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Three at WMU will receive Distinguished Service Awards

by Deanne Puca

Sept. 13, 2011 | WMU News

KALAMAZOO--Two Western Michigan University faculty members with combined service of more than 70 years and a recruitment specialist who has led local efforts to celebrate of the life of Martin Luther King Jr. have been named the University's 2011 Distinguished Service Award recipients.

Receiving the award are Dr. Thomas C. Bailey, professor of English; Dr. Robert A. Wertkin, professor of social work; and Tony O. Dennis, director of graduate student recruitment and retention.

They will be honored Friday, Sept. 16, during WMU's annual Academic Convocation at 2 p.m. in the Dalton Center Recital Hall. The convocation will feature WMU President John M. Dunn's State of the University address as well as the presentation of other campuswide honors to recognize this year's recipients of the Distinguished Faculty Scholar, Distinguished Teaching, Emerging Scholar and annual Make a Difference awards.

As recipients of the service award, Bailey, Wertkin and Dennis join 50 faculty and staff members who have received the accolade since it was established in 1980. The three were chosen from among nominees across the campus who have demonstrated exceptional service in areas that reflect innovative and effective programming, increase WMU's stature, or extend WMU's impact and presence in the larger community. Each recipient will receive a plaque and $2,000 honorarium.

Photo of Dr. Thomas C. Bailey.
Dr. Thomas C. Bailey began his career 41 years ago at the University as assistant professor of English. During his four decades at WMU, he has served as ombudsman, director of environmental studies and chair of the Department of Special Education and Literacy Studies.

He has been called "a true citizen of the University" for stepping in when needed in a variety of roles at the department, college and University levels.

A colleague noted, "…Tom has responded to the University's need, served with dignity, energy enthusiasm and grace, and always left each unit he served in a better situation than he found it."

Bailey was praised for his character and commitment to representing the concerns of others, particularly in his position of ombudsman, "If there is a single characteristic of Tom that I respect it is that he is one of the best listeners I have ever known," another colleague wrote in support of Baily's nomination. "He comes to this instinctively. Have a conversation with him and you know that you are understood and you know that he will, if possible, act on that understanding."

His involvement on numerous boards includes service as president of the University and College Ombuds Association and WMU's associate vice president for academic affairs. Bailey also was a faculty senator and an officer for the WMU American Association of University Professors.

In the community, he has been a board member of the Fontana Chamber of Arts, chair of the board of the Bach Festival Society, president of the South Westnedge School Parent/Teacher Association and a drama critic for the local National Public Radio station.

Bailey earned his bachelor's degree from Oberlin College, his master's from the University of Missouri and a doctoral degree from Washington University.

Photo of Tony O. Dennis.
Tony O. Dennis joined WMU in 1993 as assistant director of admissions and has been a leader in the Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate as well as the Organization for Black Aerospace Professionals. His efforts were recognized when he was named the 2009 recipient of the Michigan Campus Compact Faculty/Staff Community Service-Learning Award.

Numerous supporters cited Dennis' influence and stellar reputation across the country as he has travels to recruit for WMU.

Dennis "has been a respected ambassador for WMU wherever he goes; he is the embodiment of service on many levels and is more totally and personally committed to student success than anyone I know," a colleague wrote.

His commitment doesn't stop with recruitment. He is also focused on student success after enrollment, according to another colleague. "Once they are enrolled at WMU, Tony works very hard with students, making sure they are provided with the necessary resources to succeed through their programs."

Since 2007, Dennis also has chaired the citywide MLK Celebration Week. In addition, he has served on the Kalamazoo Public Schools Planning Committee and is a leader in the local Boy Scouts. He has chaired the Human Relations Committee of the Michigan Association of College Admissions Counseling.

Dennis is a WMU alumnus who earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University. 

Photo of Dr. Robert Wertkin.
Dr. Robert Wertkin, a 30-year veteran at WMU, started his career as assistant professor of social work. He has served as interim director of the School of Social Work, and interim chair of the Department of Physician Assistant. He was founding chair of the University Assessment Committee and currently is chair of the Millennial Project Steering Committee.

An alumnus recalled Wertkin's "wit and wisdom instantly made him one of the most sought after and popular professors in the school."

His instruction is thoughtful and challenging, according to a graduate student.

"His expectations are high, but presented with warmth. He demands thoughtful work, both for our development and for the sake of our future clients," the student said.

His community service includes work as an advisor for the Douglas Community Center and the Kalamazoo Department of Social Services. Werkin also led the Consortium for the International Bill of Rights for Children and served as the evaluator for the U.S. Office of Child Development.

Wertkin's passion for service is part of what propels him to excellence in his field, other supporters said.

"Over his career, his service as a social work practitioner, educator, researcher and administrator has been remarkable. To him, service is not optional; it is intentional and fundamental to him as a person and professional," wrote an administrator in support of Wertkin's nomination.

Wertkin earned a bachelor's degree from Washburn University, a master's from the University of Kansas and doctoral degree from the University of Utah.

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