Distinguished Alumnus Award

Each year the Community Relations Department seeks nominations for the annual Distinguished Alumnus Award. The award gets presented at the YVC Commencement Ceremony each June. The award was first conferred in 1982 to Catherine May Bedell, a 1934 YVC graduate and U.S. Congresswoman. Since then, the award has been presented to a variety of notable graduates of YVC.

Award Criteria: Because so many former YVC students have used the college as a springboard and in many cases did not remain for a full two years, the college has set the following guidelines for nominations:

  • The nominee must have attended Yakima Valley College for at least three quarters.
  • The nominee must have attained at least 45 credits at YVC.
  • The nominee must have distinguished themselves in a positive manner.

Yakima Valley College selected Letisha Peterson as the 2023 recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award. Peterson is general manager of Yakama Nation Legends Casino Hotel in Toppenish.

Peterson is a native of the Yakima Valley and enrolled member of the Yakama Nation. After graduating from Yakama Tribal High School in 1997, she completed her associate degree at YVC and then earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration through CWU.

She began her career with Legends Casino Hotel in 2008 as part of the Keys to Success program, an ongoing training initiative designed to move enrolled members into casino management. With a strong history of leadership established, she was named general manager in February 2017.

Peterson credits some of her experiences at YVC with helping her be prepared for this role.

“I learned leadership and work ethic during my time at YVC. I was president of Tiin-Ma Indian Club, and our club received the Club of the Year award for outreach. [As a work study] I was honored to work with disabled students, hardworking community members and students with language barriers to help them learn English as a second language,” she said.

Yakima Valley College is honored to present George Allan as this year’s recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award. Allan is the former owner and current board member of Allan Brothers Fruit in Naches, Wash.

The Allan family has a long and rich history in the agricultural and fruit packing industry in the Yakima Valley. Since its establishment over a century ago, the business has expanded over the years as innovations and needs in the Yakima Valley have grown. George Allan, alongside his brother Dave and cousins Larry and Todd, were the third generation of Allans to lead the family business. Under George’s direction the company grew to include shipping, multiple packing lines and quality control systems. They also worked to plan and plant new orchards in the region, strengthen business relationships throughout the tree fruit industry and provide philanthropic support to the community. 

In recent years a fourth generation of the Allan family have assumed leadership roles and company ownership while the legacy of the Allan name, and George’s contributions to the Washington State tree fruit industry, continue to grow.

Gerard Dombrowski was born in Philadelphia and raised on the East Coast spending time between New York and Florida.

For many years, Dombrowski worked in construction trades, both in commercial glass and the construction of new homes. During this time, he struggled with addiction to drugs and alcohol. In the early 2000s, Dombrowski was visiting family in the Pacific Northwest when he fell in love with the area and decided to relocate.

After overcoming his addiction, Dombrowski was ready for a new chapter in his life and turned to Yakima Valley College for a fresh start.

“I met my wife here in Yakima County at a time when a new chapter in my life had begun,” stated Dombrowski. “My own personal recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction led to my desire for more education on addiction, and I was afforded the opportunity to take a class at YVC to see if the addiction studies field interested me.”

After that initial class, he decided to continue his studies and completed an associate of applied science degree in chemical dependency studies. He then transferred to Grand Canyon University and earned both a bachelor’s degree in addiction science and a master’s degree in addiction counseling.

In 2007 Dombrowski accepted his first counseling position and this position began his work with addiction recovery in Central Washington. In addition to counseling addicts and alcoholics, he has held positions as clinical supervisor and clinic director at Triumph Treatment Center – James Oldham Treatment Center in Buena. Currently, Dombrowski is the team leader/clinical supervisor at Comprehensive Healthcare at Pathways, an intensive inpatient program for co-occurring disorders.

He also works as an adjunct instructor in YVC’s Substance Use Disorders program and serves as its program coordinator.

“Interestingly – and amazingly – the man who made that first course at YVC available to me called me years later, in 2014, and offered me an opportunity as an adjunct faculty member here at YVC, teaching in the same program where I had gotten my start years earlier,” he said.

Dombrowski is thankful for the opportunity to help his patients in their recovery and create new possibilities for their lives.

“The most beneficial aspect of working with individuals struggling with substance abuse issues is when I witness that they now appreciate the simple fact that – with a little hard work – life tomorrow can be better than life was yesterday. Being there when their light bulb comes on – when they finally appreciate that they, too, can recover and be the brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, and the fathers and mothers they were meant to be.”

Dombrowski has impacted the lives of many individuals seeking recovery here in Yakima County and beyond. He has been a mentor and favorite teacher to many, and his personal recovery from addiction and personal growth have been an inspiration to others.

Dombrowski lives in Selah, Wash., with his wife. Together they have four daughters and six grandchildren.

“I consider myself living proof that any alcohol or drug addict can recover and make changes in their respective lives, and come to appreciate life as a joyous journey, rather than a burdensome existence,” he concluded.

Delma Tayer was born into a pioneer family that migrated from Quebec to Malheur County, Oregon. In 1947 she moved to Yakima to marry Harold Tayer. The couple and young son, made their life and home in Selah, WA. After her husband began his dental practice, Delma attended Yakima Valley College before transferring to Central Washington University (formerly known as Central Washington State College). There she studied English literature, art and philosophy. As a Ford Foundation Scholar, she earned a bachelor’s in English education and philosophy, and later two master’s degrees and required course work for an M.F.A. in art. Her passion for education led her to take not only all of the English classes CWU offered at the time, but the art classes, too.

After earning her degrees she taught English at YVC for 20 years, then joined the administration and served as dean of Arts and Sciences from 1984 until her retirement in 1990.

She also served at the national level in the formation of the Commission for the Humanities and is a past president of the Board of Trustees of Humanities Washington. She also served as President of the Two-Year-College English Association, Vice-President of the Northwest English Association, and with associates from Evergreen and Washington State Universities initiated the Art Touring Service.

In 1974 she began serving as the Director of the Larson Gallery, along with her other duties, an assignment she continued until her retirement. She has also received many awards and honors including the Allied Arts Council Award for contribution to the excellence in arts.

She was also recognized with the YWCA’s Woman of Achievement Award, the Washington Community College Humanities Association’s John N. Terrey Award, the Humanities Washington Heather C. Frank award and the Larson Gallery’s 2000 Woman of the Year award. Upon her retirement she has spent many hours in her studio, in her garden, and traveling internationally.

The Yakima Valley College Alumni Association is pleased to announce Ms. Verlynn K. Best as this year’s recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award. Ms. Best is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and President of the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce.

Ms. Best grew up in the Yakima Valley. Following high school, she enrolled at Yakima Valley College, earning three degrees. “My experience at YVC was a turning point in my adult life and provided me with a quality education to pursue a career I love and I’m passionate about,” she states.

Committed to making her community a better place, Ms. Best has served on the Chamber’s Board of Directors, and is currently serving in her eighth year as CEO/ President.  She is a tireless advocate for local business and community interests. She has also served on the board of the Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau and is currently serving on the board of Washington Chamber of Commerce Executives. She is also active in Habitat for Humanity.

The Yakima Valley College Alumni Association is pleased to announce Mr. Terry Abeyta as this year’s recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award. Abeyta has been a personal injury lawyer in the Yakima Valley since 1978.

Born and raised in Yakima, Abeyta attended Yakima Valley College from 1969-1971 where he says he received some of the best instruction of his educational career. He benefited from outstanding teachers like Delma Thayer, Inga Wiehl, and Mary Lou Schmidt, Gordon Howard, Jim Newbill, Bill Scofield, Paul Anderson, Robert McCutcheon, Millie Stenehjem, and the late Herb Blisard. He graduated at the top of his class with a 3.98 GPA and was a member of Phi Theta Kappa honor society.

Terry says the great start he received from YVC prepared him well for transferring to Whitman College. At Whitman, he graduated at the top of his class with a 4.0 GPA, summa cum laude, was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and received honors in political science. He later attended the University of Washington Law School, winning the moot court competition and graduating in 1976 in the top 15% of his class. Terry worked his way through college and law school as a reporter with the Yakima Herald-Republic, Walla Wall Union-Bulletin, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

After law school, he worked for two years for a law firm in the Seattle area, where he was drawn to litigation. Terry moved back to his hometown in 1978 to practice law and raise a family. He practiced two years with a firm before going into solo practice in 1981. He hired Rod Nelson a year later. They recently celebrated 36 years of practice together. Terry has limited his practice to personal injury cases since 1985.

Terry has earned a reputation as one of best personal injury lawyers in Washington. He has been honored as a Super Lawyer every year since 1999, and has been named to The Best Lawyers in America every year since 2009. In addition, he is the only lawyer in Central Washington chosen for the Damage Attorney Round Table. He has been selected for the American Board of Trial Advocates, Million Dollar Advocates, and Law Dragon’s Leading Plaintiff Lawyers in America. He has also served in many leadership positions for the Washington State Association for Justice, and is a past president of the Yakima County Bar Association. Terry has the highest personal injury settlement, arbitration award, and jury verdict for a neck injury case in the history of Yakima County.

Abeyta Nelson Injury Law was recently designated by readers of the Yakima Herald-Republic as Best Law Firm and Best Personal Injury Law Firm and by readers of the Yakima Valley Business Times as Best Attorney. US News & World Report has named it a Best Law Firm.

He is active in the community, serving on the board of trustees for La Salle High School and Catholic Charities of Central Washington, and is active in St. Paul Cathedral Parish. He has served in leadership for United Way, the Yakima Valley Community Foundation, YVC Foundation, and Whitman College.

Terry’s son, David, is a lawyer and daughter, Julie, is a legal assistant at his firm. His daughter, Meagan, is a teacher at Apple Valley School. His life partner, Denielle Beaulaurier, manages his law firm.

The Yakima Valley College Alumni Association is pleased to announce Ms. Maxine Janis as this year’s recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award. Janis is the President’s Liaison for Native American Affairs and Associate Professor at Heritage University in Toppenish, Washington. She is actively working on multiple initiatives related to higher education, health, and the environment as it relates to tribal people and community.

Janis grew up in the heart of the Lakota (Sioux) homelands on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and graduated from Oglala Community School. She earned an undergraduate degree in dental hygiene from Yakima Valley College and Eastern Washington University, and a master’s in public health from Portland State University. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree and completing her dissertation with Northern Arizona University. Janis’s dossier comprises expertise in teaching, service, and scholarly work. Her broad career and background spans public health, private practice, and presently higher education. She has worked in health care delivery with the Indian Health Service for 20+ years as a dental practitioner.

She was the recipient of the Teacher of the Year Award from Northern Arizona University in 2008 and was the past recipient of the Minority Faculty Fellow Award from the U.S. Department of Health and Distinguished Alumnus Award Human Services, Health Resources and Service Administration in 2008.

“From the first day I observed her as a YVC dental hygiene student over 22 years ago, Maxine has revealed natural clinical skills and an instinctive patient rapport,” stated former YVC Dental Hygiene Instructor Trudy Tjarnberg, RDH, BA. “These talents coalesced through time with a resolve toward her own personal growth in education and seeking to advance health and social issues for Native Americans. Today she is being recognized not only for these exceptional qualities but how uniquely she represents YVC’s standards of cultural awareness, access to learning and student community enrichment. It is an honor she truly deserves and an achievement she has truly earned. Congratulations, Maxine, on your many successes of which this award is only a part,” she concluded.

Her research focus is in the area of social justice and health inequities grounded in the human rights, service learning, and cross-cultural education domain. She has been an invited speaker internationally at The Healing Our Spirit Worldwide Indigenous Conference in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and again in Hamilton, New Zealand. She was a keynote speaker at the National Australia Dental Hygiene Symposium, Uluru, Northern Territory, Australia. She has traveled to Havana, Cuba as part of the American Public Health Research Delegation. Other international scholarly endeavors include traveling to Guatemala, India, and New Zealand participating in humanitarian efforts among indigenous populations.

“The value of having advocates and mentors who can open the door of education opportunity is vital for those of us who come from underrepresented populations,” stated Maxine Janis. “YVC had in place educators who did just that for me during my education journey. I’m extremely honored and humbled that these individuals were touch points in my life. Now, it’s my social responsibility to give back,” she continued.

Janis lives in Selah with her companion John. She has three grown sons Craig, Chad and Curtis. She enjoys reading and spending time in the mountains with her family and friends. She also strives to stay connected to her tribal communities by participating in Native American traditional and cultural gatherings.

The Yakima Valley Community College Alumni Association is pleased to announce Mr. Chuck Weedin as this year’s recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award. A passionate educator, he taught at the college for 43 years before retiring in 2004.

Weedin grew up in the Wenatchee Valley and migrated to Yakima to finish high school. He enrolled at YVCC and earned his associate degree in 1954. From there he went on to graduate from Washington State University (WSU) with degrees in social studies, speech, and education. He was then drafted to serve in the United States Army and spent two years of active duty in Oahu, Hawaii. After his service, he returned to WSU earning a master’s degree in public address and a
minor in community college education.

In 1961 YVCC called and offered Weedin a position as a speech instructor and the opportunity to oversee the newly built dormitories. He had fallen in love with the community college mission as a student, so he accepted the position and remained at YVCC until his retirement. Weedin became involved in campus life, living in the dorms, and serving on numerous committees including advising, homecoming, graduation, student services, tenure review, and accreditation.

In 1991 Weedin received national recognition as an outstanding academic advisor. In 1994 he received the Robert M. Leadon Distinguished Alumnus Award
Mr. Chuck Weedin Excellence in Teaching Award from the YVCC Foundation, in 2004 received Teacher of the Year awarded by the YVCC student government, and in 2005 he was selected by YVCC as Emeritus Faculty.

His commitment to YVCC and its students continues today. He has served the college for over 20 years as a member of the alumni association. “Chuck Weedin has made a difference in his community,” stated Deborah Wilson, former alumni association coordinator. “From all of the students who have sat in his classes, to all of the individuals he has met and interacted with, at, around, and because of YVCC, everyone has been impacted by his gentle nature, his good humor, and
his fierce devotion to the college and its mission of higher education,” she concluded.

“Attending YVCC was one of the most shaping things to happen in my life because of both the instructors and the caliber of instruction,” stated Weedin. “Alumni associations are a very good thing. They provide a chance for people to come back and support the institution. I’ve enjoyed and continue to enjoy serving,” continued Weedin.

Wanting to share some of his experiences with the graduating class of 2016, Weedin provided some insight into what life was like 62 years ago when he graduated from YVCC. “Imagine having school cancelled on a Friday so that we could go out and hunt pheasants. This is exactly what we would do in preparation for the Home Harvest Dinner. Students would go and hunt and then prepare the dinner. All the faculty would perform skits and the student body would enjoy the meal,” stated Weedin. “The student body was small, there were only 150-200 students and one building, Prior Hall,” he continued.

He can only imagine how different campus will be in another 62 years. “Graduates, imagine what the world will be like in 2078. I know people don’t always plan on living that long, but I hope you do. There is one thing I know for sure. YVCC administrators, faculty, and staff will continue to support students and provide opportunities to create community. I wish you all well,” he concluded.

Weedin lives in Selah with his wife, Gloria. Now in retirement they enjoy spending time with family and gardening. In addition, he remains active with YVCC’s Alumni Association, the Salvation Army Board, and Selah Kiwanis.

The Yakima Valley Community College Alumni Association is pleased to announce Dr. Margit McGuire as this year’s recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award.

Dr. McGuire grew up on a fruit ranch in Parker Heights and graduated from Wapato High School. She knew she wanted to be a teacher and began that journey at YVCC graduating with an associate of arts degree in 1966. YVCC provided a strong grounding for her further education and made it financially possible for her to pursue higher education. One of her favorite teachers, Mr. Charles Garretson, inspired her to focus on history and social studies throughout her teaching career.
After graduating from YVCC, she attended Washington State University where she majored in elementary education and graduated with distinction. With her interest in history and social studies, Dr. McGuire also wanted to travel so she became a flight attendant for United Airlines and was based in New York City. Following her time with the airlines, she began her teaching career in Stamford, Connecticut. Homesick for the Northwest, she moved back shortly
thereafter. She completed an M.Ed. at Central Washington University and earned a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction at the University
of Oregon. She taught at Seattle Pacific University for 12 years at the outset of her higher education career.

Currently, Dr. McGuire is Professor of Teacher Education at Seattle University. She has served in a variety of leadership roles including president of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), 1991; president of the Washington Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, 1998-2000; board member of the National Geographic Literacy Council; and chairperson of the Elementary Social Studies Framework for Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

She was appointed to the Washington Commission of Charter Schools in 2013. Dr. McGuire has been honored for her work. She earned the Washington Award for Excellence in Teacher Preparation in 1992 and the 2008 McGoldrick Award from Seattle University for distinguished teaching, commitment to students, and
exemplifying the values of the Jesuit educational tradition.

Perhaps her proudest professional achievement is the development of Storypath. This K-8 social studies and literacy curriculum uses narrative structure to immerse students as characters in a time and place to help them understand social and historical events from the inside out. Students use imagination and role play as they engage in critical thinking and problem solving using literacy skills to speak, write, listen, and read within the context of the events. The program is used in classrooms across the country and around the world. Currently Dr. McGuire is researching the impact of the program on
English language learners and special needs students.

Dr. McGuire’s lifelong passion for travel has taken her to over 60 countries. Some of the best travel experiences have been in Morocco, Iran, and Bhutan where she had the opportunity to interact with teachers and children. “I believe that growing up in the Yakima Valley and attending YVCC introduced me to issues of diversity and justice that have guided my work throughout my career,” stated McGuire. “I am honored to receive the Distinguished Alumnus Award and hope that today’s YVCC graduates realize the value of their educational experience as they journey forward,” she concluded.

The Yakima Valley Community College Alumni Association is pleased to announce Mr. Walt Bratton as this year’s recipient of the YVCC Distinguished Alumnus Award. Bratton has devoted his life to the support of parks and recreation in cities across the United States. He is currently working as the Director of Parks, Recreation, and Economic Activities/Development for the city of Ruidoso, New Mexico.

Walt Bratton grew up in Grandview, Washington. The son of a parks and recreation director, his love for the profession started at a young age working beside his father and assisting with daily operations. In the late 1980’s he attended Yakima Valley Community College on a basketball scholarship. After completing his associate of arts degree he transferred to Washington State University to work toward a bachelor’s degree in parks and recreation management. Bratton graduated with honors and was offered a full academic scholarship to attend Arizona State University to pursue a master’s degree. He later went on to earn a master’s degree in public administration from Wichita State University.

In 1993 he began his career working in Queen Creek, Arizona as the Parks and Recreation Director. He spent the next 10 years working for various parks departments in several states including Arizona, Kansas, and California. In 2004, Bratton decided to take a sabbatical and spent time traveling in the United States, Europe, and South America. Returning to work in 2005, he accepted the position of Director of Parks and Recreation in Green River, Wyoming, a position he held until early 2011. In 2013 after working in Florida for nearly two years, he moved to his current position in New Mexico.

Throughout his career Bratton has served numerous community organizations and committees. He is currently a member of the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), New Mexico Recreation and Park Association, and the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration. He has also been published several times in the Wyoming Recreation and Parks Association FOCUS Magazine, and in local newspapers.

In addition, he has received many honors for his commitment to public service including the 2010 Distinguished Fellow Award from the NRPA. In 2010 and again in 2011 he led the city of Green River, Wyoming to the finals for the NRPA’s National Gold Medal Award. This was the first time in over 40 year history of the award that a city in Wyoming was named as a national finalist.

“It is an honor and privilege to receive the Distinguished Alumnus Award,” stated Walt Bratton. “YVCC provided me the educational building blocks necessary for future successes at Washington State University and Arizona State University. I enjoyed my time at YVCC playing basketball and concentrating on attaining my associate of arts degree,” he concluded.

View Award Letter

The Yakima Valley Community College Alumni Association is pleased to announce Dr. Gary Tollefson as this year’s recipient of the YVCC Distinguished Alumnus Award. Tollefson has devoted his life to education. He is currently working as a consultant for the Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID) for Higher Education in Dallas, Texas.

Tollefson grew up in the Yakima Valley and graduated from Toppenish High School. In 1969 he earned his associate’s degree from Yakima Valley Community College before transferring to Western Washington University (WWU) where he earned his bachelor’s degree in education. While teaching history at Eisenhower High School he worked to complete his master’s degree, also from WWU. He then transitioned from teaching to college administration and served as acting associate registrar at WWU from 1975-1976, director of admissions/registrar at Lewis-Clark State College from 1976-1979, and associate director of admissions at Eastern Washington University from 1979-1981.

In 1981 he joined the administrative team at Yakima Valley Community College. During his tenure he served the college through several roles in the student services and instruction divisions. In 1990 he became dean of professional/technical programs followed by Distinguished Alumnus Award Dr. Gary Tollefson
appointment as dean of arts and sciences. During this time he also completed his doctoral degree in education from Seattle University. Beginning in 1994 he became vice president of instruction and student services; a position he held until spring 2003. In May 2003 he was appointed president of Skagit Valley College, where he served until his retirement in 2012.

“If ever there was a college that shaped a life, YVCC was that college for me,” stated Tollefson. “As a student in the 60’s I was able to learn from passionate and compassionate teachers, many of whom have remained lifelong friends. As a YVCC teacher and administrator myself, I felt it was my responsibility to honor those who had helped and mentored me, by doing the same for students I worked with through the years,” he continued. “I’m certain many of this year’s graduates will look back in a few years and like me, think of YVCC as a cornerstone of their success. Congratulations and best wishes to this year’s graduates! “ he concluded.

Throughout his career Tollefson served on numerous community organizations and committees including Rotary International – District 5050 Scholarship Committee, Skagit County Economic Development Council, Leadership Skagit Board of Directors, Northwest Washington Workforce Development Council, Northwest Career and Technical Academy board of directors, AVID for Higher Education National Advisory Board, and the 2011 Swinomish Tribal Community Canoe Journey Planning Committee. In addition, he has received honors for his commitment to education including the Exemplary Leadership Award from the Leadership Skagit Program, Champions of Diversity Award from Skagit Valley College and in honor of his service to Skagit Valley College a plaza and clock tower was named in his honor.

View Award Letter

The Yakima Valley Community College Alumni Association is pleased to announce Mr. David Lester as this year’s recipient of the YVCC Distinguished Alumnus Award. Mr. Lester is a reporter at the Yakima Herald-Republic. He has reported on a large variety of topics including local government, agriculture, business, and criminal justice.

Mr. Lester grew up in the Yakima Valley and graduated from Sunnyside High School. In 1965 he enrolled at YVCC. Commuting daily from Sunnyside, for
the first year and later moving to Yakima. He had been attending YVCC’s Yakima Campus for two years when he received his draft notice. Mr. Lester was inducted into the United States Army in February of 1968 and went through basic training at Fort Lewis. He spent nearly the next two years deployed in Germany during the Vietnam War. Returning to Yakima Mr. Lester again enrolled at YVCC, and earned an associate in arts degree in communication. He then transferred to Washington State University (WSU) and graduated in 1973 with a bachelor of arts degree in communications.

“I simply would not be where I am without YVCC. Even in the late 1960s and early 1970s when tuition costs were much lower, I lacked the financial capability
to attend a four-year institution,” stated David Lester. “YVCC provided me the foundation from which to continue my college career at WSU. My professors and
advisors provided me the time and guidance to help me focus my career goals,” he continued.

After graduation Mr. Lester worked in Prosser, Washington in the radio industry. In September of 1976 he began working at the Yakima Herald Republic’s
Sunnyside office, and later transferred to Yakima. “David Lester is one of the finest reporters I’ve ever had the privilege to work with,” stated Bob Crider,
Yakima Herald-Republic Editor. “Elected and appointed officials rely on Dave for his straightforward and accurate reporting. Dave’s peers on the reporting
staff turn to him often for his institutional knowledge of the Valley and Central Washington. Editors, meanwhile, will readily turn to Dave to handle some of the
toughest stories, knowing he’ll do a thorough job and meet his deadlines. No story is too big for him, no story too small. Dave is a consummate professional
whom our readers have trusted for more than 35 years,” he concluded. Mr. Lester has received numerous awards throughout his career including
several C.B. Blethen Memorial Awards. Named after the newspaper’s longtime publisher, C.B. Blethen Memorial Awards are sponsored by the Seattle Times
and honor distinguished reporting. Mr. Lester was honored most recently with a first-place award in 2006. He also received two first-place awards in 2000 and
a second-place award in 1987. In addition, he has received several awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. Mr. Lester received individual first-place
awards in 2000 and 1998. He also received awards for his collaborative work with other reporters resulting in a third-place award in 2008 and a first-place award in 2003.

In 2011 Mr. Lester was honored by the Yakima Herald-Republic as the Employee of the Year.

View Award Letter

Selected by the YVCC Alumni Association, Dr. Lloyd Butler is this year’s
recipient of the Yakima Valley Community College Distinguished Alumnus
Dr. Butler is the President of the Pacific Northwest University of
Health Sciences and is working to provide more opportunities for medical
training in the Yakima Valley. “Pacific Northwest University of Health
Sciences directly impacts the medical field by creating opportunities for
physicians and other healthcare professionals to enrich the quality of life in the
Pacific Northwest, now and for generations to come,” stated Dr. Butler.
Dr. Butler was born in Auburn, Washington but was raised in the
Yakima Valley and graduated from Yakima Valley Community College in
1965. He completed his pre-medical studies at Central Washington University.
In 1971 he graduated from Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine, and
did his post-doctoral training at Mesa General Hospital in Arizona. He
practiced osteopathic family medicine for 32 years in Sunnyside before retiring
in 2004. During this time he also served twice as Chief of Staff at Sunnyside
Community Hospital as well as a member of their board. He is widely known
for delivering many children in Sunnyside and the surrounding areas. In 2009
Dr. Butler was awarded the J. Scott Heatherington Lifetime Achievement Award
from the Northwest Osteopathic Medical Association.
Committed to his community, Dr. Butler is an active member of
the American Osteopathic Association, Washington Osteopathic Medical
Association, Yakima County Osteopathic Society, Washington State Medical
Association, and Yakima County Medical Society. Dr. Butler is a founding
member of the Sunnyside Community Hospital Foundation, and served as
president of the Osteopathic Foundation of Central Washington. He is a
current board member for Columbia Trust Bank, Custom Coding Books, and is
a past board member for the following organizations: Northwest Osteopathic
Foundation, Home Security Bank, and CodeCorrect.com. He also served
as Associate Clinical Professor at the University of Washington and several
osteopathic medical universities. In addition he has mentored hundreds of
osteopathic medical students throughout his career.
Dr. Butler is a prominent developer of several retirement communities,
and numerous commercial properties in Yakima and across the state including
Comfort Suites Hotel, Chesterley Park Plaza, Chesterley Meadows Assisted
Living and Yakima Alzheimer’s Care, Blossom Creek Memory Care, Moses
Lake Senior Care, Park Meadows, Specialty Center, Butler Medical Building,
and Morningside Care LLC, which includes facilities in Moses Lake,
Wenatchee, Ellensburg, Kennewick, Milton, and Lacey. He is also a member of
the Yakima Rotary Club.
Dr. Butler and his wife, Gloria, are strong supporters of the
community, and have made philanthropic gifts to Sunnyside Community
Hospital, Washington Osteopathic Family Medicine Program, Kirksville
College of Osteopathic Medicine, the Pacific Northwest University of Health
Sciences, and other community and professional organizations. “My wife,
Gloria, and I have come to realize that helping found a medical university in
our valley is the most important thing we will do in our lifetime,” stated
Dr. Butler.

Selected by the YVCC Alumni Association, Ms. Lis Wiehl is this year’s recipient of the Yakima Valley Community College Distinguished Alumnus

Ms. Wiehl attended Yakima Valley Community College studying politics, mass media and news writing. She received her undergraduate degree from Barnard College, and her Master of Arts in Literature from the University of Queensland. Following in the footsteps of her grandfather, Lloyd Wiehl, a prominent Washington state judge, and her father, Richard Wiehl, a Yakima attorney, Ms. Wiehl later studied law at Harvard Law School where she earned her Juris Doctor.

Following her education, Ms. Wiehl served as federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s office from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 2001 she was a tenured law professor at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, where she ran the Trial Advocacy Program, and won the Best Professor of the Year award from the American Association of Trial Lawyers. She also served as a legal analyst for KIRO-TV (CBS) in Seattle, provided legal analysis for NBC News and was a commentator for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered.

In 2001, Ms. Wiehl joined FOX News Channel (FNC) as a legal analyst and co-hosted The Radio Factor with Bill O’Reilly for seven years. Currently, she is a professor of Law at New York Law School and a regular columnist on FOXNews.com. She is also a guest host of WOR radio in New York.

Before her work in media, Ms. Wiehl held the position of Principal Deputy Chief Minority Investigative Counsel for the United States House of Representatives, Committee on Judiciary, during the Impeachment of President Clinton. She is also an accomplished author of both fiction and non-fiction books.

Ms. Wiehl’s first novel, Face of Betrayal, was a New York Times best-seller and earned rave reviews in publications across the country and online. The book opened the Triple Threat series, novels about three crime-fighting women — a federal prosecutor, an FBI agent and a broadcast journalist. In her second novel, Hand of Fate (April 2010), an outspoken talk radio host is murdered and the Triple Threat Club must investigate a list of suspects that seem to outnumber his millions of listeners.

She is also author of two non-fiction books: Winning Every Time: How to Use the Skills of a Lawyer in the Trials of Your Life and The 51% Majority-How
Women Still Are Not Equal and What You Can Do About It, which won the 2007 “Books for A Better Life Award,” sponsored by the National Multiple
Sclerosis Association.

Ms. Wiehl was YVCC’s Commencement Speaker in 2003. Her mother, Dr. Inga Wiehl, taught English for 34 years and received YVCC’s Emeritus
Faculty Award that same year. Ms. Wiehl is married to defense attorney and CBS Early Show analyst, Mickey Sherman, and has two children. She lives in
Westchester, New York.

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Ms. Amy Bragdon is this year’s recipient of the Yakima Valley Community College Distinguished Alumnus Award. Raised in Spokane, Ms. Bragdon received her Bachelor of Arts degrees in Education and Music, after transferring from Yakima Valley College (YVC). “That critical start as an adult, living away from home for the first time, all began on 16th Avenue 45 years ago, in Yakima, Washington; I’ve come a long way and have a rich and productive life. YVC was my beginning. Thank you, YVC!” stated Bragdon. She went on to earn her Master of Arts degree in Administration from Eastern Washington University (EWU).

Ms. Bragdon is currently a governor appointee to the Washington State Board of Education, and has recently been reappointed for four more years by Governor Gregoire. Before retirement she taught in Hawaii for two years, then served the West Valley School District (WVSD) in Spokane for 31 years as a classroom
and music teacher, then later as an elementary and middle school principal, and high school assistant principal. She also taught at EWU for several years.
Ms. Bragdon has many professional accomplishments in her over 30-year career. At WVSD she established the Pre-First Program, as well as created and administered the first parent involvement program, Strengthening Parent Involvement in Children’s Education (S.P.I.C.E.). She also served on the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction Middle Level Task Forces, EWU Principal Professional Advisory Board for Middle Level and High School, and Whitworth
College Focus Task Group for Professional Certification.

Ms. Bragdon has given back to her community by providing support to many organizations including the Japanese American Citizens League, Spokane Buddhist Church, YMCA, Spokane Police Historical Committee, Center for Organizational Reform, Optimist International, and has recently been selected to the Board of Trustees of the Hutton Settlement Children’s Home. She has also provided leadership for various professional organizations.

“I am humbled by this opportunity to turn back the clock to those glorious years of 1964 through 1966 when I attended, formerly called, Yakima Valley College. I made the right decision to attend YVC. My two short years at YVC were filled with lasting friendships, leadership opportunities, and solid, rigorous academic standards,” continues Bragdon. Ms. Bragdon and her husband have been married for 37 years and live in Newman Lake, WA. They have two married children and one grandchild and another on the way.

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Dr. David Kenyon is this year’s recipient of the Yakima Valley
Community College Distinguished Alumnus Award. Born and raised in
the Yakima Valley, Dr. Kenyon received his Bachelor of Science degree
in Agricultural Economics in 1966 from Washington State University
after transferring from YVCC. “I am extremely thankful for the
education I received at YVCC,” Dr. Kenyon said. He went on to earn
his Master of Science degree in 1968 and Ph.D. in 1971 in Agricultural
Economics from the University of California, Davis.
Most recently Dr. Kenyon worked as a Professor of Agricultural
Economics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Before
retiring in July of 2001 Dr. Kenyon’s position was a combination of
teaching, research, and extension.
Dr. Kenyon began instructing in the winter of 1971. During his
30 years of teaching he taught numerous courses on agriculture
marketing, economics of futures trading, agriculture price analysis,
agriculture futures and options, imperfect competition theory, and
market analysis. Dr. Kenyon has also written and presented countless
theses, dissertations, journal abstracts, research bulletins, technical
publications, and refereed papers. In addition to these publications,
Kenyon was also instrumental in obtaining more than a half million
dollars in grant funding over his career for Virginia Tech.
His most recent projects included assessing the ability of farmers
to estimate prices, long-term evaluation of market hedging, strategy
performance, and determining the economic impacts of environmental
regulations on livestock agriculture. He also conducted an extension
program which focused on teaching farmers, bankers, and agribusiness
personnel how to forward price, how to manage price risk, and policy
issues surrounding intensive livestock production. This allowed him
to work closely with several commodity groups in helping formulate
government policy to improve the competitive position of Virginia
Dr. Kenyon has received many top research awards including the
Published Research Award for Quality of Research Discovery given by
the American Agricultural Economics Association; the Distinguished
Group Extension Program Award presented by American Agricultural
Economics Association; and in 1982 he was the recipient of the Wine
Award, University Award for Teaching Excellence from Virginia Tech.
In 2001, Dr. Kenyon received one of his most important awards when
he was selected for the Virginia Corn Growers Association Award for
Presenting Decades of Outstanding Marketing Education Programs
for Virginia’s Grain Farmers. “This award was very important to me
because farmers enjoyed and learned much from my educational
programs. I take it as a great honor that these men and women were
interested in my programs for over 25 years,” stated Dr. Kenyon.
Dr. Kenyon lives in Blacksburg Virginia with his wife, Dianne. They
have three grown children. Dave and Dianne are active members of
their church and he has spent the last 25 years as an elder in Blacksburg
Christian Fellowship Church.

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Ms. Sherlyn Brockway, Principal Architect of Brockway, Opfer, Raab Architecture, PLLC, is this year’s recipient of the YVCC Distinguished Alumnus Award. Ms. Brockway received her B.A. in Architecture in 1988 from Washington State University after transferring from YVCC. She has experience in all phases of project development with a specific emphasis in the areas of the Pre-Design Phase and Project Feasibility Research. Ms. Brockway has contributed significantly to various buildings on both the Yakima and Grandview campuses, as well as many other places in the Yakima Valley. “I’ve had outstanding experiences with faculty and staff at YVCC. Yakima is lucky to have these kinds of people here,” she said. After completing her B.A. she moved back to Yakima and began working at her father’s architecture firm. In 1994 she opened Brockway, Opfer, Raab Architecture, PLLC with partners Allen Opfer and Richard Raab.

“Sheri has a real knack for working with people to understand their issues and needs and incorporate this information into the project design.
She works diligently to create a team approach in her design projects by facilitating the process to include everyone’s input to move toward a common
goal,” said business partner Allen Opfer. Her work is new every day in a profession that is rarely dull, and allows her to learn about what others do in
their professions and what tools they need to succeed. She incorporates this knowledge into her designs and building models to create buildings that are
functional for clients and spaces that allow them to work more effectively, producing higher quality work. “To be a good architect, to design a building
properly, you need to see how the clients do their jobs every day,” said Ms. Brockway.

Ms. Brockway has spent the last 19 years involved with YVCC in various capacities. Most recently she contributed the architecture services for the new Glenn Anthon Hall, which is a replacement project for Glenn Hall and Anthon Hall originally built in the early 60’s. “Her tireless efforts to get it right by listening to multiple members of the administration, faculty, and staff resulted in Glenn Anthon Hall which will be the envy of schools all across the Northwest. It is a gem and so is she,” said YVCC Biology Instructor Mike Harves. Ms. Brockway also contributed to Jane’s House Child Care Center, the Grandview Campus, Hopf Union Building addition and alterations, and the Sundquist Hall renovation. “I have a real connection to YVCC, because I was a student here, and I have tried to make it a high-quality institution for future students,” said Ms. Brockway.

Ms. Brockway has contributed her talents in many ways other than architecture. She is a current trustee for St. Paul Education Foundation, and is a member of Yakima Sunrise Rotary Club. She is involved with the Yakima Greenway Foundation and is serving as a Start/Finish line coordinator for the eighth year in the Gap to Gap relay. She has worked on a number of projects which have earned the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce Yakima Extra Special (Y.E.S.) Awards. These awards are given to recognize projects that improve the community either through new construction or renovation. Ms. Brockway and her husband Mike live in Naches. They have two teenage daughters. They enjoy hiking, traveling, and the outdoors.

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Ms. Cyndi Mullenhoff, owner and CEO of Avail Home Health, is this year’s recipient of YVCC’s Distinguished Alumnus Award. Avail Home Health is a pioneer in providing in-home, private-duty nursing in Washington State. Avail offers a range of services from hourly nursing care with registered and licensed practical nurses to home health-aide care for seniors and adults who want to continue to live in their homes. Avail Home Health employs nearly 300 people across the state of Washington.

Raised on a farm in Naches, her family settled in the valley in the 1860s. Ms. Mullenhoff received her registered nursing degree from YVCC in 1979. Growing up, Ms. Mullenhoff knew she wanted to be a nurse. An interest in home care was sparked by the stories her grandmother would tell about traveling in the Arkansas back country with her father who was a preacher. Each place they stopped, Ms. Mullenhoff’s grandmother would do what she could to help the sick or elderly.
In 1981, Ms. Mullenhoff met a Yakima family faced with the challenge of placing their medically fragile child in a Seattle foster home.

Ms. Mullenhoff believed the child’s medical and emotional needs could be met in Yakima within the comfort of their home. With determination, Ms. Mullenhoff made the child her first home-care patient, working with hospitals, doctors and the surrounding medical community. Over the next 25 years, Ms. Mullenhoff expanded her business across the state, maintaining her mission to provide excellence in care and caring to each patient. “My goal has always been to provide the best care possible in the patient’s home, so their home could stay their home,” Ms. Mullenhoff said.

Ms. Mullenhoff’s dedication as a nurse and business owner extends to her commitment to supporting the community in Yakima. Ms. Mullenhoff and Avail Home Health have furnished and decorated conference rooms at the Coalition for the Homeless and Wellness House; they filled the Salvation Army’s pantry for a month, supported The Memorial Foundation, Wishing Star, Cowiche Fire Department, Children’s Village, Camp Prime Time and so many more. Ms. Mullenhoff attributes her generous spirit to the example her father set as a child. He would help local families in need without ever bringing attention to himself. “At the end of the day, what’s sweeter than knowing you have helped make another’s life a little better, a little easier?” she said.

Avail Home Health started a nursing school scholarship for YVCC in 2001. Each year, one graduate from Naches or Highland High School who wants to become a nurse receives a scholarship that includes tuition, books, supplies, uniforms, and fees. The scholarship also includes the nursing prerequisite classes. To date, Avail Home Health has provided four scholarships. The staff at Avail Home Health wrote about Ms. Mullenhoff, saying, “The golden threads throughout Cyndi’s life are due to the generosity of spirit and kindness of heart. Cyndi Mullenhoff dreams of a better world, and each day she continues to strive for personal and professional excellence.”

Ms. Mullenhoff was awarded the Rotarian’s Unsung Hero Award and the YWCA Women of Achievement Award. Yakima Valley Community College is pleased to honor her as this year’s Distinguished Alumnus.

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1987: E. Fredrick Velikanje

1986: Robert F. Brachtenbach

1985: Dr. James R. Sorenson

1984: Sid Morrison

1983: J. Alex (Lex) Maxwell

1982: Catherine May- Bedell