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WAA names distinguished alumni award recipients

April 17, 2003

This year’s Distinguished Alumni Award recipients include former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, as well as a founder of the UW’s veterinary school, an attorney and two prominent businesspeople. The Wisconsin Alumni Association will present the awards — the association’s highest honor — during a May 9 program as part of Alumni Weekend festivities.

In addition to Thompson, who is the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services, this year’s honorees include: Bernard Easterday, dean emeritus of the UW School of Veterinary Medicine; Nancy Sennett, former WAA chair and a managing partner at the Milwaukee law firm of Foley and Lardner; Tom Hefty, former president and CEO of Cobalt Corp.; and John Rowe, president and CEO of the Chicago-based utility Exelon. Tricia Nordby Hamrin will receive WAA’s Distinguished Young Alumni Award, which honors alumni younger than 40.

Photo of Tommy ThompsonTommy Thompson
’63, J.D. ’66
As secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the past two years, Thompson has led the national debate on such topics as stem cell research and preparedness for bioterrorism. But within Wisconsin, Thompson is best known as the state’s longest serving governor, having won four consecutive elections and served in that role from 1987 to 2001.

“Not only has Secretary Thompson had a long and distinguished public career,” says WAA president and CEO Paula Bonner, “but he’s also been a staunch supporter of UW–Madison. Thanks to his advocacy, the UW has been able to maintain its premier role among American universities as both a research and teaching institution.”

As governor, Thompson championed causes that brought UW–Madison more than $400 million. These include WISTAR, a program to improve research facilities; HealthStar, which improved facilities for study in pharmacy and health sciences; BioStar, which provided support for bioscience research; and the Madison Initiative, a private/public partnership that led to the hiring of more than 100 faculty.

During Alumni Weekend, Thompson will also celebrate his 40th class reunion and be the featured speaker at the reunion dinner Saturday, May 10, at the Fluno Center.

Photo of Bernard EasterdayBernard Easterday
M.S. ’58, Ph.D. ’61
In Kenya the Masai call him Leshan, “born during the rains,” and honor him as a village elder. But in Wisconsin, Easterday is better known as the founding dean of UW–Madison’s School of Veterinary Medicine. In 1961, he joined the UW faculty as an associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Science, which he chaired from 1968 to 1974.

In 1978, UW–Madison began creating its School of Veterinary Medicine, and Easterday was tapped as the school’s first dean, a position he held until retiring in 1994. “With his leadership,” says Professor Ronald Schultz, chair of the Department of Pathobiological Sciences, the veterinary school “was established after many years of political controversy, and during his 15 years as dean, the school moved quickly into a position of national prominence.”

“Dr. Easterday has enjoyed a very active and productive career as an internationally recognized veterinary medical scientist and as an excellent academic administrator and leader,” adds Schultz. He notes that Easterday’s research includes the first conclusive demonstration that the swine influenza virus could be naturally transmitted from pigs to human beings.

Easterday and his spouse, Char, have made several trips to East Africa, including four tours that they hosted for WAA. It was on a 2002 safari in Kenya that Easterday was made an elder in a Masai village and given the name “Leshan” as a token of respect.

Easterday also serves as chair of WAA’s lifelong learning committee and has been president of the association’s Green County, Wis., alumni chapter.

Photo of Tom HeftyTom Hefty
’69, J.D. ’73
Hefty is the retired president and chief executive officer of the insurance company Cobalt Corp. His efforts resulted in the largest single contribution to fund public health research in Wisconsin. Between 1999 and 2001, Hefty spearheaded the plan to merge Blue Cross and Blue Shield United of Wisconsin with United Wisconsin Services to form Cobalt, a publicly traded company. As a part of this merger, 31 million shares of Cobalt were transferred to a foundation that supports UW’s Medical School and the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

When the foundation sold approximately 6.3 million shares in February, it received more than $75 million to divide evenly between the two schools. “These funds,” says Economics Professor John Kennan, “will strengthen the research and education missions of the schools while advancing public health to the benefit of all the people of Wisconsin.”

Hefty has also served as counsel at the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition and as deputy insurance commissioner for the state of Wisconsin. In 1986, Hefty was named chief executive officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield and of United Wisconsin Services. During the 1990s, United Wisconsin was the state’s fastest growing public company.

The Cobalt stock transfer is just part of Hefty’s long history of service to UW–Madison. He has aided the university as a founding member of the College of Letters and Science’s board of visitors, and as a former member of the board of visitors for the Law School. He serves on the joint board of visitors for La Follette School of Public Affairs and the Department of Political Science. A resident of Elm Grove, Wis., Hefty has also served as chair of the Wisconsin Lung Association, Competitive Wisconsin and the Public Policy Forum, and he was a member of both the Greater Milwaukee Committee and the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce board.

Photo of John RoweJohn Rowe
’67, J.D. ’70
As president and CEO at the Chicago-based Exelon, one of the nation’s largest electrical utilities, Rowe is one of the most powerful people in the power industry. But Rowe also focuses much of his energy on educational causes. He aids UW–Madison through participation in the Bascom Hill Society and the WARF Board of Trustees, and last year, he endowed a professorship for the study of Byzantine history at the university. He has been a trustee with Northwestern University and Bryant College, as well as Chicago’s Art Institute and Field Museum.

“John Rowe is an exemplar of the public-minded citizen that we treasure and seek to develop at Wisconsin,” says History Professor Thomas Spear. “A living embodiment of the Wisconsin Idea, he has extended the reach of the university far beyond the borders of the state as a dynamic businessman, public citizen and philanthropist.”

After graduation, Rowe became a partner in the Chicago law firm of Isham, Lincoln and Beale, where he represented such clients as the Consolidated Rail Corp. In 1984, he became the chief executive officer for the Central Maine Power Co., which he helped return to profitability. He then served successively as the top executive for the New England Electric System and for Unicom, another utility. In 1998, he oversaw the merger of Unicom with PECO Energy to form Exelon, which Business Week magazine named the nation’s best performing utility company for the second consecutive year in March.

Rowe is an avid collector of antiquities, particularly Greek, Roman and Egyptian artifacts. He may be the only utility executive to keep an ancient sarcophagus in his office. “Reading history has taught me how to handle the human things in business,” says Rowe, who lists legendary UW history professors Merle Curti and George Mosse among his most influential teachers.

Photo of Nancy J. SennettNancy J. Sennett
Sennett is not only a leading attorney in the field of securities litigation, but she has exerted considerable influence on the way that UW–Madison connects with its graduates. As WAA’s chair of the board from 2000 to 2001, she helped lead the association through a major reorganization.

“Through her boundless energy and her work with our committees and with alumni, Nancy has made an indelible mark on WAA and on the university,” says WAA’s Paula Bonner. “She’s a model of what people can accomplish when they work with passion.”

Sennett joined the Milwaukee law firm Foley and Lardner in 1979 and has been a member of its management committee since 1998. She became the first female managing partner in the firm in 2002. She has forged a name for herself through such high-profile cases as Selig vs. United States, where she represented major league baseball commissioner Allan Selig in a tax refund case that established precedent regarding the purchase of sports franchises.

Sennett was a founding board member of After Breast Cancer Diagnosis Inc. and of the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum in Milwaukee. She is a member of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, Rotary and Tempo, and has served on the board of visitors for UW–Madison’s School of Education.

Sennett received the 2003 Distinguished Alumni Award from WAA’s Milwaukee chapter, and a 1997 Leadership Award from the Girls Scouts of Greater Milwaukee. She was also designated as one of this year’s Wisconsin Leaders in Law.

Photo of Tricia Nordby HamrinTricia Nordby Hamrin
Hamrin is the founder of the Minneapolis-based UpFront Productions, a “comprehensive communications firm” that offers its clients integrated services from graphics to printing and direct mail. Describing herself as the company’s “head hoop-jumper,” Hamrin has built her business by conforming to her clients’ needs. Those clients include such varied firms as Caribou Coffee, Northwest Airlines and Chin’s Asia Fresh.

“Our slogan is, “Choose your hoop, we’ll jump through it,'” says Hamrin. “Before launching UpFront, I’d been working on the other side as a marketing manager, buying communications services for my employer. I found that I had to use many vendors for even simple projects — writers, designers, a printing house. And I figured it would be such a service to have all those functions in one place.”

Since Hamrin created UpFront, the company’s gross income has risen to more than $3.5 million. James Haney, president of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, describes Hamrin as an “ever-achiever. Anyone who has witnessed Tricia’s vision or her values would agree: her achievements transcend not just her years, but the perceived limitations of an industry.”

Hamrin has kept UpFront involved in pro bono work for clients such as the Breast Cancer Recovery Foundation and Books for Africa, a program that coordinates the delivery of thousands of books to African nations. Hamrin has endowed the Hamrin Research Award to assist UW–Madison students as they fulfill their honors theses. An honors graduate herself, Hamrin says that the program had an important impact on her educational experience, motivating her to create the scholarship in 1998.