2015 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

Community Service - Leah Misch '08

Leah Misch receives the community service award for demonstrating how a liberal arts education can be the foundation for unselfish and exceptional service to the community and to humanity. A Viterbo nursing degree has been instrumental in her personal and professional commitment to serve humanity. 

Leah currently works to promote health in the La Crosse area and across the country. In addition, she volunteers her talents to bring hope and healing to strangers across the country in moments of crisis and despair while serving as a disaster relief nurse with the American Red Cross. She has flown into hurricane areas as people fled, travelled on mountain roads demolished by mudslides, and embraced compassion in serving complete strangers. Her story has inspired people across the country, which included an opportunity to bring hope to victims of the Boston bombing.

Serving as a supervisor and nurse liaison for Disaster Relief Operation headquarters, Leah was later recruited by the American Red Cross National Headquarters in Washington, D.C., to serve as a subject matter expert in the health service program. She serves the local community as an active disaster action team member and disaster relief instructor. On a lighter note, this fall she will be a guest performer with “Dancing with the La Crosse Stars” to raise funds for the local Red Cross chapter. Leah continues to serve others by sharing hope and healing with her inspiring stories of challenges she has overcome in her life. She is enthusiastic to give back to Viterbo and currently serves as an executive committee member on Viterbo’s alumni board.  

A nominator wrote, “Leah came to our home as a nursing student in the nursing program from Viterbo. She was a respite provider for our severely developmentally delayed/handicapped daughter. We witnessed her finish nursing school, live through three potentially deadly accidents and bravely work through very difficult situations to use her education and personal gifts and skills to enhance the lives of many people. She has the heart of a servant and has used her education to promote community health locally and nationally through extensive work with the Red Cross. She is an outstanding example of what I believe Viterbo's vision is of a nursing school graduate.”

Professional Development - Keith Lease '12

Keith has struggled with depression and anxiety for as long as he can remember. He started to use alcohol and other drugs to help deal with those challenges at the age of 11. In three years he went from a solid student and athlete to using drugs as often as he could, which culminated in his first suicide attempt. He spent his teenage years and early twenties struggling to live through addiction and mental illness. He feels he caused considerable pain to himself, his family, and the La Crosse community.

He learned a great deal about recovery during those years despite his failed attempts. At the age of 24 he was able to get clean and began working to help others. He received training and became a substance abuse counselor. After working as a counselor in a small nonprofit in La Crosse, he knew that he wanted to become more impactful. 

Despite not graduating high school because of his addiction, he received a high school equivalency diploma and then decided to go to college. As he went through school he became a better counselor and began developing programs and supervising others working in the addiction field. After graduating from Viterbo with a degree in social work, he went on to receive a master’s degree in social work with an emphasis in mental health counseling from the University of Wisconsin.

Keith became the executive director at Coulee Council on Addiction (CCA) where he was tasked with changing the culture of the entire organization to a more recovery- centered focus. In less than three years, under his leadership, CCA increased the number of visits by over 25,000. He is proud to say that CCA helped bring awareness and focus of addictions to the entire community. He went on to head a coalition with the area’s first Heroin Task Force.

Today, Keith is back to his clinical roots, working with high-risk students at Western Technical College. He helps students deal with anything that might prevent them from successfully completing school. He is also blessed to teach as an adjunct in Western’s Human Services program and in Viterbo’s social work program. Keith continues to volunteer at Coulee Council on Addictions.

According to one nominator, “Keith’s story is a remarkable one of overcoming tremendous odds to become a leader in this community. He is a tremendous success story and the best chapters are yet to be written. He already has become a valuable resource for those most vulnerable populations.”

Service to the University - Rose Ann (Mashak) Kazmierczak '61

After graduating from Viterbo in 1961, Rose Ann started her teaching career at Tomah High School. Other teaching opportunities followed at Mauston, Blair, and Oconto Falls High Schools, with a 13-year hiatus to raise five children with husband, Frank, and to earn a master’s degree. Her final nine years were spent at Oconto Falls Middle School, where she started a foreign cultures program and sister school program with Tomuira, Japan. Travelling to Japan and visits from Japanese groups were a gratifying way to end her 24-year teaching career.

Following her husband’s passing in 1997, Rose Ann taught a final year and then returned to La Crosse in 1998 to be near to her siblings. She began serving on the Viterbo alumni board, which drew her closer to her alma mater and the Franciscan sisters who were her mentors for 16 years. She now serves on the advisory board and she plays a role in the sponsorship of the Viterbo St. John XXIII Award.           

Travel has been an important part of her retirement years. Trips with Sister Bernyne Stark’s groups to Spain, Morocco, and France; pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land; and a visit to Cuba are among her memorable experiences. Her love of live performance was capped by two New York City theatre trips with group’s organized by the late Father Tom O’Neill. Masses at San Damiano Chapel are a blessing to the Viterbo community and to Rose Ann personally.

According to one nominator, “Rose Ann has found joy, as well as adversity in her life. Being the youngest of 12 children, she was surrounded by devoted parents and caring siblings. She has since become a caregiver for her siblings. The strength of her faith and her embodiment of Viterbo’s mission of faithful service and ethical leadership along with Viterbo’s Franciscan values of contemplation, hospitality, integrity, stewardship, and service are evident in her support of Viterbo and her community.”

Spirit of Francis - Ann "Annie" (Sendelbach) Beinborn '78

Born and raised in a strong Catholic Polish/German farm family and the second oldest of five children; Annie followed her older sister, Mary (’76) to Viterbo. After graduating 1978, Annie taught for five years before becoming a stay-at-home mom. With her husband Dick (’76), they live in Prairie du Chien, where they raised their two sons, Charlie and Benny. When both of her sons were of school age, volunteering at their school was a likely and comfortable niche. Annie has been a volunteer librarian at Prairie Catholic School for over 20 years. Nearly 10 years ago, Annie answered a call when someone was needed to organize the surgical supply room for a medical mission team destined for Peru. After a number of trips to Casa Hagor Juan Pablo II (the La Crosse Diocesan orphanage in Peru), she took on the role as the sponsorship coordinator. The sponsorship activity in the diocese has doubled since Annie took over the program in 2007, going from 50 sponsors to about 110 sponsors today. She was recognized last fall for her selfless and tireless volunteerism with Casa Hogar orphanage.

Annie also enjoys travel, with her most adventurous trips including climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and completing the Tour du Mont Blanc.

Viterbo has been, and will always be, a very special part of Annie’s life. It was 38 years ago when she and her husband went to the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration to ask for permission to be married in their magnificent Maria Angelorum Chapel. They were one of the last couples to be granted this privilege. She and Dick sponsor a Viterbo nursing scholarship awarded to a male nursing student each year; she is very proud of her family of male nurses.

According to one nominator “She sees her work as her gift to those around her. It is just like the rule of St. Francis, that work is a gift and a sharing in the creation, redemption, and service of the human community.”

Young Alumni - Mary Jilek '06

Mary Jilek is the Regional Strategy Support Coordinator for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Amman, Jordan. Mary works with staff throughout the region to develop strategies to best help the millions of people in need of assistance inside and around Syria. Mary grew up in River Falls, and received a bachelor’s degree in education from Viterbo. She began her career teaching English and international studies at Immaculate Heart College in Kagoshima, Japan. After three and a half years in Japan, she moved to New York to pursue a master’s degree in international educational development from Columbia University. Her thesis research took her to Uganda where she worked at an HIV clinic designing and assessing education and household water treatment programs. While in Uganda, Mary came across Citrine Agency, a small community-based organization in Kampala’s Bukasa slum. She began supporting the organization in their pursuit to expand their educational programming, which then consisted of classes meeting under a tree every Saturday.

Today, Citrine Agency runs Destiny School, providing many children in the community education and hope for their futures. Mary continues to support and advise the organization on program and curriculum development, fundraising, and external relations. Mary serves on the Board of Trustees for Global Community Charter School in Harlem, New York, and the Board of Directors for Peace and Resilience through Youth Development and Engagement, a peace education organization based in New York. 

According to a nominator, “Mary exhibits a great concern for the intellectually as well as the economically poor, especially children. She embraces the role of servant, emptying herself of her own needs, wants and self-importance for the sake of being deprived. Her simple lifestyle is very basic to her supporting beliefs.”