North Central College - Naperville, IL

John Novak

Class Year: 

Outstanding Alumni Award Winner 2009

John Novak’s ’64 reputation for integrity and fiscal responsibility was endorsed seven times by voters during his extraordinary three-decade tenure as DuPage County Treasurer. He retired as the “dean of Illinois treasurers” in November 2006. A past president of the Illinois County Treasurers Association who was honored in 1995 as the County Official of the Year, John majored in business administration at North Central and was an All-American in wrestling. After graduation, he worked as an admission counselor and head wrestling coach at his alma mater until leaving to work for IBM. He was appointed Treasurer of DuPage County in 1977 following the indictment, conviction and removal of his predecessor. John  restored public confidence to the office and dramatically improved the processing, collection, payment and investment of tax funds.

John has served in a variety of other public service roles, including past chairman of the treasurers affiliate group of the International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials and Treasurers; as a member of the State of Illinois Pension Laws Commission; and as sub-chair of the State of Illinois Department of Revenue Recodification committee. In addition, John was a board member on his local community’s Police Pension Board from 1990-1999 and, in 1998, was elected to the Illinois Municipal Retirement board of trustees and served as chairman of its investment committee until his retirement.

John has remained active with his alma mater and in 2006 became a member of the Board of Trustees. John and his wife Marcy reside in Lombard, Ill.

Richard Tholin

Class Year: 

Outstanding Alumni Award Winner 2009

The Reverend Dr. Richard Tholin ’49 is a distinguished scholar and leader in seminary education, including long service as vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. He has been recognized for his leadership in the United Methodist Church (UMC) and as a community activist focused on peace and justice, affordable housing and the abolition of nuclear weapons. After North Central College, Richard earned a bachelor of divinity from Evangelical Theological Seminary in 1952, a master’s degree in world mission in 1960 and a doctorate in Christian ethics in 1967 from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. His career path included serving as pastor of Diversey Parkway Evangelical United Brethren Church, Chicago (1952-1959) before going on to become a teacher, administrator and senior scholar at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

Special recognitions in the UMC include election as a delegate to the General Conference four times and membership on the General Board of Church and Society (1968-1976). As a member of the General Board of Global Ministries (1976-1984), he chaired the task force that developed the Africa Church Growth and Development Program and served on its board (1977-1986).

Richard and his wife, Phyllis Eckardt ’49 Tholin, are loyal supporters of North Central and have donated their extensive collection of books on Chicago to the College. This working collection, particularly useful for students in the Chicago Term program, is housed in the Haven Hubbard room in Oesterle Library.

Gwendolyn Graff

Class Year: 

Alumni Recognition Award Winner 2009

Gwendolyn Graff ’94 has distinguished herself as a leader and innovator in the confectionary industry—a real-life Willy Wonka—primarily specializing in chewing gum. In her 10-year career with Amurol and the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company in Chicago, Gwen has become one of the top experts in her field, with a number of patents for her innovations.

A chemistry and biology major at North Central College, Gwen first landed a position as a research chemist analyzing samples in a laboratory. In 1999, she went to work as a chemist at Amurol Confections, a subsidiary of Wrigley, doing “blue sky” or futuristic research to create new products. After Amurol and Wrigley merged in 2003, Gwen managed a creative team of researchers who explored and developed new products. She had a hand in developing products that have subsequently become household names, such as Bubble Tape, Big League Chew, Squeeze Pop and Hubba Bubba. She continues to travel internationally to scout new products and in 2007 was promoted to technical principal, with responsibilities for training and advising.

Inspired by campus ministry and service programs at North Central, Gwen is an active volunteer and parishioner. She has chaperoned groups on mission trips with Habitat for Humanity and Mendenhall Ministries. For the last two years, she and her cousins have recorded a Christmas CD to benefit Misericordia.

Mironda Heston

Class Year: 

Wall of Witness Award Winner 2009

Mironda Heston ’02 is honored for her deep devotion to human service and commitment to social justice during a remarkable but all too brief life of 24 years. Her values and beliefs embodied the purest form of humanitarianism. While majoring in political science and theology at North Central, Mironda completed an eight-month independent study in Haiti, an experience that led her to seek a master’s degree in sustainable international development at Brandeis University. Called to continue her life’s work in Haiti, Mironda returned in 2004 to help rural workers write grants that would ultimately fund a much-needed medical clinic. Tragically, she developed dengue fever, and after medical evacuation to Chicago, died September 21, 2004. A measure of the impact of her life and work is that the people she served in Haiti named their clinic the Mironda Heston Medical Clinic in her honor.

At North Central College, Mironda’s legacy lives on through the Mironda K. Heston Scholarship for Public Service. Every year, one student is awarded a stipend for the implementation of a short-term project to benefit the needs of people either in the United States or abroad. The goal is to encourage other students to embrace the rewards of service and, in doing so, consider a lifelong vocation in humanitarianism.


James Will

Class Year: 

Wall of Witness Award Winner 2011

The Reverend Dr. James Will ’49 has focused his ecumenical witness on peace and justice issues in the United States and around the world. He’s taken on leadership roles in his local community, in denominational organizations, in the National Council of Churches, World Council of Churches and Christian Peace Conference. During his career, he has served as a youth director, pastor, professor of religion at North Central, professor of philosophical theology at Evangelical Theological Seminary and professor of Systematic Theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, where he was also director of the Peace and Justice Center.

Jim has been a visiting professor/lecturer at nine universities or colleges worldwide including Israel, Poland and Zimbabwe. His writings include 40 articles published in various journals and four books: “Must Walls Divide?,” “The Moral Rejection of Nuclear Deterrence,” “A Christology of Peace” and “The Universal God: Justice, Love and Peace in the Global Village.”

After graduating with high honors from North Central College with majors in psychology and sociology, Jim studied theology at Evangelical Theological Seminary (now Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary). In 1951 he was named Seminarian Preacher of the Year in a national contest sponsored by the “The Christian Century” and the “Chicago Sunday Evening Club.” He earned a Ph.D. in philosophy of religion and ethics from Columbia University in 1962.

Jim and his wife Hannah reside in Arlington Heights, IL.

Watch the video below to see how North Central helped Jim unite his commitment to Christianity with a strong education.

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Ryan Dowd

Class Year: 

Alumni Recognition Award Winner 2011

Ryan Dowd ’00 is a devoted worker and advocate for social justice causes locally and internationally. At age 13, he became a volunteer at Hesed House in Aurora, IL, and his mission to help individuals in poverty continued throughout his years at North Central. While a student, he joined the Hesed House staff as assistant program director in the overnight emergency shelter. During his law degree studies, Ryan was an intern with the organization, and in 2004 he was appointed executive director.

Under Ryan’s leadership, the organization has grown to serve 1,000 individuals with the help of 6,000 volunteers, including many North Central students. Hesed House sets a high standard for delivering human services, becoming one of only five organizations in the country to combine a comprehensive array of services like job training and counseling with a homeless shelter. The goal of the organization is to not just manage homelessness, but to end it.

Ryan’s passion for international causes has taken him to Africa to work with churches confronting governments that perpetuate human rights abuses.

After majoring in religious studies at North Central, he went on to complete a law degree and master’s degree in public administration at Northern Illinois University.

Ryan, his wife Krissie and their children live in Sugar Grove, IL.

Watch the video below to see how North Central’s faculty helped Ryan connect his intellectual pursuit to his passion for service.

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Esther T. Benjamin

Class Year: 

Outstanding Alumni Award Winner 2011

Esther T. Benjamin ’90 is associate director for global operations for the Peace Corps. In this capacity, she oversees programs in nearly 80 countries. Following the 2008 presidential election she participated in the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team, focusing on foreign assistance.

Esther previously served as executive director for resource development at the International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM), a global biotechnology organization focused on the health of women in developing countries. She also worked at the International Youth Foundation as chief financial officer and then as vice president of business development responsible for global programs and partnerships supporting children and youth initiatives.

In 1999, President Bill Clinton appointed her a White House Fellow, one of the nation’s most prestigious programs for leadership and public service. In this capacity, she worked with Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman on international policies and programs. Esther had previously coordinated humanitarian aid in Somalia as a United Nations humanitarian affairs officer. In the private sector, she has experience in management consulting with Grant Thornton and Arthur Andersen.

Esther is a fellow with the U.S.-Japan Foundation and the U.S.-Southern Africa Center for Leadership and Public Values. At age 13, she and her family moved to the United State from Sri Lanka due to civil unrest. She later graduated from North Central with majors in political science and English. Esther holds master’s degrees in international affairs and applied economics from American University, which honored her in 2009 for her accomplishments. Esther has been a Trustee of North Central College since 2006 and a recipient of an Alumna Recognition Award, which honors successful young alumni.
Esther and her two children reside in Ellicot City, MD.

Watch the video below to see how North Central’s extracurricular activities contributed to Esther's success after college.

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Stephen P. Taylor

Class Year: 

Outstanding Alumni Award Winner 2011

Colonel Stephen P. Taylor ’75 had a distinguished career in the U.S. Marine Corps, which reached a pinnacle in his service for President George W. Bush as a presidential helicopter pilot and commanding officer. He led more than 700 personnel in support of presidential and Marine Corps missions. He flew more than 150 presidential helicopter flights from 2001 to 2003. Steve previously served as presidential command pilot in 1985 and as officer in charge of several detachments that supported presidential travel.

In addition to his time in Washington, D.C., during his career Steve was deployed to the Mediterranean aboard the USS Guam, to Saudi Arabia for combat operations in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm and to central Norway in support of Exercise Strong Resolve 95. In 1998, he was promoted to the rank of colonel and assigned to the chief of staff of Naval Operations as the head of the Amphibious Aviation Division.

After obtaining his political science degree from North Central, Steve attended U.S. Marine Corps Officer’s Candidate School and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1975. He was designated a naval aviator in 1977. He attended Amphibious Warfare School in 1982 and the Naval War College in 1995, where he earned a master of arts degree in National Security and Strategic Studies.

Steve retired from the Marine Corps in 2003 and joined Augusta Westland Inc., where he was involved in the program to replace the presidential helicopter fleet. In 2005, he accepted a position with Lockheed Martin and continued to work on the presidential helicopter program. Steve has also been active in establishing the Vertical Lift Consortium, a group of more than 90 companies working with the U. S. Department of Defense to advance the field of vertical lift aviation.

Steve and his wife Suzette currently reside in Lexington Park, MD.

Watch the video below to see how Steve’s experiences at North Central contributed to his success in the military and beyond.

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J. Charles Eldridge

Class Year: 

Outstanding Alumni Award Winner 2011

Dr. J. Charles Eldridge ’65 is distinguished for his expertise in endocrinology, pharmacology and medical education. He is currently professor of physiology and pharmacology at Wake Forest School of Medicine, where he conducts laboratory research and is principal instructor of endocrine physiology and pharmacology.

His laboratory research in recent years has become focused on mechanisms underlying “endocrine disruptors,” which are environmental contaminants that affect the endocrine system, particularly reproduction functions. His findings have been presented at seminars and published as manuscripts, book chapters and in the 480-page book, “Endocrine Toxicology.” Charles is frequently invited as a consultant on endocrine matters for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health, various corporations and legal counsel.

He has held a variety of leadership positions at Wake Forest and was the architect for a new medical and graduate school curriculum that utilizes small-group, case-centered tutorials. Charles has received a number of teaching awards from his students, was a Macy Foundation Scholar at Harvard Medical School, a Ciba-Novartis Researcher of the Year and honored by the Medical College of Georgia.

After graduating from North Central with a B.A. in biology and chemistry, he attended Northern Illinois University for a master of science, and, in 1971, earned a doctorate in endocrinology at the Medical College of Georgia. He completed post-doctoral fellowships at the University of Bordeaux, France, and at the Medical College of Georgia. He joined the faculty of Wake Forest in 1978.

Charles and his wife Pat live in Winston-Salem, NC.

Watch the video below to see how one class at North Central had a profound effect on Charles' life.

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Richard J. Honer

Class Year: 

Outstanding Alumni Award Winner 2010

Richard J. Honer ’75, M.D., has distinguished himself as a physician, medical humanitarian and tireless community volunteer. In addition to his busy medical practice as a surgeon, he has been generous with his donation of time, performing surgeries in the Dominican Republic—as many as 90 in four days—for people who otherwise would not receive care. His generosity extends to personal donations of much-needed medical and surgical supplies. He and his wife, Andrea, prepare for the trips by visiting churches in the Catholic Diocese of Orlando to explain their ministry and ask for donations.

His extensive community commitment has involved sponsoring a high school scholarship, coaching girls sports teams, furnishing supplies to the school clinic, providing physicals and dispensing advice and referrals. He also donates one weekend a month to a prison ministry and his family has hosted foreign exchange students. His latest endeavor is becoming the medical director of Angel Care, which is a free health clinic serving a low-income area.

After graduating from North Central College in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in biology, Richard attended medical school at the University of Illinois. Affiliated with Gessler Clinic, he has been on staff at Winter Haven Hospital since 1985.

In 2002, he received the Florida Medical Business Physician Humanitarian Award and the Community Mission Award. He has been awarded recognition as among America’s Top Surgeons every year from 2002 to 2010. In addition, he has been a loyal supporter of North Central College.
Richard and his wife live in Winter Haven, FL.

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