As Loras College recently celebrated its 2012 homecoming, five Loras College alums were honored for their contributions to their communities and professions or to the College.
Douglas J. “Doug” O’Brien (’92)
was celebrated for contributions made in public service.
O’Brien graduated in 1992 after just three years and then pursued a law degree at the University of Iowa in 1996 and an LL.M. in agricultural law at the University of Arkansas School of Law.
His career began as a legal specialist with the U.S.D.A., and was eventually invited to Washington, D.C. to first serve as senior advisor to the U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary and then deputy undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture—all by the time he was 40.
O’Brien traces his roots to Loras for his journey in life, stating, “College taught me to read and write, and cultivated my zeal for equity and justice. The breadth of courses also exposed me to a broad range of ideas and gave me the tools to make connections between those ideas. Meanwhile, my experience with campus ministry and the numerous opportunities for service provided a new depth to my faith and the need to actively work to improve the lives of others, and in particular those who are less fortunate or disenfranchised.”
Perhaps one of his proudest professional moments came while at the U.S.D.A., when he served as a point person for the secretary in resolving decades-old disputes, rooted in government discrimination, with thousands of Black, Hispanic, Native American and women farmers.
Elizabeth M. “Libby” Birky (’97) was celebrated for Christian service and volunteer work.
It is easy to see how Birky landed where she is today. While at Loras, she immersed herself as a mentor with Freshman Seminar, got involved with Right to Life efforts, participated in intramurals, dug into Campus Ministry and Peace and Justice and jumped into many roles in the Loras Players.
Birky left Loras with a degree in education and dedicated 12 years to teaching. Eventually she felt a calling to combine her love of teaching with her love of serving others and co-founded with her husband the SAME (So All May Eat) Café. The concept is simple, everyone gets a meal and pays what he or she feels is a fair price. If a person cannot afford to pay, he/she can offer a helping hand in clearing tables, washing dishes and assisting in other ways. No one walks away hungry and many leave inspired by their surroundings. The Birkys have been recognized nationally for their humble approach to changing the world, and many others have followed in their footsteps to make a difference in their community.
Birky’s passion has also extended to other volunteer efforts. She has helped at rescue missions, the Catholic Worker House, service trips to Appalachia, Special Olympics and homeless shelters. When asked about the impact Loras had on her life she commented, “Loras was a place for me to spread my wings and grow as a person in a safe environment. I met lifelong friends who have been such a blessing to my life. It taught me about the power of community. I loved the activity of the campus and the focus on living your faith. Loras solidified for me the power of spirituality and my commitment to make the communities I lived in better.”
William C. “Skip” Brennan (’64) was celebrated for professional achievements and contributions made to Loras College.
Brennan explained that while attending Loras he was “involved in intramural sports, fraternities and the general mayhem everyone experiences with classmates.” That involvement earned him a degree in Economics in 1964. He took this knowledge and quickly put it to use at his father’s grocery store business in Monroe, Wisconsin.
Less than a year later, in April, 1965, a tornado destroyed the family store, but they immediately put up a “shack” in the parking lot, and continued serving customers. That worked so well that they operated from that location for eight years and built the current building housing Brennan’s Market in 1973. In 1972, Brennan purchased the business and property from his parents and continues the family tradition today.
He noted that Loras deepened his faith, increased his self-confidence by allowing him to face fear head-on and produced many lifetime friendships.
Donald W. Freymann (’61) was celebrated for service provided to Loras College as staff, faculty or administrator.
Loras truly is home to Don Freymann. Most of his professional life has been spent on the Loras College campus, not to mention time enjoyed while attending Loras Academy and eventually Loras College for his post- Academy education. His interests as a student extended to the Commerce Club, Young Democrats and Delta Sigma, just to name a few.
Freymann left Loras with degree in hand and began working for Dohrn Transfer before starting Freymann Insurance. But after 13 years, he felt a calling back to campus and returned to work in the Development Office where he found a home and stayed for 30-plus years. Throughout his career he was involved with the Academy reunion classes, helping to grow the Heritage Society and serving on numerous campus committees, including dedicating many hours to assist in launching the National Catholic Basketball Tournament.
His passion and commitment for Catholic education extended into the Dubuque community with his volunteer efforts with St. Joseph the Worker Parish and eventually Holy Family Catholic Schools, offering advice and help with fundraising and planned giving projects. As one nominator stated, “Don’s career exemplifies the qualities that Loras instilled in its graduates decades ago and continues to uphold today.” Freymann has always approached his work at Loras as more of a ministry than a job, and thanks to his efforts helped build the planned giving program at the College.
Freymann shared his thoughts on some of the people who influenced him and how they impacted his life. He wrote, “Fr. Kutsch demonstrated discipline, Fr. Clancy—ethics, George Freund—truth, accuracy and hard work, Al Schramm—discipline and order, Frank Noonan—patience and confidence, Doc Kammer—compassion with simple expression, Msgr. Schulte—being a Renaissance person with humor and humility and Msgr. Friedl for his intelligence with practical application.” It could be said by Freymann’s friends, colleagues and family that these qualities best describe him as well.
Wendy L. Schrunk (’07) received the Young Alumni Award.
Growing up in the small town of Lemars, Iowa, Schrunk had no plans to attend Loras, but once she came for a visit, she was hooked. As a student she became a resident advisor, active in Campus Ministry with its CORE team, service trips and retreats, part of the Student Union, Honors Program and study abroad. Double majoring in finance and economics, Goldman Sachs recognized her talents and offered her a position straight out of college. Schrunk began as a client services analyst/associate and in 2011 was promoted to team lead in the client services area.
Reflecting on her Loras experience, Schrunk credits the people and culture who make up the campus, stating, “The faculty, staff and students I interacted with and got to know through my time at Loras and through my involvement in the alumni community have shaped the way I think, act and live. The people I met and the relationships I formed during my four years on campus helped me define what’s important in life and helped me discover my strengths.”
Her strengths have been witnessed in her volunteer efforts with the Loras Network of Chicago, the Young Alumni Advisory Board and now through the National Alumni Board. From organizing socials to promoting the importance of giving back to Loras, Schrunk does not miss an opportunity to make a difference.