Award-Winning Alumni — Part Two

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 revealed seven here and this post features the remaining five — whose familiar names, faces, achievements, and stories accessibly embody the spirit of the awards:

-B.J. Armstrong, 89BA

Former NBA player B.J. Armstrong received a Distinguished Alumni Award in the Young Alumni category in 1994. A member of the three-time champion Chicago Bulls, Armstrong is a former Iowa men’s basketball player whose accomplishments as a Hawkeye landed him on six of the program’s all-time top 10 lists, ranking fifth in field goals, ninth in field goal attempts and three-pointers, seventh in free throws, fourth in assists and sixth in steals. Armstrong made his first NBA All-Star Game appearance in February 1994 as the starting point guard for the Eastern Conference. He ranked third in fan ballots for the game, just behind Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal. Armstrong appeared in a public service announcement sponsored by the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse and served as a celebrity spokesperson for the UIAA’s Adult Literacy in Iowa Volunteer Effort.

-Sheri Salata, 80BBA

Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) and Harpo Studios Co-President Sheri Salata won her Distinguished Alumni Award in the Achievement category in 2014. She began at Harpo Studios as a promotion producer and climbed the ranks of Winfrey’s empire to become executive producer of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2006. Thanks to Salata’s leadership at OWN, the network continues to experience increased ratings and viewership. “The Hollywood Reporter” named Salata to its 2013 Women in Entertainment: Power 100 list. Salata credits Iowa for giving her an edge in the media industry by providing her with a solid business background. Loyal to her alma mater, she returned to Iowa City in spring 2013 to speak at the UI Tippie College of Business commencement ceremony, encouraging students to find their passion and keep their minds open to possibilities. Salata is a member of the UIAA’s Directors’ Club Honors Circle.

-Tom Brokaw, 10LHD

Former “NBC Nightly News” anchor Tom Brokaw received a Distinguished Alumni Award in the Friend of the University category in 1997. Brokaw has received numerous awards for excellence in his profession, including an Emmy for his coverage of the Romanian revolution. He received the Alfred I. DuPont Award in 1987 for “A Conversation with Mikhail S. Gorbachev” and the George Foster Peabody Award for “To Be an American.” He only attended the University of Iowa for one year, but he is a loyal and very generous contributor to many areas of the university. A member of the Foundation’s Presidents Club, Brokaw served as on the Steering Committee for the UI Foundation’s Iowa Endowment 2000 Campaign and contributed high-level support to it as well as the Student Aid Fund, and the UI Foundation Vitality Fund, which provides unrestricted support for the Foundation’s operations and activities.

Click here to read an IOWA Alumni Magazine piece about Brokaw.

-Mildred Wirt Benson, 25 BA and 27MFA

Author Mildred Wirt Benson, the first woman to receive a master’s degree in journalism from the UI, won a Distinguished Alumni Award in the Achievement category in 1994. Ladora native Benson published her first short story at the age of 12 and wrote more than 130 children’s books from 1927 to 1959. She’s best known as a ghostwriter for the Nancy Drew book series, which centers on a teenage sleuth. Benson stopped writing fiction in the mid-1960s and eventually became a commercial pilot who owned her own plane. She undertook nearly a dozen expeditions to remote sites in Central America and later became a full-time reporter and columnist for the Toledo Blade. Benson, a UIAA member, is a 1992 inductee into the UI School of Journalism and Mass Communication Hall of Fame and served as a guest of honor for the first-ever Nancy Drew Conference, held in Iowa City in 1993. She passed away in 2002.

Read an Iowa Alumni Magazine article about Benson here.

-Al Jarreau, 64MA

Musician Al Jarreau received his Distinguished Alumni Award in the Achievement category in 2005. He earned his masters degree in rehabilitation counseling from the UI College of Education in 1964. Jarreau embarked on his first world tour in 1977 and made a live recording, “Look to the Rainbow,” for which he won the first of his many Grammys. In 2001, Jarreau was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and returned to Iowa City to perform at Hancher Auditorium. In June 2002, he taped an interview for the kickoff event for the UI’s Good. Better. Best. Iowa campaign, which featured a student dance performance to his recording, “Tomorrow Today.” Jarreau is a Literacy Champion national spokesperson for the Verizon Reads program and a staunch supporter and ambassador for the UI, returning to Iowa City in 2014 to perform at the Iowa Soul Festival and speak at the UI College of Education.

-Michèle M. Crider, non UI-grad

Michèle Crider, an opera soprano, received her Distinguished Alumni Award in the Young Alumni category in 2003. Crider showed such promise as a graduate voice student in the University of Iowa School of Music from 1986 to 1988 that Simon Estes, 86BM and a Distinguished Alumni Award winner, recommended that she interrupt her degree studies to join the Zurich Opera Studio. In 1989, she won one of the three first-prizes in the Geneva International Music Competition. The latter prize included a chance to sing the role of Leonora in “Il Trovatore” in Germany and an opportunity to compete for the International Grand Prize, which she went on to win. Today, Crider is considered one of the leading sopranos of the Italian opera repertoire, singing in all of the major opera houses in Europe and appearing in highly acclaimed performances in the United States.

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 nancy-mccallister@uiowa.edu to make arrangements.

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