North Central College - Naperville, IL

Tallulah Fisher Williams

Class Year: 

Wall of Witness Award Winner 2008

The late Reverend Dr. Tallulah Fisher ’74 Williams is being honored for her leadership in the United Methodist Church. She graduated from North Central College in 1974 and earned a master of divinity from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston. She received a doctor of ministry degree from Chicago Theological Seminary. She accomplished many “firsts” in the Northern Illinois Conference, including the first African-American woman to be a district superintendent and the first African-American female pastor appointed to serve a predominantly white suburban church.

Tallulah was known as an excellent preacher and was elected chair of the national Black Methodists for Church Renewal, giving four national keynote addresses. But she didn’t forget her close connections to North Central, returning to campus as a speaker for a Martin Luther King Jr. prayer breakfast and maintaining contact with alumni and friends. Tallulah was elected as a delegate to the 2000 United Methodist General Conference on the first ballot and was nominated for bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference but passed away June, 20, 1999. Many felt she would have been elected bishop.


Holly Humphrey

Class Year: 

Outstanding Alumni Award Winner 2009

Holly Humphrey ’79, M.D., has achieved national recognition as a leader in the field of medical education and serves as dean for medical education at The University of Chicago. She oversees the education of students in the Pritzker School of Medicine and residents and fellows in graduate programs at The University Medical Center.

A Trustee of North Central College, Crain’s Chicago Business featured her in 2009 as one of its “Women to Watch.” Under her leadership, the Pritzker School of Medicine has soared in its selectivity as reported by U.S. News & World Report, rising from 41st to third, compared to all medical schools nationally. She has also increased the percentage of under-represented minority students in each medical school class.

Holly’s expertise is widely sought and she has served as a visiting professor at Harvard University, Johns Hopkins, The University of Pennsylvania, Washington University and Georgetown University. She has won numerous teaching awards, including the Hilger Perry Jenkins Teaching Award at The University of Chicago, and been honored 17 times by graduating students as one of their favorite faculty teachers.

After graduating summa cum laude from North Central, Holly earned her M.D. with honors from The University of Chicago. She continued there in an internal medicine residency, followed by a fellowship in pulmonary and critical care medicine. She served as chief medical resident before joining the faculty as an assistant professor in 1989, thus beginning a 14-year appointment as director of the internal medicine residency program. She moved to the dean’s office in 2003.

She has authored more than 60 publications and has served as chair of the American Board of Internal Medicine and as president of the Association of Program Directors in Internal Medicine. Her career achievements led to her becoming the first clinician educator faculty member to earn tenure at The University of Chicago.

Holly is married to Duane Follman ’79, a cardiologist practicing in Hinsdale, Ill.

Donald Wolfensberger

Class Year: 

Outstanding Alumni Award Winner 2009

Donald Wolfensberger ’64 is a senior scholar on public policy and congressional procedures after a distinguished career in the halls of Congress. A recognized expert on parliamentary rules and procedures, he played a key role in the House reform proposals implemented during the 104th U.S. Congress, after Republicans took control of the majority in 1995. After 28 years as a staff member in the U.S. House of Representatives, in June 1999 he became director of the Congress Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He has published Congress and the People: Deliberative Democracy on Trial (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000). While at North Central, Don earned his B.A. in English and held editorial positions on The Chronicle and The Spectrum. After graduation, he earned an M.A. in political science at the University of Iowa and then served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania, East Africa, from 1967-1968, which he describes as a “life-changing experience.”

In 1969, Don was appointed legislative assistant to his own congressman, U.S. Rep. John B. Anderson (R-Ill.). He joined the House Rules Committee staff as Anderson’s subcommittee counsel in 1979 and subsequently served on the committee as subcommittee counsel to U.S. Rep. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and U.S. Rep. Lynn Martin (R-Ill.). In 1991, he was named Republican staff director of the Rules Committee and in 1995 he was named chief of staff on the committee. He currently writes a twice-monthly column, “Procedural Politics,” for the popular Capitol Hill Newspaper, Roll Call. He lectures frequently on Congress to student groups, foreign diplomats and executive branch officials. Don and his wife, Monty Tripp, live in Arlington, Va.

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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