Seven Northern Michigan University alumni were honored during Homecoming festivities Sept. 22-23 for significant achievements in their fields, substantial contributions to society and demonstrated exceptional leadership and civic qualities. The recipients and their awards were: Paul Blemberg ('72 BS) of Alexandria, Va., and Todd Holmstrom ('90 BA) of Mohawk, Mich., Distinguished Alumni; Kevin Chandler ('00 BS, '03 MPA) of New Haven, Mich., and Ron Fonger ('86 BS) of Flushing, Mich., Alumni Achievement; Jim Jenkin, ('81 BS, '84 MBA) of Appleton, Wis., Alumni Service; and Joshua Ewalt ('08 BS) of Salt Lake City, Utah, and Lee Francisco ('02 BS and '05 MS) of Marquette, Outstanding Young Alumni.
Blemberg was born and raised in south Marquette and holds a psychology degree from NMU. He is in his 34th year of federal service, first with the U.S. Marine Corps and more recently with the Department of Homeland Security. His military deployments included Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, the Mediterranean aboard the USS Saratoga and the Persian Gulf aboard the MidEast Force flagship. Blemberg was selected to serve as an instructor at Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One, specializing in flying while using night-vision goggles, extreme low-level flying and helicopter air-to-air tactics. After retiring from the Marine Corps, he returned to the Persian Gulf for two years, flying and developing a tactics program for the Royal Saudi Navy. He joined the Department of Homeland Security after the 9-11 attacks and has traveled to six continents to work with government security and military personnel in support of DHS security programs.
“I'm either training to learn something or trying to train people on something I've learned already,” Blemberg said at the awards brunch. “It's a continual circle that goes around in my life. I was in psychology and Dr. Jean Rutherford was really special and got me started on the right path. But even the anthropology electives I took with Dr. Marla Buckmaster helped me. I've been working on six continents—a lot of different environments. To appreciate those cultures was really helped by those courses she provided me.”
Holmstrom also is a Marquette native. He serves as Director of Israel and Palestinian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. His previous roles included U.S. Consul General in Jeddah and Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) in N'Djamena, Chad. Holmstrom spent three years in Damascus, Syria, where he served as economic counselor, counselor for political and economic affairs, and as acting DCM in his final year at the Embassy. Other overseas postings included political/economic counselor in Tunis, a consular officer in Ottawa, and a political/economic officer in Paramaribo, Suriname. Holmstrom is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service in the Department of State. Prior to joining the Foreign Service in November 1995, he served in the U.S. Army. He speaks Arabic and French. In addition to his history degree from NMU, he holds a master's degree from the National War College.
“At Northern, I learned to appreciate the intricacies and rewards inherent in studying and learning in some depth about a foreign nation and culture,” Holmstrom said. “My literature classes allowed me to gain a greater appreciation for complexities of human nature and experience. That's especially important when you're in all these far-off places trying to explain things back to Washington decision makers. All professors at Northern delivered what they promised: teaching me how to learn for the rest of my life. I want to thank NMU for opening up the world to me.”
Chandler earned two NMU degrees: a bachelor's in public relations and master of public administration. He has worked in higher education for nearly 16 years and currently serves as dean of university relations at Macomb Community College. In 2016, he was named to Crain's Business class of “40 Under 40” in Michigan. His community service and economic development experience includes co-founding a bipartisan military affairs committee that seeks to protect and grow the military footprint in Macomb County. He was part of a small delegation that traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress not to retire the fleet of A-10 fighter jets, which would have eliminated hundreds of jobs at Selfridge Air National Guard Base. Chandler also founded NextGen Macomb, a nonprofit for young professionals designed to provide opportunities for networking, stewardship, volunteering and professional development.
“I finished my bachelor's degree and I was working for Dr. [Steve] Oates,” Chandler said. “He said he didn't want me to leave and asked what it would take for me to stay. I wanted to get my master's in broadcasting. He said, tell you what, stay here and we'll get you a master's degree and we'll get you some broadcasting. Northern didn't have a program, but he talked to Dr. [Dwight] Brady and I completed a master of public administration degree with a track in broadcasting. Within year, I was a producer and reporter at TV6. I'm just indebted for the opportunities that Northern gave me.”
Fonger was hired by The Flint Journal in 1995, after working at other newspapers in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. He has written more than 250 articles on the water crisis in his hometown and is credited for exposing it before it became an international story. His extensive coverage garnered awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and Michigan Press Association. Fonger appeared on national TV news programs to discuss developments in the water crisis and was named Journalist of the Year by the Detroit Chapter of the SPJ. He graduated with a degree in political science and a minor in journalism. He cultivated his reporting skills with The North Wind student newspaper and served as its editor in chief.
“There was only one professor teaching journalism at that time—Gerald Waite,” he said. “When you're in a small program like that, to have that much attention and interaction with faculty member and adviser. He gave me my first AP Stylebook and Elements of Style and taught me how to construct a sentence and report on a story. Appreciate that. Met with NW students. Small operation, but all engaged and adviser seems committed to it. That's the value you get from here that you might not get from an accredited journalism school with a dozen professors.”
Jenkin is an Ishpeming native who had a 20-year career with Kimberly-Clark Corporation. He served 20 years in various roles in procurement and sales at the corporate headquarters and other operating locations, supporting personal care products. He also led supply-chain optimization teams and coordinated global procurement efforts. In 2004, Jenkin joined the newly formed American Fiber Services based in Atlanta and continues to work for the company. He has developed alternative applications for fibers used in products ranging from tissue and toweling to building products and other proprietary applications. Service to his alma mater has included being a member and president of the NMU Alumni Association Board of Directors, presenter at the NMU Celebration of Entrepreneurship Conference and a frequent volunteer with the College of Business. Jenkin assists with recruiting initiatives in northeastern Wisconsin and continues to be a resource to NMU Alumni Relations staff by hosting events, securing volunteers and finding information about prominent alumni. He earned a bachelor's in marketing and management and an MBA from Northern.
“My time with the NMU alumni board and NMU in general has been rewarding and enjoyable,” Jenkin said. “Hopefully, I've given something back to NMU in return for what it gave me. With my son a senior, this will make the fourth generation of my family to graduate from NMU. This isn't an award as much for me, as for those who influenced and guided me. Time at NMU prepared me well for a career. Dr. [Irv] Zanglein stands out in my mind. He provided us with a tremendous amount of guidance and stuck with all of us as we went forward.”
Ewalt, who studied speech communication at NMU before entering grad school, is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Utah. His courses teach the importance of public discussion regarding contemporary topics, analyzing operations of power, applying communication theory to practical situations, and learning ways of enacting and negotiating differences of identity in communicative contexts. He was previously employed as an assistant professor in the School of Communication Studies at James Madison University. Ewalt was selected to participate in the National Endowment for the Humanities' Summer Institute on Space, Place and the Humanities this summer at Northeastern University. He is the author of 12 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters and has given more than 20 presentations at regional and national conferences.
“There was something so overwhelmingly inviting about how NMU framed itself,” Ewalt said. “I knew it was the right place. When visiting here, got to meet with a professor. In office, seeing books, desk and talking about literature and ideas, I was elated. When we left, I told my mom that would be me someday. Northern is a small school where mentorship extends beyond the classroom walls. It is here where my experience at NMU becomes most salient. For no matter how large of a university I might be working at, I maintain the same idea: Each student deserves a professor who will know their name, who will notice and support them and give them a chance to succeed. I might even say each student deserves to feel as if they were attending NMU.”
Francisco founded 906 Technologies in Marquette at age 26 and serves as its CEO. The company specializes in high-quality home and business IT services and computer repair, website design, custom software and mobile app development. It now boasts more than 28 employees and nearly 300 clients and was named one of “Michigan's 50 companies to watch” in 2013. Francisco has hired numerous NMU alumni and has spoken at and participated in various NMU events. He holds a bachelor's in information systems and a master's in training, development and human performance from NMU.
“Scott Krah hired me as a full-time tech before I even graduated,” Francisco said. “That allowed me to build a foundation and I worked at the university for nine years and realized how close-knit this community and institution are. I'm grateful for that. One of my professors inspired all of his students to go in groups, think of ideas and build companies. Not only did he want to encourage students, but he actually wanted to work with the students. Not everyday a professor wants to sit on weekends at students' homes or in places to really build something. If you can work with and inspire students and show them not only am I going to teach you, but I'm going to be there with you, that's worth a lot.”
Sunday, September 24