NIU Alumni Association names 2016 award winners

From top: John P. Larson, Michael Cahill, Christopher M. Millington,
Kurt Sutter, Rich Lenkov,
Cindy Crocker, Cary S. Groth,
Rick Moser, Jacqueline B. Marcus
and Rita Dragonette

The NIU Alumni Association will recognize 10 outstanding alumni, from a Hollywood filmmaker to an attorney on the 2016 Illinois Super Lawyers list, on April 22 at its annual alumni awards ceremony.

“Our outstanding alumni illustrate the power of and promise in a Northern Illinois University degree,” said Joseph Matty, executive director of the NIU Alumni Association and COO of the NIU Foundation. “We are proud of the exceptional contributions of this year’s Alumni Association winners and of the impact of our 240,000 alumni worldwide.”

John P. Larson of Longmont, Colorado, is this year’s Distinguished Alumni Award recipient. Larson (B.S. finance, 1984) is the CEO of Bestop Inc., a premier provider of accessories for jeeps, trucks and all-terrain vehicles and the world’s leading provider of Jeep convertible tops. He is also the lead director for the board of KAR Auction Services, an automotive auction and finance company. Larson spent 20 years in key management positions at General Motors, including overseeing the Buick, Pontiac and GMC truck divisions and acting as the general director of finance for U.S. sales, service and marketing operations.

Michael Cahill of Downers Grove, Illinois (B.S. accountancy, 2012; M.A.S., 2013), a senior associate at Ernst & Young LLP, is the recipient of the Outstanding Young Alumni Award.

Prior to joining Ernst & Young, the 24-year-old was selected as one of six from a pool of elite candidates nationwide for a one-year assistantship at the Financial Accounting Standards Board, a private nonprofit organization that establishes and improves U.S. accounting principles.

Christopher M. Millington of Algonquin, Illinois, an NIU College of Business honorary alumnus, was chosen for the F.R. Geigle Service Award. Millington is a retired principal and founder of Top-Down Leadership Consulting LLC and a former adjunct faculty coach for the NIU College of Business Experiential Learning Center.

Millington and his wife, Lorraine, have made a significant impact on the College of Business. Because of the Millington Challenge Fund, the college has established 17 scholarships for students in the Department of Operations Management and Information Systems. The Millingtons also created the Marian Elizabeth Millington Scholarship for the Advancement of Women in Information Technology in 2008 and the Dr. Denise Schoenbachler Leadership Award in MIS/SAP Integration in 2015. To advance research for women in senior information technology, they have funded faculty fellowships.

The Outstanding College Alumni Award from the College of Visual and Performing Arts goes to Kurt Sutter of North Hollywood, California (formerly from Clark Township, New Jersey).

Sutter (M.F.A. acting, 1997), a screenwriter, director, producer and actor, created the critically acclaimed drama series  “Sons of Anarchy” in 2008. Last year, Sutter made his feature debut with “Southpaw.” Also in 2015, he created the FX medieval drama “The Bastard Executioner.”

Chicago resident Rich Lenkov (Juris Doctor, 1995), an attorney at Bryce Downey & Lenkov LLC, is the recipient of the Outstanding College Alumni Award from the College of Law. Lenkov was elected to the 2016 Illinois Super Lawyers list, an honor given to no more than 5 percent of lawyers in the state. He was also named Leading Lawyer from 2012 to 2016 and was honored by SEAK as one of the 50 Most Influential People in Workers’ Compensation.

Lenkov is the go-to legal analyst for WGN Radio and co-hosts the nation’s premier legal program, Legal Face-Off, on WGN Plus.

He is also co-founder of Chila Productions, the associate producer of “The Perfect Storm: Story of the 1994 Montreal Expos” and the producer of “’85: The Untold Story of the Greatest Team in Pro Football History,” a documentary about the 1985 Chicago Bears.

Cindy Crocker of Delray Beach, Florida, was chosen to receive the Outstanding College Alumni Award from the College of Business. Crocker (B.S. marketing, 1980) is a retired senior vice president of investor relations and corporate communications at Equity Group Investments. She now concentrates on changing the lives of NIU College of Business students as a philanthropist and mentor and serves on the NIU Foundation Board of Directors. At NIU, the Crocker Endowed Scholarship in Business supports the next generation of business leaders through a generous endowment. In addition, Crocker has been a caring and inspiring mentor to young women majoring in business. Her annual Crocker Program for Emerging Business Leaders gives students the opportunity to network with business leaders.

Cary S. Groth of Reno, Nevada (formerly from Park Forest, Illinois), was selected for the Outstanding College Alumni Award from the College of Education. Groth (B.S. Ed. physical education, 1978; M.S.Ed. educational leadership, 1999) was a leader in intercollegiate athletics for 32 years, including 10 years as director of athletics at Northern Illinois University and nine years as director of athletics at the University of Nevada. Groth led her universities’ programs to competitive and academic success and grew program revenue in almost every category.

Groth has been recognized as the Division Administrator of the Year by the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators and as the Administrator of the Year by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, and she has been an active member of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.

The Outstanding College Alumni Award from the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology goes to Rick Moser of Overland Park, Kansas (formerly from St. Charles, Illinois). Moser (B.S. graphic arts technology, 1981) is founder and creative director of Moser Design and founder and team leader of Proudly Made IN AMERICA, which is dedicated to creating jobs in America. As a graphic designer and writer, he serves small businesses, nonprofits, Fortune 500 companies and national retailers. He gives back to the community by designing logos for nonprofit organizations on a pro bono basis.

Jacqueline B. Marcus of Highland Park, Illinois, has been named the recipient of the Outstanding College Alumni Award from the College of Health and Health Sciences. Marcus (B.S. family, consumer and nutrition science, 1972; M.S. nutrition and dietetics, 1979) is the president and owner of Jacqueline B. Marcus & Associates Food Nutrition Consultants.

She is an award-winning and internationally recognized registered dietitian and nutritionist who mixes culinary, food, fitness, nutrition and wellness into recipes for success. Marcus is a food and nutrition publisher, editor, author, spokesperson, program and product developer and marketing strategist whose clients include Ajinomoto USA, Aldi US, Barilla, Kellogg’s, Lean Cuisine, Lettuce Entertain You, McDonald’s, Quaker Oats and the U.S. Navy.

Her book, “Culinary Nutrition: The Science and Practice of Healthy Cooking,” has earned two international awards.

Rita Dragonette of Chicago (B.A. English, 1972) was chosen for the Outstanding College Alumni Award from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Dragonette built a multimillion-dollar international firm and supports multiple nonprofits.

In 2003, she established Dragonette Career Strategies, where she advises executives and entrepreneurs on leadership, management development and organizational change. She recently finished a novel about her experiences at NIU during the turbulent days of the draft lottery and Kent State University.

Dragonette began her career at the global public relations agency Daniel J. Edelman Inc., now Edelman Worldwide. She rapidly rose through the firm’s ranks, leading the agency’s first million-dollar client and being named its youngest senior vice president. She left Edelman in the early 1980s and co-founded Dragonette Inc., one of the first agencies to offer integrated marketing services. The agency quickly became one of the top 15 independents nationally.

As an NIU supporter, Dragonette gives lectures, mentors students and endowed a scholarship in honor of her sister. She serves on the executive advisory board in the NIU College of Business and has been involved with the Department of English. In the spirit of NIU’s goal of student career success, she is establishing a scholarship for students who couple a liberal arts major with a business minor.

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