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Distinguished Alumni Award

The Distinguished Alumni Award is Wisconsin Alumni Association’s highest honor and most high-profile and long-standing award. It celebrates prestigious graduates of UW–Madison for their professional achievements, contributions to society, and support of the university over the course of their career or lifetime. Past recipients include fashion icon Iris Apfel ’43, former Wisconsin senator Herb Kohl ’56, actor André De Shields ’70, and brain researcher Ann McKee ’75 (see past winners below).

Distinguished Alumni Award 2020 Winners

Ada Deer ’57

Ada Deer was the first member of the Menominee tribe to earn a UW–Madison undergraduate degree and the first American Indian to earn a master’s degree from Columbia University’s school of social work. A social justice activist for the past half century, Deer is committed to human rights, especially those of American Indians. Deer worked relentlessly on behalf of the Menominee in their struggle to restore their land and sovereignty. Through her leadership, she worked with many in her community to create the Menominee Restoration Act of 1973, a historic reversal of national policy. She became the tribe’s first female chair. During the Clinton administration, Deer was the first woman to serve as assistant secretary of Indian affairs for the U.S. Department of the Interior. One of her most important and meaningful works in this role was applying her powers to federally recognize 226 native villages in Alaska.

Gary Ebben ’82

Gary Ebben is the former assistant adjutant general for air of the Wisconsin Air National Guard. Prior to his recent retirement, Ebben served as interim adjutant general for the Wisconsin National Guard, leading nearly 10,000 airmen and soldiers, as well as the entire Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs, which also includes Wisconsin Emergency Management. Ebben supports the Badger Honor Flight and has supported youth programs and the UW ROTC program.

Thomas J. Falk ’80

Tom Falk, the former chair of the board and CEO of Kimberly-Clark Corporation, retired at the end of 2019. During Falk’s 36-year career, Kimberly-Clark’s total shareholder return outperformed the S&P 500, and the company became a global consumer-products leader. He is a director of the Lockheed Martin Corporation, deputy chair of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and vice chair of the board of governors for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Past Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

Please note: the titles listed here represent the positions the honorees held at the time they received their awards. Many later went on to fill other prestigious roles.

WAA Stories

How will you celebrate the UW? Check out the ways you can join the philanthropic festivities when Day of the Badger returns March 28–29.