Skip to main content

Four Win Distinguished Alumni Awards

May 5, 1997

The Wisconsin Alumni Association has awarded Distinguished Alumni Awards to Stephen Ambrose ’57, Ph.D. ’63; David Beckwith ’50, LLB ’52; Donald Procknow ’47; and Linda Wilson Ph.D. ’62.

Stephen Ambrose ’57, Ph.D. ’63
Following graduation from UW–Madison, this former Badger linebacker (1954-56) became the biographer of presidents Eisenhower and Nixon, the author of The New York Times best sellers (D-Day and Undaunted Courage), a professor and the director of the Eisenhower Center at the University of New Orleans and the president of the National D-Day Museum.

Ambrose has written 18 books — almost all in virtual seclusion. He has spent months camping and canoeing along the entire route of the Lewis and Clark expedition with his wife Moira and five children. His compilation of 1,400 oral histories from American veterans has taken him on many tours of European battlefields and to Normandy, establishing him as one of the foremost historians of World War II.

This fall, Ambrose returned to Madison to teach “Representative Americans” and “History 367: The Second World War.” He reached hundreds of students in the process, inspiring some to pursue the scholarship and practice of oral history and instilling respect for young Americans who 50 years ago put their lives on the line.

“I’m a son of this state,” says the Whitewater native, sporting a Wisconsin letter jacket and a Badger Rose Bowl hat. “I’m a son of this university. These are my true colors.” He has honored his school by speaking at December’s commencement and by organizing a campaign to endow a chair in honor of the late William Hesseltine, the UW history professor who inspired Ambrose to study history.

David Beckwith ’50, LLB ’52
After earning a bachelor’s degree in economics, Beckwith went on to UW Law School before joining a Milwaukee law firm now known as Foley & Lardner. Today, Beckwith serves as senior partner for the firm, which has offices nationwide and in Europe, with affiliated offices in the Far East.

Beckwith has maintained a long association with the UW System, serving as a regent from 1977-84 and as board president from 1982-84. He is a member and former chair of the UW Foundation board of directors and chair of UW–Madison’s Chancellor’s Council. The council created the WISTAR program, an initiative for building and renovating research buildings on campus. The program, Beckwith says, “probably saved the university from losing a dozen to 20 important research faculty members who otherwise would have gone elsewhere and taken their grants and their research with them.” Another important achievement of the Chancellor’s Council was developing the initial proposal to operate the UW Hospital under a public authority.

Beckwith serves on the board of visitors for the College of Letters & Science, and he will soon serve on an advisory committee for the university’s new honors program. He has been president of the UW Law School Alumni Association and is a member of the Bascom Hill Society. He has also been very active in Milwaukee community affairs and efforts to improve public education in Wisconsin.

Donald Procknow ’47
Procknow, a former president of Western Electric, left his hometown of Madison, S.D., for Madison, Wis., to attend the university as part of the Navy V-12 program. He later returned to complete his education, living in student housing at Truax Field during the post-war crunch on dorm space. He has received five honorary degrees, was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering, has been a trustee of the Logistics Management Institute in Washington, D.C., and has served on the national board of the Boy Scouts of America. He is currently chair of the development committee for the UW Foundation.

As president of Western Electric, Procknow met his greatest career challenge when in 1983 the 114-year-old company was phased into AT&T during the breakup of the Bell System.

A 1979 recipient of the College of Engineering’s Distinguished Service Citation and a member of the Bascom Hill Society, he has kept a continuous association with the university since graduation, whether through recruiting Wisconsin engineering grads for Western Electric, working with the UW Foundation’s Capital Campaign or meeting with the various deans of engineering. “I’ve really been blessed by a lot of good fortune,” he says. “Wisconsin gave me a work ethic that’s lasted throughout my life.”

Linda Wilson Ph.D. ’62
Raised in New Orleans, Linda Wilson took her undergraduate degree at Tulane University before earning a doctorate in chemistry at UW–Madison. After teaching and conducting research, she pursued a second career in administration, serving as associate vice chancellor for research at Washington University in St. Louis and at the University of Illinois, and later as vice president for research at the University of Michigan. In 1989 she became the seventh president of Radcliffe College.

She is noted for her efforts to enhance collaboration among universities, government and industry, and for her attention to individual, institutional and systemic issues in the development of science and engineering personnel.

Wilson has emerged as a strong voice for women in the sciences and for women’s education. Under her leadership, Radcliffe has initiated a public policy institute that focuses largely on issues relating to women. Along with six other colleges and universities in the Boston area, the college has also begun a graduate consortium in women’s studies to promote an interdisciplinary approach to the field and to provide networking opportunities for faculty and students.

UW System President Katharine Lyall says Wilson is “a distinguished scholar in her own right and a very effective higher education administrator.”


The university community is invited to stop by the Union Theater lobby on Friday, May 9, at 5 p.m., for a wine-and-cheese reception honoring distinguished alumni, teachers and staff, followed by an awards program at 5:45 p.m. Student awards will also be presented at an alumni dinner in Great Hall at 7 p.m. Contact Sue Miller, 262-9647, for reservations. Tickets are $28 and may be purchased in blocks.