2016 Alumni Award Recipients Announced

Doane University presented eight alumni awards to nine individuals at the annual awards banquet held in conjunction with the college’s Homecoming events Sunday, October 16. Recipients of this year’s awards included: India Williams (Kansas City, Missouri), Patricia Mahar (Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida), Fred Ritter (Columbus), Ruth Olsen (Lincoln), John and Leslie Allbery (Denver, Colorado), Craig Coppersmith (Elkhorn), John Lothrop (Crete) and Dr. Brenda Neumon Lewis (Norfolk, Virginia).

Biographies on these individuals and more information about the awards they received are below.


Honor D Award

Presented to former Doane athletes who have distinguished themselves by outstanding service in their life’s work. Must have lettered in a sport at Doane.

Craig Coppersmith ’85  

Craig Coppersmith ’85 was a Doane Scholar, coming to campus from Ralston High School.

He could have attended other institutions but chose Doane for its personalized instruction, dual-degree engineering program and baseball.

As a member of Tiger Baseball, he demonstrated the qualities that have taken him far in his career, embracing the team approach and a reputation for giving his all, all of the time. Craig was a three-year letterman at Doane, regular starter and academic honoree. The program came to count on Craig’s leadership and reliable glove in centerfield.

Off the diamond, he was a leader in Sigma Phi Theta fraternity, Student Congress, the C-PALS service organization and Phi Eta Sigma honor society.

Craig studied math and physics in Doane’s pre-engineering program—three years of coursework at Doane and two years at an approved engineering school— and went on to the University of Missouri in Columbia, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering.

Craig’s career started as a structural engineer in St. Louis. The job offered had serious “cool factor”—he performed a full building inspection of the high rise featured in the film “Die Hard” for post-production damage—but more importantly, it gave him an appreciation for different cultures through extended assignments in Barcelona, Hong Kong and Istanbul.

Craig earned his Professional Engineer’s license and joined Greenstreak Group, a manufacturer of engineered waterproofing and containment systems for large infrastructure such as dams, tunnels and waste-water treatment plants. At Greenstreak, he helped assemble a core group of professionals and together they established the company as a global leader.

When the company sold in 2010, he joined the leadership team of Nox-Crete Products Group, an Omaha based manufacturer of chemical solutions for concrete construction. After 30 years in St. Louis, this new opportunity brought Craig full circle back to Nebraska.

Throughout his career, Craig realized how pivotal his Doane experience had been, from life lessons on the baseball diamond to learning in the classroom from professors like Drs. Mildred Gross, Chris Masters and Liam Purdon. He remembers the financial aid office helping him find a way to stay at Doane when money was tight. He went from a “sophomore struggling to make ends meet” to becoming the Margaret Aldrich Scholarship recipient, and he has never forgotten it.

He made good on a personal promise to help current students in a similar way. The Craig and Juli Coppersmith Scholarship, created in 2012, is awarded to students with financial needs, particularly students in engineering and baseball.

Craig decided to further reciprocate the generosity Doane showed him, and he now mentors and offers advice to Doane students interested in pre-engineering related degrees and is a strong supporter of Tiger Baseball. The Coppersmiths also are supporters of local and national non-profit causes close to their heart.

Craig’s generosity and dedication to Doane are even more impressive considering that until 2015, he did not have a Doane diploma. A stipulation within the dual degree program prevented him from Doane’s official degree until last year. University staff, President Jacque Carter and friends from his years on campus gathered for a surprise celebration, and Craig “earned his shield” at 2015 Commencement.

The most important priority in Craig’s life and the one aspect of his life’s work that he most proud of is his family. He and his wife Juli and their two sons, Cole and Chance, live in Elkhorn while their daughter, Brianna, lives in St. Louis.


Young Alumnus Award

Presented to Doane graduates 35 years of age or younger, recognizes their commitment to excellence in a chosen career.

India Williams ’07  

As luck would have it, India Williams’ ’07 high school counselor was a Doane graduate, and—seeing her great potential—wanted her to enroll at Doane where she could realize her potential.

The counselor even drove India from Kansas City, Missouri, to Crete for a campus visit. Scholarships, grants and journalism opportunities sealed the deal, and India became the first in her family to attend college.

But India did much more than simply “attend.” From the start, she was a presence on campus, vibrant and vivacious, lending her energy to everything and everyone who crossed her path. In her first year with Doane Track and Field, one could see her running, laughing and snapping her fingers to encourage her teammates. At student congress meetings, her confidence, intelligence and wit came through.

India quickly became a charismatic campus leader, involved with The Doane Owl, DCTV, Doane Ambassadors and Student Congress. She was selected to the Homecoming Court and awarded the Zenon C.R. Hansen Bulldog Award, which is given to students who have demonstrated a commitment to leadership and service to the Doane community. Of all her campus roles, though, working with Multicultural Services, Students for Change and the Trio Program were most important to her because she could help minority students thrive on a campus not as diverse as their hometowns. She promoted diversity and acceptance and helped recruit minorities.

India graduated in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and took a job as a television producer at an ABC news station in Topeka, Kansas. When the economic downturn forced a job change, she persevered, finding and excelling in another field. India became a senior enrollment advisor at the University of Phoenix in Kansas City, meeting students from all walks of life while earning her Master of Business Administration through the university at the same time.

Six years later, India began a new career with KIPP, a nonprofit network of public charter schools preparing students in educationally underserved communities for success in college and life. India became the college advisor and office manager in its Kansas City region, and then quickly advanced to Director of KIPP Through College, which works to eliminate opportunity gaps between students from high- and low-income communities and keeps KIPP students on the journey to graduation and beyond. India manages budgets, communications, events, services and her staff focused on college readiness.

As a young adult, her resume already contains impressive civic and volunteer roles, most visibly in her new role as Jackson County Committeewoman of the 10th Ward. As an elected official, she is responsible for voter registration, community forums and election operations within her ward. India also serves on the Board of Directors of Developmental Disability Services of Jackson County and the Diversity Task Force of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Kansas City. She’s a senior advisor for “Generation Rap,” a teen radio show on Kansas City’s KPRS 103.3 FM, and a proud member of the Kansas City Association for Black Journalists.

That would be an impressive list for someone twice her age, yet alone a young woman not yet a decade beyond college. Her motto is “Passion + Purpose = Results” and she embodies it. She has already given back to Doane, wanting to help other students start their journeys on the campus she loved and impacted. She also serves on Doane’s Kansas City Area Alumni Chapter Leadership Team.

It’s Doane’s gain that India made that road trip with her school counselor to Crete. Many other people have—and will—benefit from her talents.


Paul D. Kersenbrock Humanitarian Award

Given to alumni who exemplify the characteristics and life of the late Paul D. Kersenbrock, a member of the class of 1963 and native of Crete, who distinguished himself by extraordinary, unselfish service to others.

John Lothrop ’68

For John R. Lothrop ’68, both Doane and the Paul Kersenbrock Humanitarian Award carry vast significance in his life. John is part of a defining Doane family, with four generations and nearly 20 family members earning degrees. 

He knows the intent and heart of the Kersenbrock Award because he knew the man behind it—Paul Kersenbrock was a close friend of John’s brother Richard, and he remembers Paul visiting their home almost daily.

When John came to Doane in the mid-1960s, he quickly stepped into leadership roles during an exciting and memorable era on campus. He joined Delta Kappa Pi fraternity. He excelled on the gridiron as a standout defensive end for the 1965 Tiger Football team that started Doane’s historic 38-game winning streak. His athletic talent twice earned him the Bert Knapp Award for football prowess and scholarship, while later in life he received Doane’s Honor D and Athletic Hall of Fame awards—both of the college’s highest athletic honors.

John graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s in mathematics in 1968, followed by graduate study at the University of Minnesota and a master’s in computer science from the University of Missouri. He then went on to graduate study in telecommunications at the University of Colorado Boulder. John’s career in engineering and information technology burgeoned working for Western Electric Company and then 20 years with Avaya (formerly AT&T Bell Laboratories and Lucent Technologies) in Denver, and he also holds several technology-related patents.

He has a lifetime full of achievements. John spent 32 years as a high-school and college football official, serving as state president of the Colorado High School Football Officials Association and earning a place in the Colorado Football Officials Hall of Fame. For nearly 20 years, he’s been a member of the Corporate Advisory Council of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, leading the group for 12. He served as an “Executive on Loan” from AT&T to AISES for one year.

With Doane, John has participated in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life campus event for 10 years, raising more than $40,000 for the cause. He was a founding member and past president of Doane’s Rocky Mountain Alumni Chapter. He’s given his service to Doane as a class agent, advisor for Delta Kappa Pi, major gift officer and vice president of advancement.

In his hometown of Crete, he’s worked with a backpack program for elementary school students, the Grocery Grab to fund scholarships for local high school graduates, the Crete Rotary Club (a two-term president) and implemented a recycling program at the Saline County Fair. He’s served meals for Crete’s shut-ins on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and as a Crete Ambassador for Tabitha of Crete, he was instrumental in facilitating a $600,000 gift to the organization. Finally, he’s held leadership roles in the United Church of Christ First Congregational in Crete and Colorado, serving as a moderator, board member and treasurer.

John’s service projects have taken him from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota to Guatemala, where a partnership between UCC and the nonprofit Constru Casa allowed him to help build sustainable housing for people living in poverty. He is a Friends of Constru Casa USA board member.

John and his wife Gale have been married for 35 years and recently moved to Sedona, Arizona. They have two sons Christopher Hodkins and Griffin Lothrop ’06, who’s married to Amanda ’06 (Bennett), and grandchildren Annabelle and Bernadette.

In each aspect, his peers say, he is “inspirational, uplifting and humble…a humanitarian in the truest sense of the word.” 


Exceptional Service Award

Presented to alumni for extraordinary service to forward the goals and objectives of Doane University.

John ’80 and Leslie Higgins ’80 Allbery

Whenever John ’80 and Leslie Higgins ’80 Allbery get involved with Doane projects, a little magic seems to follow.

Whether in Crete, Omaha or Denver, their name and presence is enough to fill a room, deliver a meaningful message or make a fledgling idea a success, which makes for exceptional volunteers and servant leaders.

Leslie grew up in an Army family and attended schools across the country and abroad before attending Doane for two years. She then graduated from Katharine Gibbs School in Boston before returning to Omaha to work for First Data Resources and marrying John in 1989.

John’s career eventually took them to Budapest, Hungary. He was the partner-in-charge of Deloitte & Touche Central Europe while Leslie cared for their two young daughters, Whitney and Alexandra, and volunteered her service to the American Women’s Association and the International Women’s Association. When the family returned to Omaha, she continued volunteering, including her service with the parent groups at Brownell-Talbot and Millard North schools. When Whitney enrolled at Doane in 2010, Leslie became a familiar volunteer to Doane and Leslie’s sorority, Phi Sigma Tau.

John’s spare time on campus was split between athletics, music and leading the Alpha Omega fraternity. He achieved Phi Eta Sigma honors and earned his bachelor’s in accounting, followed by a CPA license and a master’s in business administration from Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

His resume contains more than 30 years of executive management experience, including two decades in public accounting – most as a senior partner with Deloitte in Omaha, Iowa and Europe. John transitioned into a role as executive vice president of global operations for Transgenomic, a global biotech company he helped take public on NASDAQ. 

John then led the Wealth Management Group for First National Nebraska, and was active in the Omaha community, serving on the board of several charities. He also won a fierce battle with throat cancer, which led to his leadership for the Eppley Cancer Center and Nebraska Medical Center.   

John is now president, chief operating officer and partial owner of NFT, headquartered in Golden, Colorado. The company has a rich history in the nuclear weapons, aerospace and automation engineering markets. John has led NFT to such recognition as the 2016 Colorado Companies To Watch award, NASA’s Orion Space Program Manager’s Commendation Award and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s 2015 Excellence-in-Manufacturing award.   

Through location and career changes and major life events John and Leslie have always reserved time and energy for Doane, including nearly six years on the Alumni Council and time as co-presidents.

The Allberys were instrumental in launching the Doane Omaha Alumni Chapter. When Doane’s College of Professional Studies opened its doors in Omaha, the Allberys’ alumni events worked to increase awareness and engage Doane friends.

They left a much stronger, more engaged chapter when they moved to Denver, and Doane now sees the same charmed success in their work with the Rocky Mountain Alumni Chapter. The Allberys support Colorado students currently attending Doane, sending care packages during finals week, opening up their home for summer send-off events and reaching out to students’ parents.

The Allberys have lent Doane their time, talent and treasure—each time lending Doane a bit of their magic.


Alumni Educator of the Year Award

Presented annually to alumni who have made outstanding contributions in the field of education.

Dr. Brenda Neumon Lewis ’70

In a 1998 news article in the New Journal and Guide—a newspaper in Norfolk, Virginia—Dr. Brenda Neumon Lewis ’70 is quoted as saying, “My goal is to always look for opportunities where I can be of service and to grow.”

The article described one of the many innovative educational programs she led over her career, but the quote describes Brenda, too.

From the time she enrolled at Doane to her retirement from Old Dominion University, Brenda’s life was one of significant service to others and growth—both personal and in the thousands of student lives she helped shape.

Brenda came to Doane from Montclair, New Jersey. She joined Omega Psi Theta sorority and became an education major, studying with professor Lowell Dodd. In her junior year, she spent a semester studying in Copenhagen, Denmark.

After she graduated in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, Brenda earned a master’s in reading education from Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University) and then earned her doctorate in educational administration and leadership from the Division of Educational Policy and Leadership from Ohio State University.

From there, she never stopped teaching, learning and leading, in a variety of roles from overseeing an interdisciplinary studies program to serving as associate vice president for graduate studies at Old Dominion.

Brenda completed numerous professional development programs, earning certificates in management and leadership in higher education from the Harvard Graduate School Institute for Graduate Education, the American Council on Education National Leadership Forum and ACE/VANET Senior Seminar.

Her career took her to Ohio State, Franklin University, the University of Maryland, Norfolk State University and Old Dominion, from which she retired after 24 years of service. Her professional activities included consulting, speaking and writing in the areas of assessment, diversity, leadership and mentoring.

Brenda earned many awards and honors over the years. She was given the Woman of the Year Award through Old Dominion’s Women’s Caucus, the Leila Robertson Award for Outstanding Service from the YWCA, the Visionary Award through the ODU Coalition of Black Faculty and Administrators and a Favorite Professor award from Delta Sigma Lambda sorority. Brenda was also inducted into the National Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi.

Her community and volunteer roles vary from service to the Help and Emergency Response Shelter to the School for International Studies at Meadowbrook, ODU Credit Union and the YWCA of South Hampton Roads (past president). She is active in the National Council of Negro Women-Virginia Beach Section, the Woman’s Club of Norfolk (where she is president-elect) and the New Life Church. She is a 20-year member of a book club.

Brenda currently works in the Life Enrichment Center, a nonprofit which partners with the public schools in the area to provide year-long literacy tutoring for students in Title 1 schools.

Brenda lives in Norfolk, Virginia, with her husband Woodrow Lewis Jr., a retired judge from the Virginia Beach Juvenile Domestic and Family Relations Court. They have three children—Kayin, Kimani and Killian—and five grandchildren.


Platt Music Award

Presented to alumni for outstanding achievement in music. Recipient is selected by the music department.

Fred Ritter ’78

It’s hard to believe today, but someone once told Fred Ritter ’78 he would not become a music teacher. That discouraging prediction—from his community college music director—was remarkably mistaken or, at the least, premature.

Fred became a music teacher in the broadest sense of the title: a decorated vocal teacher, performer, clinician and adjudicator, both a leader in his profession and a mentor to countless students.

Ironically, once he came to Doane, the first words he heard from Dr. Richard Dudley were “We’re going to make you into a music teacher!” It was uplifting and affirming to know that a professor recognized the potential in him, a young man who came to love music singing in a country church.

Fred earned his undergraduate degree from Doane, as well as a Master of Education in music from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Along with Dr. Dudley, he credits professors Lowell Dodd, Jim Bastian, Glenn Peterson, Hubert Brown and Gary McKercher for “guiding this young farm boy from Tilden into a career of making music that I am so thankful for.”

Ritter’s career teaching music took him first to North Platte and then to Columbus Public Schools, where he retired in 2015 after 37 years teaching high school and junior high school vocal music. In his last year of teaching, Columbus Schools honored him with its “Educator-of-the-Year” award.

Fred is the Nebraska Music Education Association’s current president, and served the American Choral Directors Association at the state and regional level, including a stint as state president. He is past president of the Nebraska Choral Directors Association and the vocal jazz chairman for the state and regional levels for ACDA. Fred sang professionally with the Norman Luboff Choir, one of the leading touring choral groups of its time, and currently lends his voice as a member of Fremont’s Pathfinders Barbershop Chorus.

The Tilden native has directed more than 100 choral festivals and numerous community choirs. He was an adjudicator in competitions for vocal jazz festivals and district music contests, and is a familiar choral clinician and adjudicator for vocal festivals in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota. He also founded the Columbus Area Praise Choir and is a longtime worship leader at Word of Life Church.

In 2015, Fred received the Cornell Runestad Award given for a “Lifetime Dedication to Choral Excellence” by the Nebraska Choral Directors Association. The award description states that each recipient “has left a legacy,” and that could not be truer for Fred.

He and his wife Becky have five children: Jacob Ritter ’05, Alex Ritter, Celeste Ritter Ditter ’08, David Ritter and Brianna Rerucha. Two are Doane graduates, three music educators and two children in careers involving music. Fred and Becky also have two grandchildren.  

Together, they formed the family business VoiceHouse, which along with music education and clinician roles, offers performances by the family a cappella singing group, sound reinforcement and DJ services.

In the information submitted for this award, Fred thanked Doane for the influence made on his young life. As one can tell, and this award shows, he has more than paid it forward.


Builder Award

Presented yearly to alumni who have made immeasurable contribution of time and effort to the building of the university and whose leadership has set a living example.

Patricia Mazanec Mahar ’67                                                                                  

Patricia Mazanec Mahar ’67 came to Doane from Lexington High School, where she was co-valedictorian of her graduating class, hinting at the leadership roles and honors to follow throughout her college and career.

As a student of the Crete campus in the 1960s, she was part of a fervent student body that produced a remarkable number of leaders and difference-makers in their post-college years. On campus, Patricia was in Omega Psi Theta sorority and Cardinal Key, and served as treasurer of Student Council and president of the Student Teachers Association. In 1967, she graduated cum laude with her bachelor’s in elementary education. She followed it with a master’s in elementary education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as well as additional hours in special education, accounting and business at UNL and Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.

Patricia’s distinguished career began as a reading specialist in the Norris School District, followed by positions in Lincoln; Millard; Anita, Iowa; and Fox Chapel, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. She used her education background throughout her career, spending time as a first grade teacher, special education work-study coordinator, resource teacher and an English as a Second Language instructor and Job Corp individualized learning. She received an Outstanding Young Educator Award, as well as grants for teaching modules for special needs students.

Patricia met her husband, William Mahar, in high school. They’ve lived all over the country, from Pittsburgh to Cleveland, Chicago to Orlando and even in Palm Desert, California. With each move came a new job and often a new career for Patricia. She transitioned from education to the benefits and actuarial field, going on to earn the designation of certified pension consultant. She authored the “Top Heavy Provisions” of the first American Society of Pension Actuaries home study courses and taught pension courses.

Patricia became president of Southeast Benefit Services, a firm that designed and administered employee retirement plans, and then was the founder and chief executive officer of two benefit consulting and administration firms. She is past president of the Central Florida Employee Benefits Council; past secretary and vice president of the Florida Association of Pension Consultants; and a former member of the Maitland Police and Firefighters Pension Trust Fund Board. She served on the Orange County Purchasing Review Committee.

Patricia has taken on numerous volunteer roles in Howey-in-the Hills, Florida, where she and William now live. Patricia was the interim library director and helped develop websites for two Homeowner Associations. She is a member of Howey-in-the-Hills’ Garden and Civic Club and served as a volunteer for AARP Tax Aide. Patricia is a cancer survivor, and helped form the Lake County Florida ovarian cancer support group.

Patricia’s strong connections with Doane over the years has led to her sharing her time and talents to better the university and its future students through the Alumni Council, as a class agent or serving on the Board of Trustees. 

She was Doane’s alumni trustee from 1990-2003 and a trustee serving on the Building and Grounds Committee from 2004-09, demonstrating the service qualities and love of Doane that the prestigious Builder Award represents.

Her appreciation of the historical Crete campus and its buildings has spanned her life, from student to Emeritus Trustee. As a trustee, she recognized and respected the physical structures of the campus and their significance to generations of alumni, working to preserve as many as feasible. The preservation of the portico of the former Whitin Building—now incorporated into the entry of the Chab Weyers Education and Hixson Lied Art Building—is just one example of her influence.

In 2014, Patricia and William established an endowed gift to Doane to help future students achieve educational dreams and ambitions, extending Patricia’s contributions to Doane well into the future.


President’s Award for Leadership

Presented to alumni and friends of the college who have shown extraordinary service and leadership in their communities.

Ruth Olsen ’53                                                                                 

For Ruth (Ross) Olsen ’53, childhood memories mingle with recollections of Doane’s Crete campus. It’s where her grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and more than 50 relatives earned degrees and the beautiful space naturally became a special place to visit.

Years after she graduated, Doane became a fixture in Ruth’s own life, and her passion has never waned. One could argue that few people can match her historical knowledge and love for her alma mater.

She earned her bachelor’s degree from Doane in 1953, finishing her final credits at the University of California and transferring them back to Doane for graduation. She immersed herself in campus life as a student, getting involved with Phi Sigma Tau sorority, Drum Corp, Tiger Cheerleading, Cardinal Key, Doane Players, Doane Singers and even the Dolphins, a synchronized swimming club.

Ruth met her husband, the Rev. Walter Olsen ’52, at Doane, and they married the day he graduated in June 1952. They raised three children who each earned their own Doane degrees, but their relationship with the college didn’t stop there. Walt served on the Board of Trustees and together, he and Ruth were co-chairpersons for the Bridge to Distinction Campaign, which raised $10.35 million in a three-year period. The Olsens were honored with the Builder Award, the highest honor Doane graduates can receive.

Ruth is a member of the Doane Society Member, Heritage Society and Thomas Doane Society. She helped create the Ruth Olsen Scholarship Fund and Walt Olsen Memorial Endowment while also giving generously to causes ranging from new campus buildings to Greek scholarships, the Robert L. Polk Lectureship on Race and Social Justice, memorials and more. 

Those are only the highlights of all the things Ruth has done in support of the Doane community over the years. She has made countless phone calls to alumni contacts, convinced volunteers to pitch in, alumni to gather and pockets to open in support of Doane’s mission. The Olsens prayed for Doane and looked out for its people; they took time to raise the spirits of staff who needed encouragement or a student wavering on a difficult path.

This Homecoming, though, the award honors Ruth for both what the Olsens have done for Doane and what she continues to do on her own. When Walt—her lifelong companion since they met at Doane—passed away in 2010, she continued to support their alma mater. She remains involved with Doane and significantly promotes the impact of student scholarships. She also keeps tabs on the Walt Olsen Endowment and the ways it helps professors and students.

Extraordinary service and leadership in communities is the heart of this award. Ruth reflects both. She worked for Berkeley Camp Fire Girls while Walt completed seminary education in Berkeley, California, and became a physical education teacher and helped at a public school day care center. As Walt’s long career as a United Church of Christ pastor took them to Albion and Cambridge, Nebraska; Harlan and Iowa City, Iowa; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Ruth devoted her time to their children—James, Mary and Elizabeth—as well as to church and volunteer roles. Her volunteer service includes work with Girl Scouts, senior housing centers and P.E.O. Sisterhood, serving as its Wisconsin president.

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