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UW-Eau Claire Alumni Association Presents Awards to Four Recipients

RELEASED: Aug. 1, 2005

EAU CLAIRE — The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Alumni Association will present awards to four alumni and friends of the university Aug. 6 at a luncheon and ceremony in conjunction with summer commencement.

"These intelligent, creative people are dedicated to responding to societal needs as well as developing their own talents," said John Bachmeier, UW-Eau Claire director of alumni relations. "The university is proud to recognize them for their personal success and for their important contributions to the community."

Denise SweetDenise Sweet, who was named Wisconsin's poet laureate in 2004, will receive the Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award, which recognizes distinguished service to the community, state or nation in a manner that brings credit to the recipient and UW-Eau Claire.

Sweet earned a bachelor's degree in 1985 and a master's degree in 1987 in English from UW-Eau Claire, where she worked as coordinator of conferences and institutes from 1985-89. This award-winning author has more than 20 years of experience as an educator, creative consultant and performer. She now is an associate professor of humanistic studies at UW-Green Bay, where she specializes in working in the areas of diversity, storytelling, drama and indigenous language preservation.

Sweet has published four books of poetry. A member of the White Earth band of the Minnesota Ojibwa, she is an adviser to UW-Green Bay students earning a minor in American Indian studies. In 1995 she was named Outstanding Woman of Color by the UW System. She's the first Indian state poet laureate in the nation.

Among her honors, Sweet received the Diane Decorah Award for Poetry in 1995 from the Native Writers' Circle of the Americas for her book "Songs for Discharming," and she received the 1998 Posner Award for Poetry for "Songs for Discharming." She was one of five U.S. writers sponsored by the U.S. Embassy to attend the First World Congress of Indigenous Literatures of the Americas in Guatemala City in 1998.

"Dee is Anishinabe, an enrolled member of Minnesota's White Earth Reservation, but her poetry transcends racial bounds," John Hildebrand, UW-Eau Claire professor of English, said in a letter to the alumni awards committee. "She's certainly deserving of recognition."

Mary Jo GaganMary Jo Gagan also will receive the Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award. Gagan, a nurse practitioner, has traveled extensively as a practitioner, lecturer, professor, essayist, adviser and consultant, including extensive visits to Southeast Asia.

Gagan earned a bachelor's degree in nursing from UW-Eau Claire in 1982, a master's from Michigan State University in 1987 and a doctorate from the University of Iowa in 1996.

Gagan, who has extensive experience as a clinician, was an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Arizona. She has lectured throughout the Midwest, South and West, and in New Zealand and Thailand. She spent 2004 in New Zealand assisting three polytechnical colleges on the South Isle develop and implement a nurse practitioner curriculum. She also was invited to be a fellow in the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners in 2004.

Currently Gagan works at TLC Healthcare Companies Inc., a Tucson, Ariz., company that provides primary health care to elderly in a variety of settings.

"I believe Mary Jo Gagan's greatest strength is her kindness," Richard Behling, UW-Eau Claire professor emeritus of philosophy, said in a letter to the awards committee. "One needn't guess at her life-guiding philosophy. It is seen daily by her patients and colleagues."

David John LassekDavid John Lassek will receive the Honorary Alumnus Award, presented to non-alumni who have demonstrated great love of and service to UW-Eau Claire.

An Eau Claire native, Lassek graduated from Regis High School. He started college at UW-Eau Claire but left to pursue a degree not offered at the university. He later became vice president of Navy Programs for the U.S. Department of Defense's Armaments Systems Division. That division is a leader in the design, development and production of combat vehicles, artillery, naval guns, missile launchers and precision munitions used by the Department of Defense and allies worldwide. It's America's largest non-nuclear ship repair, modernization, overhaul and conversion company.

Although Lassek didn't graduate from UW-Eau Claire, he is committed to the university. His four children started their college careers at UW-Eau Claire. Two graduated, one transferred and another died in an automobile accident in 1999. Lassek and his wife, Patricia, honored their son's memory by creating the John Lassek Memorial Scholarship, which is awarded annually to a student with great financial need who completed the UW-Eau Claire Bridge program. They also provide funds to the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity for an annual event in John Lassek's memory.

Lassek is active in the community through the Red Wing Youth Outreach and United Way.

Gerald JacobsonGerald Jacobson will receive the Lifetime Excellence Award, which is presented to alumni who have demonstrated long-time and successful commitment to their careers and communities. Recipients have made a positive and dramatic impact through dedication to service and living their lives as a testimony to UW-Eau Claire's motto, "Excellence."

Jacobson, a native of Chippewa Falls, received a bachelor's degree in economics from UW-Eau Claire in 1975 and a master's degree in business administration in finance from the University of Chicago in 1976. He began his 24-year career in banking as an auditor for Northwestern Bank, the largest lending institution in the Chippewa Falls area. He was a cashier in 1981, became executive vice president in 1996 and president in 1998.

Jacobson has been an active civic leader in Chippewa Falls. As a member of the board of directors of the Chippewa Falls Industrial Development Corp., he has played a significant role in encouraging growth of the city's industrial base. The current chair of the Chippewa Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, he has been involved with the commercial and residential development of 300 acres of property near the Northern Center.

Jacobson has served as campaign chair of the United Way and received the United Way of Chippewa County's Distinguished Service Award in 2002. He has served on the boards of directors for Chippewa Falls Main Street, the Chippewa Falls Museum of Technology, the long-range planning committee of the Chippewa Falls School District, the Chippewa Valley Bankers Association, Junior Achievement of the Chippewa Valley, Leave-a-Legacy, The Salvation Army and the YMCA.

Jacobson has been a mentor to UW-Eau Claire undergraduate and graduate students, said Ed Young, chair of the economics department, in a letter to the committee.

"Jerry has achieved what we hope for all our graduates," said Young. "He is professionally and personally successful. He gives of himself to make the community a better place. He shares his knowledge and time with students who are following in his footsteps."

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KH/JB

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