Alumni and Friends Support UMD
Donors share why they are committed to University of Minnesota Duluth students, faculty, and programs.
Mikki Atsatt, Marlys Dewor, and Gabriela Gold
Mikki Atsatt ’80, Marlys Dewor ’81, and Gabriela Gold ’81 all took French classes at UMD. They were cabin-mates at a French language immersion weekend, and Dewor and Atsatt went to Paris together for a summer. In 2010, all three contributed to a scholarship in honor of their French teacher, Associate Professor Milan Kovacovic.
“Milan opened the world to me,” said Dewor. When she says the world, she means it. Dewor’s title is Supervisory International Program Specialist for the U.S. Army. She has been stationed in Europe for 20 years and now lives in Heidelberg, Germany, managing the budget and personnel for G3, International Operations Division, United States Army, Europe. She has also served as the Chief of Treaty Compliance Branch with responsibility for implementing arms control treaties for the U.S. Army in Europe.
Like Dewor, Gold and Atsatt have successful careers. Gabriela Gold, who came to UMD from Bogotá, Colombia, is a senior management consultant at World Bank Group. She is currently working “on loan” with the Food and Agriculture Organization at the United Nations in Rome, Italy.
Mikki Atsatt is the Deputy Director of the Budget Staff, Justice Management Division, U.S. Department of Justice and works in Washington, D.C. “Mikki inspired me to go into a career in government affairs,” said Dewor. Both Dewor and Atstatt studied at the University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.
“Milan is one of those people who in his own quiet way makes an indelible impression on people,” said Atsatt. “He has intellectual curiosity, and he encouraged his students to question assumptions and expand their horizons.”
Dewor agreed. “I came to UMD from a small town in Minnesota,” she said. “Milan had tremendous impact on me because he was, among other things, culturally sophisticated and worked to make it possible for his students to have various cultural experiences by bringing over musicians like Jacques Yvart and Eric Vincent. He was also politically attuned and historically knowledgeable and brought that into the classroom. Since I had hardly ever traveled out of the state before, just being involved on a day-to-day basis with foreign languages and cultures as well as literature, history, and politics was a real eye-opener for me.”
One weekend retreat remains memorable to these UMD alumnae. On the first weekend of May, the intermediate French class stayed in cabins in northern Minnesota and spoke only French. “That year it snowed in May, and there wasn’t any heat,” said Dewor. “We still had a great time. We have a picture of Milan pretending to be Toulouse Lautrec.” Atsatt remembers making coq au vin: a chicken dish made with bacon, onions, and mushrooms.
“In 1980, Mikki, some others, and I went to Paris for three months,” Dewor said. “We traveled to France with Milan and his family.” That year, the University of Minnesota chose France as one of the countries for its summer international learning project, Student Project for Amity Among Nations (SPAN). “Milan got all of the information for us and encouraged us to apply,” Dewor said.
“We did a lot together,” said Atsatt. “Once a month, Milan would pile us into his car and drive us down to the Minneapolis campus for the SPAN meetings, and once a week we would join the students and others who spoke French for lunch at the French Table.”
Dewor graduated from UMD with a major in French. At the end of her senior year, Kovacovic found another opportunity for Dewor. “He walked into the College of Letters and Science Dean’s office, where I worked, and handed me an application form,” said Dewor. It was a Fulbright Scholarship opportunity to teach English at a French high school for a year. “I sent it in, and I could hardly believe it when I got the scholarship. I taught for a year in Le Mans, France,” she said.
Dewor returned to Minnesota and earned her master’s degree in public administration. She went on to work with the Department of Defense, Office of the Inspector General in Washington, D.C. before taking an arms control specialist position with the U.S. Army, Europe in Heidelberg. Dewor has coordinated the U.S. delegation’s participation in the annual International Military Pilgrimage to Lourdes, France for the past 15 years. Dewor’s commitment to getting wounded military personnel to Lourdes for spiritual healing and reflection was recognized in 2001, when she was appointed a “Dame of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great” by Pope John Paul II.
Dewor is also committed to helping students at UMD. “All three of us, Gabby, Mikki, and I, were interested in doing something for UMD and when Adam Meyer [development officer for the College of Liberal Arts] suggested the scholarship in honor of Professor Milan Kovacovic, it was perfect,” said Dewor. “We named it Friends of Milan Kovacovic Scholarship Fund in French Studies.”
Atsatt recently heard a poem by Emily Dickinson, “The Props Assist the House,” and “it made me think of what Milan did for us,” she said. “The poem is about how scaffolding goes up while a house is being built, and the structure relies on that scaffolding. But when the house is done, it stands strong alone. That is what Milan did. We are better because of him.”
“Milan cared about his students,” Dewor said. “He would single me out to suggest a book for me to read. I credit him with teaching me about other cultures. He opened up a community of intellectual life I never knew existed. Milan changed all our lives.”
Photos from a French immersion weekend in a northwoods cabin, (l-r) Mikki Atsatt, Marlys Dewor, and Gabriela Gold.
Jon Niemi and Dennis Lamkin
Dennis Lamkin and Jon Niemi have a long history of supporting UMD. From Glensheen, the historic Congdon estate, to the Tweed Museum of Art, to the Department of Theatre, they have made direct and personal connections which have often turned into adventures.
Lamkin, who has worked closely with Glensheen since the early 1980s, has served in many roles there, from tour guide to Advisory Council President. Lamkin has given special tours to descendents of the original owners, Chester and Clara Congdon, and often consults on matters involving the art and furnishing collections. He has also made a generous bequest to Glensheen.
Lamkin was once caught in a lightning storm at the mansion. He was giving a tour and helping to host an event when it started to rain. The storm got worse as the staff and guests were leaving and then, when Lamkin was the last person on the grounds, a lightning strike left Glensheen completely without power. Because their back-up security system had not yet been installed, the mansion was vulnerable to burglary. After consulting the director by phone, Lamkin took on a unique assignment. He spent the night. “I slept in the volunteer office,” Lamkin said. “It was completely quiet and actually peaceful.”
Niemi, who attended UMD in the 1990s, has his own links to UMD. In 2008, Niemi traveled to Russia with the Duluth-Petrozavodsk sister cities commission. There Niemi met Vladimir Lobanov, who is an artist and also the city chief designer in the Petrozavodsk City Administration. Lobanov invited Niemi to see his painting studio. Niemi was impressed. “It was surprising to see the landscapes and still life paintings,” Niemi said. “There were hundreds of pieces. The studio was filled with his work.” Niemi bought a small watercolor, and when he showed it to the director and curator at the Tweed Museum of Art, another sister city collaboration was set into motion. In fall 2010, the Tweed and other donors brought Lobanov and his work to UMD for an art lecture and exhibition. Lamkin and Niemi hosted Lobanov at their home during his visit to Duluth.
For four years, Lamkin and Niemi sponsored a theatre student, both financially and as a houseguest. Theatre professor Kate Ufema met a young man, Leigh Wakeford, during a theatre trip to Cape Town, South Africa. She was so impressed, she recommended the student for an international exchange. When a lack of funding meant the project was threatened, Lamkin and Niemi stepped in. They not only supported Wakeford with tuition help, they hosted him in their home for three years. “Leigh became almost like a son to us,” Lamkin said. “We were just out to New York to see him.”
Lamkin is the vice president and senior national property manager of US Bank Corporate Real Estate. He and Niemi have both served on the executive board of the Duluth Preservation Alliance. Lamkin and Niemi have made the decision to support UMD with gifts, but they have also donated their time and talent. “As we get more involved with UMD, our lives are more full,” said Niemi. “It’s been really good for us.”
Lamkin agreed, “It is important for us to make a difference, and it seems the more we give, the more we get back.”
An engineer for the U.S. Army in Korea, a 3M plant construction engineer, and since retirement, an avid downhill skier, Gary Finley has one motto, “Make it Happen.”
“My mom encouraged me to be an engineer, but that meant going away to school,” said Finley. He enrolled in the Kemper Military School and took pre-engineering courses, joined the ROTC, and graduated from high school and earned one year of junior college. His next stop was Cornell University, then Iowa State for a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. Eventually he received an MBA from Drury College in Springfield, Mo., but not without several big adventures first.
After graduating from Iowa State in 1953, Finley entered active duty in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He was recruited by Col. Anson Marston, Jr., 8th Army Engineer into an elite group of 12 Midwest-educated engineers. Assigned to the 44th Engineer Construction Battalion, he became First Lieutenant Platoon leader and Company Executive Officer. His charge was to build bridges, roads, and airstrips, and to conduct explosive demolition. “In Korea, it’s all mountains and all rivers,” said Finley. “The Army badly needed engineers.”
The war had ended in 1953, but Korea was highly unstable so the 8th Army stayed in Korea. The work never stopped. “I was told to build an airstrip, but the staff wasn’t trained and the equipment was substandard,” he said. Finley drew on his experience working on a road mix crew in western Iowa. “We were able to get a hold of some inferior asphalt. We borrowed a roller, and I added diesel fuel and crushed rock until the asphalt reached the right consistency. It took longer than we wanted, but we were able to get it built. That’s when I adopted my motto, “Make it Happen.”
Back in the States, Finley continued to “Make it Happen.” He worked for a number of engineering, construction, and other firms, including a contract assignment at Potlatch Northwest in Cloquet, Minn. He signed on with 3M in 1978 and stayed until he retired in 1996.
Not that Finley’s work life was routine. 3M was producing hundreds of innovative products from microfilm, to medical and dental products. All these products needed buildings and equipment, and Finley was ready. He handled complex projects such as installing a thin film evaporator. He managed three expansions on the Nevada, Mo. plant and worked on six additional 3M plants. He even jumped in when 3M introduced Post-it® Notes and needed to renovate every machine possible for production.
It was during his 3M years that Finley became interested in UMD and helped establish an engineering scholarship with the Minnesota Society of Professional Engineers. “When I heard how high UMD students scored on the fundamental exams, I thought we should do something to reward them,” said Finley. “Their fundamental exam five-year average score was 95 percent, and one year it was 100 percent.”
Finley saw the scholarship funds were well spent, so he established the 44th Engineer Battalion Memorial Scholarship, in honor of the men he served with in Korea. Recently, Finley and his son, Phillip Scott Finley, established the UMD TGF Memorial Scholarship in memory of Finley’s mother, Thelma Grotemat Finley. “Mom knew just how to challenge us boys,” Finley said. “She was college educated and one brilliant lady. She inspired me and my brother, and she inspired my kids,” he said.
Finley continues to ski, logging 15 million vertical feet in 25 U.S. states and nine countries. And he continues to “Make it Happen.”
When Haiti was struck by a catastrophic earthquake on January 12, 2010, the world became familiar with its overwhelming needs. Jeff Hovis, 1976 LSBE alumnus, took action. In March 2010, just ten weeks after the earthquake, he traveled to Haiti to volunteer with a project called Mission of Hope, located about 10 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince.
Haiti’s Mission of Hope was established in 1998 and has built a school, a church, a medical clinic, and an orphanage. Their success is attributed to its vast network of charities, churches, and volunteers from around the world. Hovis found the opportunity through his church, First Lutheran Church in White Bear Lake.
“I came back changed from Haiti, I really did,” Hovis said. “It deepened my understanding of the trials that other people experience. I have a greater feeling of gratitude for everything that we have here. I also have an increased sense of responsibility.”
Arriving in Haiti was a shock. “The first thing we saw when we landed was the extreme need for food,” Hovis said. He described long lines where people waited for hours for a meal. “People had set up tent cities, and there were thousands of blue tarps,” he said. “The earthquake damage was massive; there was rubble as far as you could see.”
Immediately after the earthquake, Mission of Hope converted its clinic into an operating room. “Amputees are extremely vulnerable,” Hovis said. The roads were in poor repair and curb cuts on sidewalks were nonexistent. “One of the tremendous needs was for prosthetics because so many people had limbs amputated.” The clinic responded by purchasing specialized equipment within weeks of the disaster, and now can make prosthetics on the site. “People walk or are carried to that clinic from as far away as 10 miles,” Hovis said.
“One of the big projects we undertook during our week in Haiti was to create handicap accessibility into the orphanage,” he said. “We poured concrete for a porch and a ramp. It was hard labor in the hot sun. There were no cement trucks, so we did all the mixing and hauling by hand.”
The Minnesota group was also called on to work with children. “The 16 of us in our group visited orphanages,” Hovis said. “Singing songs, learning dances, playing simple games, and playing catch with children was one way to help,” and the Minnesota group found it delightful.
The generous actions of Jeff Hovis aren’t limited to his volunteer work in Haiti. Several years ago, he set up a scholarship to support a LSBE student who is also concerned about conserving the environment. “I don’t think you can be truly effective in business and economics unless you consider environmental conservation,” he said. “We need to understand all sides of an issue in order to find effective solutions.” Each year, a student receives a Jeffrey Hovis Business and Environmental Studies Scholarship.
The trip Hovis took to Haiti and the establishment of his scholarship both create a positive impact. Hovis said that taking action is important. “Sometimes people block out the problems in the world,” he said. “They ignore things that are too big, and they don’t think they can make a difference. But we have to try. Even if we just take one small step, we have to try.”
Claudia Johnson ’68 knows that under-graduate research helps students get into graduate school. “The fact that I had done research at UMD was one of the deciding factors for my acceptance into University of Utah’s grad school,” she said.
The support of assistant professor of psychology, Kamal Gindy, was invaluable to her, especially since Johnson was married and had two children. “Kamal was my mentor. I was one of the fortunate people that he believed in.” Getting accepted in a graduate program was a significant accomplishment. “It was a different time then,” Johnson said. “Married women with children didn’t go to grad school. I was rejected at first, even though I had high GRE scores, and I graduated summa cum laude. Kamal told me to keep applying. He was determined that I would go on.”
No one in Johnson’s family had gone to college before. “Kamal became a surrogate father for me. He and his wife, Adu, welcomed me into their home,” said Johnson. “I was accepted at his alma mater and so, in a way, I followed his footsteps.” Johnson’s husband was also accepted into graduate school in Utah. “I was blessed because they offered me many scholarships and support for my graduate school work,” said Johnson.
Johnson received two degrees from UMD, a Bachelor of Applied Science in Psychology and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology/Sociology. At the University of Utah, she specialized in behavioral research with children and was the first director of the Early Childhood Education Center at the university. After graduation she joined the staff of the Salem Virginia Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Salem, Va., where she took on a clinical practice with children and adults. She also did research, training, and worked with students. “I conducted my own research. I wasn’t being paid to do it, but I was curious about outcomes of our program. I wanted to see which programs were most effective,” she said.
Her curiosity led to a significant opportunity. “I joined a hospital accreditation group,” she said. “We went all over the United States. I learned a lot about the different ways facilities operated, and I was able to help the instituttions improve their systems so they could function at their best capacity. That position was an honor and a gift.”
Inspired by Gindy, Johnson studied Jungian analysis. “Kamal was interested in the human psyche,” she said. Gindy impressed on her the importance of studying the unconscious. “The conscious mind is what we notice above the surface, while the unconscious mind, the largest and most powerful part, remains unseen below the surface,” she said. “All of our memories and thoughts flow like a river beneath us. That unconscious connects us to all humankind. We all respond to the symbols of a mother and child or a star in the sky.”
Johnson established the Kamal Gindy Memorial Scholarship in 2001 to show her gratitude for him. Gindy passed away in 2006. Johnson later established the Claudia A. Johnson Reaching Higher Research Apprenticeship Initiative. “Research was an important component in my success, and this scholarship will help students excel,” said Johnson. College of Education and Human Service Professions Dean Paul Deputy and psychology professor Aydin Durgunoglu welcome alumni to participate in the research apprenticeship initiative. Others may want to mentor students or financially support the scholarship.
“Kamal was an idealist. He was concerned about developing every person as an individual,” said Johnson. “He believed in people. He trusted that I would grow and make a difference in the world.” Johnson said she is grateful for her academic start at UMD. “I marvel at the opportunities that opened for me.”