At its annual Homecoming weekend ceremony, the Kalamazoo College Alumni Association invited alumni and friends of the College to gather and recognize those who have brought honor and distinction to K through their accomplishments, service and achievements. On Oct. 18, K recognized four outstanding alumni with Distinguished Alumni Awards:
Distinguished Achievement Award
Jeanne Sigler ’69 received the Distinguished Achievement Award for her awe-inspiring work in the nonprofit sector. Such work, she says, “is the glue that holds our society together.”
Sigler’s early career included work for the Survey Research Laboratory of the University of Illinois (where she earned her master’s degree in sociology); Chicago United; Operation PUSH, Chicago; and the Public Education Association, New York.
For most of her working career (1983-2013), Sigler was the founder and president of Jeanne Sigler and Associates, Inc., a Manhattan-based consulting firm that helped nonprofits plan and execute fundraising strategies. She also founded and headed “Interim Solutions,” a boutique interim staffing service for nonprofits.
After three decades, Sigler closed the firm, relocated to Philadelphia, and continued serving select nonprofit clients through Sigler Consulting. Sigler is a member of many nonprofit boards, and was a founding board member of “three organizations of which I am immensely proud.” Bottomless Closet is a volunteer-driven, women-helping-women organization that has helped more than 40,000 New York City women gain employment and jobs skills. Prep for Prep identifies New York City’s most promising students of color and prepares them for success at independent schools throughout the Northeast. Women in Development Philadelphia is a professional organization that engages women fundraisers in professional growth and leadership.
At K Sigler majored in sociology and earned a minor in history. She studied abroad in Erlangen, Germany, did her career service at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and completed her Senior Individualized Project (SIP) at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland. “I credit K with making me unafraid to take risks,” says Sigler, “to consider the path less traveled, and to keep going and growing.”
“I am so incredibly grateful for the education I received there, the personal development the K-Plan fostered, and the happy life and career it launched for me,” she adds.
Distinguished Service Award
From stethoscope to stage lights is one way to describe the undergraduate trajectory of L. West Nelson ’81. “I entered K intending to be a pre-med major,” says the Queens, New York-born Nelson. “Halfway through my freshman year I realized it wasn’t me who wanted me to be a doctor. I graduated with a major in theatre arts and a minor in anthropology and sociology.”
Nelson studied abroad in Madrid, and for his SIP he shaped the “clay” of an immersion in the Erick Hawkins Dance Company into a choreographed performance titled “Freedom of Movement” that focused on the Hawkins technique.
Nelson’s widespread curiosity carried over into his career, during which he has worked in food service, retail, publishing, corporate training and education. For the past 20 years he has specialized in documentation and training for corporations and municipalities in the process of upgrading their computer systems, valuable work that he has shared with students during several stints as an adjunct professor.
This capacity for hard work has benefited Kalamazoo College for nearly three decades. Since 1991 Nelson has worked tirelessly as the agent for the Class of 1981. And for nearly a quarter century he served in various capacities on the Alumni Association Executive Board. He also has done volunteer work—on several occasions and in several roles—for Wellspring/Cori Terry and Dancers.
Young Alumni Award
Peter Rothstein ’14 transferred to K after his first year at Johns Hopkins University. “To be honest, I chose K only because it’s closer to home [West Bloomfield, Michigan], and I could play tennis. I’m glad I made that decision; there’s so much that K offers.”
Namely, that more in four that opens more in a lifetime.
Straight out of K, Rothstein started DONA, a beverage business based in Brooklyn, New York, with his older sister. The company has become one of the most popular tea concentrate providers in the third wave coffee industry, and it has recently moved into spice-based beverages with a spiced soda line. They plan to launch a line of spice-based tonic waters and spice-based seltzers this fall as well.
“Our products can be found in the U.S., Japan, Canada and the U.K.,” says Rothstein. “We manufacture everything in Brooklyn, pay higher-than-average wages, and provide full benefits. Because of the success of our company Forbes Magazine honored my sister and me in its ’30-Under-30′ listing for 2019, in the food and beverage category.”
Rothstein’s prep for that kind of success included a major in business and study abroad in Aberdeen, Scotland. His favorite class was Corporate Finance, and he loved all the professors in the economics and business department. And yet, “my best memories from K are of Mark Riley and the tennis team,” says Rothstein.
“Coach Riley taught me so much, and he really took care of me, like he does for all of his guys. Team trips were the most fun, and I’ll never forget them.”
Never one to rest easy, Rothstein is also at work on his M.B.A. (night classes, given his busy schedule) at the NYU Stern School of Business.
Weimer K. Hicks Award
Jim VanSweden ’73 was, quite literally, the big man on campus.
With his towering six-foot-six frame, it was hard not to spot him; his impact on the College is perhaps even more outsized than his stratospheric height.
VanSweden is the recipient of the 2019 Weimer K. Hicks Award, conferred on a current or former Kalamazoo College faculty or staff member who has provided long-term support to the College beyond the call of duty, making a significant contribution to the College in ways that have advanced the goals of the Alumni Association.
A Kalamazoo native, VanSweden was recruited to play basketball by then men’s head coach Ray Steffen. Yet it was the K-Plan that really got his attention, as well as the College’s supportive environment of learning for learning’s sake.
While a student at K, VanSweden — MIAA men’s basketball most valuable player for the 1972-73 season—studied English, and was known in his major classes as the poet who played basketball; in the gym, he was the basketball star who wrote poems. He wrote a book of poetry, Behind the Bar, for one of his two SIPs.
After almost a decade teaching middle and high school English in Comstock, where he coached freshman basketball for two seasons and varsity basketball for seven seasons, VanSweden moved into the corporate world.
For 15 years, he worked in a vast array of public relations and communications capacities for The Upjohn Company (later Pharmacia and Upjohn, and finally Pharmacia), utilizing his talent for language, team-building and project management in some of the global pharmaceutical companies’ most challenging and important public and patient relations positions.
At Pharmacia, he became intimately involved in HIV/AIDS advocacy, helping to develop policies and processes for how the company could best interact and cooperate with HIV/AIDS activist groups, as well as serving as the company’s HIV community liaison.
Yet VanSweden could not resist the call of K. In 1998, he returned to the College, becoming director of college communication, a title he would hold until his retirement in 2017. Not only did he serve as the official liaison between the College and community, he also revamped and refined LuxEsto, K’s quarterly alumni magazine, and he served as an academic advisor to many students during his 19 years at K. In 2003, he was inducted into K’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
After a highly successful career across a range of disciplines, when asked the biggest impact K had on his life, VanSweden is sincere and succinct: “The friendships that have lasted for so many years.”
His wife, Linda, recently retired, too, from a lab position at Zoetis, a veterinary and animal genetics research firm. Four kids and five grandchildren are keeping them busy, as well as camping in northern Michigan, biking (a favorite pastime) and reading.