Alumni awards


Distinguished alumni to be awarded

Bluffton University will honor an activist, an artist, a diplomat and a retired economics professor at its annual alumni awards banquet on Homecoming weekend. Founders Hall will be the site at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11.

Lenna Mae Gara, who attended Bluffton in 1948-49, is this year’s recipient of the Lifetime Service Award, presented to alumni who have dedicated their lives to heartfelt service to people, community or church. The Professional Achievement Award will go to ceramic artist Jack Earl ’56, for notable career success and recognition resulting from pursuit of intellectual growth and exploration of creative ventures in a chosen field. Angong Acuil ’05 will receive the Outstanding Young Alumni Award, given to a graduate from the past 10 years who is either distinguished through service or has made significant professional contributions.

The Faculty/Staff Service Award honoree is Dr. Ronald Friesen, a professor emeritus of economics, for fostering a spirit of community through personal relationships with others and for mentoring students.

Tickets for the banquet are $15; reservations must be made by Oct. 2. Online registration is available at For more information, contact Joyce Schumacher at 419-358-3456 or

Gara continues to express a long-held passion for peace by attending a monthly vigil with her husband, Larry, in Wilmington, Ohio, where they live. They began organizing peace vigils and demonstrations during the Vietnam War era, and later co-edited a book, “A Few Small Candles: War Resisters of World War II Tell Their Stories.” Lenna Mae took on a similar commitment to juvenile justice in 1972, when she learned that children had been—and were being—held in the Clinton County jail only as runaways. Her campaign to end jailing of juveniles who hadn’t committed serious crimes led to establishment of the Clinton County Youth Service Bureau and to subsequent action through the Wilmington League of Women Voters. She also attempted to raise consciousness about environmental concerns in her city and county, in addition to co-founding the Wilmington Writers’ Group.

Earl has been a widely known ceramic artist for more than 40 years. One of his porcelain sculptures was chosen for “Objects USA,” an exhibition that toured the country from 1969-71. Shortly thereafter came his first solo exhibition, at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts (now the Museum of Arts and Design) in New York City. He has since had numerous solo shows in major U.S. cities, and his varied sculptures have been part of group exhibitions nationwide and abroad. The list of museums displaying Earl’s art includes the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Art Institute of Chicago. The Lakeview, Ohio, resident has won two awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and, in 1997, he was named a fellow of the American Craft Council.

Once a young refugee from civil war-torn Sudan, Acuil is now a diplomat in the United States embassy of her two-year-old nation of South Sudan. She came to Bluffton in 2001 through a connection—established years before—between her father and Isaac Riak, also a one-time Sudanese refugee and subsequent Bluffton graduate. Acuil, a 2005 alumna, worked in the Washington, D.C., office of Mennonite Central Committee until 2007, when she returned to Sudan as a beginning diplomat in the capital of Khartoum. A native of southern Sudan, she went home to help register voters for the January 2011 referendum in which South Sudan was created. She joined the new nation’s diplomatic corps that April and, in May 2012, moved on to a four-year assignment at its U.S. embassy in Washington.   

Friesen taught economics on campus from 1969-2004. Last year, he and his wife endowed the Ron and Phyllis Friesen Student Discovery Fund in business studies, through which they hope to encourage Bluffton students to travel globally. In the early 1960s, they spent three years in what is now Tanzania, where Friesen taught high school mathematics in the Teachers Abroad Program created by Mennonite Central Committee. At Bluffton, the Inman, Kan., native developed a course on Economic Implications of War and Peace, and was known for using current events as examples of economic problems for students to solve. The Friesens still reside in Bluffton, where their activities include volunteering at the Et Cetera Shop.

The Alumni Association Board of Directors chooses the award recipients from nominations submitted by alumni, faculty and friends of the university.