University to honor five at annual St. Thomas Day event Saturday

University of St. Thomas community will gather Saturday, March 2, to celebrate its annual St. Thomas Day and to honor recipients of its Humanitarian, Distinguished Alumnus, Professor of the Year, Tommy and Monsignor James Lavin awards.

Three of this year’s recipients reside in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood; all have been heavily involved in community service.

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. It was 84 years ago – on the March 7 St. Thomas Day of 1918 – that the first Mass was celebrated in that chapel.

A dinner and awards program will follow in Murray-Herrick Campus Center. The awards will be presented to:

Humanitarian of the Year – Dr. Benjamin Owens, Hibbing, is being honored for his service as a physician and benefactor to three generations of families on Minnesota’s Iron Range. Established 33 years ago, the Humanitarian of the Year Award is presented by the university’s Alumni Association.

Owens, 76, attended St. Thomas in 1942 before joining the Navy and later transferred to the University of Minnesota to earn his medical degree. He is known for his passion for providing personal care and in the early 1980s was named Family Physician of the Year by the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians. Beyond the field of medicine, he has long supported sports teams, scout troops and worthwhile causes in Hibbing and throughout the Iron Range.

St. Thomas awarded Owens an honorary doctor of humane letters degree in 1992. A citation presented with the degree noted that his “unselfish dedication to three generations of families reflects your commitment both to your chosen profession and your deeply held belief that all people are entitled to the best possible medical care that society can provide.

“Your volunteer efforts through the People to People Health Foundation and your generosity in supporting organizations and causes in the Hibbing area are testimony to your concern that we all must share our good fortune with those who have not had the same opportunities.”

Distinguished Alumnus – This year’s award goes to Quentin Hietpas who last fall stepped down as St. Thomas’ senior vice president for external affairs. Established in 1971, the Distinguished Alumnus award is presented for leadership and service to the university, to the community, and in the person’s field of endeavor.

Hietpas, 70, of St. Paul’s Highland Park, graduated from St. Thomas in 1953 and later earned a law degree from William Mitchell College of Law. He directed the public relations programs at International Multifoods Corp., Apache, Control Data and Pillsbury before returning to St. Thomas in 1983 to lead the university’s fund-raising efforts.

The two campaigns he directed, “Century II” and “Ever Press Forward,” raised more than a third of a billion dollars and helped to transform the university. Hietpas also taught public relations at St. Thomas and in the early 1980s co-founded the master’s degree program in business communication.

As senior vice president emeritus, he is semiretired and continues to raise funds for St. Thomas’ new School of Law.

Professor of the Year – Dr. Peter Parilla, of St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood and a member of St. Thomas’ Sociology Department since 1977, is this year’s Professor of the Year. The 41-year-old award recognizes excellence in teaching, scholarship and inspiration to students.

As a teacher, Parilla says one of his goals is to lead students to see that there is more than one side to complex issues, “and as a sociologist I want them to look at evidence before making up their minds.”

Parilla, 51, has been teaching students to do that for the past quarter century. Early in his academic career, he taught at both St. Thomas and the University of Minnesota. Parilla joined the St. Thomas faculty full-time in 1982. He was promoted to associate professor in 1989 and full professor in 1999. A former chair of the Sociology Department, Parilla now directs the university’s Criminal Justice Program.

Parilla, a native of Chicago, earned his bachelor’s degree, with honors, from St. Thomas in 1972. He received his master’s and doctorate in sociology from the University of Minnesota in 1978 and 1982.

He became interested in the field of criminology while majoring in sociology at St. Thomas. “I had an internship working with delinquents at the Boys Totem Town and found the work rewarding and fascinating,” he recalled.

Now, as a teacher, one of his specialties has been researching, publishing and speaking on the benefits of student internships in the fields of sociology and
criminal justice.

Parilla enjoys teaching introductory classes in sociology and criminal justice, as well as more advanced courses dealing with criminology and social problems. “In addition to helping students achieve a level of competence, I try to help them pick up an enthusiasm and excitement for the fields I teach,” he said.

Parilla is a past president of Sociologists of Minnesota; his community-service work includes serving as co-chair of the Minnesota Supreme Court Visitation and Child Support Enforcement Task Force. He also has served on the Social Justice Commission of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and was a crime-policy consultant to the staff of the U.S. Catholic Conference.

At St. Thomas, Parilla has chaired the College Senate and served on a host of academic councils, committees and task forces.

Monsignor James Lavin Award – Dr. William Carter III, of St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood, will receive this year’s Lavin award. Established in 1994, the award annually honors a volunteer for service to the University of St. Thomas Alumni Association.

Carter, 49, is the only alumnus to hold St. Thomas degrees at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels. He received his bachelor’s in social work in 1974, his master’s in public safety administration and education in 1981 and his doctorate in educational leadership in 1995. In addition, he received a certificate from the university’s Master of Business Communication Program.

Carter has taught at St. Thomas, Metropolitan State University, Minneapolis Community and Technical College and the University of St. Francis in Illinois.

Currently he is director of the Police Leadership Administration and Education Program at St. Thomas and manager of Training and Organizational Development at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. Earlier in his career he was a police officer and fire fighter and was executive director of the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training.

Carter has been an active member of the St. Thomas Alumni Association for two decades. He served on the association’s board for many years and was its vice president and president. He also has served on or chaired a number of association committees, including those for the university’s 1985 centennial and the O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center.

“Along the way, many people have contributed to the positive experiences I’ve had at St. Thomas,” Carter said. “Working with the Alumni Association is my way of trying to repay that.”

The Tommy Award – Brian Brenberg of Wyoming, Minn., was selected the 2002 Tommy Award winner by a vote of students, staff and faculty. The award has been given annually since 1931 to a senior who exemplifies the ideals of the university.

Brenberg, a finance and marketing major with a G.P.A. of 3.982, is active in athletics, community service and faith-related activities.

In sports, he was co-captain of the St. Thomas football team and has lettered twice in track and field. He was one of 11 players nationally named to the 2001 Good Works Team by the American Football Coaches Association.

In the area of community service, he is a volunteer with VISION (Volunteers in Service Internationally or Nationally), Habitat for Humanity, St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital and community clean-up days.

And in the area of faith, he is active at the St. John Neumann Catholic Church and in campus Bible study and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He received his team’s Monsignor James Lavin Award for Christian approach, service and dedication.

Brenberg was married in the summer of 2000 and his wife, Krista, is a student at the University of Minnesota. He is the son of Mary and Robert Brenberg of Wyoming, Minn., and a 1998 graduate of Forest Lake High School.

The Tommy Award is sponsored by The Aquin student newspaper and the Alumni Association.