Saint Martin’s University is announcing the five recipients of its Distinguished Alumni Awards for 2016, which will be presented during Homecoming festivities on Saturday, February 6. This year’s honorees are Art Fillazar ’73, of Kahului, Hawaii; Mary Gentry ’73 and Gery Gerst ’71, both of Olympia; and EJ Juarez ’08 and Dick Mitchell ’55, both of Seattle. These alumni have a lifetime of achievements, professionally and with Saint Martin’s University.The University formally began recognizing its alumni in the early 1980s. Recipients were selected from nominations based on community service, professional achievement and service to Saint Martin’s University. Here are some highlights about each of this year’s award recipients:
Art Fillazar – Service to Saint Martin’s
As a student teacher at then Saint Martin’s High School, Art Fillazar was honored as the 1973 “Teacher of the Year” at the high school commencement, a week after his own college graduation from Saint Martin’s. Fillazar eventually returned to his home in Kahului, Maui, Hawaii, where he enjoyed 30 years as an educator at Lahainaluna High School. Fillazar’s many acts of volunteerism on behalf of groups such as the American Cancer Society and the Community Work Day Program extend across the Pacific Ocean to Washington State, where he has served as a Saint Martin’s alumni admissions ambassador and has encouraged students from Hawaii for four decades to attend Saint Martin’s University. To those he’s recruited, he’s known as “Uncle Fill.” He remains connected to alumni on the islands, as well as the mainland and has been instrumental in helping the University organize several events on Maui for alumni, and prospective students and their parents.
Mary Gentry – Service to Saint Martin’s
A well-respected attorney and community leader in the Olympia area, Mary Gentry, who retired from her law practice in 2007, is a published author of two collections of humorous, personal essays and stories, and her third book is on the way. Gentry’s service to Saint Martin’s includes her membership on the Saint Martin’s University Board of Trustees from 1979-1982 and from 1991 to 2012. During her terms of service, Gentry was chairman of the Board of Trustees and was engaged with the life of the University through committee work, as well as working on several administrative and academic leadership search committees. Her service to the University as a trustee was recognized in 2015 when she was awarded Trustee emeritus status. Gentry chairs the Les Bailey Writer Series Selection Committee, which brings prominent writers to campus.
Gery Gerst – Professional Achievement
Gery Gerst majored in history, with minors in Spanish and education, before graduating as valedictorian of the Class of 1971. He taught at the secondary level for 30 years, 29 of which were at Olympia High School, where he designed and taught Olympia High School’s first women’s studies course after receiving the Coe Fellowship to Stanford for Women’s History Studies. In 2000, Gerst was recognized as the “Teacher of the Year” by the Olympia District’s teachers and was presented with the “Outstanding Educator Award” by the Saint Martin's College of Education Division. The following year, he received recognition as "Instructor of the Year" by the Olympia School District. Gerst has remained an active alumnus of Saint Martin's University by participating in numerous activities and serving on the Saint Martin’s University Education Division Advisory Board for seven years and the Saint Martin’s Alumni Association Board since 2004.
EJ Juarez – Young Alumnus/Professional Achievement
EJ Juarez has accomplished much since graduating from Saint Martin’s University in 2008. He has worked as a program director, volunteer coordinator, union organizer, event planner, fundraiser and campaign manager. In his current position as executive director of Progressive Majority, an organization dedicated to recruiting, training and electing progressive champions in Washington State, Juarez leads one of the most successful state-based political training programs in the nation that has helped elect more than 200 people to office in our state, including city council members, county commissioners, mayors and members of congress. As a student at Saint Martin's University, Juarez was the driving force behind the establishment of the Student Health Center and served as student liaison on the University’s Board of Trustees. During his senior year, he was the first student co-instructor for Incipio when Saint Martin’s started its new Freshman Seminars in 2008.
Dick Mitchell – Service to Saint Martin’s
Dick Mitchell and his wife, Roberta, are long-time supporters of Saint Martin's University. They regularly attend events on campus, and have been instrumental in supporting many of the University’s capital projects, the St. John’s Bible and efforts through campus ministry. Mitchell’s personal journey with Saint Martin’s began in 1953. As a student, he served as vice president of his freshman class and president of his sophomore class. Mitchell was also active on the student council and assisted Saint Martin’s Abbey as an altar server when he wasn’t studying or in class. Following his sophomore year, however, he transferred to Saint Edward’s Seminary to complete his education. He then served the Archdiocese of Seattle for 14 years. Following his service at the archdiocese, Mitchell launched a new career in real estate.
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 14 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 25 majors and seven graduate programs spanning the liberal arts, business, education, nursing and engineering. Saint Martin’s welcomes more than 1,100 undergraduate students and 340 graduate students from many ethnic and religious backgrounds to its Lacey campus, and 350 more students to its extended campuses located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Centralia College and Tacoma Community College.
For additional information:
Assistant Vice President
Office of Institutional Advancement
Meg Nugent Dwyer
Media Relations Manager
Saint Martin’s University