ALMA — The Alma College Advancement Office this month announced winners of the 2020 Alumni Awards in five areas, spanning multiple generations of Alma Scots.
The winners — Katie Gordon ’13, Bill McHenry ’83, Bill ’60 and Sally (Townsend) ’62 Bowen, Jamie Blow ’84, Larry Andrus ’72, and Mike Yavenditti — will be honored as part of Alma College’s annual Homecoming, Oct. 5-11.
“We’re so proud of our esteemed Alumni Award winners for their achievements in their careers and communities. They are a point of pride for all of us here at Alma College,” said Bill Arnold, senior director of alumni and family engagement. “It’s a thrill to honor them in a whole new way at this year’s homecoming event, our first-ever online affair.”
Distinguished Alumni Award
This is the highest honor presented to alumni. It recognizes those who have brought distinction to the college through their professions, set strong examples for others, and served their communities through personal accomplishments that enhance the prestige of the college.
Larry Andrus ’72
After graduating from Alma College with a degree in business administration, Andrus has remained involved in college activities for more than 45 years.
A former member of the college’s Board of Trustees, serving from 2004-13 and again from 2015-18, he currently serves as a trustee emeritus. Andrus previously served as the Board’s secretary and chair of the marketing committee, a member of the Alumni Board and was an alumni representative on the selection committee for the 12th and 13th presidents of Alma College, Saundra Tracy and Jeff Abernathy.
A letterwinner in baseball and football while at Alma College, as well as a member of the Alma College Athletics Hall of Fame, Andrus served in 2017-18 as co-chair of the Football and Lacrosse Giving Circle.
In addition to his community involvement, he is the founder and CEO of Trivalent Group, an information technology firm based in Grandville. The company was sold in 2018 and Andrus now guides its strategic vision and future growth.
“Alma College was the right fit for me (when I was a student) and my connection has only grown over the years,” Andrus said. “The lessons I learned during my Alma years, the coaches, the professors and my student life experience are all good memories.”
Jamie Blow ’84
Blow, who graduated in 1984 with a degree in biology, went on to become a trailblazer with the United States Army in the field of entomology. She recently retired from the Army, where she attained the rank of colonel and served on the Armed Forces Pest Management Board (AFPMB) and as director of Defense Pest Management.
In that role, Blow was responsible for pest management policy, guidance and advocacy within the Department of Defense. She was the first woman to be selected as the director of the AFPMB and one of only three women to attain the rank of colonel in the entomology field.
Blow, who earned a Ph.D. in medical entomology from Michigan State University in 1988, currently serves as program manager for research and technology at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command at Fort Detrick, in Frederick, Maryland.
“I have stayed involved with Alma as I think it is important for students to hear from different alumni and about what they have done,” Blow said. “I also want students to know it is OK to not know what you want to do when you graduate. So many students have a definite destination. By not having a defined destination, it seemed that I was a failure. Instead, I have found that I have been on a journey.”
This award is presented to alumni for their loyalty and service to Alma College and to the college’s Alumni Association. It is named in memory of George Hebert, a 1920 alumnus whose love of Alma College and work on behalf of the institution was an inspiration to all alumni.
Bill ’60 and Sally (Townsend) ’62 Bowen
The couple — who met at Alma as students in 1958 — have a long history of supporting the college.
The Bowens are a visible presence at every Homecoming, claiming the title of “unofficial hosts” at the Smith Alumni House. They are also regular attendees of the annual summer alumni summer picnic in Midland and currently serve as co-chairs of the Dunning Memorial Chapel Renovation Campaign steering committee.
The Bowens have also made several significant philanthropic contributions to the college over the years, including the Bowen Endowed Scholarship Fund, the Wright Hall construction project, and the Choir Giving Circle.
“Alma College is like family to me,” said Sally Bowen, who served as Associate Director of Annual Giving, Associate Director of Admissions and Associate Director of the Annual Fund from 1988-90 and later served as a Campaign Director from 2003-09. “I am a huge supporter of a liberal arts education, of small classes, of personal contact between the faculty, staff and students, opportunities for travel and the many life-changing experiences that Alma College provides for its students.”
Bill Bowen adds, “My motivation to continue the relationship with Alma was to help future generations experience what I did and graduate with that same sense of confidence I had. The Alma experience also opened up my eyes and conscience that we have a broad responsibility to ourselves, our family, our church, our community and our employer.”
This award is presented to a graduate who believes in Alma College and has assisted with student recruitment, provided career steps to students or served on a college council or board. It is named in honor of Art ’38 and Carra (Jones) ’42 Smith.
Bill McHenry ’83
McHenry has taken his experiences at Alma College and moved on to big things in the business world.
McHenry, a business administration and political science major in his time at Alma, is currently the CEO of Widgeteer, a housewares firm based in Chicago. In his spare time, he serves on the board of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of McHenry County, in Illinois.
“I have stayed involved with Alma because I truly believe in the institution,” McHenry said. “The experiences I had with Alma truly molded my career in owning my own business. I believe in the small college experience and am so pleased that I attended Alma.”
McHenry served on the alumni board from 2011-18, including as the board president during his final two years. He has been a guest speaker in business administration classes, participated in Career Explo, and supports the annual Chicago in-city interview trip by meeting with individual students and attending the alumni-student networking social.
McHenry has hired two Alma students for internship positions in the past three years. Bill and his wife, Nancy, also were the hosts of the 2019 Etiquette Dinner.
Young Alumni Award
The award recognizes alumni of the past five to 15 years who are following through on the values of Alma College while attaining a high level of professional accomplishment and volunteer service.
Katie Gordon ’13
Gordon originally came to Alma to play in the percussion ensemble. During her campus visit, she learned about the college’s strong offerings in political science and religious education, and has dedicated herself to those causes ever since.
Gordon is the is the co-founder of Nuns and Nones, a nonprofit organization focused on creating new futures for the legacies and sacred spaces of religious and monastic life.
Gordon recently completed her Master of Divinity degree at Harvard University’s School of Divinity. Prior to pursuing a graduate degree, Katie was both the program manager at the Kaufman Interfaith Institute at Grand Valley State University and the coordinator for campus interfaith resources.
“The relationships I formed at Alma have been among the most impactful friendships and mentorships in my life. Staying involved at Alma has meant keeping the door open to these relationships that continue to give me a sense of becoming and belonging,” Gordon said.
The parade grand marshal for Alma College Homecoming is a figurehead who represents the essence of Alma College, as well as being a draw for alumni to return to campus.
Few faculty in the long history of Alma College have as much longevity — or are so beloved — as Mike Yavenditti, known affectionately to students and friends as “Yav.” Yavenditti, a professor emeritus of history, taught for 38 years (1968-2006) at Alma and was chosen as the Outstanding Faculty in Natural Sciences by the graduating classes in 1980, 1985, 1995 and 1998.
Yavenditti was twice awarded the Barlow Award for Faculty Excellence, first in 1984 — the third year of the award’s existence — and again in 1991. The faculty Barlow Award recognizes “those individuals within the faculty who have contributed the most by their work and example, often at personal sacrifice, to furthering the educational mission of Alma College.”
Former students came to know Yavenditti as an excellent lecturer with some curious quirks, including rolling his hands and closing his eyes when he spoke. One story passed down by generations of history majors at Alma explains that if Yavenditti was rolling one hand, you should be sure to include the remarks in your class notes. If he was rolling both hands, what he was saying was definitely going to be on the next test.
“Dr. Yavenditti represents the heart and soul of what Alma College is: deeply committed to students, empathetic, and intellectually challenging,” said Eric Blackhurst ’83, the current chair of the college Board of Trustees. “He brought his whole self to work every day for the college. Generations of successful Alma graduates owe him much for his inspiration and his authentic encouragement to each of them to keep getting better.”