Three executives awarded WMU's top alumni honor for 2014

contact: Jeanne Baron
| WMU News

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Three executives from business and higher education have received the highest honor Western Michigan University can confer on its alumni, the Distinguished Alumni Award.

The 2014 recipients are Wendell L. Christoff of Grand Rapids, CEO of Litehouse Foods; Daniel J. Martin of Pittsburgh, dean of the College of Fine Arts at Carnegie Mellon University; and Donald Southwell of Wayne, Illinois, chairman of the board of Kemper Corp.

Established in 1963, the Distinguished Alumni Awards program honors and celebrates alumni who bring distinction to their alma mater through professional accomplishments and who have achieved a high level of success in their careers.

Alumni are nominated by their peers and selected by a committee of the WMU Alumni Association. In 2013, the awards program celebrated its golden anniversary and recognized all past recipients of the honor.

This year, the three recipients of WMU's 51st Distinguished Alumni Awards will be recognized during a homecoming weekend reception at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24, on campus. The deadline to register for the event is Oct. 23.

For more information about the awards, nomination process or past recipients, visit Direct questions to Hardy Figueroa at or (269) 387-8774.


Wendell L. Christoff

Christoff earned a Bachelor of Science in food distribution from WMU in 1968. The company he heads, Litehouse, produces salad dressing and sauces and is listed by Entrepreneur Magazine as a top-l00 privately held company. After graduating from WMU, Christoff joined the U.S. Air Force and was a pilot during the Vietnam War.

Today, he is known as a humanitarian. His efforts in that arena include founding and currently serving as president of the SafeWater Team, a nonprofit organization that produces water filtration devices and improves access to clean drinking water in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and other developing nations.

Christoff and his wife, Helen, were selected by the Rotary Foundation in 2011 for membership in the foundation's Arch C. Klumph Society. In addition, Christoff received the Outstanding Food and Consumer Package Goods Marketing Alumni Award in 2001 from WMU's Haworth College of Business. A scholarship for that major program has been established through Litehouse.


Daniel J. Martin

Martin earned a Bachelor of Arts in theatre from WMU in 1976 and a Master of Fine Arts in performing arts management from City University of New York. He spent his early career in not-for-profit professional and educational theatre. After entering academia at the University of Akron, he joined the Carnegie Mellon faculty in 1992 and was promoted to dean of the fine arts college in 2012.

Martin oversees a college that has five schools—Architecture, Art, Design, Drama and Music—160 faculty members, 1,300 students, eight degree programs and six research centers. He founded the University's Center for Art Management and Technology has a long list of accomplishments.

They include serving as a visiting professorship at Italy's Bologna University and the University of Montreal, and as a guest lecturer at the University of Barcelona. Martin has visited WMU's campus on many occasions as a guest artist, providing workshops, seminars and guest lectures. He is the author of numerous reports as well as magazine and journal articles on arts management.


Donald Southwell

Southwell earned a Bachelor of Arts in mathematics from WMU in 1973 and was a member of the University's Lee Honors College. He previously served as president of Prudential Insurance & Financial Services and chairman of the Prudential Property and Casualty Co.

In 2002, Southwell began serving as the director of the Kemper Corp., formerly Unitrin. The company is one of the nation's leading financial services providers specializing in insurance for families and small businesses. He has served as president and CEO since 2006 and chairman of the board since 2010.

Southwell received the WMU Department of Mathematics Outstanding Alumni Award in 2009. He is a member of the WMU President's Circle, a fellow of the Society of Actuaries, a Chartered Life Underwriter, and a Chartered Property and Casualty Underwriter. He also is a loyal supporter of Michigan's Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy.