Saint Martin's University announces the recipients of its 2024 Distinguished Alumni Awards

Photos of Dr. Robert Elves ‘75; Chris Fidler ‘82; Dawn Houle MBA ‘07; Deidre Peterson ‘07; and Paul Thiry HS’20

LACEY, Wash. – Saint Martin’s University is pleased to announce the five recipients of its 2024 Distinguished Alumni Awards, presented during the Homecoming festivities on Saturday, February 24, 2024. Honorees are Robert Elves ‘75; Chris Fidler ‘82; Dawn Houle MBA ‘07; Deidre Peterson ‘07; and Paul Thiry HS’20, posthumous.

The University has been recognizing its notable alumni since the early 1980s. Recipients of this award were selected from nominations based on service to their community, professional achievement, or service to the university. Here are some highlights about each of this year’s award recipients: 

Dr. Robert Elves ‘75 

Dr. Robert Elves graduated from Saint Martin’s College in 1975 with a degree in Chemistry, continuing his education by pursuing Aerospace Engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Operations Research at the University of Southern California, and later attending the F. Edward Herbert School of Medicine at Uniformed Services University, where he specialized in Toxicology and Aerospace/Occupational Medicine. Dr. Elves dedicated his career to advancing aerospace and medical technologies. He played a pivotal role in shaping the Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory framework for the tobacco industry, served as a volunteer tutor and adjunct professor, check pilot with the Civil Air Patrol, and advisor to flight test engineering graduate students. A passionate philanthropist, Dr. Elves founded the Elves Giving Trust to support scholarships for academic achievement in chemistry and flight test engineering. Dr. Elves was recognized as a "Gold Seal" Certified Flight Instructor by the Federal Aviation Administration for instructional excellence and received both a U.S. Air Force Commendation Medal and a Meritorious Service Medal for his medical contributions, which he attributes to the chemistry education and training he received at Saint Martin’s College. 

Chris Fidler ‘82 

Chris Fidler graduated from Saint Martin’s University with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 1982 and completed a Master of Science at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in 1985. He recently retired as the interim Executive Director and Project Director of the Port Angeles Waterfront Center. There he oversaw the successful development, design, and completion of the $56 million Field Arts and Events Hall, a state-of-the-art performing arts, events, and conference center. His diverse career encompasses such leadership roles as the Director of Grants and Contracts for the Geneva Foundation, Country Director for Clear Path International during four consecutive tours in Afghanistan, and Senior Vice President at The Petrizzo Group, where he advocated for prominent PNW entities including the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Children's Hospital. Fidler also contributed significantly to Airborne Express, a Fortune 500 express cargo air carrier, directing federal and international government affairs, navigating the aftermath of 9/11 and spearheading the successful 2003 lobbying campaign for Airborne's merger with DHL Worldwide. His extensive career, marked by achievements in international relations, security management, and public affairs, reflects his commitment to excellence and impactful leadership.  

Dawn Houle MBA ‘07 

Dawn Houle earned a Bachelor of Science in Forestry from the University of Montana and a Master of Business Administration from Saint Martin’s University in 2007. President and founder of SunSinger Consulting, LLC (a Washington, DC-based Native American woman-owned company), Houle has devoted her life to fostering strategic partnerships that empower Native American Tribes, artists, business owners, and people. Through SunSinger Consulting, Houle offers culturally-based modern solutions to Tribes while enhancing natural resource sustainability, generating economic diversification, creating employment opportunities and participating in greenhouse effect prevention. Houle has built strategic partnerships with corporations and federal and state agencies, having served as Policy Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs for President Barack Obama, Chief of Staff for the National Indian Gaming Commission, and serving over a decade in forest management and philanthropy for Indian Tribes in the Pacific Northwest. As founder and executive director of the Tulalip Tribes Foundation, Houle helped to secure funding for a new museum and natural history preserve for the Tulalip Tribes. An active member on the University of Montana W.A. Franke College of Forestry Advisory Board, Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (Indian Market) SWAIA executive board, Mohawk Networks Board, a Sundial fellow with SheaMoisture, a member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of Montana, and a mother of two, Houle embodies leadership, cultural preservation, and advocacy. 

Deidre Peterson ‘07 

Deidre Peterson graduated from Saint Martin’s University with her Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration and a concentration in management in 2007. A highly engaged student, Peterson played a pivotal role in reinstating the Circle K International chapter on campus and served in numerous positions for the Associated Students of Saint Martin’s University (A.S.S.M.U.), including Activities Director and President. She was named Executive of the Year twice during her time with A.S.S.M.U. and was honored with the “Be the Spirit Award for Outstanding Service to the Students of Saint Martin’s University” in 2007. Peterson also worked for Saint Martin’s University as a Special Events Coordinator and later as an Advancement Officer for Alumni Relations and Special Events. In 2011, Peterson transitioned to the Shelton-Mason County Chamber of Commerce, where she eventually became Vice President of Business Development and later President and Chief Executive Officer. In this capacity, Peterson wears multiple hats, serving as economic developer and planner, tourist information concierge, business spokesperson, government relations specialist, business and nonprofit consultant, and public relations practitioner. A fourth generation Mason County native, Peterson has earned a reputation for her strong work ethic, professional behavior, and business acumen. 

Paul Thiry HS’20 † 

Paul Thiry, a graduate of Saint Martin’s High School, class of 1920, is widely known as the father of architectural modernism in the Pacific Northwest. After graduating from Saint Martin’s at the age of 15, Thiry’s pursuit of architectural excellence led him to the University of Washington and the École des Beaux-Arts in France. Thiry garnered attention in 1940 with a groundbreaking cement-based residence featured in The Modern House in America. He went on to serve as the supervising architect for the Seattle World’s Fair, responsible for the overall design and coordinating the work of contributors like John Graham Jr. (for the Space Needle), Minoru Yamasaki, and the landscape architect Lawrence Halprin. Thiry's own designs for the fair included the Washington State Pavilion, now known as the Climate Pledge Arena. Thiry’s distinguished portfolio also includes the Thiry Architectural Office, the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle, Regents Hill at Washington State University, the Frye Art Museum and the Washington State Library on Olympia’s Capitol Mall. President Kennedy appointed Thiry to the National Capitol Planning Commision in 1962, and in 1964 Jacqueline Kennedy appointed Thiry to the Kennedy Library Design Advisory Committee. Thiry received numerous prestigious awards in recognition of his contributions to modern architecture, including the American Institute of Architects Seattle chapter’s highest honor, the AIA Seattle Medal, in 1984. Thiry's legacy remains an enduring symbol of architectural innovation and excellence. 

Saint Martin’s University is an independent coeducational university, with undergraduate and graduate offerings, located on a wooded campus of more than 380 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 empowers students to pursue a lifetime of learning and accomplishment through its 31 majors, 11 master’s programs, one doctorate program and seven certificate programs spanning the arts and sciences, business, counseling, education, engineering, nursing, and leadership. 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. 



Celebrate the 2024 honorees at the Distinguished Alumni Awards on Saturday, February 24, during Saint Martin’s Homecoming festivities.

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