Through the Years: Short alum profiles and Class Notes

Finding Kapa Haka

By Marcia C. Dibble


Suzanne Renner performs the dance “Maia” as part of her 1999 solo show Poutama, named for a stair-like pattern in Maori weaving. (Photo courtesy Suzanne Renner)

Growing up on a dairy farm in far northern New Zealand in the 1950s and early ’60s, University of Utah alum Suzanne Renner rarely encountered any aspects of Maori culture except in family trips to visit her mother’s siblings and childhood home. Renner’s maternal grandfather (who died before she was born) had been full Maori from the Ngati Hine iwi, or tribe. But until the early 1970s, Maori were expected to learn English and adopt the dominant European-influenced ways. By the early 1980s, there was a surge in respect for and interest in Maori culture and language, and Renner eventually delved into learning more about her own Maori heritage. She had by then become an accomplished dancer and choreographer, and she began exploring Maori themes and references in her works. Late last year, she was honored with a lifetime achievement award for her contributions to contemporary Maori dance.

Renner MFA’75 had discovered dance with her first ballet lesson at the age of 9. Captivated, she immediately set her sights on becoming a ballerina. But growing up outside the village of Mangawhai, north of Auckland, she had limited opportunity for advanced study. “I lived in the country and relied on a teacher who visited the area every two weeks,” she notes. However, being both athletically inclined and academically successful, she decided she could settle for pursuing a degree in physical education at the University of Otago, far south in Dunedin, and becoming a secondary school PE teacher. “But within the first weeks of being at PE school,” she says, “I had discovered a new future.”

Folk, social, and modern dance were part of Otago’s PE program, and Renner began dancing with various groups in the late 1960s and early ’70s and toured the country with the New Dance Company, co-led by John Casserley and Gaylene Wilson, both Otago PE school instructors and modern dance leaders in the country. Wilson (later Sciascia) went on to the University of Utah and received an MFA in dance. “She returned to New Zealand and told me, ‘That’s the place to go!’ ” says Renner, who applied and was accepted to the U and attended on a scholarship from the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council, the country’s national arts development agency now known as Creative New Zealand.

Renner arrived in Salt Lake in the summer of 1973. “My two years as an MFA student were among the happiest of my life,” she says. After finishing her degree, she went on to study in New York for 10 months with acclaimed modern dancer-choreographers Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis at the Nikolais/Louis Dance Theater Lab. Renner’s former professor Joan Woodbury then asked if she was interested in joining Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company. “Of course I said yes.”

In addition to performing professionally, the company also participated in a National Endowment for the Arts program that took dance into a variety of communities for two-week stretches of teaching and performing, so Renner got to see still more of the United States and its territories, from Alaska to Puerto Rico, Hawaii to North Dakota, during nearly a decade with the company.

By 1986, Renner was feeling like she needed a change, and she accepted a temporary job lecturing in dance at the University of Otago, back home in New Zealand. The one-year post then became a permanent opportunity, and Renner chose to stay. Her current full-time position at Otago focuses on teaching an overview of the background of dance to students studying to teach it as a general arts subject in primary and secondary school (“dance is in the national school curriculum as an arts subject,” she notes). She doesn’t dance or choreograph or work directly with dancers in her everyday job. Soon after she arrived back in Otago, though, she found her creative outlet working with the university’s Dance=Arts student performance group, directing it as a teacher/choreographer. She also was asked by Te Waka Toi, the national Maori arts development board, to work on their new committee promoting contemporary Maori dance.

“Returning to New Zealand at a time when Maori dimensions in education and contemporary arts were gaining strength provided new learning and experiences that enabled me to appreciate more keenly the cultural heritage of my mother,” says Renner. She dove into studying Maori language and performing arts, started working Maori themes and imagery into her choreography, and then began teaching Maori arts skills to other teachers and dancers. She eventually choreographed and danced several works with Maori themes, such as “Puhi,” about the birth of a Maori princess, and “Maia,” a solo dedicated to strong Maori women. Starting in 2000, she spent nearly a decade facilitating dance professional development, creating dance resources, and working with the national secondary school qualifications authority on developing national standards in contemporary dance and kapa haka (traditional Maori song and dance). “Integrating Maori cultural concepts and motifs in my dance and teaching work has been an ongoing journey, and it’s been a pleasure to see the development of Maori contemporary dance as a genre over the past 30 or so years,” she says.

In 2009, New Zealand leaders in Maori contemporary dance created the Kōwhiti festival, which features several days of contemporary and traditional Maori dance, dance films, and scholarly talks, held somewhat centrally in Wellington. (Kōwhiti means “from the stars”; in Maori beliefs, the first Maori man, Hei-tiki, came kōwhiti.) Within a few years, the festival expanded to embrace other forms of contemporary indigenous dance, with performers from U.S. Native American tribes, South Africa, and elsewhere. The festival also introduced the new Kōwhiti Lifetime Achievement Award in Maori Contemporary Dance, sponsored by Te Waka Toi. In 2013, Renner became the fifth recipient of the award, with a pounamu (New Zealand nephrite jade) adze specially created for her by acclaimed Maori artist and dancer/choreographer Charles Koroneho.

The Otago Dance=Arts group is now defunct, but Renner still teaches a weekly modern and expressive dance class. And at a stage when many are preparing for retirement, Renner is also working part time on a doctorate, focusing on her research into primary school teachers’ teaching of dance.

“Being a dancer is an essential part of who I am,” says Renner. “Even though I haven’t performed for a few years and my activities are more about teaching, I still think of myself as a dancer-performer. My time in Salt Lake City and as a member of the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company was so defining that I am conscious of carrying remnants of that life with me every day.”

—Marcia Dibble is managing editor of Continuum.

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The Nonagenarian Athlete

By Ann Floor

Morgan won three medals in tennis at the 2013 Huntsman World Senior Games. (Photo courtesy John Morgan, Jr.)

John Morgan, Jr., won three medals in tennis at the 2013 Huntsman World Senior Games. (Photo courtesy John Morgan, Jr.)

John Morgan, Jr., BS’51 can often be found hard at work sitting at his desk surrounded by piles of papers in his office in downtown Salt Lake City’s Walker Building. Dressed in khaki pants, a pressed white shirt, navy fleece vest, and white tennis shoes on a recent afternoon, the spry 91-year old with twinkling eyes looked more like a student than a nonagenarian. Just behind him, a tennis racket rested casually on the seat of one of his office chairs. Morgan, the founder and president of the Huntsman World Senior Games, plays tennis several times a week with his wife, Wilma, either at the University of Utah’s Eccles Tennis Center or at the courts in Salt Lake’s Liberty Park. He also plays in St. George, Utah, where the games are held each October.

He began his career more than 60 years ago. After graduating from the University of Utah in 1951 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in business, he formed the Uintah Wyoming Oil and Gas Company. In 1967, he merged Uintah Oil and Gas into Utah Resources International, Inc., and served as that company’s chief executive officer until 1995. Since 1982, he has been chairman of the board, president, and chief executive officer of Morgan Gas & Oil Company.

morgan-portraitMorgan was raised in Salt Lake City, but he and his first wife, Daisy BS’49 (who died in 2001), and their four children enjoyed spending time in St. George, and he realized during the 1970s that the “sleepy little farming community” had the potential to become a great resort. He and Daisy bought some land and put a golf course on it. In 1979, he built the St. George Hilton Inn—the first hotel in the city—which Daisy managed for 14 years. In trying to figure out how to attract more visitors and ensure the hotel’s success, he realized that St. George residents were interested in sports and the city attracted retired people, and—bingo!— the idea of a senior sporting event was born. He and Daisy, along with friends Royce and Jill Jones and Sylvia Wunderli ex’66, used the Baton Rouge-based National Senior Games Association, which was established in 1985, as a model for the St. George games. With a goal of encouraging good health and physical fitness for seniors, the games, originally called the World Senior Olympics, were first held in 1987 as part of a community development plan for St. George. In 1989, Utah philanthropist Jon M. Huntsman, Sr., became the principal sponsor, and the name was changed to the Huntsman World Senior Games.

The event has become the second-largest senior games in the world, behind the National Senior Olympics, and gives 10,000 men and women ages 55 and older the opportunity to compete in 27 athletic events over a two-week period. Serious athletes from Japan to Russia and from Alaska to Australia come to participate.

Morgan has competed in the tennis event in all but one of the 26 annual games. Last year, he won two silver medals and one bronze, “and missed a gold by that far,” he says, holding up his thumb and forefinger, one inch apart.

At last year’s event, crowds also gathered at the Dixie Center to celebrate then 90-year-old Morgan as he received the Personal Best Award from the National Senior Games Association. “What [Morgan] has created here is iconic for health and wellness for seniors, and friendship and peace,” said Marc Riker, the association’s chief executive officer, at the 2013 event. “He truly loves to see these people from all over the world and the fellowship and friendships that people have created.”

Today, Morgan is preparing for the 2014 games coming up in October. He’s in charge of finding lodging and arranging schedules for the ambassadors—former participants in the games from around the world. And yes, he’ll be competing in tennis at this year’s games, using his favorite Wilson racket.

—Ann Floor is an associate editor of Continuum.

U Alum Named Leader of Veterans Affairs

Robert A. “Bob” McDonald MBA’78, former president and chief executive officer of Procter & Gamble, has been appointed to lead the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. McDonald succeeds former Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, a retired four-star Army general who resigned in May after scandal involving reports that VA hospitals had falsified waiting lists. The VA operates 1,700 hospitals and clinics across the country and handled 85 million outpatient visits last year.

Born in Gary, Indiana, and raised in the Chicago area, McDonald received a bachelor’s degree in engineering in 1975 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, graduating in the top 2 percent of his class. He served in the Army for five years, achieving the rank of captain in the 82nd Airborne Division, and obtained an MBA from the University of Utah in 1978 before taking an entry-level job at Procter & Gamble in 1980. He then held various executive positions and eventually became president and chief executive in 2009. He retired from Procter & Gamble in 2013.

Under his 33-year tenure, the company grew to employ 138,000 people working in more than 80 countries, and it reported more than $84 billion in revenue last year.

McDonald was honored by the U Alumni Association in 2010 with a Founders Day Distinguished Alumnus Award, which recognizes individuals who have achieved great professional and personal accomplishments. In an interview the U conducted for the award, he said: “I simply wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t benefited from the MBA and the education I got at the University of Utah.” LM



HR_june_oleary_dave_connorDave O’Leary BA’79 and his son, Connor, a senior at the University of Utah, have won The Amazing Race: All-Stars. Traveling more than 23,000 miles, they were taken by the popular reality television show to 22 cities and nine countries. Their prize was $1 million. The Amazing Race is an Emmy Award-winning series on CBS that pits 11 two-member teams against each other on a 25-day trek around the world. At every destination, each team competes in a series of mental or physical challenges, and only when the tasks are completed do they learn of their next location. Teams that are the farthest behind are gradually eliminated as the contest progresses. The first team to arrive at the final destination wins $1 million. Of the original 11 teams, three made it to the season finale. Those three teams flew from the United Kingdom to Las Vegas and had to dig up a box in the desert, perform an escape under the eye of magician David Copperfield, and replace light bulbs high atop the Mirage Hotel. The last leg of the race aired in May. Dave received a degree in social and behavioral science from the U, and Connor expects to receive his bachelor’s degree in communication at the end of fall semester.


Richard Boyer BFA’83 has been selected as the featured artist for the 21st annual Maritime Art Exhibition at the Perkins Gallery at Coos Art Museum in Coos Bay, Oregon. The exhibition is the American Society of Marine Artists regional competition for the western United States. Boyer is known for his en plein air (outdoor) painting style, and his landscapes reflect a traditional approach to oil painting and are enhanced by a rich, textural quality. His painting subjects range from European street scenes to landscapes of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains and southeastern Utah. Among the awards he has received are the Art Times Award from the Salmagundi Club in New York and the Stobart Foundation Award, which recognizes aspiring artists with an artistic vision inspired by the tradition of working directly from nature. After studying under noted University of Utah art professor Alvin Gittins, Boyer received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the U. He lived for more than five years in Germany and painted throughout Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. He is represented by several galleries throughout the country and now lives with his family in Salt Lake City.

lilyLily Eskelsen Garcia BS’80 MEd’86—an elementary school teacher from Utah, former president of the Utah Education Association, and onetime congressional candidate—began serving as president of the National Education Association in September. She was elected to the post in July. She plans to tackle high-stakes testing and immigration issues as president of the 3-million-member group. Eskelsen Garcia formerly served as the national association’s secretary-treasurer and vice president. After graduating magna cum laude in elementary education from the University of Utah, she taught at Orchard Elementary in West Valley City. She went on to a master’s degree in instructional technology from the U and spent a year teaching at the Salt Lake City homeless shelter and a year teaching abused and neglected children at the Christmas Box House. Eskelsen Garcia increased her involvement with the Utah Education Association after a year teaching a class of 39 fifth-graders. (Utah consistently has some of the largest class sizes and lowest per-pupil funding in the nation.) Over the years, her involvement grew. After nine years of teaching, she was named Utah Teacher of the Year. In 1990, she became UEA president, a post she held until 1996. Eskelsen Garcia, whose mother emigrated to the United States from Panama, is the union’s first Latina leader. LM

jeongJeong Sun-joo PhD’90, a professor in the department of molecular biology at Dankook University, a private research university located in Yongin and Cheonan, South Korea, has received the 2014 Academic Promotion Honor in the Korean national L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science program. The award, which includes a grant of about $20,000 U.S., aims to improve the position of women in science by recognizing outstanding women researchers who have contributed to scientific progress. Jeong, who served as the first female dean at the Office of International Affairs at Dankook University, has been studying ribonucleic acid and discovered a connection between cancer and beta-catenin, a dual-function protein. After graduating from Seoul National University, she received a doctorate in medicine at the University of Utah, served a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University, and became a professor at Dankook University one year later.


pamelaPamela Cipriano PhD’92 was elected president of the American Nurses Association in June. The professional association represents the interests of the nation’s 3.1 million registered nurses. Cipriano is a research associate professor at the University of Virginia School of Nursing, chairs the Task Force on Care Coordination at the American Academy of Nursing in Washington, D.C., and is a member of the Virginia Nurses Association. As the University of Virginia Health Systems’ chief clinical officer and chief nursing officer for nine years, Cipriano oversaw more than 3,000 employees. She also served one year as the Distinguished Nurse Scholar in Residence at the Institute of Medicine, where she helped study the safety of health information technology assisted care. Cipriano served as the inaugural editor-in-chief of the journal American Nurse Today, served two terms on the American Nurses Association’s board of directors, and has served for more than 30 years on state and national committees for the association and for the American Academy of Nursing. She most recently served as senior director at Galloway Advisory by iVantage, which helps hospital groups, health care payers, and medical providers improve their operations, outcomes, and profits. She received her doctorate in executive nursing administration from the University of Utah and a master’s of science in physiological nursing from the University of Washington in 1981.


garangJames Alic Garang HBS’06 is one of 10 people who this year received doctorates in economics at the University of Massachusetts. Garang is part of a group of young men known as the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” a term coined by international aid organizations to refer to the thousands of boys and young men who either were taken by force from their homes or who chose to leave their villages fearing they had no other recourse during the civil war that raged in Sudan from 1983 to 2005. When he was about 10 years old, Garang made a three-months-long, 600-mile trek, with no parents accompanying him, from his home in South Sudan to Ethiopia. There, he lived in a refugee camp and enrolled in school. Later, while he was living at the Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya, visiting delegations from the United States and the United Nations decided to bring some of the refugees to the United States. Garang arrived in Utah in 2001 with 22 other Sudanese men. He eventually enrolled in a community college and went on to the University of Utah where, in 2004, he received the $10,000 Charles Hetzel III Scholarship for exceptional academic achievement and was part of the U’s Honors Program. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics. Encouraged by one of his professors, he applied to the University of Massachusetts for graduate school. His doctoral dissertation, which he presented this past spring, focused on how the financial systems in Kenya and South Sudan contribute to the creation of small- and medium-sized business enterprises. He says he hopes to eventually return to South Sudan and work to help improve conditions there.

 We want to hear from you! Please submit entries to Ann Floor. To read more alumni news, check out the “Honor Roll” column in the Alumni Association’s online newsletter here.

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