Each year, the Oberlin Alumni Association recognizes alumni whose achievements or contributions to Oberlin and/or society are considered to be exceptional. Ten such alumni were honored during 2010, most of them at the Alumni Council’s fall dinner and awards ceremony. All Oberlin alumni are encouraged to nominate their outstanding classmates for consideration for these annual awards.
The Alumni Association’s highest honor, the Alumni Medal, usually presented each spring at Commencement exercises, recognizes outstanding, sustained, and unique service to Oberlin. In 2010, the Alumni Medal was awarded to Leanne Cupp Wagner ’76.
Leanne earned a degree with honors in biology and went on to earn an MS in genetics from Cornell University and an MBA from Columbia. Since graduating from Oberlin, she has been active as an alumni volunteer, serving as president of the Alumni Association from 2003 to 2005 and representing alumni on the President’s Strategic Planning Task Force. These days, she serves on the President’s Advisory Council and as president of the Class of 1976; she is also an admissions volunteer, a career services mentor, and a volunteer with the Philadelphia Oberlin Club. Most recently, she led the way in supporting the new Dewy Ward ’34 Alumni Center, especially among past presidents of the Alumni Association. She shares her alma mater with her daughter, Christa Wagner ’08.
Leanne retired at the end of 2009 from her first career in the pharmaceutical industry, which included stints with Sandoz (now Novartis), SmithKline Beecham (now GlaxoSmithKline), and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals (now Pfizer). During her more than 25 years in the industry she worked in the United States and the UK in a range of areas on both the prescription and over-the-counter sides of the business. She is currently consulting on scenario and strategic planning and pharmaceutical industry issues.
Beyond her service to Oberlin, Leanne has served as a congregational leader at three churches and at the Presbytery level. A founding board member of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA), she recently completed a term on its Global Board. In 2009, she was elected to a three-year term on the board of Maternity Care Coalition in Philadelphia.
Awards for Distinguished Achievement, Distinguished Service, Outstanding Young Alumni, Alumni Appreciation, and Volunteers of the Year were presented during the annual meeting of the Alumni Council, September 24, 2010.
The Distinguished Achievement Award recognizes outstanding contributions and achievements that reflect Oberlin’s values in a career field. This year’s recipient, Thomas A. Balmer ’74, is a noted jurist and a sitting justice on the Supreme Court of the State of Oregon. He has served as a litigator in private practice, as chief deputy attorney general of the Oregon Department of Justice, and as a local trial judge. Thomas has written close to 100 opinions for the state supreme court, and, as a lawyer, argued many appellate cases, including Lee v. State of Oregon, which upheld the constitutionality of Oregon’s assisted suicide initiative.
In addition to his work, Tom has found time to be a committed community volunteer. He has coached youth soccer and lacrosse, served as a board member for Chamber Music Northwest, was a founding committee member of the Portland Parks Foundation, and serves as a volunteer for the Goose Hollow Family Shelter. "My Oberlin education truly is with me every day and informs the way I think about my work, my family, and the wider world," he says.
The Distinguished Service Award recognizes service or volunteer activities that reflect Oberlin’s values by directly improving the quality of life for humanity. This year’s recipient, Sarah Gamble Epstein ’48, has invested herself in volunteer work on behalf of women, peace, immigration, civil rights, and art. She serves on the boards of several nonprofit organizations, including Pathfinder International, Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, the Center for Development Activities, the Federation for American Immigrant Reform, and the Population Institute.
Raised to be an advocate for social change—Sarah’s father, Dr. Clarence Gamble, founded Pathfinder International, a birth control and reproductive health organization—Sarah has traveled the world to help women have better access to reproductive health options. And as a member of the National Society of Women Geographers, she is also the first woman to climb Mount Warzmann in the Bavarian Alps. "One never knows where Oberlin graduates will end up!" she says.
New to the awards roster this year is the Outstanding Young Alumni Award, given to alumni age 35 years or younger who have distinguished themselves in one or more of the following areas: professional career, service to humanity, or service to Oberlin College. The inaugural winner, James Feddeck ’05, is unique among his peers; not many 26-year-olds can claim to regularly raise a baton to lead one of the leading orchestras in the world. James holds the distinction of having been admitted to Oberlin in four areas: piano, oboe, organ, and conducting. He served as a conducting fellow at the Aspen Music Festival, performed organ recitals throughout Europe and North America, and, as an oboist, has commissioned and premiered new works by composers such as Daniel Pinkham. "The thing that makes Oberlin unique [is that] both the individual and community coexist and depend on each other," he says. "Often these are considered to be seemingly disparate factions, but not at Oberlin."
Recognizing exceptional volunteer service or contributions to the Alumni Association is the Alumni Appreciation Award, given posthumously this year to Norman E. Thompson ’54, a dedicated servant of Oberlin for more than 50 years. An outgoing and gregarious student, a three-sport athlete, and a member of the Musical Union, Norm, who was also a student scholarship recipient, felt from early on the desire "repay" Oberlin. He served on the board of the John W. Heisman Club and as an admissions representative, class president, associate class agent, career counselor, and as member of several Alumni Council committees. Accepting the award on behalf of Norm, who died in February 2008, was former Oberlin soccer and lacrosse coach Fred Shults ’54.
He had a vision: a class directory that would not only serve as a compilation of classmate information, but also create a lasting and meaningful memento. Smith Brittingham ’60 used his database and publishing skills to create a booklet that showcased the photos, personal reflections, memorial memories, and contact information in a professional and interesting format. Throughout the process, Smith and his wife, emerita executive director of the Alumni Association Midge Brittingham ’60, tracked submissions, communicated with classmates, and encouraged reunion participation. The Alumni Association appreciates his dedication and the enormous amount of time he volunteered in reconnecting friends with each other and with Oberlin.
When the Alumni Office solicited nominations for the Volunteer of the Year Award, the staff of the Alumni Fund unanimously chose John Donaldson ’60, chair of his 50th Reunion Gift Committee. John’s knack for fundraising began early on. On his graduation day in 1960, he stood in the rain in front of Finney Chapel with a tin cup, holding his classmates captive until they made a class gift. Years later, as chair of the 50th Reunion Gift Committee, he did essentially the same thing, leading the Class of 1960 to a new 50th Reunion Class participation record of 89.4 percent and successfully exceeding their class gift goal of $6 million. John’s persistence is legendary among his classmates.
Regional Coordinator Kira McGirr ’06 stepped into her role as coordinator of the Oberlin Club of Cleveland armed with creativity, energy, and ideas for diverse programming. She integrated the Oberlin community into the Cleveland Club by planning events in and around Oberlin, including an Oberlin Cares Day community service event at George Jones Farm, an alumni dinner at Black River Café, and an evening at the Oberlin Summer Theater Festival. Kira also coordinated the club’s annual summer picnic and fall potluck, as well as a variety of programs including a cheese tasting party at the Obie-owned Lake Erie Creamery and brunch/hike/bikeride along the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail.
José Meléndez ’01 (left) and Béla Schwartz ’79 (right)
The efforts of two class presidents, José Meléndez ’01 and Béla Schwartz ’79, stood out this year, as evidenced by well-attended and successful 10th- and 30th-class reunions. Both alums have agreed to renew their positions and will lead the planning for their next reunions in 2015.
Also honored in September were retiring members of the Alumni Council’s Executive Board: Bill Hilton ’65, past president of the Alumni Association; Andy Goldner ’56; Rashne Limki ’05; Janet McNeill ’67; Eric Rosenberg ’75; and Dixie Sommers ’70.