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Nine to receive Distinguished Alumni Awards April 20

Exceptional achievement

Nine graduates will receive 2007 Distinguished Alumni Awards on Friday, April 20, for exceptional achievement and contributions to their professions and communities.

Minnesota State University, Mankato Media Relations Office news release

Nine Minnesota State Mankato graduates have been named 2007 Distinguished Alumni Award winners for exceptional achievement and contributions to their professions and communities.

The awards will be presented at a dinner and ceremony Friday, April 20, at 7 p.m. in the University’s Centennial Student Union. The awardees are Mary Ryan Ajax, Randall E. Zindler, Hal J. Peper, Larry H Wild, Matthew J. Christensen, Jena Richards Thompson, Lyndon R. Carlson, Dennis J. Hejlik and Edward G. Helm.

Four categories of awards will be presented:

  • The Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award, for graduates who have achieved high rank or honor in their professions, a widespread effect on their communities, and accomplishments over the course of their careers;
  • The Distinguished Alumni Humanitarian Award, for graduates whose lives exemplify service to humankind and who have demonstrated exceptional dedication to humanitarian causes;
  • The Harold J. Fitterer Service Award, for graduates whose efforts have preserved, promoted and supported Minnesota State Mankato;
  • The Distinguished Young Alumni Award, to graduates 35 years old or younger who have reached professional achievements early in their careers, and have positively impacted their communities.

Carlson, Hejlik and Helm will receive the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award; Ajax andZindler will receive the Humanitarian Award;Peper and Wild will get the Fitterer Service Award; and Christensen and Thompson will get the Distinguished Young Alumni Award.

Mary Ryan Ajax

Mary Ryan Ajax, Burnsville, a 1974 Psychology graduate, is president and CEO of the Community Action Council, a nonprofit organization that seeks to prevent violence, ensure student success and promote long-term self-sufficiency by residents of Scott and Dakota counties.

She joined the council shortly after she graduated, serving as Help Line coordinator and one of CAC’s first paid staff members. In 1979 she led an effort to get the first shelter in the nation specifically for victims of domestic abuse, and in 1992 she became president and CEO of the organization. She and her team of 100 employees and 2,000 volunteers, stationed at more than 50 locations, help more than 14,000 families each year.

In 2003 she received the Stop the Violence Award from the Minnesota Medical Association. In 2005 Gov. Tim Pawlenty declared April 25 “Mary Ajax Day” in recognition of her 30 years of service to build stronger families and communities.

Lyndon R. Carlson
Lyndon R. Carlson

Lyndon R. Carlson of Crystal, a 1964 Social Studies graduate, is a retired history and social studies teacher and legislator who served in the Minnesota House since 1972. He is a staunch advocate of affordable, high-quality, comprehensive higher education. He is chair of the House Finance Committee, and serves on numerous finance subcommittees and the Ways and Means Committee. He also has chaired the House Education Committee, the Higher Education Funding Committee and the Minnesota Higher Education Commission, and played a key role in developing the state student financial aid program. He also served on numerous capital bonding committees, developing bills to fund buildings for higher education and other public works projects.

He was the chief author of the Metropolitan Open Space Act to protect open spaces and water resources, and he initiated legislation to improve access to affordable, quality health care. He also has a record of support for tax reform, personal privacy, affordable health care, labor relations, consumer protection and environmental protection. 

Matthew J. Christensen
Matthew J. Christensen

Matthew J. Christensen of Eden Prairie, a 1998 Computer and Information Science graduate, is founder, managing partner and principal consultant for Phoenix Endeavors LLC, a group of senior information technology consultants who counsel businesses in enterprise performance management. He has published numerous articles and made national presentations about enterprise performance management. He also mentors at-risk youth, speaks to students about careers in management information science, and serves on the Minnesota State Mankato and Carlson School of Management CIS advisory committees.

Christensen, the University’s first Presidential Scholar, graduated in three years. He worked for Deluxe Corp., then in 2000 earned an MBA from the University of Minnesota and began work at PRAGMATEK Consulting Group, offering enterprise performance management services (new ways to view and leverage information). He was named vice president of a new PRAGMATEK enterprise performance management division, which accounts for 25 percent of the firm’s revenue. He later founded Phoenix Endeavors.

Maj. Gen. Dennis J. Hejlik
Maj. Gen. Dennis J. Hejlik

Maj. Gen. Dennis J. Hejlik of Camp Lejeune, N.C., a 1975 Elementary Education graduate, is commanding general of the U. S. Marine Corps Special Operations Command. He has served as senior military fellow to the Council on Foreign Relations, military secretary to the Marine Corps commandant, principal Pentagon director for Special Operations and Combating Terrorism, U.S. Special Operations Command chief of staff, director of the Center for Policy, Training and Readiness, and deputy commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

Hejlik enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968, and was honorably discharged as a sergeant in 1972. After completing an associate's degree at North Iowa Community College, he earned a degree at Minnesota State Mankato, and returned to the Marines as a second lieutenant, rising through the ranks since then. He has served combat tours in Lebanon, Operation Desert Storm and the Iraq war. In 2004 he assisted in a major offensive to defeat insurgents controlling the Iraqi cities of Najaf and Fallujah. He has received numerous commendations, including the Defense Superior Service Medal with Gold Star, Legion of Merit with Gold Star, Meritorious Service Medal with two Gold Stars, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon and the Leftwich Award.

He attended Amphibious Warfare School, and earned a master’s degree in national security strategy at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College and the Naval War College.

Dr. Edward G. Helm
Dr. Edward G. Helm

Dr. Edward G. Helm of New Orleans, a 1970 Psychology graduate, is professor of surgery and public health, associate dean of community and minority health education, and head of surgery endoscopy at Louisiana State University’s School of Medicine. He also is medical director for gastro-intestinal, outpatient and elective surgery at the Medical Center of Louisiana, New Orleans (Charity and University Hospitals). He developed and directs programs that encourage minority high school and college students to pursue health careers.

Helm was a founding member of Minnesota State Mankato’s first Black Student Union and served as its first president. He helped start the Mankato Area Human Relations Commission. After earning his bachelor’s degree, he studied pre-medicine at the University of Illinois and earned his MD from Chicago Medical School in 1976. He fulfilled his residency in General Surgery at Emory University, Atlanta, and the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans. Later he earned a master’s degree in health administration from Tulane University.

Hal J. Peper
Hal J. Peper

Hal J. Peper of Villa Park, Calif., a 1955 Chemistry graduate, is co-founder of California Analytical Instruments, one of the world’s leading suppliers of quality gas analyzers and emissions measurement devices, and of Environmental Testing Corp., a high-altitude vehicle and engine emission testing laboratory that serves all of the world’s automotive manufacturers.

Peper’s companies gave software and equipment to the Automotive Engineering Technology Department, including the department’s first emissions measurement system. He was president of the Southern California Tri-County Chapter of the Leukemia Society, and is a member of the Society of Applied Spectroscopy and the American Chemical Society and the Minnesota State Mankato Athletic Hall of Fame. 

After graduating from then-Mankato State Teachers College he joined the Navy Officer Program, but resigned his commission after five years to join Beckman Instruments, becoming vice president of marketing and sales. In his 28 years at Beckman, he facilitated numerous donations of biotechnology equipment to the Biology and Chemistry departments. 

Jena Richards Thompson
Jena Richards Thompson

Jena Richards Thompson, Geneva, Minn., a 1996 Chemistry graduate, is founder of Daisy Blue Naturals personal care products. She is the youngest member of the CEO Peer Council and the youngest and only female member of the Voices for Southern Minnesota Leadership Circle. In 2005 she was a Vanguard nominee, and in 2006 was a finalist for the Tekne Award for emerging businesses.

Shortly after the birth of her first son, Thompson decided she didn’t want to use conventional skin care products on her baby. So she created her own natural skin care products, and soon her family and friends asked her for products. In 2000 she founded Daisy Blue Naturals. The company employs more than 1,000 consultants in 46 states, with more than $2 million in sales. She mentors young business owners and has spoken around the country on topics such as challenges facing women business owners and building a successful direct sales business.

Larry H. Wild
Larry H. Wild

Larry H. Wild, Mankato, a 1977 Business Management graduate, is owner of Kato Glass in Mankato. For 30 years he’s mentored members of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, and each spring he brings members of the fraternity to Shakopee for Phi Delta Theta’s annual Founder’s Day. During Homecoming he and his wife Ellen host a bonfire at their home for students and alumni.

Wild is an avid supporter of Maverick hockey, frequently renting buses to allow fans to attend away games. He’s donated to the Athletic Department, the School of Nursing and KMSU-FM.  During his 21 years as a member of Key City Sertoma, Wild has twice received Sertoma’s highest honor, the Sertoman of the Year award. He’s also been involved in Boy Scouts for 20 years, and has served on the South Central Minnesota American Red Cross board.

Randall E. Zindler
Randall E. Zindler

Randall E. Zindler, St. Sulpice, Switzerland, a1993 Geography graduate, is CEO of Medair, an international humanitarian aid organization. Medair provides support to 2.5 million people worldwide,assisting communities that receive little or no other help from other agencies. Headquartered in Switzerland, itprovides relief efforts inSudan, Uganda, Congo, Indonesia, Madagascar, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Soon after graduating from Minnesota State Mankato, Zindler joined Food for the Hungry International and cycled across North America, raising funds for disaster relief. He worked to reduce genocide in Rwanda, then earned an MBA at Lancaster University School of Management in England. In addition to his work at Medair, heis vice chairman of EU CORD, a network of European humanitarian aid organizations, and is a member of the advisory board for Lancaster University Management School.

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