Award-Winning Alumni — Part One

In preparation for the 2015 Distinguished Alumni Awards celebration, all of us at the University of Iowa Alumni Association (UIAA) wanted to take some time to spotlight just a few of the Hawkeyes who have taken home our highest honor since the organization began presenting them in 1963.

The award recognizes accomplishments in six categories: Achievement, Service, Hickerson Recognition, Faculty/Staff, Young Alumni, and Friend of the University. Hundreds of people have received Distinguished Alumni Awards during the last five decades and you can view the full list here. Each recipient is worthy of your time and attention.

We worked to select 12 honorees — we’ll reveal six now and another six in a future post — whose familiar names, faces, achievements, and stories accessibly embody the spirit of the awards:

-Gene Wilder, 55BA

Actor, screenwriter, and director Gene Wilder received a Distinguished Alumni Award in the Achievement category in 2003, for his enormous contributions to American cultural life. He’s appeared in numerous films, including “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” “Young Frankenstein,” which he co-wrote with Mel Brooks, and “Blazing Saddles.” Wilder is also a philanthropist, founding the Gilda’s Club support organization  and the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center in Los Angeles, both named for his late wife, “Saturday Night Live” legend Gilda Radner. In 2001, Wilder and his brother-in-law and co-author Gil Pearlman donated a significant collection of scripts, correspondence, film memorabilia, and photographs to Special Collections at the UI Libraries, including a draft of “Young Frankenstein.”

-Jane Smiley, 75MA, 76MFA, and 78PhD

Author Jane Smiley received a Distinguished Alumni Award for Achievement in 2003. Smiley, who earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a Ph.D. from the UI’s English department, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for her novel “A Thousand Acres” and her 2014 novel “Some Luck” earned a place on the National Book Foundation’s 2014 National Book Award longlist for fiction. She taught at the UI as a visiting assistant professor of English in 1981 and 1987, appeared as guest speaker at the 1991 Friends of the University of Iowa Libraries dinner, and her work has brought national distinction to the Writers’ Workshop, the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the University of Iowa.

-George Gallup, 23BA, 25MA, 28PhD, 67LLD

Public opinion survey pioneer George Gallup received a Distinguished Alumni Award for Achievement in 1984. He was one of the UI School of Journalism’s first four faculty members when the school was founded in 1924. In 1926, while he was enrolled as a graduate student, Gallup founded the Quill and Scroll Society, an international fraternity for high school journalists that today boasts more than 14,000 chapters in the U.S. and around the world. In 1935, Gallup established the American Institute of Public Opinion (the Gallup Poll) and was the world’s foremost public opinion statistician until his death in 1984. Scandinavian countries, whose languages do not include a world for “poll,” have adopted his surname—Gallup—to rectify the omission.

-Mitchell Burgess, 78BA, and Robin Green, 77MFA

Acclaimed television writers Mitchell Burgess and Robin Green received their Distinguished Alumni Award in the Achievement category in 2014. A former contributing editor for Rolling Stone magazine, she earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1977 and he completed his undergraduate degree in history in 1978. The spouses won an Emmy and Golden Globes for “Northern Exposure,” but are best known for their work on the groundbreaking HBO drama “The Sopranos.” The pair created CBS series “Blue Bloods,” which is in its fifth season. In 2002, they established the Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess Fund for the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Green and Burgess are members of the UIAA’s Old Capitol Club and the UI Foundation’s Presidents Club.

Read Iowa Alumni Magazine’s piece on Burgess and Green here.

-Ignacio Ponseti, 44R, 07DSC 

Physician Ignacio Ponseti received a Distinguished Alumni Award in the Faculty/Staff category in 2004. He first arrived in Iowa City to begin his residency. After Ponseti became an instructor and professor in the UI Department of Orthopaedics in 1944, he developed an innovative, nonsurgical method to treat clubfoot, which he began applying in the early 1950s. This approach, now known as the Ponseti Method, has earned global accolades for the UI professor emeritus, and has been in use by hundreds of doctors to allow children around the world to walk, run, and jump without pain. A group of former colleagues and grateful patients and parents established an endowed chair in Ponseti’s name to sustain his legacy. Before he passed away in 2009, Ponseti gave generously to UI programs and projects, including the Museum of Art and Hancher Auditorium. He was also a member of the UI Foundation’s Presidents Club and the UIAA’s Old Capitol Club.

Read an Iowa Alumni Magazine interview with Ponseti here.

We can’t wait to formally add another 14 talented members of the UI community to this group on Saturday, June 13, at the 2015 Distinguished Alumni Awards luncheon and ceremony. The event begins at noon at the Levitt Center for University Advancement, One West Park Road, Iowa City. The cost to attend is $40 per person. Please make reservations by Friday, May 1. Contact Nancy McCallister at 319-335-3245 or to make arrangements.

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  • By Award-Winning Alumni — Part Two on March 17, 2015 at 7:17 am

    [...] worked to select 12 honorees — we revealed seven here and this post features the remaining five — whose familiar names, faces, achievements, and [...]

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