Alumni Association honors outstanding alumni, faculty, staff, and community members

Alumni Association honors outstanding alumni, faculty, staff, and community members

Each year the Alumni Association honors outstanding alumni, faculty, staff, and community members for their personal and professional accomplishments and contributions to the university. The awards were presented at the association’s new event, A Superior Soirée, on Saturday, October 14, at UW-Superior.

The Distinguished Alumni Award is presented to alumni whose successes serve as an inspiration for current and prospective students. This year’s recipient is Janet (Johnson) Mohr, class of 1973.

Mohr has served Minnesota public education for 50 years, positively contributing to the lives of children, families, and communities. Mohr graduated from UW-Superior with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and went on to earn her education specialist and master’s degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. During her extensive career, Mohr has acquired an impressive number of titles including superintendent, principal, assistant principal, director of mental health, school psychologist, director of special education, associate professor, and high school teacher.

In 2013, she was appointed Executive Director of the Minnesota Board of School Administrators. During this time, she worked with the governor’s staff and elected officials in the state legislature to carry education issues forward. Mohr successfully led accreditation efforts for state colleges and universities, establishing high standards of conduct for all licensed administrators. In 2018, Mohr was recognized by Governor Dayton, for her years of service and dedicated work in public education. In 2021, she was appointed by Governor Walz, to serve on the Minnesota Perpich Center for Arts Education Board of Directors. 

Her volunteer work is impressive, having served on many professional boards and committees. Mohr was active in organizations such as the Minnesota Association of School Administrators (MASA), Minnesota Administrators for Special Education, American Association of School Administrators, National and Minnesota Association of School Psychologists, Minnesota and National Principals Associations, the National Education Association, Rotary International, Fairview Ridges Hospital, and SJ Rombus – just to name a few. Mohr also served on the UW-Superior Foundation Board from 2007 to 2016, including a term as vice-chair.

Mohr ‘s honors and awards include MASA’s Administrator of Excellence, Benedictine Health System’s Trustee of the Year, and Minnesota School Psychologist Association’s School Psychologist of Excellence. She was nominated for the Minnesota Small Business Administration’s Entrepreneur of the Year for innovations in technology. Most recently, MASA awarded her the Distinguished Service Award for her support of Minnesota children and contributions toward Minnesota’s public education system. She was also UW-Superior’s Commencement keynote speaker in 2019.

Mohr and her husband Jeff, class of 1972, also launched two successful companies: Worldwide Brochures and Mohr Manufacturing. Without hesitation, the Mohrs are proud alumni of UW-Superior, and her accomplishments are certainly an inspiration for our students.

The Recent Alumni Achievement Award is presented to alumni who have graduated within the last 10 years and have had significant professional or personal accomplishments. This year’s recipient is Jenny Van Sickle, class of 2016.

Born and raised in Sitka, Alaska, Jenny Kiks.ádi Van Sickle is of Tlingit and Athabascan heritage. After earning a degree in mental health & human service from the University of Maine-Augusta and serving two years as the US Coast Guard ALDER’s Ombudsman, Van Sickle graduated summa cum laude from UW-Superior with a bachelor’s in social work.

Van Sickle cut her advocacy and organizing teeth at UW-Superior when a small team on campus formed Superior Citizens in Action, to encourage students to communicate local issues with their elected officials. While at UW-Superior, Van Sickle was featured by the Link Center for her involvement in the Academic Service-Learning Program; she also volunteered as an election inspector and as a delegate for the annual Superior Days lobbying trip and continues to be involved on campus as a regular speaker and as a member of the Social Work Advisory Council.

Through her internship as a social work student, she was placed at Community Action Duluth under the late Renee Van Nett’s mentorship and was eventually hired as their Transportation Programs Manager. In 2017, Van Sickle won BikeMN’s Advocate of the Year and was elected to the Superior City Council to represent Allouez, Itasca and East End.

In 2018, Van Sickle introduced the Kids Don’t Float life jacket program to promote safety on the water. After passing a ban on Conversion Therapy in Superior, Van Sickle was named the Leadership Institute’s Woman of Excellence in 2019. Following her efforts to create the Fed & Focused elementary school snack drive and the Sweet Streets helmet initiative, Van Sickle was recognized as one of Wisconsin’s Most Influential Natives by Madison 365.

During the pandemic, Van Sickle worked to restore the railroad’s taconite neighborhood reimbursement program, became a certified Notary, got married, and her writing skills shined when she applied for and won a $75,000 DREAM UP grant from the state to address Douglas County’s long-term childcare challenges after allocating $200,000 in ARPA dollars to support childcare centers.

Most recently, Van Sickle worked to raise money for the new Carl Gullo Park sign to honor local veterans and created the Scenery & Home landscaping program to improve pollinator habitat, reduce stormwater pollution, and invest in Superior’s curb appeal. Van Sickle is passionate about safe and equitable transportation and serves on the Metropolitan Interstate Council, the Blatnik Bridge Advisory, and is the Public Works Committee Chair. 

In 2022, the Duluth News Tribune named her as a 20 under 40 honoree, and she was the first woman of color elected to serve as the President of the City Council. Perhaps most notable was her work on the Wisconsin Point land transfer. On August 18, 2022, the sacred burial ground at Wisconsin Point was formally returned to the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe.

Van Sickle has accomplished a lot in a short amount of time, and we are delighted to honor her with this award.

The Honorary Alumni Award is presented to a person who is not an alum, and whose success serves as an inspiration for current and prospective students. This year’s recipient is Richard Stewart, Professor Emeritus.

Stewart began his maritime career sailing as a messman and ordinary seaman and went on to graduate from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in 1973. He was awarded the Merchant Marine Vietnam Service Medal for sailing in the war zone in 1968, 1970, and 1971.

Stewart commanded ocean-going vessels for several years before becoming a fleet manager of seven vessels for Falcon Carriers based in Houston. He has been a port expediter, cargo surveyor, consultant, and Wisconsin small business owner. Stewart served for 30 years as a commissioned officer in the United States Naval Reserve and was honorably discharged in 2003 with the rank of Captain, USNR.  

Stewart has a master’s degree from UW-Green Bay and a doctorate from the Lally School of Management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. From 1987 to 1999, Richard was a professor and department head at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

In 1999 he became a Transportation and Logistics professor at UW-Superior and director of the Transportation and Logistics Research Center. He developed the Transportation and Logistics Management major and Supply Chain Management concentration. Stewart also founded and was co-director of the Great Lakes Maritime Research Institute, which was recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation as the Nautical Enhancement Institute in 2006.

Stewart shaped the program into a globally recognized program with hundreds of graduates in positions around the world. He has been the principal investigator for over $11 million in transportation research grants at UW-Superior, has extensive publication and presentation credits, and has received several awards from UW System and UW-Superior, including:

  • 2003 Wisconsin State Teaching Scholar Award
  • 2005 Wisconsin IDEA Fellow Award
  • 2006 Distinguished Service Award
  • 2008 Max Lavine Professional Paper Award and Excellence in Scholarship Award
  • 2009 Outstanding Academic Advisor Award and Award in Recognition of Excellence for Service to Veterans and Non-Traditional Students
  • 2014 James Rainaldo Outstanding Mentor Award and Spirit of Superior Award
  • 2013 Excellence in Service Award
  • 2019 Students’ Choice Outstanding On-Campus Teaching Award
  • 2020 Teaching Excellence Award and Community Service Award

In 2020, Stewart was the first professor at UW-Superior to be selected to receive the UW System’s Board of Regents Excellence in Teaching Award. Stewart retired in 2022 and was honored as a Professor Emeritus for his teaching, publishing, and research. The United States Maritime Administration awarded Richard the Merchant Marine Outstanding Achievement Medal in 2023 in recognition of his years of service and extraordinary contributions to the maritime industry.

Stewart dedicated many years to the university and did so much for its students and the community. We are proud to call him an honorary alumnus.

Tammy Fanning is the recipient of the 2023 James Rainaldo Outstanding Mentor Award. This award recognizes current and retired faculty or staff members who have touched the lives of students in a unique and significant way.

For the past 29 years, Fanning has proudly dedicated her time to serving students and the entire UW-Superior community. Her passion and love for higher education began with five years at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, where she received both her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education/Early Childhood and her master’s degree in Education/Community Counseling. 

Fanning currently serves as the Associate Dean of Students at UW-Superior. She has also held the positions of Hall Manager, Director of Student Development, Assistant Dean of Students, and Title IX Coordinator. 

Fanning has contributed much of her time to being student-centered and created programs/projects that enhance the student experience at UW-Superior. Below are just a few: 

  • The implementation of new traditions in the residence halls, such as Res Hall Weekend, Res Hall-oween and the Lake Shake
  • The collaborative creation of the annual Career Fair
  • The creation of the student ambassador program (Campus Ambassadors)
  • The collaborative implementation of diversity trainings/programs such as Superior Allies and Diversity Among Us for the Weekend of Welcome, and the You Can Play video with Athletics
  • The implementation of the Veteran’s Day Ceremony and the opening of the Veteran and Nontraditional Student Center
  • Providing Native American Honor songs at Commencement 
  • The conceptualization and implementation of the Gender Equity Resource Center 

Fanning is known by colleagues, students, and alumni for her friendly attitude and quirky sense of humor. She enjoys engaging in dialogue that allows her to hear their stories and discover their strengths and unique life experiences. Her commitment to the university and its students is truly outstanding. Fanning is a mentor in every sense of the word and is extremely deserving of the Rainaldo Award.

The Edward and Betty Kossak Service Award was created to honor those who have made significant contributions in time, energy, leadership, and support to further the goals of UW-Superior. This year’s recipient is Dr. Gayle (Bender-Paton) Wahner, class of 1969.

Wahner graduated from UW-Superior with a degree in Medical Technology and went on to earn her Ph.D. in Health Care Administration from Kennedy-Western University. She also participated in two certification programs at UW-Superior – Non-profit Administration and Gerontology. Professionally, Wahner worked in the healthcare field for more than three decades. She was a medical technologist, lab director, clinic manager, and later, served as the Register of Deeds for Douglas County.

With a strong commitment to civic involvement and community service, Wahner has been active on numerous boards and committees. From 2009 to 2019, she served the university with distinction as a three-term member of the Board of Directors of the Alumni Association and was active on the Governance Committee. Her warm and enthusiastic interactions at Alumni Association and community events stood out in the crowd. During events, Wahner could always be found pitching in and welcoming participants with open arms.

Wahner was also a mentor to both students and alumni and often volunteered for UW-Superior Athletics and other events. For example, she was an off-ice official for men’s hockey for nearly 30 years. Wahner also financially supports the university, including the hockey and basketball programs, and sponsored a conference room in Swenson Hall as the building was erected.

Her position in county government gave her a platform for sharing her journey as a non-traditional learner. She always had a story to share that would inspire both students and colleagues to reach farther and set new goals for themselves. Wahner was an experienced leader whom others could rely on for guidance, and she encouraged others to become more active at UW-Superior and in their communities. Her record of service and dedication to the university and the region are an inspiration to many.

Alumni Association award nominations are available online.