Skip to main content

LMC honors alumni with annual awards

Lake Michigan College has honored five alumni with annual awards.  
 
The Clarence Beckwith Distinguished Alumni Award was presented to former LMC Foundation Executive Director Mary Lippert Klemm. It is given to alumni who accomplish significant success in their personal or professional endeavors. 
 
The Alumni Service Award was presented to Larry Wozniak of Stevensville. This award is given to alumni who offer significant personal or professional contributions to Lake Michigan College and beyond. 
 
The Alumni Achievement Award was presented to both Dr. Praise Matemavi and Rodrigo Abarca. This award is presented to alumni who demonstrate significant achievement and distinguish themselves in their career, education, or community. 
 
The Bernard C. Radde Distinguished Service Award, meanwhile, was presented to Edward J. Todd. Named in honor of the late Dr. Bernard C. Radde, who served as a member of the Lake Michigan College Board of Trustees for 25 years. It is presented annually to an individual or individuals who have advanced the cause of Lake Michigan College and higher education. 
 
Learn more about this year’s recipients: 
 
Mary Lippert Klemm 
Clarence Beckwith Distinguished Alumni Award 
 
Mary Klemm’s 37-year career at Lake Michigan College centered around building strong relationships with people, which as a self-described shy and quiet person, she still finds a bit ironic. 
In January, Mary retired as Executive Director of the Lake Michigan College Foundation, which she helped grow from a $10,000 gift in 1986 into a $17 million endeavor. 
 
The daughter of German immigrants, Mary became a first-generation college student earning an associate’s degree in secretarial science from LMC in 1980. She continued her studies earning a bachelor’s degree at Siena Heights University in 1989.  
 
Mary was originally hired by LMC in 1983 as secretary of admissions, worked in public relations, and was executive assistant to the president. Her career trajectory changed with the inception of LMC’s Foundation. Topping her list of accomplishments is overseeing all 30 of the Winner’s Circle Auctions. The spring gala event, which started in 1988 to assist students with tuition, has since raised millions for scholarships and helped thousands attend LMC. 
 
Mary was part of the team that raised $4.2 million to complete LMC’s Mendel Center in 1992. Her efforts on the 10-year capital campaign helped pass the 2016 millage, and as part of the Campaign for Tomorrow project, she helped raise an additional $7.5 million for the college. Those efforts helped fund LMC’s recent campus transformation and built the Hanson Technology Center and Welch Center for Wine & Viticulture.  
 
In her tenure, Mary led 31 annual golf outings to support LMC Athletics, founded the Alumni Association, built alumni and donor databases, instituted the Breaking Barriers Mini-Grant program, and organized countless ribbon cuttings, groundbreaking ceremonies, campaigns, and receptions. 
 
Larry Wozniak 
Alumni Service Award 
 
Whether it was in a restaurant, a hotel, or in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, Larry Wozniak has spent a life dedicated to service. 
 
Larry came to Southwest Michigan in 1967 when his family bought the Bella Villa Hotel, renamed Park Inn International, in Stevensville. His initial foray into the hospitality industry came from working in Park Inn’s restaurant before being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1969. 
 
During basic training, Larry was recommended for Officer Candidate School and assigned to the 535th Signal Company in Vietnam as a Second Lieutenant. After his tour, he remained on active reserve, leaving the Army as a Captain. 
 
Larry returned to the family business in 1975. He decided to attend Lake Michigan College through the GI Bill and received an associate degree in food service management in 1989, earning the confidence to broaden his career into all aspects of the hospitality industry. When his parents sold Park Inn in 2002, Larry stayed on as its general manager for another nine years before retiring in 2011. 
 
As an advocate for LMC, Larry has long been a member of the Hospitality Program Advisory Board. He spent 11 years working with Anne Vonk, teaching students about the hospitality business at Berrien RESA’s eighth grade career days. 
 
In 2017, Larry was chosen to helm Lest We Forget, the nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring and remembering U.S. veterans, and in 2019, he received the 21st District Veteran of the Year award from state Sen. Kim LaSata. 
 
Larry is a long-time board member of the Southwest Michigan Tourist Council, and West Michigan Tourism Association. He is president of the Shoreline Hotel/Motel Assessment Association, a member of Knights of Columbus, and Lakeshore Lions Club. 
 
Dr. Praise Matemavi 
Alumni Achievement Award 
 
Dr. Praise Matemavi said her career was made possible because of Lake Michigan College. It’s why her LMC associate degree in nursing hangs in her University of Mississippi Medical Center office, where she is one of only 10 black women transplant surgeons in the country. 
 
Born in Zimbabwe, Praise decided she wanted to become a surgeon at age 10 after learning about visiting cardiac surgeons saving children at a nearby hospital. Inspired by her dream, Praise’s family moved to Berrien Springs when she was 14. 
 
An unplanned pregnancy at 18, and an abusive marriage, did not derail her plans. Ineligible for student loans because she was not yet a U.S. citizen, Praise enrolled at LMC and took aim at the rigorous nursing program where smaller class sizes, intense training, and access to faculty and staff made a lasting impact. 
 
After graduating from LMC and leaving her husband, the now-single mother of two renewed her dream to be a surgeon. Praise enrolled at Siena Heights University to meet medical school’s bachelor’s degree requirement while working as a cardiac nurse. She finished the two-year program in one and was accepted at Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, graduating in 2010. 
 
After a six-year residency in general surgery at New York-Presbyterian Queens Hospital, Praise opted for the more difficult transplant surgery specialty. Following a two-year transplant surgery fellowship at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, she joined the UMMC transplant team in 2019, where she performs kidney and liver transplants. 
Hoping to inspire others with similar dreams, Praise recently wrote “Passion and Purpose: Black Female Surgeons,” which chronicles the stories of 74 black women surgeons from 24 countries, which remain a rarity in her field. 
 
Rodrigo Abarca 
Alumni Achievement Award 
 
When Rodrigo Abarca came to Lake Michigan College after graduating from Lakeshore High School in 2014, he declared his intention to open a restaurant one day. 
 
Preparing food and working in the hospitality industry, Rodrigo said, is simply in his blood. His father, Tony Abarca, has been a staple in the kitchens of many local establishments, and at age 13, Rodrigo started working at Joe’s Café in St. Joseph, owned by his uncle, José Estrada, and aunt, Gabriela Flores. 
 
While gaining hands-on experience at several restaurants, Rodrigo earned dual associate degrees in Culinary Management and Hospitality Management in 2018. Less than a year after graduating from LMC, he opened Oaks Eatery in Three Oaks. The breakfast and lunch restaurant has garnered praise and a loyal clientele for its innovative Mexican-American fusion cuisine sourced mainly from local ingredients. Oaks Eatery thrived in its first year and has remained open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to a steady stream of carry-out orders by faithful customers. 
 
As a first-generation college graduate, Rodrigo credits LMC’s Chris Woodruff and Chef Luis Amado for serving as mentors during his time at the college. Along with fellow culinary classmates, Rodrigo prepared food for some of LMC’s largest community gatherings, including the Winner’s Circle Auction. He traveled to professional trade shows in Chicago and New York City and said LMC taught him how to both run his kitchen and manage his business.  He also learned about being a community leader as vice president in Student Senate. 
 
An example of ambition and determination, Rodrigo continues to praise LMC’s influence on his career and in 2020 was able to support the Winner’s Circle Auction as a business owner by purchasing a table at the charity event. 
 
Edward J. Todd 
Bernard C. Radde Distinguished Service Award 
 
Ed Todd was born and spent his early childhood years in Muskegon, Mich., moving to St. Joseph in 1947. He was a member of the 1953 St. Joseph High School state champion basketball team coached by Ray Haack and graduated in 1954. He attended Benton Harbor Junior College (later Lake Michigan College) for two years, playing basketball for Gene Morgan, and completed his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration at Western Michigan University. After graduation, Ed worked at his stepfather Paul Suchovsky’s distribution business, West Michigan Wholesale, and, later, his nursery, Hilltop Garden Center. When Paul passed away in 2010, Ed became the Trustee of the Paul and Rose Suchovsky Charitable Trust. 
 
Ed chose to attend LMC to save money. Recognizing that it is even more essential today to make educational decisions with value in mind, he continues to give back to the college. Ed is the namesake of The Edward J. Todd Business Education and Resource Center, where students, faculty, and aspiring entrepreneurs can study, interact, and work with maximum exposure to leadership principles and practices. Ed is a 2016 winner of LMC’s Alumni Service Award. 
 
He also was the lead donor for the Edward J. Todd Innovation Center for Robotics at St. Joseph High School and received St. Joseph Public School Foundation’s first Distinguished Philanthropist Award for his support of scholarships and technology. 
 
Ed also supports the BBQ Blues & Bluegrass Festival, the Concours d’Elegance Car Show, Mike Yore Memorial Car Show, The Heritage Museum & Cultural Center, Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra, and scholarships for business students from Muskegon and Berrien counties to attend Western Michigan University. He has a passion for animal rescue, supporting the Noah Project in Muskegon, a no-kill animal shelter, and has taken in many rescue dogs himself. He lives in Stevensville. 
 
These awards are normally presented during Honors Convocation prior to LMC’s Commencement but were delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
 
To nominate an individual for 2021 or future LMC alumni awards, contact Barbara Craig, Executive Director, Community Impact and Resource Development at (269) 927-8147, or by email at craig@lakemichigancollege.edu. 
 
Nominations can also be made online at www.lakemichigancollege.edu/nomination. Nominees must have earned at least 30 credit hours at LMC or one of its predecessors. Upon nomination, an application will be sent to the candidate. 

Alumni Award winners

From left, Mary Klemm, Larry Wozniak, Dr. Praise Matemavi, Rodrigo Abarca and Edward Todd

Media Contact

Candice Elders
Lake Michigan College
Mobile
Back to Top Apply Now