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2014 Washburn Alumni Awards


Distinguished Service Award

Recognizes alumni who have distinguished careers, brought honor to Washburn through accomplishments and made an impact in society, the Alumni Association and community.

Elsie (Medlin) Lesser, ba ’65, Topeka

Elsie LesserLesser’s commitment to Washburn spans six decades, beginning with her time as a student, to her work as the University’s director of student affairs and executive director of the Washburn Alumni Association. A member of the Washburn University Foundation board of trustees, Lesser is a recipient of the school’s Ruth Garvey Fink Award and assisted in the development of the first plans for an alumni center on campus. Lesser’s service to the community includes the Junior League of Topeka, the advisory board of the Presbyterian Manor and board of directors for the Topeka Library Foundation and Association of Continuing Legal Education Administrators.

Lesser on Washburn: “Washburn afforded me career opportunities that expanded my world and provided me the chance to do what I loved. If you hang around Washburn long enough, you meet and enjoy a multitude of great people from all backgrounds and experiences. I learned to dream, to see dreams come true and to be tolerant and supportive of the dreams of others.”

Mark Nordstrom, bba ’72, b ed ’75, Topeka

Mark NordstromNordstrom is the co-founder of Monarch Management Corporation and has served as president of the company since 1991. He has devoted his career to student accident, student athletic and insurance products design for the youth. A tennis star in college, Nordstrom is a member of the Washburn Athletics Hall of Fame and serves as a member of the Washburn University Foundation board of trustees. He is a member of the Foundation’s development committee and the Ichabod Athletic Fund board of directors. Nordstrom was named Washburn Ichabod of the Year in 2012, received the national silver medallion award for outstanding and extraordinary service in 2005 and was inducted into the Topeka Tennis Association Hall of Fame in 2012.

Nordstrom on Washburn: “Choosing Washburn was the best decision I ever made. Washburn was the right place for me then and now. … The Washburn experience continues to contribute to my life and to all Topekans. … Topeka is a much better place to live because of Washburn University and its graduates.”


Lilla Day Monroe Award

Recognizes women who have distinguished themselves as teachers, instructors, administrators or benefactors at Washburn.

Nancy Tate, associate vice president, academic affairs, Topeka

Nancy TateTate began her career at Washburn in 1985 as an assistant professor of mathematics and computer information sciences and has held a plethora of titles. She is the associate vice president of academic affairs and has served as interim director of undergraduate studies and programs, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, interim dean of the School of Applied Studies and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Tate received the Mana De Topeka Education Award in 2012 and is a member of Washburn women’s honor society NoNoSo. A native of Chanute, she received Neosho County Community College’s Distinguished Alumna Award in 1999.

Tate on Washburn: “One of the best decisions I ever made to accept an academic position at this university. I have had the good fortune to be mentored by wonderful role models at each successive position I have held, and I am grateful for their willingness to share the secrets to their success and for their faith in my ability to handle the challenges presented to me over the years.”


Col. John Ritchie Award

Recognizes men who have distinguished themselves as teachers, instructors, administrators or benefactors at Washburn.

Darrell Parnell, bs ’56, longtime professor of physics and astronomy, Topeka

Darrell ParnellParnell was a professor at Washburn for 43 years, including more than 20 years as chairman of the department of physics and astronomy. A Topeka native, he received a diploma from Topeka High in 1952 and a bachelor of science in physics from Washburn in 1956. He served in the Air Force for four years and received the Excellence in Teaching Award at Washburn. His extensive community service includes being a ruling elder for the Topeka Reformed Presbyterian Church since 1965 and lecturing before numerous civic and religious groups on astronomy and science. An asteroid, (24305)darrellparnell, is named after the longtime professor.

Parnell on Washburn: “Washburn prepared me to fulfill my sixth-grade dream to be a teacher in a school setting. … After completing my master’s degree, I was called into the Air Force. Toward the end of my commitment on active duty, Dr. Alexander called and asked if I would like to teach in the physics department. I said ‘YES!’ … The rest is history.”


Graduate of the Last Decade (GOLD) Award

Honors recent alumni who demonstrate leadership in career or civic endeavors and loyalty to Washburn.

Laura Burton, ba ’05, Topeka

Laura BurtonBurton is a community liaison at Midland Care Connection, where she markets the company’s range of health care services. Before working at her current position, she was a public education coordinator for the Topeka YWCA Center for Safety and Empowerment. Her community and professional service includes working as a graphic artist for The Craftivists art collective and serving as a member of the YWCA Concealed Revealed Art Auction planning committee. Burton was named to the Greater Topeka’s 20 Under 40 by the Jayhawk Area Council in 2013 and honored as volunteer of the quarter by the Topeka Correctional Facility in 2012.

Burton on Washburn: “Washburn provides excellent liberal arts education, which is exactly what young professionals need. My career has benefited from my ability to think critically and quickly pick up new skills. … Political science gave me a good background in many of these fields, but more importantly, my degree produced the ability to think through problems from all the angles.”

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Topeka, KS 66604 Phone: 785.670.4483