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Outstanding Alumni, Outstanding Achievements

Each Founders Day, Knox College presents the Alumni Achievement Award. Created to recognize meritorious achievement and/or outstanding service to nation, society or community, the award is given to those alumni who have been nominated by their peers for their outstanding life achievements.

Three alumni were awarded 2005 Alumni Achievement Awards at the Founders Day celebration on February 17, 2005—Elizabeth Harler Van Steenwyck '48, Alvin L. Crumbliss '64 and Stephen D. McClure '79. A Young Alumni Achievement Award, given for the first time this year, was awarded to Ellen Landers '96.

Knox Magazine asked each award recipient a series of questions regarding his or her life and achievements. We are proud to share their answers with you here.

Elizabeth Harler Van Steenwyk '48
A native of Galesburg, Elizabeth Van Steenwyk is the author of more than 65 books for young people, including A Traitor Among Us, When Abraham Talked to the Trees, and One Fine Day, and more than 300 articles and short stories for adult and children's magazines. Her early career was spent writing for radio and television, including work with NBC's flagship station KTSM-TV in El Paso, Texas. She and her family are the owners of the Adelaida Cellars winery in central California.

Knox Magazine:  How would you describe your Knox experience?
Elizabeth Harler Van Steenwyk: In the beginning, my Knox experience was less than what I wanted because of my circumstances at the time. I was a "townie" and had to work to help pay expenses despite receiving a scholarship. I knew I was missing something; that my circumstances isolated me from a full college experience. So I decided to do something about it. I began to have dinner with my sorority sisters on Monday nights at Whiting Hall, met new people as I caught early breakfasts at the Gizmo, and played golf on balmy afternoons with classmates, which also satisfied P.E. requirements. Sounds like I didn't study, but I did—going to Seymour instead of the public library that had been my library home for so many years. This helped complete my integration into college life. Fortunately, I learned early that I had to recognize what was missing and reach out for it.  College taught me to think independently.

KM: How has that experience affected your life?
EHV: That experience taught me that I could expand my horizons in countless ways and always be reaching for more. 

KM: What do you believe is your most notable achievement?
EHV: I don't have a clue. I like to think, and, I've been told, that I am a great parent. That validation fills me with gratitude and, I must confess, a bit of pride. Of course, my writing career has been satisfying as I see and hear children express their feelings to me about my stories. Some have said that they just knew I was writing about them and couldn't wait to find out what happened next. Others have said the best parts of my stories were the endings. Children are completely honest, and I have learned from them as much as they have learned from me. Thrust into a business career as I have at our winery, Adelaida Cellars, has been quite a revelation for me. I didn't have the training to become a business manager and didn't think I had any talent for it. I guess I was wrong.  I've learned so much from this experience and finally have the confidence to lead. I guess it was there all along, I just had to tap into it. 

KM:  What does receiving this award mean to you?
EHV: This award from Knox is quite overwhelming, and I'm still getting used to it. 

KM: Do you have any words of advice for current students and other Knox alumni?
EHV: Expand your horizons, take joy in the moment, reach out for new experiences and opportunities to make a difference.

Alvin L. Crumbliss '64
Alvin L. Crumbliss is professor of chemistry at Duke University, where he has held various administrative positions, including chairman of the chemistry department and director of undergraduate studies in chemistry. He is the recipient of the Duke University Scholar-Teacher of the Year Award and the David and Janet Vaughn Brooks Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award. Al has also held visiting faculty positions at several foreign universities, is an active member of the professional chemistry community, and has authored over 175 research publications. He lives with his wife, Karen Hummel Crumbliss '64, in Durham, North Carolina.

Knox Magazine: How would you describe your Knox experience?
Al Crumbliss: My time at Knox College was a period of intellectual and personal growth. While attending Knox, I met and lived with people with varied backgrounds who came from all over the U.S. This definitely expanded my horizons. Knox has also given Karen and me a wonderful group of life long friends, for which we are grateful.
I was also intellectually challenged at Knox. The science and math courses that I took were challenging ... I remember the sophomore honors convocation where President Sharvey Umbeck, on asking the Dean's List student members to stand, said "look around you; these students are your peers, and they are the ones who have set the standard of excellence for all to meet." I had a real feeling of being a part of an academic community (it was called the Knox Family in those days). And, through friendly competition and discourse, the students helped push each other to achieve more, while being led by faculty who gave the impression that they cared how well you did. Finally, I was "forced" to take some liberal arts courses, which I probably would not have voluntarily taken, that definitely improved my education and paved the way for a lifetime of learning.

KM: How has that experience affected your life?
AC: That is a big and complex question. The biggest and most important effect the Knox experience has had on me is meeting my wife, Karen Hummel Crumbliss '64. Aside from that, the period of growth at Knox stimulated me to go on to graduate school, which paved the way for my profession as a professor. The Knox experience also gave me the self-confidence to take on leadership positions within my profession as a faculty member and a research chemist.

KM: What do you believe is your most notable achievement?
AC: What first comes to mind is marrying Karen and, together, raising two great sons, John and Jeff, and having a lot of fun in the process. In another sense, I would say that it's influencing and supporting the careers of some of my undergraduate and graduate students at Duke University. Being able to participate in the world wide scientific enterprise and, in some small way, contribute to our fundamental understanding of how iron functions (and potentially malfunctions) in living cells is a professional achievement I am proud of. 

KM: What does receiving this award mean to you?
AC: It means a lot. Being recognized by one's peers is a high honor and I am very appreciative. 

KM: Do you have any words of advice for current students and other Knox alumni?
AC: To the current students I say take advantage of all that Knox has to offer, both in and out of the classroom. Get to know your professors as individuals. To other alumni, I acknowledge that there are a lot of you with accomplishments that eclipse mine. My advice is that it's nice to have good friends ... including friends that will nominate you for an award.

Steven D. McClure '79
Steven D. McClure has had a long career in Illinois government and, later, in economic entrepreneurship. His most notable government appointments include director of Boards and Commissions in the executive office of former Governor James Thompson and the director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs (DCCA). During his time in the Governor's office, Steve has recruited dozens of Knox graduates to state government. As an economic consultant, Steve has helped a variety of clients secure government funding, including the John Deere Visitor Center in Moline, Illinois, and Alumni Hall on the Knox College campus. Steve is currently president of Opportunity Alliance, LLC and ClearStack Combustion Corporation in Springfield, Illinois.

Knox Magazine:  How would you describe your Knox experience?
Steven McClure: I was just a kid from East Moline, Illinois, who wanted to go to a college far enough away from home to be on my own. Bill Colby, who was also from East Moline and a Knox student at the time, gave me a call and told me I ought to think about Knox. I asked him if I could wrestle there, he said, "Yes," and that was it. Little did I know what a major decision I had just made. I wasn't much of a student because I didn't put in the effort until the last minute for practically every class. Sometimes it worked, other times it didn't. But I enjoyed myself, and I was involved in numerous college activities. I was part of the first Admission suite, an RA, and I helped form a new student government at Knox.         

KM: How has that experience affected your life?
SM: I really enjoyed politics and, through the efforts of Professor Robert Seibert '63, I was "connected" with a man named Bruce Stratton '61. Bruce was a Knox grad who was working as a legislative liaison for former Illinois Governor Thompson. This one connection, the "Knox Connection," has had a major impact on my life, and the lives of many other Knox grads. Bruce helped me get an interview for a new "Governor's Executive Fellowship Program." I got the job, and, six months later, I was named the Governor's director of Boards and Commissions. I was also in charge of the Governor's summer internship program. I soon realized that I was now part of the "Knox Connection," and I took this responsibility seriously. I helped anyone from Knox who wanted a start in government. ... As the numbers grew, the Governor began referring to us as the "Knox Mafia."    

KM: What do you believe is your most notable achievement?
SM: Aside from having a wonderful wife and three great kids, there have been several Illinois economic development projects in which I played a major role as Director of the Illinois DCCA. However, the project that has made the most dramatic impact on an area is in Moline, Illinois. A burned out downtown factory area has been transformed with more than $200 million in new public and private investment, which has caused the creation of hundreds of jobs in the Quad City area. I played a major role in this effort, both as director of DCCA and as a consultant to the project.

KM:  What does receiving this award mean to you?
SM: I have had a rewarding government and business career, where I have been a catalyst in bringing projects together that have allowed thousands of people to keep their jobs and create new jobs. The "Knox Connection" has been a part of this career from start to finish.  This award lets me know that a kid from East Moline hasn't done half bad.

KM: Do you have any words of advice for current students and other Knox alumni?
SM: The competition is stiff in the current economic environment. Knox students need to know that even though I did fine without getting top marks in the classroom, it's much easier to explain good grades in a job interview than bad ones. One of the strongest advantages to the college is the "Knox Connection," so if you ever have the opportunity to help along a Knox alumnus/a with some advice, or even a job, please do so. The strength of the college, in no small way, depends upon the strength of this connection. 

Ellen Landers '96
After graduating with honors in philosophy and psychology, Ellen Landers pursued her graduate degree in the philosophy-neurosciences-psychology program at Washington University in St. Louis, where she received the Olin Fellowship, given to women of exceptional promise seeking careers in higher education and related professions. Ellen currently serves as an associate program officer for the James S. McDonnell Foundation, which supports research on brain cancer, the dynamics of complex systems, and the relationship between mind, brain, and behavior. She is also a volunteer for the St. Louis Effort for AIDS and president of the St. Louis chapter of the Association for Women in Science.

Knox Magazine: How would you describe your Knox experience?
Ellen Landers: My years at Knox were characterized by an openness to new ideas and experiences. I remember feeling a sense of incredible possibility in so many areas of my life. Knox provided a supportive environment in which to test out different versions of who I was or could be—without the fear of falling through the cracks. And there were so many interesting people around! I'm still amazed by the diversity of personalities and opinions I encountered.

KM: How has that experience affected your life?
EL: Knox gave me a true appreciation for the depth and breadth of what could count as "scholarship"—and an awareness that interesting questions can be found everywhere you look. Whether attending a professional meeting, viewing a work of art, talking to a co-worker, or watching a favorite TV show, there are aspects of human experience begging to be explored. Knox provided me with an appreciation for tackling big questions without losing sight of the smaller details (or unorthodox approaches) that might eventually contribute to an answer.

KM: What do you believe is your most notable achievement?
EL: Personally: making and maintaining strong friendships that span all stages of my life, as well as large geographical distances. Professionally: sticking with a project that even I struggled to believe in at times. It forced me to be more flexible and more tolerant of my own limitations—not to mention more accepting of both criticism and praise. I think praise is often harder to absorb.

KM: What does receiving the award mean to you?
EL: Receiving the award is a huge surprise—and a huge honor! I guess more than anything it feels like a validation of certain choices I made at various points: not only to trust my instincts about pursuing work with an outcome that was often unclear, but also what was much harder—learning to compromise and listen to the good advice I knew I should take but wanted to resist. The award has made me feel both proud and humble—a lot of the credit for "my" achievement really belongs to my friends, family and various mentors who have been honest, supportive and very, very tolerant!
 
KM: Do you have any words of advice for current students and other Knox alumni?
EL: You may be able to have it all, but probably not all at the same time. Good lives seem to take all shapes and courses, so be patient, be present, and be willing to laugh at yourself!