Lowell Gess in Sierra Leone

Since 1949, Macalester has honored alumni who exemplify the Macalester spirit with the college’s annual Alumni Awards. Today the Mac community celebrates the recipients at Reunion each June. Their graduation dates span 67 years, but their stories are woven together by a deep commitment to the college’s values. Along their wildly varied paths, they’ve shaped lives, faced immense challenges, tackled complex problems, and changed the communities around them.

Lowell Gess ’42
Charles J. Turck Global Citizen Award
Pictured above, middle

“The results were exactly what we’d been praying for,” says Lowell Gess.

As a general surgeon in 1950s Sierra Leone, Lowell Gess ’42 realized that his patients’ visual needs exceeded his training—so he became the country’s first ophthalmologist. In 1982, he and his late wife, Ruth, set up the Kissy UMC Eye Hospital, which later became an Ebola virus research and treatment hub. Through the decades, his work has served countless people—and yet one of his career’s most pivotal discoveries only recently took shape. Though vision problems are a common post-Ebola complication, researchers learned that patients could harbor the virus in their eyes and had to determine how long the virus could linger. “The results were exactly what we’d been praying for,” says Gess, who is based in Alexandria, Minn., and has traveled to Sierra Leone five times since 2016 for the project. “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 for children to return to school again.”

Michael Davis, middle

Michael Davis ’69
Catharine Lealtad ’15 Service to Society Award

As Minnesota’s first black 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. He also created the first-ever Pro Se Project to assist those who cannot afford an attorney navigate the federal court system. 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.” 

Rick Grubb

Broderick Grubb ’73
Alumni Service Award

“If every graduating class produces at least one Rick Grubb, my student loans are worth every penny in that gamble.”

A decade after Broderick (Rick) Grubb ’73 graduated, he 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 possible. He has worked tirelessly to engage alumni on campus, in New Orleans, and worldwide through his roles on the Alumni Board, Reunion planning committees, and as an alumni chapter leader. And as former Alumni Board representative Aramis Mendez ’17 explains, he’s 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, far right

Emma Mondadori ’09
Young Alumni Award

In her senior year, Emma Mondadori ’09 interned at the Advocates for Human Rights and unexpectedly found herself translating for undocumented immigrants in immigration court. Since then, she has dedicated her career to helping immigrants and refugees. For almost seven years at the International Rescue Committee in New York, she assisted immigrants with navigating the citizenship process, settling in the U.S., and reconnecting with family members abroad. Among her proudest accomplishments there: witnessing people she’d shepherded all the way through from refugee status to becoming full-fledged U.S. citizens. In 2017, she joined U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s staff as director of immigration and foreign affairs. “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.”

Bob Rose

Bob Rose ’48
Distinguished Citizen Award

Bob Rose ’48 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 assist her around campus to attend her own classes. Rose went on to a long teaching career in Minneapolis schools, with a focus on helping students with disabilities. In the 1970s, he joined the Minneapolis teachers’ union, which he later led as president. Now in his 90s, Rose still makes 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.”

(l to r) Steven Spielberg, Stuart McDowell, Tom Hanks

Stuart McDowell ’69
Distinguished Citizen Award

“Through his work as a dedicated, inspired, and inspiring teacher, Stuart has had an impact on the American theater that few have had.”

When W. Stuart McDowell ’69 spent the summer of 1968 in Berlin, it changed his life. “I interviewed two actresses who played the first Mother Courage—a landmark production of Bertolt Brecht,” he says. He later returned to Berlin as a Fulbright Scholar researching Brecht, continuing the focus of his Mac honors thesis. In February, he came full circle, directing Mother Courage for the first time in his life at Wright State University, where he chaired the Department of Theatre, Dance, and Motion Pictures chair for 22 years, and now is artistic director and the Frederick A. White Distinguished Professor of Professional Service. He and his wife, Gloria Skurski, also founded New York’s Riverside Shakespeare Company, which he led for a decade. Writes his nominator: “Through his work as a dedicated, inspired, and inspiring teacher, Stuart has had an impact on the American theater that few have had.”

Jim Thompson addresses the crowd.
Photo by David Gonzales.

James Thompson ’71
Distinguished Citizen Award

When his son started playing sports, James Thompson ’71 was stunned by the negative environment. 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. Named a top nonprofit by The Nonprofit Times, PCA now has 18 chapters, hosted more than 3,000 live workshops last year alone, and has reached more than 10 million athletes. Based in San Jose, Calif., 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.

President Barack Obama greets Sue Abderholden, Executive Director, National Alliance on Mental Illness-Minnesota, and other participants before a roundtable discussion with local leaders and law enforcement officials on how to reduce gun violence, at the Minneapolis Police Department Special Operations Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Feb. 4, 2013.

Sue Abderholden ’76
Distinguished Citizen Award

“It’s not that we have a broken mental health system,” says Sue Abderholden ’76. “It’s that we never built one in the first place.” For more than 17 years, Abderholden has endeavored to change that fact as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Minnesota’s executive director. Under her leadership, the 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 statewide. Among 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. “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, far left

Kristina Krohn ’05
Distinguished Citizen Award

After medical school, she worked with the World Health Organization in New Delhi and Geneva to advance global health messaging. She also served as a Health Frontiers coordinator in Laos, where she worked with her Lao counterparts to organize a new emergency medicine residency program to help local patients get better care. Today she’s an assistant professor and hospitalist in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Medicine. Krohn speaks four languages conversationally—“my German classes were by far the most difficult classes for me at Macalester,” she says—and is often able to welcome her patients in their mother tongue. “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,” says nominator Marc Rodwogin ’05.


June 5 2019

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