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Distinguished Alum Award

United's Distinguished Alum has graduated at least 10 years ago from United, Yankton, or Mission House Seminary and has to demonstrate exceptional achievements and special qualities in her/his ministry in the church or society. A committee of the United Alum Council selects the Distinguished Alum Award recipient, who is recognized annually at the Spring Convocation Reception & Dinner.

In 2013, two Distinguished Alums were selected. Karen Smith Sellers '76 and Norma Rae Hunt '84, pictured below.

Karen Smith Sellers graduated from United with a Master of Divinity in 1976. During her 35 years of ordained ministry, Karen had significant impacts on multiple settings of the church. From 1977-1988 and again from 1997-2002, Karen served as United faculty as a professor of ministry studies, director of student services and M.Div. program director; she was the first graduate of United to be elected to its faculty.

For the past six years, Karen served as conference minister of the Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ, where she has provided strong and transforming leadership, developed an outstanding staff, focused on vital/healthy congregations and built the financial reserves of the organization. From 1989-1996, she served at North Central Ministry Development Center, impacting lives through candidate assessment, coaching and counseling. In addition, she has served local congregations as interim pastor.

Gary Reierson '78 '86 describes Karen’s leadership: “Karen has transformed the Minnesota Conference into one of the leading conferences of the United Church of Christ in the nation. Her personal impact on the United Church of Christ at the national level has been testified to by national church leaders, including the Reverend Geoffrey Black, United Church of Christ general minister and president.”

As part of her work as conference minister, Karen served many ecumenical and interfaith ministries and multiple capacities in the national setting of the United Church of Christ. She also serves on the board of trustees at United.

At the core of Karen’s education at United and her ministry are these themes: a deep commitment to the church and to inclusion, justice, liberation and transformation. Karen strives to integrate theory and practice, to think deeply and with intellectual acumen and to engage actively the world and Christian ministry. In each setting in which she served, Karen has lived out these convictions with humility, integrity and grace.

Judith Roska '98, a colleague and friend of Karen’s, nominated her for the Distinguished Alum Award.

Norma Rae Hunt graduated from United with a Master of Divinity in 1984. Much of Norma Rae’s ministry involved serving interim ministries with congregations across the Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ. She also served at Macalester College, as director of admissions and student life at United, and as interim association conference minister for the Southern Association.

Norma Rae uplifts ministry as a vocation for all. She routinely mentors people into ministry and strengthens the relationship between her congregation, the wider community and the United Church of Christ.

Norma Rae is in her sixth year as revitalizing pastor at St. Paul’s UCC in St. Paul. The congregation almost closed its doors seven years ago. Through her leadership, she is guiding the congregation into new ministries and new life. Norma Rae is aware that congregations need to maintain cherished traditions, while also being open to incremental, innovative changes. She works hard to fully welcome new members, while making sure long-time members feel valued.

Clyde Steckel, former professor and dean at United says, “In all my years of being a minister, teaching ministry students and watching ministers, I have become more and more aware of the unique blend of gifts and accomplishments that Norma Rae brings to ordained ministry. She is a person of spiritual depth, artistic sensitivity, effective personal and pastoral compassion, and a strong institutional leader, in which she engages and empowers lay leadership. Her current leadership at St. Paul’s UCC in St. Paul demonstrates how, with outstanding leadership like hers, an old, dying, downtown church can be brought to new life and strength.”

Norma Rae was nominated for the Distinguished Alum Award by her colleague and friend Kay Welsch '89, who works with her at St. Paul’s UCC.

Distinguished Alum Award Recipients:

2013  Norma Rae Hunt ’84, Karen Smith Sellers ’76
2012  Jon Gunnemann ’66
2011  Kimberly Vrudny ’95
2010  Susan K. Ebbers ’78, Rick Yramategui ’87
2009  Howard J. Vogel ’78
2008  Peg A. Chemberlin ’82
2008  Herbert Zimmerman ’46
2007  Paul Olm-Stoelting ’46 ’74
2006  Christie Cozad Neuger ’80
2005  Gene E. Miller ’83
2004  Robert H. Tucker ’81
2003  Gary Reierson ’78 ’86
2002  Kathi Austin Mahle ’78, Ernest Strandberg ’67
2001  Sheila C. Gustafson ’77, Helen Wells O’Brien ’90
2000  Obid Hofland ’68 ’88
1999  John Heinl ’61
1998  Thomas Townsend ’60
1997  Eugene Grau ’44
1996  Marva Jean Hutchens ’80, Gary Miller ’68
1995  Carla Bailey ’81 ’92, Hobart (Fid) Sailor ’69
1994  Martha Ann Baumer ’73, Nelda Lockwood ’51, Alma Stepanek ’51
1993  Vernon Jaberg ’47, Fred Schneider ’43
1992  Theodore Bader ’51, Ralph Ley ’39
1991  John Krueger ’63


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