Currents Magazine - Fall 2005 > Back Issues > Currents Magazine - Fall 2004 > Awards of Distinction
Awards of Distinction
Story by: Currents Staff Writer
Winona State recognizes its outstanding alumni and friends
The Distinguished Awards Committee of the Winona State University Alumni Society honored five people with the 2004 awards of distinction during the annual alumni reunion on campus in June.
The Director of Alumni Affairs, Kim Dehlin Zeiher, said the awards of distinction recipients have not only excelled professionally and within their community, but they have also brought honor to WSU.
"The individuals who receive the awards of distinction are in some ways representative of all Winona State graduates," said Zeiher. "These individuals have excelled in their careers, provided services to their community, and have modeled the Winona State mission--a community of learners dedicated to improving our world." Each year, between 40 and 60 people are nominated for the awards of distinction by WSU alumni, faculty and friends of the university. The recipients of these awards are selected by the Alumni Board of Directors membership sub-committee.
The Distinguished Alumni award recipients are graduates of WSU who have gone on to achieve prominence in their chosen profession. The Distinguished Young Alumni award recognizes graduates 35 years of age or younger who have distinguished themselves through their work or community involvement. The selfless efforts of individuals who have significantly enhanced the university's mission and excellence are recognized with the Distinguished Service award.
The honorees were presented with a re-creation of the Presidential Medallion at the recognition banquet. The university commissioned the medallion to be awarded as the highest honor in recognition of outstanding achievement and commitment to the mission and excellence of Winona State University.
Distinguished Service Award Recipient Ervin Bublitz
|| He serves his students. He serves his university. He serves his community. Ervin Bublitz, Winona State University Professor of Sociology, has now been honored for his service efforts. Bublitz received a 2004 Distinguished Service Award from the WSU Alumni Society.
"I appreciate the award and feel very grateful," said Bublitz.
Bublitz, a native of Winona, has many ties to WSU. Eight years after receiving a bachelor of arts degree in economics from St. Mary's University in Winona, Bublitz graduated with a second bachelor's degree and a master of science degree in sociology from Winona State. He went on to earn a Ph. D. degree in sociology at the University of Utah.
Bublitz then returned to his roots in Winona and the university that helped him prepare for his new career as a university professor.
He began teaching in the Department of Sociology at Winona State in 1970. Bublitz has taken great joy in his profession. Through his experiences as a student and a professor, Bublitz realizes the profound impact a professor can have on a student's life. He hopes he creates the same inspiration in his students that his professors created in him.
"My fondest memory at Winona State University was in taking classes from Larry Connell who was head of the department and my mentor," said Bublitz. "He's the one that laid the foundation for me to go on to graduate school and become a professor." During his 34 years as a WSU professor, Bublitz spent several of those years as the head of the department. He was also the coordinator of the Criminal Justice Program, the Law Enforcement Program and Law Enforcement Internships. He continues to teach sociology courses and is working to revise the curriculum of family studies in sociology.
"I don't think some professors realize what a great opportunity they have," said Bublitz. "To be a university professor allows you to work with young people in the prime of their life; to mold and nurture them. I often say to myself that professors should cherish and be thankful to work with students."
Bublitz is also a volunteer who has worked to advance the university. He solicits funds for scholarships, which are awarded to students in fields such as sociology, social work and law enforcement. Bublitz says these scholarships are important for students, because people in service professions aren't going to become CEOs of companies; however, they are essential to society. "These people don't go out and make large sums of money," said Bublitz, "and that's a reason why I support a number of scholarships within the department."
Bublitz also has a tremendous interest in American art and has spent 50 years of his life visiting thousands of galleries and museums across the country. When he finds an outstanding piece of work, he feels it's important to share it with the university to help build an educational environment.
Bublitz solicits funds for art and has donated several pieces of artwork and many art collections. Some of them include the Remington sculpture collection, the Southwest Native American pottery collection and the only public collection of duck decoys in Minnesota. These collections are on display in the WSU Library, and make the facility a true tourist destination, as well as a library.
"I feel that art is inspirational," said Bublitz. "That's true of great music, great art, great religious values and great experiences that involve the inner self. This is the most important aspect of life. In my personal life, I've been inspired by these kinds of experiences. I want other people to be inspired, too."
Distinguished Service Award Recipient Ernie Buhler
Ernest Buhler spent 35 years counseling children, 54 years serving our country in the United States Air Force and decades volunteering for professional and community organizations. These endeavors earned him a WSU Alumni Society 2004 Distinguished Service Award. Buhler said his accomplishments are a direct result of his experience at Winona State University.
"The atmosphere at Winona State set the stage for my professional career," said Buhler. "When I left, I told myself that I had to repay those people for the gift they gave me during my educational experience."
Buhler graduated from WSU in 1958 with a bachelor's degree in science and social studies.
"When I got out of the Air Force in 1954, I was looking for a place to go to college, and I decided to go to WSU because my two sisters went there," said Buhler. "Most people know, once you get to Winona State you don't leave because the programs and the faculty are so good."
So good, in fact, that one of Buhler's fondest memories about Winona State University centers around an inspirational history professor.
"I will always remember being in the presence of Mr. Eddie Davis," said Buhler, "who was one of those people that could make history come alive and walk around in front of you."
After graduation, Buhler got a job as a middle school counselor in the Winona Public School District. He went on to obtain his masters degree at the University of Michigan in guidance and counseling. Buhler spent the next 35 years of his career mentoring students in the Winona School District.
"I had the best job a person could ask for," said Buhler. "I never had a day I didn't want to be at work."
Buhler went back to WSU almost a decade after he received his bachelors degree as a practicum supervisor during the summer months. He decided to work with college students while his middle school students were enjoying their summer break. "In 1967, we had a huge influx of people going into counselor education," said Buhler, "and since I was right at the doorstep, the counselor education department chair asked me if I'd like to do it. So, I did."
When enrollment in counselor education started to decline in 1985, Buhler knew his services as a practicum supervisor wouldn't be needed for much longer. However, Buhler's desire to serve his alma mater continued. He and Tim Hatfield, WSU's chair of counselor education, started thinking of ways to help counselors already working in the field improve their skills. The two men created School Counselor Update, a week-long workshop which focuses on personal and professional renewal. It's the only program like it across the nation. This past summer, the program celebrated its 20th anniversary. "In those 20 years, School Counselor Update was the single best thing I did throughout the whole year," said Buhler. "I looked forward to the workshop year after year."
Buhler ended his career as a counselor for the Winona Public School District in 1993, he retired as co-director of School Counselor Update in 2002, and he retired his Air Force Academy numbers, after 54 years of service, in the summer of 2004. However, Buhler continues to serve others and the community every day. For that, he was honored with this year's Distinguished Service Award.
"To be recognized by your peers at any level is an awesome thing," said Buhler. "To get something like this after being away from active counseling for 11 years is just an awesome and humbling experience."
Distinguished Young Alumnus Nathan Gruber
Nathan Gruber knew he wanted to tackle more in his life than just the game of football. However, it was football that introduced him to Winona State University.
In 1990, former football coach Don Wistrcill made a stop at Gruber's high school in Ellsworth, Wis., to recruit potential football players.
"Wistrcill asked us what we were interested in doing," said Gruber, "I said engineering and he said 'great, we have a program.'"
Gruber enrolled in the Composite Materials Engineering program at WSU. During his junior year, Gruber worked as a student test engineer at the Composite Materials Technology Center. This experience gave him a hands-on learning opportunity in mechanical testing of plastics and composite materials and composite fabrication techniques, including wet lay-up, press molding, injection molding and filament winding.
"It gave me the opportunity to apply some of the skills I learned in the classroom," said Gruber, "and it also gave me a feel for what was happening in the industry."
Gruber was a member of the Winona State football team from 1991-1994. He was a three-year starter at free safety, and was the long-snapper on all of the extra point kick, field goal and punt plays. During his first year on the team, the squad won only a single game. Two years later, the team had a winning record and was making history at Winona State, which is a memory Gruber will never forget. "In 1993, my junior year, we beat Duluth at home to clinch the conference championship," said Gruber.
Gruber graduated from WSU with a bachelors of engineering degree in composite materials engineering in 1995. He went on to play and coach for the Vienna Vikings in Vienna, Austria. The organization is a semi-pro football team in the Austrian League of the European Football League. Gruber played multiple offensive and defensive positions while coaching the defensive backfield. In 1997, Gruber put his engineering degree to work when he accepted a job with IBM in Rochester, Minn. He was hired as a procurement engineer, and was promoted in 2001 to procurement development manager. Gruber provided program management from the design concept through the product launch for the entire procurement organization.
Today, Gruber's career in engineering has taken him to Fond du Lac, Wis., where he is the commodity manager for Mercury Marine. The company is the world leader in outboard and sterndrive marine propulsion technology and performance. Gruber is responsible for $77 million of annual spending for purchased components. "I manage the performance of the supply base that provides the non-metallic components on the engine, " said Gruber, "for example, packaging, paint and plastics." Gruber said WSU helped him achieve success in his career by offering scholarships in academics and athletics. He said these scholarships gave him the opportunity to concentrate on his studies by not having to work.
"It really helped me focus my efforts to gain the skills I needed," said Gruber. Gruber's accomplishments led to a WSU 2004 Alumni Society Distinguished Young Alumni Award. This recognition is something Gruber wasn't expecting. "I was shocked, " said Gruber, "and at the same time, honored, flattered and excited that the alumni board of directors felt I was a distinguished young alumnus."
Distinguished Alumna Rita Lewis
With her Winona State University bachelor of science degree in hand, Rita Lewis began her career in politics. Lewis graduated cum laude from WSU in 1983 as a business administration major. After graduation, she worked on many political campaigns. In 1984, when Lewis was in her early 20s, she served as the state director for the Walter Mondale for President campaign. In 1985, Lewis went to work for a different politician.
"I moved to Sioux Falls, S.D., as the deputy campaign manager for then Congressman Tom Daschle who was running for U.S. Senate," said Lewis.
When Daschle was elected as a Senator for South Dakota in November of 1986, Lewis moved to Washington, D.C., to work on his staff as the economic development director. In this position, Lewis served as a liaison between the Senator, South Dakota businesses and local elected officials working on legislative issues ranging from tax issues to the environment to international trade.
In 1994, Lewis accepted a new challenge as the director of Congressional Affairs at the U.S. Department of Education. As a key legislative aide at the department, Lewis worked with Secretary Richard Riley to successfully pass three major education initiatives. Those initiatives were Goals 2000, the direct student loan initiative and an elementary and secondary education act. "The ability to get to know and work with some very dedicated and hard working people," said Lewis, "is a very rewarding part of my career."
Today, Lewis is a principal at the Washington Group in Washington, D.C. The organization is a lobbying firm which works with groups, companies, organizations and associations to promote their issues before the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Administration. The Washington Group lobbies for the rights of companies, such as Delta Airlines, Microsoft and Bell South. "I am given the opportunity to really help people," said Lewis. "At this firm, the first thing I worked on with the U.S. attorneys general was the tobacco settlement." Lewis wasn't interested in politics as a child, despite the fact that she was immersed in a very political household. Growing up, she lived in a climate where the right to vote was always exercised and family members supported political candidates.
"Once I got to college, I found I was really interested in politics," said Lewis, "and I held internships in San Francisco and Washington, D.C."
Lewis expanded her knowledge of politics by serving as vice president of the student body during her career as a student at WSU. She was also appointed by Governor Rudy Perpich to the Minnesota State University Board. Those experiences helped Lewis achieve the success she maintains in her career today.
"Winona State gave me confidence in my ability," said Lewis, "and it helped build self esteem. I think people in Minnesota have a strong work ethic already, but it was reinforced at WSU."
Lewis's accomplishments at Winona State, and in her professional career, helped her achieve the WSU 2004 Alumni Society Distinguished Alumni Award.
Distinguished Alumnus Carl Miller
From student, to teacher, to professor, Carl Miller has devoted his life to education. Miller received his bachelors degree in biology and physical education from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in 1960. He taught in Mazomanie, Wis., for one year before he took a position as the program director at a YMCA. Three years later, Miller returned to his calling.
"I decided to go back into teaching and coaching which I thought was going to be my lifetime vocation," said Miller," and my best opportunity to do that was at WSU." Miller received a master of science degree in education and counseling from Winona State University in 1965. He went on to achieve a doctorate in administration of higher education and physiology from the University of North Texas.
Since then, he has spent more than 25 years educating and coaching students, he served as the mayor of Mason City, Iowa, and he held a five-year term on the U.S. Olympic Committee/U.S. Collegiate Sports Council. These are just a few of the many successes Miller accomplished which led to the achievement of the 2004 WSU Alumni Society Distinguished Alumni Award.
"It's awfully nice to know people still remember you," said Miller. "I feel this is a lifetime accomplishment, and it wouldn't have been possible had Winona State University not been there and offered the masters program I needed." Miller has always had a passion for education. He says teaching young people and watching them succeed in life is very rewarding. "I think anything you want to do in life you have to have a passion for or a burning desire," said Miller. "If you don't, get out and do something else. Working with young people has always been a joy for me."
Miller has an extensive background as an athletic director and coach. He's coached sports including wrestling and football. He is also past president of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and is a member of the Hall of Fame of that organization. During his term on the U.S. Olympic Committee/U.S. Collegiate Sports Council, he led about 250 athletes in the collegiate games.
"I was in charge of the United States Athletic Teams for the University World Games in Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Poland," said Miller.
In 1993, Miller left teaching and coaching for a few years and became the mayor of Mason City, Iowa. "We left behind a lot of blood, sweat and tears in that town," said Miller.
Some of Miller's hard work can be seen in the Music Man Square, a $12 million facility dedicated to the life of Mason City native, Meredith Willson, who is best remembered for writing the Broadway musical, The Music Man. Miller oversaw the planning, construction and operation of Music Man Square. It features a 1912 streetscape with an ice cream parlor/soda fountain and gift shop all in set designs from the Warner Brothers motion picture of The Music Man. There is also a museum highlighting Meredith Willson's memorabilia.
"I enjoyed being the mayor," said Miller. "For 14 years Mason City became my town, and it was hard to leave." Miller and his wife left Mason City and moved to La Crosse, Wis., in January of 2004. Miller is now the executive director for the La Crosse County Historical Society, a position which he feels has placed him back into an education role.
"The historical society has a responsibility to do research and writing and to educate young people," said Miller. This Winona State University graduate has also spent many years of his life volunteering in the community and for different service organizations. He has been the chair of a YMCA and a United Way, and served as a member of the board of directors for several organizations, including First Federal Savings and Loan Assn. in Grand Forks, N.D., and North Iowa Medical Center in Mason City, Iowa.
What's his secret to finding the time for it all? "There's a saying… if you want to get a job done, give it to somebody who is busy," said Miller. "You have to learn to organize your time; teaching and coaching taught me that. I always had a game plan on the field, and I always had a lesson plan in the classroom."
Last Modified: Thursday, December 02, 2004 12:18 by Rhone Richard