Outstanding Alumni Award
Each year, the Illini Club of San Diego County honors a University of Illinois alumnus who is a San Diego County resident and has demonstrated outstanding leadership, commitment and service in their chosen profession and their respective communities. This award was initiated in 2001 and is given annually at our Club's annual dinner. If you have suggestions for the Outstanding Alumni Award, including potential nominees, please contact our award chair, Tom Larwin (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Past award winners are...
2012 — Kit Lavell
Raised in the Chicago region,
Kit Lavell is a 1967 graduate of the University
of Illinois with a
Bachelors degree in Political Science. After graduation he became a Naval
Aviator and was eventually assigned to San
Diego. Kit flew 243 combat missions in Vietnam and was
awarded numerous medals including the Distinguished Flying Cross. After discharge from the Navy he attended graduate
school at Cal State Fresno while working as a commercial pilot. He moved to San Diego in 1977 where he worked for the City of San Diego. He has
remained active in veterans’ affairs and was awarded a Presidential Citation
for his volunteer work. In 1981 Kit became a business consultant and eventually
co-founded Gentec, an engineering and construction company. In 2002 he joined
with Stu Segall, President of Stu Segall Productions, to create Strategic
Operations, Inc. where he serves as Executive Vice President. Kit has written
extensively on military and technology issues for newspapers and magazines,
including features for the San Diego Union Tribune, and a book, Flying
Black Ponies: the Navy’s Close Air Support Squadron in Vietnam.
2011 — Charles D. Wurster
Charles D. “Charlie” Wurster was Commander, Pacific Area and Commander, Defense
Force West of the United States Coast Guard, and also served as President/CEO
of the Port of San Diego before retiring. Charlie was a 1971 honors graduate of
the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and he received a Master’s Degree in Civil
Engineering from the University of Illinois in 1976. In the Coast Guard he was
promoted through the ranks, from project engineer, to public works director, to
CEO and Commanding Officer of facilities design and construction center, to
Executive Vice President and chief of staff, Coast Guard Pacific area, and to
CEO and Commander of the Pacific area. He led a U.S. delegation in a series of
multi-national UN International Maritime Organization meetings to address
safety and security related to pirating in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore
with China-Japan-Korea-India. In all Vice Admiral Wurster spent 37
distinguished years as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Coast Guard. His
awards include Legion of Merit (four awards) and the Society of American
Military Engineers Sverdrup Medal.
2010 — James C. Schmidt
Jim Schmidt is a native of Kewanee, Illinois, who attended the University of Illinois Law School in addition to receiving a Business Administration degree from Illinois Wesleyan University. He has served in the US Navy and is a member of the California and Illinois Bars. In January 1967 he was an appointee in Governor Reagan’s administration where he served as Assistant Secretary of Business and Transportation for three years. He joined San Diego Federal Savings and Loan (which became Great American Bank) in 1969 and rose to its President until his retirement in 1988. Locally, Jim is a Founding Charter Member and Life Member of the Holiday Bowl, having served as President and Chairman of the 1986 and 1987 games, respectively. He is a contributing author of monthly public interest articles for the San Diego Transcript and he continues as an active member of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, Catfish Club, and Lincoln Club. He has received awards from diverse groups such as the San Diego Urban League to the California Building Industry Association.
2009 — Steven D. Dorner
Steve Dorner was born and raised in St. Charles, Illinois, and graduated from the University of Illinois with a BS degree in Computer Science in 1983. A San Diego resident now, he joined Qualcomm Inc. in 1992 and is currently the Vice President of Technology for its Advanced Technologies Group. This group looks for ways to turn new technologies into new businesses for Qualcomm. For most of his time at Qualcomm Dorner also was associated with Eudora Products as a Vice President and he served as the technical lead and chief architect for the Eudora e-mail client. From 1983 to 1992 he worked for the University of Illinois Computing Services Office and the U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratory. During this period Dorner was directly involved in the birth of Internet applications, most notably the Eudora e-mail client. With the Corps of Engineers he was involved with the development of the CAEDS applications (Computer-Aided Engineering and Architectural Design System).
2008 — Michael J. Stepner
Mike Stepner, born in Chicago, Illinois, is a 1964 graduate of the University of Illinois with a degree in architecture. He currently works for Stantec architects, and heads the Stepner Design Group with his wife Rosie, also a U of I graduate. Mike is also a Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at the NewSchool of Architecture and Design in San Diego and an Adjunct at UCSD. He was City Architect for the City of San Diego and was employed in the Planning Department for 27 years. He is very active in the community, chairs the San Diego Chapter of Lambda Alpha (Land Economics Society), co-chairs the Canyonlands Committee of San Diego Civic Solutions, and was an originator of the "Onions and Orchids" architectural award program. Stepner is widely credited with spearheading the development of the "reborn" downtown San Diego and especially its vibrant Gaslamp Quarter.
2007 — Betty J. Mohlenbrock and William Mohlenbrock, M.D.
Betty and Bill Mohlenbrock are graduates of the University of Illinois—Betty receiving two degrees (1962, 1964) in education and Bill his bachelors degree in 1961. At the U of I, Betty was crowned Homecoming Queen and Bill was a varsity basketball player. Betty went on create the San Diego-based Family Literacy Foundation in 1989, now called United Through Reading (UTR), and has served as its CEO since that time. UTR won the 2006 Peter Drucker Award for nonprofit Innovation. In 2008, Betty was honored by the University’s Alumni Association with the Alumni Humanitarian Award for her mission of helping families achieve literacy through books. After the U of I, Bill received his M.D. from the St. Louis University School of Medicine. He has had an orthopedic surgery practice for more than 25 years at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, California. He has also served as assistant clinical professor at UCSD since 1973. In 1983, Bill founded Iameter, Inc. and developed the Acuity Index Method, a clinical information system for monitoring and improving quality and cost-efficient inpatient care. His healthcare ventures relied on the ability to share data between different kinds of databases. Recognizing information sharing to be an even more compelling need throughout all levels of Homeland Security, he founded Crossflo Systems in 2002 and serves as its chairman.
2006 — Kenneth E. Sulzer
Chicago native Ken Sulzer received his masters degree in urban planning in 1962 from the University of Illinois. From the U of I, Ken went to work for the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) department in Washington, DC. He moved to San Diego in the early 1970s and joined the County of San Diego planning department. That position eventually was transferred to a new regional agency now known as SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments). Ken served as the Deputy Director for 14 years with SANDAG and then was appointed as that agency’s Executive Director, a post he served in for another 14 years before retiring in 2000. He is currently a part-time Professor in the Urban Studies and Planning program at the University of California San Diego. San Diego’s local transportation sales tax was passed in 1987 under Sulzer’s leadership.
2005 — Michael Pasulka
Mike Pasulka is a 1990 law graduate of the University of Illinois. Now living in Escondido, Mike turned from a career in law to owning and operating Player’s Sports Bar in San Diego. The bar boasts 65 televisions, including eight high-definition, 10-foot-wide projection screens that ring the largest viewing room. His restaurant serves as the center for University of Illinois sports events. However, more important is the innovative program that Mike developed whereby 10% of all receipts from Illini Club events held in his restaurant come back to the Club for our scholarship fund. In one year alone, 2005, he presented the Club with a check for $1,350. Mike is president of the San Diego Food & Beverage Association of San Diego.
2004 — John Witt
John Witt received his degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois. He came to San Diego immediately following his graduation in 1955. He was an engineer at General Dynamics and at General Atomics, and earned a masters degree in Mechanical Engineering from San Diego State University. John was a teacher in San Diego junior high and high schools and a professor of mathematics at San Diego City and Mesa Colleges. In the 1970s and 80s John was an elected member of the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education, and then elected in 1996 to the San Diego County Board of Education and reelected in 2000 and 2004. Witt is active in community affairs: U.S. Navy League, the American Legion, the VFW, the Garden Railroad Club, the Mt. Laguna Improvement Association, City College Musical Theatre Productions, Balboa Park Fleet Planetarium Exhibits, Coronado Bridge Run/Walk events, and a volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul.
2003 — Robert D. Upp and Jane D. Upp
Solana Beach resident Bob Upp received a degree in Journalism from the University of Illinois in 1937. A career officer in the U.S. Army he retired as a Brigadier General. After the military he served as an attorney in private practice. At our Annual Dinner in 2003 when he received his award Upp told the story of an experience back during World War II. His unit captured a group of German soldiers and they brought the lead officer in for interrogation. Upp quickly found out that the man could speak English. He asked him where he learned his English and the German officer replied that it was at the University of Illinois! Bob's wife Jane graduated from the U of I and was a marriage and family counselor.
2002 — Thomas F. Larwin
Tom Larwin was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, and received a degree in Civil Engineering from University of Illinois in 1965. After a stint in the Civil Engineer at Yuma Proving Ground, he received a Masters in Engineering from Penn State University. He worked for a private engineering consultant firm in Chicago, Dallas and San Jose before moving to San Diego when he joined the Metropolitan Transit Development Board (MTDB) in 1976 as its chief planner. In 1979 Tom was appointed General Manager and served in that role until July 2003. During his tenure the MTDB planned and developed the San Diego Trolley. One of Tom’s most important actions as General Manager was designating that the first two lines of the Trolley were ORANGE & BLUE! He retired from SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments) in 2005.
2001 — Richard M. Murphy
Dick Murphy was born in Oak Park, Illinois, and graduated from the University of Illinois in 1965 with a degree in Economics. He received his Master of Business Administration from Harvard University and his law degree from Stanford University. Dick served as an officer in the U.S. Army in The Pentagon as a military aide during the Nixon administration. In the early 1970s he moved to San Diego where he was Marketing Director for Bank of America, and an attorney in private practice. In 1980, he was elected to the San Diego City Council, and served from 1981 through 1985. In 1985, he was appointed municipal court judge by Governor George Deukmejian. In 1989, the governor elevated him to superior court judge. Murphy was elected twice as Mayor of San Diego serving from December 2000 until July 2005.