Submitted by Saint Martin’s University
Saint Martin’s University is announcing the eight recipients of its 2021 Distinguished Alumni Awards. Honorees are Steve Boedigheimer ’71, John Donaldson ’66, Fr. Meinrad Gaul ’27, Francis Iwasawa ’70, Maj. Gen. James Johnson MBA’96, USAF (Ret.), Rita Meldrum ’95, LTC Rebecca Oldham ’92, USA, Mike Thibault ’79.
These alumni have a lifetime of achievements: personally, professionally and with Saint Martin’s University. The University formally began recognizing its notable alumni in the early 1980s. Recipients were selected from nominations based on service to their community, professional achievement, or service to Saint Martin’s University. Here are some highlights about each of this year’s award recipients:
Steve Boedigheimer ’71 is being recognized for his Professional Achievements. Steve earned his Bachelor’s in Biology with a minor in Chemistry from Saint Martin’s College. Steve’s career started in county public health departments. He went on to serve as a senior executive in three different state government public health offices. In 2001, he joined the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and held several roles including Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Leader of the State Coordination Task Force in the CDC Emergency Operations Center. He was recognized for his public health service by two Delaware governors and the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy. He has many awards and accolades for his work in public health and he has several writings on state government public health leadership published in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. Steve retired from the CDC in January or 2015 and is a part-time health consultant.
John Donaldson ’66 is being recognized for his Professional Achievements. John was a three-year letterman on the men’s basketball team, while at Saint Martin’s College. After graduation, John began teaching in Saint Martin’s High School, while also coaching. John was voted Teacher of the Year in 1968 from SMHS. In 1968, John made a career change, and started as Marketing Director for the South Sound Shopping Center, which was the 4th enclosed regional shopping center in the state of Washington. As the young company continued to grow, John performed a wide variety of roles including leasing and managing significant portions of 10 million square feet in 38 states. John has served on many boards, including on the Saint Martin’s Board of Trustees. John is an avid Saint Martin’s sports fan and a frequent season ticket holder. John retired after 44 years with CDC and continues to reside in Olympia with his wife of 55 years, Kay. They have two sons and four grandchildren.
Fr. Meinrad Gaul
Fr. Meinrad Gaul ’27 is being posthumously recognized for his Benedictine Service to Saint Martin’s. Fr. Meinrad was a monk of Saint Martin’s Abbey for more than 52 years. He attended Saint Martin’s College from 1925-1927 and later received a degree from St. Benedict’s College in Atchison, KS. In 1931, he joined the Novitiate for Saint Martin’s Abbey and took his first vows as a Benedictine monk in 1932. He was ordained a priest in 1936. For more than 45 years, he was the mainstay of Saint Martin’s College. When he wasn’t teaching, he served as Registrar, Dean of Men, Chaplain, Dean of Instruction and Alumni Director. As Alumni Director, he led the fundraising drive for the, then, Capital Pavilion. He was one of the first to be named to Saint Martin’s Hall of Fame in October 1983. Fr. Meinrad is remembered as an inspired teacher of history, an emphatic and effective speech instructor and a devoted and beloved counselor and advisor to several generations of students.
Francis Iwasawa ’70 is being posthumously recognized for his Service to Saint Martin’s. Francis is a native of Japan, who came to Saint Martin’s in 1956 and earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1960. He spent his early career in the oil industry, where he worked for both Caltex Oil Company and Gulf Oil Corporation. He worked in their accounting, internal auditing and finance departments. He left Gulf Oil in 1978 as Vice President for Finance to enter the field of professional accounting. In 1989, he formed his own private accounting practice in Hong Kong. His firm engaged in accounting, statutory auditing, taxation and support services for approximately 150 Japanese investors. Because of his expertise, he presented at multiple seminars in Japan to high-ranking government officials and business leaders. Francis was a frequent guest speaker for the Saint Martin’s School of Business and provided travel scholarships for students, faculty, and trustees to visit Hong Kong. Francis was a Saint Martin’s Trustee and donated many artifacts and art pieces to Saint Martin’s Abbey.
Maj. Gen. James Johnson
Maj. Gen. James Johnson MBA’96, USAF (Ret.) is being recognized for his Professional Achievement. Major General Johnson retired from his last assignment in the U.S. Air Force as the Director of Integrated Human Resilience, at the Pentagon, Arlington VA. Maj. Gen. Johnson entered the Air Force through the University of Puget Sound ROTC program in 1988, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science. In 1996, while stationed at McChord AFB, Johnson completed his MBA at Saint Martin’s College. He would further his education with a Master of Arts from the U.S. Naval War College and a Master of Science from the National Defense University. Johnson has extensive experience in operations, logistics, and talent management. He has earned several major awards and decorations, including the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, and the Legion of Merit. Since retiring from the military, Maj. General Johnson became a consultant; the Governance Chairman of the Board of Directors for The Flag and General Officer Network; and he is also a Veteran Leader for the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, advocating for the nation’s International Affairs capacity to complement the U.S. defense capability; and he represents the non-profit organization “Mission Readiness,” championing childhood health and education.
Rita Meldrum ’95 is being recognized for her Community Service. Rita earned her BA in Education from Saint Martin’s and she returned home to Rainier to begin her career as an educator. She specifically left home to attend Saint Martin’s with the intention of returning to teach in the very school district she grew up in. She was initially hired by the Rainier School District in 1996 and during her time there, she has taught English language arts in middle school as well as third grade and fourth grade, before taking on the job of RSD Instructional Facilitator. She was also a volunteer basketball coach at the junior high and high school levels. Rita went back to school, taking weekend classes, to obtain her administration certification to become a Principal. Rita was hired as Rainier Elementary School’s Principal in the summer of 2015. She has made a significant impact on the lives of her students and continues to live with a selfless heart, in service to her hometown and community. Rita and her husband Jim reside in Rainier, WA with their triplet boys.
LTC Rebecca Oldham
LTC Rebecca Oldham ’92, USA is being recognized for her Professional Achievements. LTC Oldham was a non-traditional transfer student from a community college in Oregon when she arrived at Saint Martin’s. She initiated the Biology Club and was the first president. In her senior year, she was able to take an independent study course, which allowed her to gain certification as an Emergency Medical Technician. In 1994, she enlisted as an X-ray technician and medic in the Washington State Army National Guard, as a traditional drilling reservist. In 2000, she received a Direct Commission to 2nd Lieutenant as Medical Service Corps Officer and deployed to Iraq in 2004-2005. In 2006, LTC Oldham was selected for full time service as an Active Guard Reserve (AGR) to be the Army National Guard Chief’s Surgeon’s Executive Officer. Today she serves as an AGR representing the Army National Guard service members in the area of medical plans and policy as part of the Army’s Medical Department. She will proudly retire from the Washington State and Army National Guard in May 2022 with more than 28 years in the service of our country.
Mike Thibault ’79 is being recognized for his Professional Achievements. Mike left Saint Martin’s in 1979 and began working for the Los Angeles Lakers as a scout and then as an assistant coach. Mike won two NBA championships with the Lakers (1980, 1982). He moved on to the Chicago Bulls (1983-86) and was part of the team that drafted legend, Michael Jordan. In 1989, Mike began an eight-year stint as general manager and head coach of the Omaha Racers of the Continental Basketball Association where they won the 1993 CBA Championships. He coached for USA Men’s Basketball, leading the team to a gold medal at the 1993 FIBA World Championship qualifying tournament and a silver medal at the 1995 Pan American Games. He most recently served as an assistant coach to the women’s National Team that won gold during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Mike joined the WNBA Connecticut Sun as head coach in 2003. In December 2012, Mike joined the Washington (D.C.) Mystics, turning the program around and leading the team to their first WNBA Finals appearance in 2018 and then a WNBA Championship in 2019. On July 7, 2018, Mike became the first WNBA coach to reach 300 wins. Mike has also supported Saint Martin’s women’s basketball and head coach Christy Martin.
Saint Martin’s University is an independent, four-year, coeducational university located on a wooded campus of more than 300 acres in Lacey, Washington. Established in 1895 by the Catholic Order of Saint Benedict, the University is one of 13 Benedictine colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, and the only one west of the Rocky Mountains. Saint Martin’s University prepares students for successful lives through its 29 majors, 11 master’s programs, one doctorate program and five certificate programs spanning the liberal arts, business, education, nursing and engineering. Saint Martin’s welcomes more than 1,300 undergraduate students and 250 graduate students from many ethnic and religious backgrounds to its Lacey campus, and more students to its extended campus located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.