Six honored as MHS Distinguished Alumni
During its second annual Distinguished Alumni event on Friday, Madras High School is welcoming back and honoring six graduates, who went on to accomplish great things.
This year's honorees are: Ken Smith, Dallas Stovall, the late Tom Norton Sr., Erin Olson, Margie (McBride) Lehrman, and Juanita (Wickham) Kurtin. They will be introduced at an assembly at 11 a.m., and recognized during the first quarter of the homecoming game that evening.
Ken Smith, who graduated from Madras Union High School in 1954, attained the highest national office of any Central Oregonian in 1981, when he was appointed the assistant secretary of the Department of the Interior for Indian Affairs.
"I appreciate the honor of the accomplishments during my career," he said of his selection.
Raised in Warm Springs by his grandparents, Annie and Wesley Smith, he attended the BIA boarding school for his first six years.
"I grew up on a ranch with no running water or electricity all through high school," he noted.
His grandmother decided he should attend Madras schools, starting in the seventh grade. In Madras he said he made new friends, liked all his teachers and played football.
"I used to run around with Bill Machamer, Danny Macy and Roger Diddock, and I remember we never had a drink or smoked all through high school," Smith recalled.
The importance of education was emphasized in his family. "My grandparents encouraged me to go to school, and said if you want to accomplish anything in the world you have to have an education. They kept pushing me, and that's why I went to college. They said after I graduated, I should come back and help the tribes," Smith said.
He fulfilled that goal and then some. After earning a Bachelor of Science at the University of Oregon, Smith returned to serve as general manager of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs from 1971-1981.
During his time as general manager, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs gained recognition as a standout tribe for its aggressive economic accomplishments. Smith was active in lobbying for the tribes at the state level and in Washington, D.C. He served the Federal Reserve Board, and knew many other tribal leaders.
So, when Ronald Reagan was president, he said "my name started floating around," which led to him being appointed assistant secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs from 1981-84, and he and his wife, Jeanie, moved to Washington, D.C.
When his federal term ended, Smith returned home to lead the Confederated Tribes as chief executive officer until his retirement in 1995. During his tenure, the tribes built the Museum at Warm Springs, the Early Childhood Learning Center, and the Warm Springs Health and Wellness Center.
"I felt fortunate at what was accomplished, but I didn't do it by myself. I surrounded myself with good people, and directed them," Smith said.
Margie (McBride) Lehrman
"I'm terribly honored and surprised," Lehrman said of her selection, adding, "I understand it's part of a program to encourage kids to graduate, and I'm glad to be a part of it."
Lehrman, who lives in Washington, D.C., has seen a lot of Madras lately. "I was just there for my 55th class reunion and the eclipse. This will be my third trip in three weeks," she laughed.
She said her fondest memories of Madras Union High School were the journalism classes she took from E. Howard Hillis. "He impacted my life, and because of that I ended up in journalism," she said.
That was before computers, so Hillis had them keep a card on every student in the high school listing their name, age, parents' and siblings names, so student reporters would never misspell a name or get the age wrong. There was also a big calendar in the room, so they wouldn't get the dates wrong.
"The whole point was to get it right!" Lehrman said. The day the school newspaper, the 'White Buffalo,' came out, Hillis would stand in front of the class with a copy with red circles on it. Using it as a teaching moment, asking 'Why was this misspelled? Who wrote this article?'" she said.
"He grounded us in the basics. He said your credibility depends on getting all the details right," she said.
Students produced the whole paper, putting out a 12- to 22-page edition every two weeks, plus special editions. "I'm about to write an article for 'The Agate' (historical society's paper) about the glory days of the White Buffalo," Lehrman noted.
She also remembers high school being a lot of fun. "I was a yell queen and went to all the games, and my class was very close, and we still enjoy each other," she said.
From a little town with a population of 1,836, Lehrman went on to do big things after graduating in 1962. After earning a Bachelor of Arts in English at the University of Oregon, and serving in the Peace Corps, she received a Master of Science from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
In 1979, she joined NBC News, became a producer of the Today Show, and the Washington deputy bureau chief under Tim Russert.
As the point person for NBC's coverage of major breaking news, including Desert Storm and 9-11, her steady skill as a world-class producer won her two national news Emmys.
Tom Norton Sr.
The late Tom Norton Sr. grew up on the family ranch near Ashwood, and as an eighth-grader, was the first graduate of the Ashwood School. He boarded in Madras with John and Louise Krieger while attending Madras Union High School.
His son, Tom Norton Jr., remembers his dad talking about his basketball coach Ole Johnson.
"He had so much respect for him and said what a great coach he was. He learned a tremendous amount from Coach Johnson, even though he got kicked off the team one year," his son said with a laugh.
After graduating in 1958, Norton studied agricultural business at Cal Poly San Louis Obispo, and also became known on the rodeo circuit as an accomplished team roper.
His son said that, after college, his dad traded cattle across the Mexican border, bringing back special roping steers, and putting on roping schools. Switching to the traditional U.S. market, Norton went on to develop one of the premier cattle buying and transporting businesses in the West.
Hard work, honesty, dependability and community service were the pillars that marked his productive life and career.
Norton served on the school board for District 509-J for 12 years, often rushing in his pickup from a work location to get to the meeting on time. As a college kid, his son remembered asking his time-stressed dad, "Why are you still doing this? Do you really enjoy this?"
"Because it's rewarding -- what you get back from it," his dad answered, adding, "Someday you'll understand when you have kids."
Following in this father's example, Tom Norton Jr. is serving his third term on the 509-J school board. "I see it so vividly now. It's a sense of pride in the community. My dad went to school here, his kids went here, and his grandkids are in school here," he said.
Juanita (Wickham) Kurtin
Juanita (Wickham) Kurtin, daughter of David and Manuela Wickham, who graduated in 1992, is not able to attend the event because of a previous work commitment the same day.
"I really appreciate the award, because it highlights the fact that coming from a small school and a small town is not a hindrance to success — it really just takes hard work and persistence, both of which are entirely under your control," she said as an incentive to current MHS students.
Some of her clearest memories of her days at MHS are of her great teachers -- especially Nick Kezele, Dean Jolstead, and Steve Hillis.
"In particular, I must say that studying with Mr. Kezele was a great start to my science career, and being in his physics class was one of the best parts of my senior year," Kurtin said.
After graduating from MHS, she earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1996.
"I recall once early at MIT, I was in another physics class, and the teacher, after listening to me explain one of my answers, complimented me on my understanding of the concepts. I said a silent thank you to Mr. Kezele then, and I have said many more since!" Kurtin noted.
In 2001, she received a doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of California/Berkeley, where she studied with quantum dot pioneer Dr. Paul Alivisantos.
After jobs with Intel and SpectraWatt, a solar cell company, she became co-founder and chief technical officer of Pacific Light Technologies, in Portland, a leader in the development and application of quantum dot technology. That technology opened up revolutionary possibilities for LED and solar cell systems, biological research, and medicine.
Kurtin's work puts her at the cutting edge of the new field of optical nanotechnology.
Dallas Stovall, son of Charlotte Stovall, who graduated in 1975, stayed in the community and is honored to serve as an example for students.
"It is an honor to be selected, especially relative to Assistant Principal Weddel and his faculty's strategy to improve graduation rates, which is showing wonderful results," he said.
"This recognition is about building the self-esteem of our students by using examples of the success of others educated at MHS, and it is an honor to participate," Stovall added.
After graduating from MHS, Stovall worked his way through Southern Oregon University with summer jobs at Warm Springs Plywood.
In 1995, he became president and chief executive officer of Bright Wood Corp., and has guided it through difficult times to its current national position as a leading supplier of high-quality precision wood components for windows, doors, and other millwork products.
Bright Wood has two facilities in Oregon, as well as facilities in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Otautau, New Zealand.
Through his steady leadership, the company has been a major, stable employer in Jefferson County and Central Oregon.
Stovall and Susan, his highschool sweetheart and wife of 38 years, have been community mainstays through their generous support of various charitable causes.
Stovall enjoyed his years at MHS and enjoys visiting with former schoolmates from his class and others.
"Having been to three straight 40-year MHS reunions, I saw lots of old friends and shared memories with lots of very successful people from the '70s era alumni," he said.
Erin Olson, of Portland, and daughter of Ron and Kathie Olson, graduated in 1982, has many fond memories of MHS.
"I have tons of memories! We had some great teachers, who created an environment in which learning, creativity and having fun were encouraged," she said.
She said her selection was truly an honor. "Madras has produced an astonishing number of distinguished alumni for its size and limited financial resources," she noted.
Following high school, Olson earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Stanford University, a Master of Science in Criminal Justice from Northeastern University, and a Juris Doctor degree with honors from the University of Connecticut School of Law.
After 10 years as a state and federal prosecutor, Olson developed a private practice, representing crime victims in civil and criminal cases, with notable trial and appellate work on behalf of victims of child abuse and elder abuse.
In 2009, she cofounded the Oregon Crime Victims Law Center to provide free legal representation and advocacy to victims of crime.
Olson is the 2012 recipient of the National Crime Victim Institute's Legal Advocacy Award.