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Distinguished Alumni Award

2024 Award Winner: Ruth Kelly

Ruth Kelly has had many careers in her life. She credits GRCC with building a foundation for all those roles by allowing her to explore different interests and introducing her to new perspectives.

Ruth earned her associate’s degree from GRCC, then went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in political and social sciences and education from Aquinas College, followed by a certificate in Montessori education and a master’s in educational technology from Grand Valley State University.

From there, her life has been a story of public service. She worked in GRPS for 20 years, first as a Montessori teacher and later as a middle school teacher. Working as a community organizer on political campaigns and initiatives inspired her to run for a seat on the City Commission, and she was elected to represent the 2nd Ward from 2010-2019. Her wisdom, calm demeanor, friendly smile and determined attitude are consistent hallmarks of her service to the entire community.

The Ruth and Carl Kelly Public Service Scholarship, established by her brother and his wife, carries on Ruth’s legacy. It encourages students with financial need, especially new Americans, to serve the public through enlightened decision-making based in solid and continuing education.

About the Distinguished Alumni Award

The Distinguished Alumni Award is the highest honor bestowed upon a former student of Grand Rapids Community College. The award recognizes former Grand Rapids Community College or Grand Rapids Junior College students who, through their distinction in their chosen field of endeavor, service to society, and dedication and loyalty to the college, exemplify the core values of Accountability, Diversity, Excellence, Innovation, Integrity, Respect, Responsiveness, and Sustainability.

Nominations for the GRCC Distinguished Alumni Award are accepted on an on-going basis. All nominations are kept and reviewed annually, with the winner being selected in January of each year. The 2020 award-winner will be recognized for their achievements at the 2025 Commencement Ceremony. For more information, contact Jenna Mencarelli, Development Manager of Alumni Relations and Annual Giving, at (616) 234-3205 or

Distinguished Alumni Nomination Form

Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

2020 to 2024

2024Ruth KellyEducator and Public ServantGRPS and City of Grand Rapids
2023Olivia Margo AndersonEducatorGRPS
2022Loyd WinerEngineerNewhof and Winer Inc.
2021Sekou SmithJournalist NBA
2020Dr. Nkechy Ekere EzehAssociate Professor of Education and Director of Early Childhood Education ProgramAquinas College

2019 to 2000

Year Recipient Title Employer
2019 Teresa Weatherall Neal Superintendent Grand Rapids Public Schools
2018 Jane Doyle Veteran,Women’s Air Force Service Pilot 75
2017 Dr. Scott Haraburda Retired Colonel U.S. Army
2016 Dirk Hoffius Lawyer Varnum LLP
2015 Terri A. Handlin Board of Trustees (1991-2013)

Grand Rapids Community College

Forest Hills Public Schools
2014 John A. Hallacy Chief Judge 10th Judicial District Court, Battle Creek, MI
2013 Kevin Belk Chief of police Grand Rapids Police Department
2013 Tom Rademacher Columnist The Grand Rapids Press
2012 Dr. Kevin O'Neill Superintendent Coopersville Public Schools
2011 James V. Buzzitta, M.D. Founder

Chief executive officer
Michigan Medical P.C.

Hughes Management
2011 Janice L. Maggini Board of Trustees (1991-2011)

Grand Rapids Community College

Wyoming Public Schools
2010 Dave Custer President

Custer Workplace Interiors

Board of Directors, GRCC
2009 Gary Schenk Board of Trustees(1997-2009)

Grand Rapids Community College

Schenk, Boncher, Rypma P.C.
2008 George Lessens Chief meteorologist WZZM 13
2007 Jim McKay Chairperson West Michigan Northern Trust Bank
2006 Bill Hardiman Senator 29th District, State of Michigan
2006 Michael Sak State representative,
Speaker pro tempore
House of Representatives,
State of Michigan
2005 Edward "Ned" Fenlon Attorney State representative and Circuit Court Judge
2004 Dr. Donald R. Boyer Provost and vice president of Academic and Student Affairs Grand Rapids Community College
2003 Sara J. Smolenski Chief judge 63rd District Court
2002 John Selmon Senior vice president Davenport University
2001 Steven Pestka State Representative House of Representatives, 76th District
State of Michigan
2000 Donald Maine President Davenport University

1999 to 1990

Year Recipient Title Employer
1999 Dr. Robert J. LaPenna Cardiologist Borgess Cardiology Group
1998 Gary Goode Partner Arthur Anderson
1997 Howard Stovall Attorney Baker & McKenzie
1996 Armen Oumedian Senior vice president Pinnacle Automation Inc.
1995 Beverly Drake Executive Director Area Community Services Employment and Training Council
1994 Dr. William LaPenna Cardiologist Borgess Cardiology Group
1993 Billie Alexander Director Project Rehab
1993 Wallace "Pete" DeMaagd Columnist The Grand Rapids Press
1992 Myrna Granderson Health services manager Grand Rapids Job Corps Center
1992 Gary J. Horton Executive vice president, creative services D'Arcy Masius Benton and Bowles
1991 Richard Reid

Foreign language instructor

Grand Rapids Community College
1991 James Robinson Partner

Honigman Mill Schwartz and Cohn

State Bar of Michigan
1990 Sara E. Glover Nurse Grand Rapids, MI
1990 William C. Woodson Director of Graduate Studies in English Illinois State University

1989 to 1980

Year Recipient Title Employer
1989 Joseph Shears Coordinator Veterans facility
1988 Winfred Ferrell Computer consultant New York, NY
1988 The Rev. Russell McConnell Founder Grand Rapids Area Center for Ecumenism (GRACE)
1987 Dr. Richard M. Tooker Physician Kent County Health Department
1987 Audrey Wright Educator East Grand Rapids High School and Louisiana State University
1986 Dr. Kenneth Fellows, Jr. Educator Harvard Medical School
1986 Hugh D. Hammerslag Partner Seidman & Seidman
1985 Harry Bloem Executive vice president Bissel Inc.
1985 Dr. Robert Gill Educator, cartoonist Grand Rapids Public Schools
1985 William Lewis Educator University of Michigan
1984 David Cope Poet, English instructor Grand Rapids Junior College
1984 Roy Roberts Executive and civic leader General Motors Corp.
1984 Vern Terpstra Professor emeritus International Business, University of Michigan
1983 Marvin DeWinter Architect DeWinter Associates Inc.
1983 George Nelson Superintendent Grand Rapids, MI
1983 Caroll Streeter Community leader Grand Rapids, MI
1982 Helen Morsink Instructor Central Michigan University
1982 O. Steward Myers Instructor Grand Rapids Junior College
1982 David E. Post Architect Post Associates Inc.
1981 Abe Drasin Mayor Grand Rapids, MI
1981 Bonnie Marris Wildlife artist Saranac, MI
1980 Gerald A. Elliott Writer The Grand Rapids Press
1980 Calvin Jeter Administrator, businessman Grand Rapids, MI

1979 to 1964

Year Recipient Title Employer
1979 Dorothy L. Judd Educator and civic leader Grand Rapids, MI
1979 John P. Steketee Presiding judge Kent County Juvenile Court
1978 Carl Morgenstern President Old Kent Bank
1978 Marjorie Shepard Principal South High School
1978 Adrian Swets Composer, playwright and designer Grand Rapids Junior College
1977 Elias Lumpkins Dean of Students Grand Rapids Junior College
1977 Jo Ellen Stuit President of Alumni Association Grand Rapids Junior College
1977 Werner Veit Editor and publisher The Grand Rapids Press
1976 John D. B. Luyendyk Lawyer Grand Rapids, MI
1976 Lumen Martin Winter Artist, sculptor and muralist New York, NY
1975 Dr. Clarence A. Boonstra Foreign service officer

U.S. Government

Costa Rica
1975 The Rev. Robert Hesse Catholic missionary Holy Cross Fathers, Ankole, Uganda
1975 Dr. Jerome F. Mancewicz Physician Grand Rapids, MI
1975 Dr. Theresa R. Palaszek Obstetrician and gynecologist Grand Rapids, MI
1974 Richard L. Cooper Journalist, Pulitzer Prize Rochester, NY
1974 Dr. Isla G. Depree Physician For Myers, FL
1973 Dr. James A. Ferguson Physician Ferguson Hospital
1973 Elizabeth Wilson Actress Broadway stage, screen, and television
1972 Edward Goebel Industrialist Holland, MI
1972 Ray E. Stevens, Jr. Dentist and photographer Grand Rapids, MI
1971 Dr. Harvey M. Andre Surgeon Grand Rapids, MI
1971 Dr. Henry A. Bruinsma Educator Calvin College
1970 Dr. Ray B. Loeschner President Olivet College
1970 Arthur S. Nicholas Founder Leon Chemicals Inc.
1969 Dr. Russell N. DeJong Neurologist University of Michigan
1969 Vernor H. Eman Dentist Grand Rapids, MI
1968 Dr. Bernadine DeValdis Physician Holland, MI
1968 Christian Sonneveldt Mayor Grand Rapids, MI
1967 The Rev. John M. Burgess Bishop Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts in Boston
1967 Dr. Howard J. Schaubel Orthopedic surgeon Grand Rapids, MI
1966 Dr. Gould A. Andrews Surgeon and administrator Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies
1966 The Rev. Robert j. Lignell Minister Faith Lutheran Church
1965 Harry E. Cheesebrough Product Planning and Development Chrysler Corp.
1965 George Huebner Director of research Chrysler Corp.
1965 Dr. Jay L. Pylman Superintendent Grand Rapids Public Schools
1965 Dr. Clarence Straatsma Professor Plastic and reconstructive surgery, New York Medical College
1964 John T. Bargert Engineer Bell Telephone Laboratories
1964 E. Ray Baxter Dean Grand Rapids Junior College
1964 Russell Christopher Musician Metropolitan Opera
1964 Edward N. Cole Industrialist and executive General Motors Corp.
1964 R. Hiley Davis Industrialist American Seating Co.
1964 Lawrence J. Fuller Brigadier general U.S. Army
1964 Richard M. Gillett Chairman Old Kent Bank
1964 Arnold Gingrich Publisher Esquire
1964 Dr. John Hannah President Michigan State University
1964 Dr. Andrew Kosten Minister Ridgefield Park, NJ
1964 Robert Lindquist Banker Harris Trust and Savings
1964 K. William Stinson Congressman U.S. House of Representatives