you might never have expected to connect with. As a doctor this is hugely important, and it’s a skill that Macalester helped me to develop.”

Learn more about Macalester College at

April 25 2019

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