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UMKC names alumna of the year

By MARÁ ROSE WILLIAMS
The Kansas City Star

Catherine Spong, the National Institutes of Health chief of Pregnancy and Perinatology, has been named the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Alumna of the Year.

The award is the highest given by the campus and the UMKC Alumni Association to honor eminence in a professional field and outstanding service to society. Each year, the alumni association recognizes 16 alumni and one family. The ceremony will be April 26 at a luncheon at the Westin Crown Center Hotel.

In her role with NIH, Spong oversees nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts in maternal fetal medicine, neonatology and obstetrics. The 1991 graduate of the UMKC School of Medicine is noted by her peers as one of the most influential women in her field.

Among the other winners of top honors are:

• David Westbrook, a 1971 graduate, received the Defying the Odds Award. Juvenile glaucoma took Westbrook’s sight by age 17. Today he is senior vice president of strategy and innovation at Children’s Mercy Hospital.

• Yvonne Wilson, a 1971 and 1976 graduate, received the Spotlight Award. Wilson, a teacher and principal more than 35 years, served as the first African-American president of the Missouri Association of Elementary School Principals.

• Lajuana Counts, a 1988 graduate, received the Bill French Alumni Service Award. Counts, assistant U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri, has served as president of the UMKC School of Law Alumni Association. Currently, she is on the board of the UMKC Law Foundation.

• The Hartwig Family received the Legacy Award for a tradition of attending UMKC and a record of service to the University, their community or profession. For two generations, Hartwig family members have been in the pharmacy business, trained students at their Red Cross Pharmacy, and established a scholarship for deserving pharmacy students.

Eleven other alums will be honored with achievement awards from the college or school from which they were graduated.

“Each one of this year’s awardees has a remarkable story — of obstacles overcome, of perseverance, of achievement,” Stacey Johnson-Cosby, event co-chairwoman, said in a statement. “Their work and accomplishments have shaped their respective professions and changed the landscape of everything from health care to the arts.”

Over the past three years, the event has raised more than $120,000 in scholarships for students who otherwise might not be able to afford to continue their education. More than 55 students to date have gotten such financial help.

To reach Mará Rose Williams, call 816-234-4419 or send email to mdwilliams@kcstar.com.

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