The St. Thomas community gathered March 1 to celebrate its annual St. Thomas Day and to honor recipients of its Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna, Humanitarian, Professor of the Year, Tommy and Monsignor James Lavin awards.
Events began with a Mass in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas celebrated by Archbishop Harry Flynn, chair of the university’s board of trustees. It was 85 years ago – on St. Thomas Day of 1918 – that the first Mass was celebrated in the chapel.
A dinner and awards program followed in Murray-Herrick Campus Center. Below are the winners and selections from their speeches:
Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna – This year’s award went to Ann Winblad, a co-founding partner of the California-based Hummer Winblad Venture Partners. Established in 1971, the award is presented for leadership and service to the university, to the community, and in the person’s field of endeavor. A member of the St. Thomas board of trustees and an adviser to many entrepreneurial groups, Winblad is nationally recognized in the software field and has appeared on several industry leadership lists, including Fortune magazine’s list of the 50 most powerful women in business and Vanity Fair’s list of “new establishment” leaders.
Winblad is the first woman to receive a master’s degree in international economics and education (1975) from St. Thomas. She became a computer programmer and in 1976, with $500, co-founded Open Systems Inc., an accounting software company that she sold six years later for more than $15 million.
She worked as a consultant for companies like Microsoft, Apple and IBM, wrote a book and co-founded the venture capital firm with John Hummer. Their company now has more than $900 million under management and has backed 70 start-up companies.
“Turning chance in the students’ favor”
“Students who graduate from St. Thomas are still like many of us. They are from small towns. They have grown up with hard-working parents. They have had part-time jobs during college and graduate with little or no savings account and, most likely, student loans that they will have to pay off. Today over 80 percent of the students at St. Thomas still rely on scholarship. And our scholarship funds are never enough to fill the gap. But as graduates we will have an unfair competitive advantage – a well-prepared mind.
“As alumni, I hope we all understand our ability to turn chance in the favor of future graduates, as role models and as contributors to this great institution.”
Humanitarian of the Year – John (Jack) Dolan, Shorewood, was honored for his volunteer work and leadership of Total LifeCare Centers, a St. Paul-based nonprofit organization that assists people facing unplanned pregnancies in Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin. Established 34 years ago, the Humanitarian of the Year Award is presented by the Alumni Association.
Dolan graduated from St. Thomas and received the Tommy award in 1951. After military service, he returned to Minnesota to teach and coach at schools in Springfield and Marshall, Minn. He then began a 28-year career in health insurance sales with Old Northwest Co., including 15 years as president.
Dolan has served as chairman of the board of Total LifeCare Centers for six years. The organization annually provides 15,000 clients with free and confidential counseling, testing, ultrasound services, education programs, baby and maternity items, and assistance with financial and housing needs.
Dolan also has supported or given his time to St. Thomas and the St. Paul Seminary, the San Lucas and Alfonse missions, Catholic Charities and his parish.
“Working to save the life of an unborn child”
“I have been on Total LifeCare Center’s board for the past 16 years. We have 22 centers in Minnesota and Wisconsin. If a girl thinks she is pregnant, she may come into any one of our centers.
“If she elects to carry the baby for the full term, we take her by the hand and help her with all the services that a mother-to-be needs during pregnancy. Total LifeCare Centers have over 650 volunteers who give of themselves to save the lives of the unborn.
“I have been blessed by Christ to be a part of Total LifeCare Centers. We all work together to help the mother-to-be and to save the life of an unborn child – God’s greatest gift to mankind.”
Professor of the Year – Dr. Lon Otto, a member of the English Department since 1974, is this year’s Professor of the Year. The 42-year-old award recognizes excellence in teaching, scholarship and inspiration to students.
“Teaching should make a difference in students’ lives,” Otto said in a recent interview. “Students should be changed by their education.”
Otto received his bachelor’s degree from Pomona College in 1970 and his doctorate in English from Indiana University in 1974.
Since coming to St. Thomas he has published two collections of short stories, Cover Me and A Nest of Hooks, and a chapbook, Water Bodies. His poetry and fiction have won a host of awards.
Otto has been the faculty adviser to St. Thomas’ literary magazine, Summit Avenue Review, since 1976. He has served on many university committees, and since 1997 has taught at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival.
“I’m honored to represent the faculty tonight”
“Professor of the Year carries, symbolically, the honor earned all year long by the collective faculty, honor earned week after week by every individual professor at this university, each academic department, all the committees – disciplinary and interdisciplinary – earned in office hours and classrooms and labs and studios and studies and at dining room tables piled with papers to be read and thought about and written upon in our excitable, hard-to-read professor handwriting.
“I’m enormously proud of this faculty and the staff that makes our work possible, and the students that make it matter. I’m honored to be able to represent the faculty tonight. That’s the great fortune of being a professor – to have the support and responsibility of a community, and the scary and interesting wilderness, too.”
Monsignor James Lavin Award – Mike Galvin, of St. Paul, received this year’s Lavin award. Established in 1994, the award annually honors a volunteer for service to the Alumni Association.Galvin graduated from St. Thomas in 1952 and, following military service, attended the University of Minnesota Law School. He joined the Briggs and Morgan law firm, where he has been a member and partner for 45 years.
He is a former member of the St. Thomas board of trustees and serves on the School of Law’s board of governors. In recent years he has served as the chairman of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and president of the Minnesota State Bar Association. He became the top volunteer leader of the Indianhead Council of the Boy Scouts.
Galvin was chairman of the Class of 1952 reunion and is a volunteer and past president of the St. Thomas Alumni Association. He received the university’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1983.
“It’s been a great ride”
“Father Lavin is truly the ‘spirit of St. Thomas’ and has been an inspiration to all of us.
“From my introduction to the campus in the fall of 1948 and my brief participation as a member of the freshman football team scrimmaging the legendary St. Thomas College Cigar Bowl team of 1948-49, to my graduation in June 1952 and receipt of (1) my diploma, (2) my Air Force commission, and (3) my orders calling me to active duty all on the same day – it’s been a great ride!”
The Tommy Award – Andrew Peltier was selected the 2003 Tommy Award winner by a vote of students, staff and faculty. The award, sponsored by The Aquin student newspaper and the Alumni Association, has been given since 1931 to a senior who exemplifies the ideals of the university. Peltier, a biochemistry major with a GPA of 3.9, is active in academic, athletic, community-service and faith-related activities.
He is the president of the Pre-Health Professions Club and an organizer of Solid Rock Bible Study. He has served as a personal care attendant for a disabled teenager, and has volunteered at Regions Hospital and in the university’s VIA and VISION programs.
Peltier, the son of Donna and Roger Peltier of Burnsville, was a chemistry tutor for three years, serves as a hospitality minister at the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas and has been a member of the cross country and track teams.
“I did not anticipate such opportunities for research”
“St. Thomas has provided excellent academic preparation for medical school in disciplines ranging from the sciences to the humanities. This was expected, but I did not anticipate that this relatively small, private university would present such opportunities as carrying out an extensive research project in the development of a new method to identify viruses.
“I would also like to mention one other person who has been an inspiration for me in the area of attitude. I have worked for two years with a young man named Aaron who was born with a brainstem lesion. Although unable to walk, talk, eat, or even breathe like you and me, Aaron has an excellent sense of humor and a better outlook on life than almost anyone I know. It has been an incredible blessing to know Aaron, and I strive to imitate his attitude toward the struggles in my life that are so minor compared to those he faces daily.
“It is experiences like these that have made the last four years outstanding. The opportunity to be active and to get involved is one of the best things a university can offer its students.”