Alumni Award Recipients: 2008

Columbia College honored several outstanding alumnae with service, community and professional achievement awards at the annual Alumni Awards Dinner. The awards recognize the achievements of outstanding Christian College and Columbia College alumni.

Distinguished Alumni Award

For attaining outstanding regional and naitonal career recognition

William "Bill" Vaananen '78
Tulsa, Okla., native Bill Vaananen arrived at Columbia College in 1974 on a soccer scholarship. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in music education in 1978. As a student, Bill lettered in soccer and studied piano and organ, as well as singing in the Concert Choir, appearing in musical productions and serving as an original member of the Columbia College Jazz Quintet. He also was a member of the stage band for the 1976 performance of Sally Rand, Columbia College alumna and legendary fan dancer. Bill was named to Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities in 1978.

Bill’s first teaching position was with the Harrisburg R-VIII Consolidated School District in 1978 teaching elementarylevel general music and directing the high school and middle school band and chorus programs. He also taught musical theater and accompanied dance classes at the Perry-Mansfield Camp for the Performing Arts operated by Stephens College in Steamboat Springs, Colo. Bill wrote and produced his earliest stage work for children while at Perry-Mansfield: an adaptation of “The Magic Flute” with original music and lyrics.

In 1981, Bill moved to the Chicago area and began teaching elementary music at Wescott School in Northbrook, Ill. He has taught general music to elementary school students at Wescott for the past 27 years.

Bill has written and directed more than 30 theatrical works for children, often combining his education background with music and theater to bring history and social studies alive for children. In 1996, Bill was awarded the Human Rights Award by the Illinois Education Association for one of these works, “The Free Thinkers,” which depicts the struggle for suffrage by American Women. At the association’s annual assembly, Bill led the 2,000 members in a spirited version of the social justice hymn, “The Internationale.”

Bill has received a number of other awards and recognitions. In 1990, he received the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1990, an honor given each year to 10 Chicago educators. He currently serves as a fellow in the Golden Apple Academy. In addition, Bill was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award for Social Justice in 2005 by National-Louis University where he earned his master’s degree in 1994. In 2007, Bill was presented with the American Star of Teaching Award. The annual award recognizes one teacher from each state in the nation. Bill also was featured in the story, “50 Directors Who Make a Difference” in the December 2007 issue of School Band and Orchestra magazine.

Bill’s musical works include “Sea of Grasses, a song cycle depicting the history of Illinois; “Journey to the Sun,” a musical expedition through the history and culture of Mexico; and “The Library in the Sky,” a celebration of books in a time of increased technology. His productions are for casts of 60 to 90 children.

Bill has written dozens of songs based on history, equality, heritage and multiculturalism. Among them are “Chicago: the City of Life;” “Hand in Hand,” performed in sign language by actress Marlee Matlin at the National Conference on Deafness in 1990; and “Village by a Stream,” commemorating Northbrook’s centennial. Lyrics for the song are engraved on a sculpture in Northbrook Village Green.

In addition, Bill has written the music and lyrics for productions performed in Chicago-area schools for more than 20 years by the theatrical company Face to Face productions. These include works based on the lives of Ben Franklin, the Wright Brothers, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison. Bill directs the children’s choir at Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit in Lincolnshire, Ill. He has written and staged musical works such as “Beethoven’s Ode to Christmas,” “Epiphany of the Planets” and “Christmas at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” He also performs solo piano for events and celebrations in the Chicago area.

Bill lives in Deerfield, Ill., with Linda, his wife of 21 years, and their children Mia, age 10, and Ian, age 6.

Professional Achievement Award

For attaining outstanding regional and national recognition in one's chosen career field

Larry Wooten '82
Larry Wooten earned a bachelor’s degree in fashion design in 1982 from Columbia College. A resident of Irving, Texas, Larry currently is the head designer at ISISPORT, a manufacturer of ladies’ fine golf and resort apparel. The ISISPORT label is presented through the national and regional buyers’ shows of the Professional Golf Association where the label is sold to pro shops, PGA super stores and resort boutiques throughout the American and Asian continents.

During Larry’s 25-year career in the fashion industry, he has been privileged to design for several manufacturers, including Tamara Import, under the label Anthony Mark Hankins for the Home Shopping Network; White Stag and George for Wal-Mart; and the Robert Daniel and Robin K. collections found at JC Penney, Sears and Dunlap department stores.

Larry’s career took a surprising turn in the 1990s when he landed the couturier position with Lucy’s @ the Crescent, where he created custom designs for high society clients in Dallas. His evening gown creations were spotlighted at many balls and galas, including Crystal Charity, Great Gatsby, Symphony, Cattle Barons and the Texas Kidney Foundation, as well as two presidential inaugural balls.

From his couture position, Larry expanded his custom label l.donell couture and forged a lasting working friendship with one of Dallas’ much-loved philanthropists, Mrs. Charles Wyly. Mrs. Wyly was chosen one of the top 10 best-dressed women in Dallas for 10 consecutive years. In a 2007 interview, Mrs. Wyly named Larry among her favorite designers, including Oscar de la Renta.

Under the l.donell couture label, Larry’s designs have been featured in charity events across the country, such as the Texas Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation and the Inner City Education Program of Washington, D.C.

Larry received the invitation of his dreams at one of these charity events: to show his styles at the annual Salon International de la Beaute at Parc Floral in Paris.

In addition to his fashion and couture career, Larry built on the love of the theater he developed as a Columbia College student and became the costumer for the Dallas Dance Theater. His costumes were featured in performances such as “Dance Forever,” as well as the company’s signature ballet, “Porgy and Bess.”

Columbia College Service Award

For significant contributions and service to Columbia College

Kimberly "Kim" Nowak Watson '91
Kimberly Nowak Watson first learned of Columbia College in 1980 as a high school student in Chicago. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Art from the college in 1991 and a Bachelor of Arts in Art Education in 1999.

Kim served as the education coordinator for the Columbia Art League, where she organized classes, camps and afterschool programs, as well as hired teachers and promoted the program through the media. Kim also served as an Art League board member. In addition, Kim taught graphic design and typography at Stephens College, and she was employed as a graphic designer for KOMU-TV8.

In 1995, Kim established her own graphic design company, Pinnacle Graphics, creating logos, brochures, advertisements, displays, menus, product graphics and photography for a number of companies, such as Toastmaster Inc., Penske Racing, Salton, Shelter Insurance, Missouri Credit Union, the Missouri Department of Conservation and the U.S. Army.

Kim also has used her graphic design skills on behalf of Columbia College. When Sid Larson retired after 50 years with the college, Kim photographed 83 of his paintings to design the catalog for his retrospective show. She also developed a brochure and appeared in a video to raise funds for a scholarship in Sid’s name.

Recently, Kim sifted through the college archives and selected more than 200 photographs to scan and arrange into a digital mural. Depicting student life from 1850 to 2007, the mural is located in the Columbia College Alumni Association Gallery in Atkins-Holman Student Commons. Kim served on the Columbia College Alumni board of directors for one year until her acceptance in the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Missouri. Her thesis investigates the psychological side of graphic design through neuro advertising, where emotional responses can be anticipated through manipulation of design elements.

Kim resides in Columbia with her husband Tom. They have two daughters: Lee, a 2007 graduate of Columbia College with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, and Nikie, who will attend Hickman High School in fall 2008.

Community Service Award

For demonstrating outstanding leadership and service to the citizens of one’s community

Judith A. Clay '66, O.D., F.A.A.O
Dr. Judith Clay graduated from Christian College in 1966 and the Southern College of Optometry in 1970. With more than 35 years of service, she has both enhanced and advanced the field of optometry as a pediatric optometrist, advocating for children’s vision and lobbying for comprehensive visual examinations prior to school entry.

In 2002, the Florida Optometric Association named Dr. Clay the Florida Optometrist of the Year, and in 2004, the association honored her again as Optometrist of the Decade. Dr. Clay was appointed to the Florida Partnership for School Readiness by Gov. Jeb Bush in 1999 and was reappointed in 2001. She currently serves as chairman of the partnership’s board.

A fourth generation in her optometric family, Dr. Clay has served on a number of committees in the American Academy of Optometry. For 15 years she has participated on the Ellerbrock Memorial Continuing Education Committee and served as its chair from 1995-1997. The AAO presented Dr. Clay with the Outstanding Service Award in 1997, the Eminent Service Award in 1998 and Life Fellow in 2005. Dr. Clay has attended AAO meetings for more than 50 years, and she and her husband, Dr. Edward K. Walker, continue to participate in the AAO’s annual meetings.

An active member of the Tallahassee, Fla., community, Dr. Clay has served on the Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Commission for eight years, as well as Springtime Tallahassee for 25 years, the Tallahassee Junior Woman’s Club for 15 years, the Tallahassee Museum of History and Natural Science for 25 years and the East Hill Baptist Church for 30 years. Honeysuckle Garden Circle, her garden club since 1975, placed a bench at Goodwood Plantation and dedicated it in honor of Dr. Clay for her service to the children of Tallahassee.