A history of honoring alumni

Distinguished Alumni Award recipients strike poses on the sidewalk outside the Cleary Alumni and Friends Center.UWL distinguished alumni from 2018 share a lighter moment when they returned to campus in September.

Editor’s note: As the UWL Alumni Association prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary in October, each month we’ll feature ways the organization creates a lifetime connection with the university.

Four awards now honor renowned alums

They’ve included a Pulitzer Prize winner, a scientist known to millions as “Mr. Wizard and an inventor of the handheld calculator.

Since the first class earned degrees after La Crosse Normal opened in 1909, UWL alumni have distinguished themselves worldwide. And since 1977, the Alumni Association has recognized alums who’ve gained distinction beyond where they live and work.

Maurice O. Graff, professor and administrator from 1941-72, recognized the need to identify alumni from a broad range of UWL programs and occupations.

Longtime professor and administrator Maurice O. Graff established the first distinguished alumni award at UWL in 1977.

“I believe that merely ‘doing one’s job,’ even though doing it in an outstanding manner, should not be enough to merit one of the awards,” noted Graff when establishing the Graff Distinguished Alumni Award. “The recipients should be widely known and recognized for their accomplishments outside their immediate work-service area.”

Janie Morgan, ’85 & ’86, executive director of the UWL Alumni Association, says it was only natural to add three additional awards after the Graff award first honored alumni for 25 years. “With new awards, we are able to provide another point on UWL’s continuum of awards that recognize excellence at the various career stages of alumni,” she explains. “The recipients have been so humble and appreciative of the recognition. It’s a huge honor to be nominated, let alone to be selected.”

In 1997, long-time History Professor Jim Parker suggested the university honor alumni advancing multicultural understanding. The Parker Distinguished Multicultural Alumni Award does just that.

After being inspired seeing graduating students recognized for excellence and alumni honored for long, outstanding careers and service, Ron Rada, a professor and administrator from 1975-2002, and his wife, Jane, decided it was time to recognize alums in their early- to mid-careers. In 2002, they formed the Rada Distinguished Alumni Awards, targeting those graduating within the past 20 years.

In 2015, Teacher Education Professor Emeritus Burt Altman, on campus from 1965-1993, wanted to recognize outstanding educators. He and his wife, Norma, created the Burt and Norma Altman Teacher Education Award, presented annually to educators.

The Alumni Awards are so special because they provide the Alumni Association and the university an opportunity to say — ‘Wow, you’ve done amazing things with your education and we’re proud of your accomplishments.

Janie Morgan, ’85 & ’86, executive director of the UWL Alumni Association.

In recent years, the ceremony honoring recipients of all four awards has evolved, moving from spring commencement to fall and allowing recipients to meet with students and share career stories. “We took a good program and turned it into an excellent one,” explains Morgan. “Hosting the awards in the fall allows the alumni to connect with our current students.”

Morgan says each year the Alumni Association sponsors between 60-70 events, but events honoring distinguished alumni are her favorite. “It brings alumni back to campus, engages faculty, staff and students, and showcases the excellent education our students have received over the years and how they’ve applied that knowledge in their respective careers,” she says. “If you haven’t attended one of the ceremonies, join us – you won’t regret it.”

This year’s Alumni Awards Brunch and Ceremony is planned for 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 21. Get details at on the UWL Alumni Association calendar of events.

The four awards that honor celebrated alumni

The Maurice O. Graff Distinguished Alumni Award, 1977

Recognizes outstanding achievement of alumni who have brought honor and distinction to the university. Long-time administrator Maurice O. Graff instituted the honor in 1977.

Parker Distinguished Multicultural Alumni Award, 1997

Recognizes outstanding alumni who have contributed significantly to the improvement of multicultural understanding on the campus and in their careers. History Professor Emeritus James Parker initiated the award in 1997.

Rada Distinguished Alumni Award, 2002

Recognizes alumni who have graduated within the last 20 years, achieved professional distinction and taken part in humanitarian activities. Professor emeritus Ron Rada and his wife, Jane, created the award in 2002. The award includes at $2,000 scholarship presented to a current student in a department of the recipient’s choosing.

Burt and Norma Altman Teacher Education Award, 2015

Honors and recognizes outstanding educators and the significant contributions they make to children and communities. Professor Emeritus Burt Altman and his wife, Norma, long-time supporters of teacher education, created the award in 2015.

Know someone to nominate? Alumni and others may nominate deserving alumni. Find out how on the UWL Alumni Association awards nomination page.

So, who has been recognized? View past recipients.