The University of St. Thomas will celebrate its annual St. Thomas Day on Wednesday, May 2. The event honors recipients of the Monsignor James Lavin Award, Professor of the Year Award, Humanitarian Award, Tommie Award and Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna Award.
St. Thomas Day recognizes the extraordinary contributions that members of the St. Thomas community have made to the university and the wider community. The awards presented on St. Thomas Day were instituted over a period of 60 years.
St. Thomas Day events will begin with a 5:30 p.m. Mass in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas celebrated by Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda. A dinner and awards program will follow at 7 p.m. in James B. Woulfe Alumni Hall in the Anderson Student Center. Dr. Julie Sullivan, president of St. Thomas, will present at the award ceremony, where more than 400 members of the St. Thomas community are expected to attend.
Nominations for the Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna, Humanitarian and Lavin awards are welcome throughout the year but are required by July 1 for consideration for the following year’s St. Thomas Day. Contact the Alumni Relations office for more information.
Distinguished Alumna Award
Mary K. Brainerd ’79 MBA
The Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna Award honors an individual for leadership and service to St. Thomas, the community and in his or her field of endeavor. This year’s recipient is Mary K. Brainerd ’79 MBA, a national expert in the health-care industry. For 15 years as president and CEO of HealthPartners, Brainerd led the largest consumer-governed, nonprofit health-care organization in the country.
For more than three decades she held senior-level positions at HealthPartners and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota. As a founder and former chair of the Itasca Project, which brings together government, civic and business leaders to address long-term regional issues, she demonstrates her ability to guide others in seeking to advance the common good.
“People might have a building or a facility, but I hope my legacy is my culture and values at HealthPartners,” Brainerd said. “It takes a huge village to shape a culture that has a strong set of values around compassion, is member centered and has integrity in the way we work.”
James E. Daly ’69
James E. Daly ’69 is the 2018 recipient of the Humanitarian Award, which recognizes an individual’s contributions to the betterment of the spiritual and material welfare of the less fortunate.
After a 26-year career with the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, Daly settled into a life of volunteer service the likes of which few people could imagine. He has shown generosity of time and spirit to countless victims of catastrophe as well as those who aid them, from disaster-relief work at 9/11’s Ground Zero, to Hurricane Katrina relief, to on-site management in the wake of the 35W bridge collapse (for which he received a President’s Volunteer Service Award from President Bush himself).
“It just seemed like a continuation of being a police officer," said Daly in a 2017 Star Tribune article featuring him. "It's just a different way of helping people.”
Daly’s volunteer work through the Salvation Army has taken him around the country, usually managing the serving of huge quantities of hot food to those at disaster scenes.
"He is so level- and clearheaded in his decision-making," Salvation Army Major Rae Doliber told the Star Tribune. "He can just bring a peace and calm to a situation that's just totally out of control."
"He is a humble servant of the Lord, and he just keeps on going," said Salvation Army Capt. Leticia Crowell.
Monsignor James Lavin Award
Mark A. Zesbaugh ’86
Mark A. Zesbaugh, CEO of Security Life Insurance Company of America, is the 2018 recipient of the Monsignor James Lavin Award. This award honors an alumnus/alumna of St. Thomas for outstanding contributions and service to the University of St. Thomas Alumni Association, its programs and services
For 15 years, Zesbaugh served on the St. Thomas Board of Trustees, doing indispensable work to advance the university and being a model of alumni and trustee involvement, including serving in a leadership role for the most recent branding task force. He has engaged with fellow alumni at numerous events, as a volunteer and as an enthusiastic Tommie Travel participant. He has contributed greatly to the increase in scholarship aid for students and to the development and success of Tommie Give Day. He also was given the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2015.
“He is the quintessential servant-leader,” said Pat Ryan, chair of the St. Thomas Board of Trustees. “He quietly goes along and does what he needs to do.”
Zesbaugh graduated from St. Thomas with a degree in accounting, launching him into a fast-climbing career that saw him named CEO of Allianz Life at 37. Zesbaugh is currently president of Twin Cities-based Entrepreneurial 180, LLC.
Professor of the Year
AnnMarie Thomas, Ph.D.
AnnMarie Thomas, Ph.D., a professor of engineering in the School of Engineering and associate professor of entrepreneurship in the Opus College of Business Schulze School of Entrepreneurship, is the 2018 Professor of the Year.
As a professor, artist, engineer, entrepreneur, designer and maker, she has created countless opportunities for her students. She is the founder of the Playful Learning Lab through which students have developed a wide range of innovative projects, and worked in collaboration with the Long Now Foundation, Alinea group, Higher Ground Academy, STEM education, Cantus singing group and the band OK Go. She is also the co-founder of the St. Thomas Center for Engineering Education, which supports teachers who integrate STEM into their curriculum through multiple degrees and certificates. Her classroom topics across dual appointments in engineering and entrepreneurship are on topics such as engineering graphics and design, machine design, dynamics, toy design, product design for an aging population, technology prototyping, environmental sustainability and innovation, and brain machine interfaces.
“The depth and breadth of Dr. Thomas’ work with undergraduate and graduate students is incomparable,” said Deb Besser, Ph.D., Thomas’ colleague in the School of Engineering. “Her teaching focuses on creatively engaging learners as AnnMarie continues the journey of understanding how the full variety of people learn and create – essential characteristics of an exemplary engineer and entrepreneur.”
Annie Youngblood '18
Annie Youngblood was voted by students, staff and faculty as the winner of the 2018 Tommie Award. She is majoring in both environmental studies, and justice and peace studies.
Youngblood has been involved as a student leader at St. Thomas in a variety of ways, including as an orientation leader, swim team manager and research assistant in the Biology Department.
Lydia Yahnke, Youngblood’s nominator, wrote in a testimonial, “Her ability to think critically in her daily life is unmatched. Her genuine and authentic sense of compassion is contagious and makes a lasting impression on every person she encounters.”
Amy Finnegan, Ph.D., a mentor and professor, wrote the following, “Annie is a tremendous mix of attentive, energized and humble. I’ve noticed that her peers are drawn to her charisma and her warmth. … Through her inspiring curiosity, thoughtfulness, humility and community-building efforts, she calls all of us to be better.”
With the exception of 1945 and 1946, the Tommie Award has been presented annually since 1931 to a St. Thomas senior. The award recognizes achievements in scholarship, leadership and campus involvement, and represents the highest ideals of the university.
The Tommie Award is sponsored by the Division of Student Affairs.