The University of St. Thomas community will gather Saturday, March 6, to celebrate its annual St. Thomas Day and honor recipients of its Humanitarian, Distinguished Alumnus, Professor of the Year, Tommie and Monsignor James Lavin awards.
St. Thomas Day events begin with a 5:30 p.m. Mass in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas. The Mass will be celebrated by Archbishop Harry Flynn, chair of the university’s Board of Trustees. A dinner and awards program will follow in Murray-Herrick Campus Center. More than 500 members of the St. Thomas community are expected to attend.
The five St. Thomas Day awards will be presented to:
This year’s award is being given to Ron Peltier, chairman and CEO of Minneapolis-based HomeServices of America, the holding company of Edina Realty and the nation’s second-largest full-service, independent, residential real estate brokerage firm.
Established in 1971, the Distinguished Alumnus award recognizes leadership and service to the university, to the community and in the person’s field of endeavor.
“You learn that there is no such thing as perfect,” Peltier said recently. “You try to minimize your mistakes and deliver the best performance you can every day. If you do that, good things will happen.”
It is a philosophy that might be traced to his days growing up on St. Paul’s East Side, near Swede Hollow. On Saturday mornings, his dad would give him a list of chores and tell him, “You can go out when you get your projects done.”
It also could be traced to his years as a successful student-athlete. At Johnson, where he graduated second in a high school class of 700, he was captain of the hockey team and named the 1967 Minnesota Athlete of the Year. A four-year Williams Scholar at the University of Minnesota, he received a bachelor’s in history and political science and, again as captain, led the Gophers hockey team to the NCAA finals.
Peltier, now of Dellwood, earned a master’s in education at St. Thomas in 1973 and became a teacher and hockey coach at Blaine High School. He began his career with Edina Realty as a sales associate in 1977. Within two years he opened a new sales office for the company. Over the next several years he served as a regional manager, general manager, and senior vice president. Peltier became president of the firm in 1999 and since has been named one of Realtor Magazine’s 25 most influential people in real estate, a Master Entrepreneur by Ernst & Young, and to a list of the top five most-admired individuals in real estate.
Humanitarian of the Year
“If you lead gently, they will come,” is a favorite saying of Dr. Mary Crowley McDonald, of Germantown, Tenn., who received a master’s degree from St. Thomas in 1987. McDonald led the revitalization of inner-city Catholic schools in Memphis and will receive the university’s 2010 Humanitarian of the Year Award.
When McDonald was a young girl she wanted to grow up to be a ballerina but discovered an entrepreneurial spirit. “When I was 7, I would paint sea shells and sell them.” After graduation from Immaculata University in Pennsylvania in 1966, she wanted a managerial position, but discovered a love for teaching.
While waiting to start her career at a large Philadelphia firm, “I was asked to be a substitute teacher and from the day I walked into that classroom, I knew that is what I wanted to be,” she said.
She later married, moved to Memphis, and took 10 years off to raise her two children. She returned to teaching at a Catholic elementary school, then began teaching high school, and soon became a principal. “The principles of Catholic education were put together 2,000 years ago,” she said. “Catholic education is a great gift to our Church, and I was a conduit of that gift. My job has been to bring values alive. Yes we teach subject matter, but we need to give students an encounter with Jesus through us. We bring Christ to the child, and the child to Christ.”
In 1997 the bishop of Memphis asked her to be the superintendent of the diocesan Catholic schools. “He shared his vision for the schools,” she recalled. “Some were failing, and were only available to those who could afford them. He said we need Catholic schools where they are needed the most. He told me we had no money and we had no schools. I was afraid and scared. How did I get myself into this?”
Two years later, with the help of a $15 million gift from anonymous donors, McDonald reopened seven inner-city schools (and later added an eighth). Supported by an endowment that has grown to $50 million, the Jubilee Schools serve more than 1,400 students. More than 80 percent of them are not Catholic, and 96 percent receive help to pay their tuition.
The students in her schools, McDonald explains, come from intergenerational poverty. “I knew we would find poverty, but I never expected it to be this deep. Many of our students are from single-parent families and live in crowded homes. They experience sleep deprivation, illness, anger, fear and a great deal of sadness. Some have experienced the violent death of a family member or have a parent in prison. Some come to school with a hunger that hurts; the only real food some of them get is at our school.”
To combat those problems, the Jubilee Schools also have become centers for adult literacy, job training and health. They started a backpack program and on Fridays the students receive packs filled with food for the weekend. When it was discovered that parents could not read, they were given lessons so they could help their children with homework.
“Most of the kids in our schools are not Catholic,” she said. “The key is to help them develop their spirituality. Education is a mission of the Church and teaching the poor is a mandate from Christ.
“We are just living the Gospels,” she said. “It’s the best thing you could ever do.”
Established 42 years ago, the Humanitarian of the Year Award is presented by the university’s Alumni Association and recognizes those who “better the spiritual and material welfare of the less fortunate.”
Professor of the Year
Dr. Agapitos Papagapitos, chair of the Economics Department and a member of the St. Thomas faculty since 1990, is this year’s Professor of the Year. The 48-year-old award recognizes excellence in teaching, scholarship and inspiration to students.
“I love what I do and try to convey that passion to my students,” Papagapitos said recently. “Teaching is in many ways like theater; I get butterflies before class, but once I am teaching, they go away. … I can be exhausted by the end of a class; I give it so much energy.”
A good class is not just giving information to students, he said, but engaging in an exchange of ideas. “What motivates me is fear of failure. I will take it personally if a student might leave and feel it was not a very good class.”
As an undergraduate at the College of Wooster, Papagapitos found he was interested in both mathematics and the social sciences, a combination that led him to pursue graduate studies in economics at Ohio State University.
The past 20 years teaching as St. Thomas has gone pretty fast, he said. “I can’t imagine finding better friends than the ones I have found here.”
That was evident following a cardiac arrest he suffered during a strenuous treadmill workout at his Maplewood home in the fall of 2008. “My wife did CPR on me until the paramedics arrived; I woke up a week later in the hospital.
“I came close to not coming back. It was quite an experience. I was concerned about coming back to teaching, and my memory, but things seem to be going OK. Now I try not to let the small things bother me. It is hard to articulate how this has changed me.
“When I was in the hospital, all the well wishes from my colleagues helped me through some very tough times. It turns out a lot more people care than you think. I didn’t know so many would take the time to send me a note. It means so much.
“When I look at the pictures of former Professor of the Year winners on the wall in Murray-Herrick Campus Center, it is very humbling. They are people I admire. They were mentors, and I aspired to do some of the things they have done. I am overwhelmed to now be part of that group,” he said.
Monsignor James Lavin Award
John Bannigan Jr., who died at age 73 in December, will posthumously receive this year’s Lavin award. Established in 1994, the award annually honors a volunteer for service to the St. Thomas Alumni Association.
A 1958 St. Thomas graduate, Bannigan later received a University of Minnesota law degree and retired as a senior partner with the Bannigan and Kelly, P.A., law firm.
Bannigan, who lived for many years near the St. Thomas campus in St. Paul, was an active member of the St. Thomas Alumni Association and had many close St. Thomas ties. An enthusiastic volunteer with reunions and many other alumni events, he served on the association’s board from 2001 to 2009 and was its president from 2005 to 2008. As board member he served on the Strategic Planning Task Force and the Educational, Spiritual and Events Committee.
In addition to serving as the alumni representative on the St. Thomas Board of Trustees from 2007 to 2009, he was active with First Friday lunches, golf tournaments, St. Thomas Day, Heritage Day, Take-a-Tommie-to-Lunch program, School of Law Forum, Regan Lectures, community cleanup projects, Irish Poetry Award, Entrepreneur Awards, Opening Doors capital campaign, Red Mass and Christmas luncheons and concerts.
He also was an adjunct professor at St. Thomas during the 1960s.
His two sons, John Bannigan III, a 1985 St. Thomas graduate, and Brendan Bannigan, a 1989 graduate, are gift officers with the university’s Development Office. His wife, Margaret Mary “Meg” Bannigan, is a retired librarian who worked at St. Thomas and the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity for more than 25 years.
Steven Broszko, Maplewood, won the 2010 Tommie Award, a 79-year-old honor that has been given annually to a St. Thomas senior who exemplifies the ideals of the university.
Broszko is majoring in English and secondary education with a communications minor.
Chosen from a field of 25 nominees and three finalists, Broszko “represents the essence of the Tommie Award as an outstanding student who was selected for his commitment to scholarship, leadership and campus involvement,” commented Amanda Niskode-Dossett, director of student engagement and Tommie Award coordinator.
Many students who voted for Broszko came to know him in his role as a resident adviser in Ireland Hall, working at the Dowling Hall night-access check-in station, or his four years working for University Relations. Others came to know him as the president and creator of the St. Thomas Theater Club, a lector at Mass, a member of the Teachers Educating and Creating Hope (T.E.A.C.H) Club, and Sigma Tau Delta, a national English literary club.
Still others came to know him through his work on stage. A veteran of seven St. Thomas productions, he played the lead in three of them, including his favorite, “Macbeth.” Broszko was featured in the winter 2008 St. Thomas magazine in a story titled “Waiting for Broszko,” which followed him from the first reading of the script from “Rumors,” a play by Neil Simon, to curtain rise.
“It is impossible to walk though campus with Steve without a constant stream of people yelling, ‘Hey Steve!’” said friend and fellow student Molly O’Gara. “In high school, this would be considered a sign of popularity. However, at a university with the large student population that St. Thomas has, it must be something beyond mere popularity. With Steve, it speaks to his heavy involvement in all aspects of campus life.
“Steve’s good mood and happiness with life is infectious,” she added. “He is the kind of person that you want as a leader because he is both reliable and hilarious.”
Since high school he has been in more than 20 plays and directed of four. He remembers his first high school role as Marcellus in “Hamlet.” “I only had a few lines, but one was ‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.’ It wasn’t supposed to be a funny, but people laughed. I tried saying that line a different way in each performance so they wouldn’t.”
He also recalls one performance of that same play when his foot got stuck in the broken step of a stairway, also to the amusement of the audience. Despite the rough start, Broszko discovered his love for theater and while he’s not quite sure how, he feels it likely that he will continue to be involved in theater, in some form, following graduation.
This past year, in addition to his other jobs, he has been co-director of the theater program at St. Bernard’s, the high school on St. Paul’s north end where he graduated in 2006. The school announced recently that it is closing and its last play will be “Bye Bye Birdie.” He points out, with some concern, that his grade school, St. Columba, also closed.
Dr. Margaret Reif, who taught Broszko in two of her School of Education classes, called him “an amazingly talented, motivated and interesting young man. I envision him as a successful high school English teacher who will excite his students about literature and learning. I also predict he will be running the theater program at whatever school he eventually works in.”
Broszko will graduate in December with a bachelor’s in English. Next spring he will do student teaching and receive his teaching license. He is the son of Tamara Renn of Maplewood and Bill Broszko of Minneapolis.
The Tommie winner is selected by a vote of students, staff and faculty. Sponsored by university’s Division of Student Affairs, the award recognizes exceptional scholarship, leadership and campus involvement.
Nominations – Nominations for the Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna, Humanitarian and Lavin awards are welcome throughout the year, but are required by July 1 for consideration for the following St. Thomas Day in March. For forms and more information on how to submit a nomination, visit the Alumni Association Web site.