Bold Vision, Boundless Reach

University honors outstanding alumni

It was a celebration of service.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City community gathered to honor the Class of 2013 Alumni Award recipients, citing these outstanding graduates for their service to their university, their community, and to humanity.

The honorees include a Deputy Surgeon General for the United States Air Force, the lead product planner for the Toyota Prius, an international expert in vision research and treatment, a literacy pioneer, and the creator of India’s most popular children’s television shows, among others who are making a mark in their professions and serving their alma mater.

Major General Mark Ediger, USAF, was Alumnus of the Year. A physician and graduate of the UMKC School of Medicine, Ediger is Deputy Surgeon General for the United States Air Force.

“As I read the stories of those who were honored, the common thread was an ethos of service,” Ediger told the audience. “I really credit this university for that, for giving us both the ability to serve, and the desire to serve.”

Ediger’s remarks came after a series of multi-media presentations on each of the award winners.

“Everything we’ve heard and seen demonstrates how progressive this university really is,” he said. “These honorees are emblematic of the global impact graduates of this university are having.”

In his introduction, Chancellor Leo Morton noted that this year’s annual event kicks off the observance of the university’s 80th anniversary. The accomplishments of the honorees, he said, “are examples of an institution that is truly greater than the sum of its individual parts.”

The scene for the alumni tribute was a gala luncheon event at Swinney Recreation Center on the UMKC Volker Campus. In addition to the luncheon, award recipients attended a variety of special events, presentations and classroom visits on both the Volker and Hospital Hill campuses.

Also during the event, the UMKC Trustees were honored as a group with the Chancellor’s Medal, UMKC’s highest non-academic honor. The Trustees were recognized for their “unstinting support and service” –  a body that has contributed more than $37 million to the university, expanded the university’s real estate holdings, and founded and funded the Trustees Scholarship Program, the only full-ride scholarship offered by the university.

The annual luncheon is the university’s largest event and proceeds support student scholarships. This year’s event luncheon attracted almost 600 attendees and far exceeded its fundraising goal, raising $200,000 in scholarship support for students with urgent financial needs.

Following are the 2013 UMKC Alumni Awardees:

Campus-Wide Alumni Awards

Alumnus of the Year – Major General Mark Ediger (B.A. ’77, M.D. ’78)

Ediger, Deputy Surgeon General for the United States Air Force, supports the Surgeon General in overseeing operations for a $7.1 billion, 43,000-person integrated health care delivery system. His skills as a leader in the strategy, planning and execution of medical missions have contributed to joint medical support that saves the lives of Americans wounded in action.

Defying the Odds Award – Mary Daly (B.A. ’85)

The Defying the Odds Alumni Award is given to an alumnus who has achieved professional and personal success in spite of significant obstacles. To help support her struggling family, Daly dropped out of school at age 15 to work full-time. Fortunately, Daly found adults who encouraged her. She earned a GED and enrolled at UMKC, working several jobs to pay her tuition. Daly is now a leading national scholar in economics and public policy at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

Spotlight Award – Nelson Sabates (M.D. ’86)

Sabates has attracted world-class scholars and researchers to Kansas City and UMKC, pioneering new treatments and advancing studies to improve patient care. His work through the Vision Research Foundation and the UMKC Department of Ophthalmology resulted in a significant grant from Research to Prevent Blindness, a prestigious voluntary health organization that supports eye research. Sabates is known on the world stage as a leader, speaker and author.

Bill French Alumni Service Award – Russell Tabata  (D.D.S. ’67)

Tabata, leader of the Dental School’s Hawaiian alumni group, dedicates hours to recruiting, interviewing and recommending prospective Hawaiian dental students to his alma mater. He stays in touch while they are in school and helps them when they return to Hawaii to practice. The Hawaiian alumni connection and dedication to UMKC dates back to World War II, when the Kansas City Dental School was one of few schools that would accept students of Japanese ancestry.

Legacy Award – The Sweeney Family

The Legacy Award recognizes a family with a tradition of attending UMKC and who have a record of service to the University, their community or profession. Leo Sweeney’s graduation from the University of Kansas City (now UMKC) in 1951 began a university affiliation for him, all four of his children and their spouses and assorted nieces and nephews. Among the 18 members of the family, they hold 25 degrees from the College of Arts & Sciences, the Conservatory, the Bloch School and the Schools of Biological Sciences, Law, Education and Medicine.

Alumni Achievement Awardees by school:

College of Arts & Sciences – William Reinert (B.A. ’74)

As one of the lead product planners for the Toyota Prius, Bill Reinert is a nationally recognized expert on energy and resource management. His commitment to intelligent use of energy resources led the U.S. Secretary of Energy to name him chair of the Electric Subgroup for the Future Transportation Fuels study as part of the National Petroleum Council’s research on fuel availability. He also leads projects in the Galapagos Islands with Toyota’s partner, the World Wildlife Fund.

School of Computing and Engineering – Rajiv Chilakalapudi (M.S. ’97)

Rajiv Chilakalapudi is creator, director and producer of many of India’s top children’s shows and movies.  Founder and managing director of Green Gold Animation, he has received countless awards and acclaim for his original work.  His widely popular Chhota Bheem series currently has a viewership of more than 34 million children.

Conservatory of Music and Dance – Jennifer Linn (B.M. ’82, M.M. ’86)

Jennifer Linn is the Manager of Educational Piano for the Hal Leonard Corporation, one of the largest music publishing houses in the world.  A successful pianist, clinician, educator and composer of piano music, Linn has served as editor and recording artist for several G. W. Schirmer Performance Editions, a cornerstone of the world of music.

School of Biological Sciences – Dr. Scott R. Falke (B.S. ’98)

As an associate professor of biology at William Jewell College, Falke participates with faculty from UMKC and other schools in a collaborative research team studying anthrax toxin – work that could lead to a human vaccine. As a Major in the U.S. Army Reserve, he was called to active duty in Afghanistan during 2010-2011, where he earned a Bronze Star for his service.

School of Dentistry – Dr. Lynn Jackson Brown (B.S. ‘66, D.D.S. ’69)

A dentist, economist, epidemiologist, researcher, consultant, author and editor, L. Jackson Brown is a true Renaissance man. Brown began what would be two decades of government service in health care research. In 1991, he was named director of the Division of Epidemiology and Oral Disease Prevention at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

Dental Hygiene – Ann Brunick (M.S.D.H. ’86)

Ann Brunick is recognized and respected among her peers for her national reputation as an educator, scholar and leader.  As author of several articles and book chapters and co-author of the central textbook, Handbook of Nitrous Oxide and Oxygen Sedation, now in its third edition (fourth edition is in progress) , Brunick is known for her perceptive and learned approach to understanding the needs of patients and colleagues alike.  She is chair and professor of the Dental Hygiene Department at the University of South Dakota.

School of Education – Dorothy Watson (M.A. ’64)

Literacy trailblazer, international educator and professor emerita of education at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Dorothy Watson has taught in inner-city Kansas City, Mo., in Sierra Leone and in Kenya. The Watson Literacy Center, which she founded and is housed at Park University, was named in honor of her legacy.  Her pioneering work in literacy education garnered her recognitions that include her induction into the Reading Hall of Fame and as Outstanding Educator in the Language Arts by the Nation Council of Teachers of English.

School of Law – Allison Bergman (J.D. ’96)

The Kansas City development lawyer has dedicated much of her professional life to reviving Kansas City’s urban core. Bergman, senior counsel at the Hardwick Law Firm, studied urban planning before law school and never lost her passion for historical architecture and downtown revitalization.

School of Medicine – Brigadier General John Owen (B.A. ’79, M.D. ’81)

A practicing physician who is also a decorated military leader, Brigadier General (Dr.) John Owen recently retired as the Air National Guard Assistant to the Command Surgeon, Air Mobility Command.  Owen received the Surgeon General’s Air National Guard State Air Surgeon of the Year in 2007 and the Harry Truman Public Service Award in 2012, which he accepted on behalf of the members of the Armed Forces during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

School of Nursing – Deborah Persell (M.S.N. ’78)

Deborah Persell, a national leader in crisis management, has played an instrumental role in founding a new field in the profession of nursing.  After Sept. 11, 2001, Persell pursued and became the first graduate from the Homeland Security Nursing program at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where she earned her doctorate.

School of Pharmacy – William Larmer  (B.S.P. ‘75)

As a respected and successful financial expert who manages the portfolios of people from all walks of life, William Larmer works with an impressive list of people including business owners, doctors, movie stars, professional athletes, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball.  Larmer serves clients, near and far, through his financial advisory firm, Larmer & Elstun, LLC.  Though himself not a practicing pharmacist, he credits his success to the rigorous, high-quality education he received at UMKC’s School of Pharmacy.

Photo Credit: Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications.

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