2016 Distinguished Alumni Awards

Campus School Recognition Award

Community-builder, historian and ukulele-maker, Bellingham’s Brian Griffin

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Brian Griffin, Campus School Alumni Award recipient

Bellingham born-and-bred — apart from four years at Whitman College and two with the U.S. Counter Intelligence Corps in Korea — Brian Griffin established his Western connection at the Campus School.


“I started in kindergarten and went through ninth grade,” he says. “I was there so long ago that I remember watching with great fascination the blasting of the rock ridge under the space on which the science building was eventually built. It was kind of exciting.” He adds, “I’ve lived in Bellingham my whole life and I feel the roots.”

The image of deeply-seated roots is particularly apt as community-minded projects all over town have this local hero at their core: Griffin has been instrumental in developing some of Bellingham’s most visible landmarks, including the Parkade downtown parking structure, Fairhaven Village Green, Boulevard Park, and Depot Market Square, which houses the Bellingham Farmers Market.

“If you want to improve your community, you better be ready to contribute,” notes the retired insurance broker. These days, he relishes his passion and business as a luthier, a skill that grew out of his love of woodworking. Today he creates custom ukuleles that sell everywhere from Skagit County and Indiana to Australia, England and Germany.

Griffin is also the author of six books, four about local history and two of them on native bees. He is a nationally recognized expert on Osmia lignaria — the orchard mason bee — and the creator of Knox Cellars Native Bee Pollinators, a business that popularized this key pollinator. He has been honored with the Sally Rogers Award for Lifetime Achievement by Whitman College; with the Whatcom County Lifetime Business Achievement Award by Northwest Business Monthly; with the Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award; with the Rotary Club of Bellingham Community Service Award; and with the Whatcom Parks Foundation William Dietrich (’73, Journalism, Interdisciplinary Concentration) Award. Last year, he received the Bellingham Mayor’s Living Treasure Award from Mayor Kelli Linville (’74, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology; ’81, Speech Pathology/Audiology).

But possibly nothing has been as rewarding for Griffin as investigating and bringing to light fun, little-known regional stories. For this English-major-turned-historian, immersing himself in historical tales and bringing them to the public eye has been a favorite pastime. And he has always relished the joy of connections, finding them and making them.

He calls researching history “as exciting as prospecting for gold — you sift through a lot of material and once in a while you hit the motherlode.” Western’s Center for Pacific Northwest Studies at the Washington State Archives Building, as well as the Bellingham Public Library, have been treasure troves, for example. And he’s generous to colleagues, giving at a recent talk an official shout-out to the librarians, archivists and “fellow history nuts” with whom he works. Historians “get curious,” Griffin says. “And then one thing leads to another. There are a thousand stories and that’s what historians love to dig up.”

Distinguished Alumni, College of Business and Economics

Ron and Tracy Bundy

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Ron and Tracy Bundy, Distinguished Alumni, College of Business and Economics

Ronald J Bundy, (’89, Business Administration – Marketing) CEO of Russell Indexes, and Tracy Mari Bundy, (’88, Business Administration – Finance) a retired Boeing systems analyst, share a commitment to Western born during college when they met at a meeting for one of Western’s business clubs.


Today, when it comes to Western, the Bundys’ contributions complement one another: Ron serves on the College of Business and Economics advisory board, Tracy served on the Alumni Association board and both frequently attend WWU events. “I just loved being able to reconnect with alumni and work with them,” says Tracy of her time with the Alumni Association. “I also loved the way we had students come to meetings and give us updates on what was happening at Western — that was a great way to learn about new changes and developments.”

For Ron, serving on the CBE board re-establishes WWU ties and allows him to contribute his own perspective. “I can use my professional experience to determine ways to give back and support the university,” he says. “I always appreciated the impact that Western had on me from a career standpoint as well as personally: That’s where I met Tracy.”

Larry “Go Vikings!” Taylor Alumni Service Award

Kay Hovde

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Larry “Go Vikings!” Taylor Alumni Service Award, Kay Hovde

Kay Hovde (’84, Business Administration, Office Administration), a senior manager in business operations at Boeing, started her professional career at the Western Foundation.


“We computerized the division,” Hovde says. “That was the first time our donors were in a database; up until that point we were handwriting receipts.”

Through multiple jobs and states, Hovde’s engagement with Western never faltered. She joined the Alumni Association Board in the 1980s and later in Hawaii she was “the regional rep for the Alumni Association there.” When she moved back to Washington — after stints in Colorado and Kansas — she rejoined the Alumni board. She’s a longtime supporter of scholarships, making 83 gifts to WWU since graduation, and has mentored students in leadership classes.

At Boeing for the past 20 years, Hovde also mentors WWU interns and new hires who are Western grads. “At Boeing it’s amazing how many Western alums I run into, and I always encourage them to re-connect with Western — and to bring that connection back to Boeing.”

Young Alumni of the Year

Harrison Mills

Clayton Knight

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Young Alumni of the Year, Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight of ODESZA

Mills (’12, Design) and Knight (’12, Physics) make up the electronic dance music duo ODESZA, a wildly successful partnership that started during their senior year at Western. Their 2014 album, “In Return,” opened at No. 1 on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic album chart and their next album is in the works. Meanwhile, they’re performing sold-out shows around the world with a crew that includes several fellow Western alumni.


Distinguished Alumna, Huxley College of the Environment

Deborah M. Atwood

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Deborah M. Atwood, Distinguished Alumna, Huxley College of the Environment

For Deborah M. Atwood (’77, Marine Resources), an impressive career arc as a legislative and policy specialist stems directly from Western.


“I liked to challenge my student colleagues and professors in class: ‘We need to collaborate with the industry,’ I’d say. ‘You can’t just attack them — we need to find ways to address their environmental issues through both regulatory and collaborative efforts to clean up discharges to the air, water and land!’ I knew that that was what I wanted — I was going to go work for the industry and get them to change, get them to adopt more sound practices. And the school encouraged that thinking.”

Following jobs in marine resources, working for members of Congress in the House and Senate, serving as the deputy associate administrator for the EPA, and in the Secretary’s office at USDA, Atwood is executive director of AGree: Transforming Food and Ag Policy. She also sits on the boards of two international nonprofits that focus on global food security.

“I have had really interesting opportunities,” Atwood notes, “usually built around policy matters presented before Congress and the Executive Branch: farm bill, clean water, clean air, endangered species, and international agriculture development. The thread that goes through all of this is, how do we connect people to solve the problems at hand? That has always appealed to me.”

Lifetime Achievement Award

John Abrams

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John Abrams, Lifetime Achievement Award

John Abrams (’50, Education) has earned master’s and doctoral degrees. But, he says, “The education I got at Western has made my life.”


Abrams, a 30-year teacher and elementary school principal, and his spouse, Karl Compton, have supported Western in many ways, most recently with an $800,000 estate gift and a four-year scholarship for a freshman from Abrams’ and Compton’s hometown of Kingston.

“John’s Western education has meant so much to him,” notes Compton. “And Kingston is important because it’s our home.”

Distinguished Alumnus, College of Fine and Performing Arts

Ruben Van Kempen

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Ruben Van Kempen, Distinguished Alumnus, College of Fine and Performing Arts

Freelance theatre director Ruben Van Kempen (’92, M.A.,Theatre) recently retired after 38 years as head of Roosevelt High School’s acclaimed drama program in Seattle, but he still brings groups of high school theatre students to Western every other year with the Washington State Thespian Society. “The WWU teachers would lead workshops,” Van Kempen says. “I was immediately impressed by the level of the expertise and the level of the care.” Van Kempen himself is no stranger to accolades: Among other recognitions, he was inducted into the Educational Theatre Association National Hall of Fame in 2012 and was a 2000 recipient of a Christa McAuliffe teaching award. And several of his students have gone on to successful careers in the theatre — including at least one Tony award nominee.


Distinguished Alumnus: College of Humanities and Social Sciences

David A. Frank

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David A. Frank, Distinguished Alumnus: College of Humanities and Social Sciences

David Frank (’78, History, Speech Communication; ’79, Speech Communication) is a University of Oregon professor of rhetoric and expert in presidential rhetoric and international affairs who served as the founding dean of the U of O’s Clark Honors College from 2008 to 2013. He is the author of six books and the recipient of five teaching awards as well as grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation.


“I had great teachers at Western, including Larry S. Richardson and Leonard Helfgott, who taught me how to be a good scholar and teacher,” says Frank, a former member of the debate team who contributes to debate scholarships at Western. “I borrowed and stole from them over my 35-year career.”

Community Volunteer Recognition Award

Casey Diggs

Casey Diggs, operations manager at Boundary Bay Brewery, has generously provided in-kind donations for nearly a decade to many Western events, including for Back2Bellingham, Athletics events and the Ethnic Student Center’s 25th Reunion party. Diggs also coordinates Boundary Bay’s support of other community organizations like Boys & Girls Club of Whatcom County and Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association.

Legacy Family of the Year

The Linville, Kuljis and Parberry Families

Eighteen members of this extended family have attended Western, including Steve D. Kuljis (’49), Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville (’74, Speech-Language Pathology & Audiology; ’81, M.A., Speech Pathology/Audiology), and Louis H. Parberry III (’05, Music).

Campus Volunteer Recognition Award

Evelyn Ames

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Campus Volunteer Recognition Award recipient

Decades after she coached former Athletic Director Lynda Goodrich (’66 and ’73) in basketball and pioneered Western’s Bachelor of Science degree in Community Health, Evelyn V. Ames is still making her mark at Western through volunteer work. The 2003 retired professor guest lectures in health education, supports a scholarship in Community Health and writes the “Health Notes” column for the WWU Retirement Association. “I stay involved because it’s healthy for one’s mind and I enjoy it,” she says.

Distinguished Alumna, Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies

Ruth Mathews

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Ruth Mathews Distinguished Alumna, Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies

Ruth Mathews (’87, Interdisciplinary Concentration) is executive director of the Water Footprint Network, a Dutch NGO that promotes fair and sustainable water use around the globe. Even today, she calls on crucial lessons she learned at Fairhaven: “You don’t say, ‘It can’t be done.’ You see that there’s an opportunity, and you take it; you’re willing to innovate, you’re willing to take risks, you’re willing to go where it’s not comfortable.” Mathews has worked on water issues around the world, has lived in Vietnam and China, and currently resides in the Netherlands.

Distinguished Alumnus, College of Science and Engineering

David Kennerud

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David Kennerud, Distinguished Alumnus, College of Business and Economics

David Kennerud (’92, Mathematics) an actuary in the Seattle office of Milliman since 1997, has always appreciated the support he received at Western. And Western’s Math Department has benefited from Kennerud’s commitment to give back: Kennerud served on the College of Science and Engineering’s external advancement board for six years and he and his wife recently set up a $100,000 fund for the Math Department to support visiting scholars. “This was something that would benefit both students and faculty,” Kennerud says, “and that made a lot of sense to me.”

Distinguished Alumnus, Woodring College of Education

Thomas Keegan

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Tom Keegan, Distinguished Alumnus, Woodring College of Education

Tom Keegan (’84, M.Ed., Adult Education) has been president of Skagit Valley College since 2012. He still draws upon what he learned at Woodring: “The faculty members engaged me in a learning process which is still with me,” he says, “the idea that we should engage with students, treat each student as their own person while we create a community of learners.” This is Keegan’s second community college presidency: While he was president of Peninsula College, he led a capital campaign resulting in more than $120 million in new and remodeled facilities, including the construction of the nation’s first longhouse on a community college campus.