by Dana Beitey
The Newman University mission states that the university’s purpose is to empower graduates to transform society — and alumni do not disappoint.
The university created the annual Alumni Awards to honor alumni who are striving to make a difference in their communities and beyond.
Nominations are submitted by alumni, staff and faculty and a special selection committee determines which Newman alumni will be honored each year.
The Alumni Awards presented each year are the Spirit of Acuto Award, the Beata Netemeyer Service Award, the Leon A. McNeill Alumni Achievement Award and the St. Maria De Mattias Award.
Spirit of Acuto Award
The Spirit of Acuto Award is named for the area of Italy where St. Maria De Mattias began her ministries in the 1830s. The award recognizes alumni who are driven to respond to the needs of others, using their talent and training to move a vision to reality.
The 2020-21 recipient was Nina Shaw-Woody. Nina is a 2013 Master of Social Work graduate who has a passion for helping others. Nina is living out her passion every day, she said.
She is currently the executive director of the Kansas Family Advisory Network (KFAN), whose mission is to promote restoration of families through support, education, advocacy and training.
“I love the Lord. I know this is my calling. I am passionate about the Lord and I’m passionate about families. I was blessed to be raised in a family where mom and dad, we did things together and we grew up together. We were a true family unit. We were not a perfect family, but I had a good family. I had a good childhood. My parents made sure I had a childhood. And I know today with all the struggles that are going on in our society, that is not possible for a lot of people.”
Nina’s work at KFAN touches the lives of many individuals during difficult chapters in their lives.
“They’re struggling and they’re trying to do the best they can and they don’t have the knowledge to be able to change their path in life.”
She and her team provide focus on the whole family when looking at how they can help. Helping the children but not helping the parents, she said, is a disservice to the family. The mission and the ultimate goal for her is to restore the whole family.
She said her Newman education helped her learn the micro, meso and macro levels of social work, which still helps her today. She is able to take her passion for helping beyond the family unit by taking part in local and statewide meetings with opportunities to bring about change for her community.
Nina is so involved in the community, in fact, that some have dubbed her a local nonprofit celebrity. But she said she has never really felt that way.
“I don’t see myself as a celebrity because I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I feel honored that (I’m) recognized that way.
“But I can’t say I’m a celebrity because I’m not doing this work by myself. I have people who are passionate about families. Some of them have (gone) through the child welfare system and want to give back in return and so I can’t take the credit for where we are right now because it’s not me doing it by myself.”
Beata Netemeyer Service Award
Named for the first provincial of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, the Beata Netemeyer Service Award honors alumni who have given outstanding service to humanity, exemplifying the mission and values of Newman University in their personal and professional life.
The 2020-21 Beata Netemeyer Service Award was bestowed upon Bob and Nancy Diepenbrock.
Bob graduated from Kansas Newman in 1982. His career in education includes being superintendent of USD 331 Kingman-Norwich. Nancy also was in education as an English teacher at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School.
Both said Newman University made a significant impact on their lives.
Bob was a biology major with a minor in philosophy, which played a large role in his interest to convert to Catholicism his senior year at Newman. His life journey has been guided through his faith and passion for service ever since.
He is now the director of the South Central Kansas Special Education Cooperative. He said his transition from superintendent to his current role wasn’t a hard one to make.
“It’s really getting people to try and support the kids and my job is to try and help support the teachers so they can support the kids, so the kids have the best opportunity we can provide them.”
Nancy said she’ll never forget how helpful the staff and faculty at Newman were. From the first moment she walked onto campus, she felt as though she belonged there. Her experience at Newman made her want to be a better teacher.
When it was time to retire, she was told by a friend not to volunteer for anything because volunteer opportunities would find her. On her last day, 45 minutes after officially retiring, Nancy received a phone call and was asked to become a regional director for a nonprofit whose goal is to help the homeless.
Together, Bob and Nancy are living out their faith and changing lives. They have sponsored exchange students. He sings with the sisters of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ choir. She knits mats for the homeless using plastic bags and works with women in community programs, teaching them how to knit the plastic mats.
For the Diepenbrocks, it’s all about following their passion.
“It’s difficult and yet it’s not difficult. It comes naturally (for us). When you really love kids, you love working with the homeless, you love seeing those kids grow … and do better, it’s not difficult. I think if anybody’s worried about being able to do something, find something they enjoy and just do it because (they’ll) love it. It’s not that hard.”
The Leon A. McNeill Alumni Achievement Award
The Leon A. McNeill Alumni Achievement Award is named for the former president of Sacred Heart Junior College This award honors an individual who has achieved outstanding success in personal or professional life through civic, intellectual or cultural pursuits.
This year’s award was given to Mike Wescott, director of development and planned giving at the Catholic Diocese of Wichita.
Mike graduated from Kansas Newman College in 1982. He holds a master’s degree in healthcare administration and has made a big impact on the Wichita Diocese throughout his career.
When he started working at Kapaun Mt Carmel High School, his first role in the Wichita Catholic Diocese, there was a great need for growth in funding. Mike helped create the St. Katharine Drexel Catholic School Fund. The fund grew from approximately $45,000 in its first year to around $2.4 million in its most recent year.
He is passionate about many things, but at the top of his list is faith. Mike was raised in a Catholic family and his wife also comes from a very strong Catholic family. Being able to hold a career within that faith is of high importance to him.
“It’s huge for me to get to work where I am passionate about what I do. I love working here. And as long as Bishop (Carl) Kemme will keep me, I hope to stay until it’s time to call it quits.”
Mike also got to be a part of the fundraising for the St. Joseph House of Formation. He was excited to hear the news that the Diocese was moving forward with the program and its decision to send the seminarians to Newman University in order to earn their degrees in philosophy.
He is also an avid advocate and volunteer for the Lord’s Diner and serves on many local organization boards. But his favorite part of community service is just getting to work with those in need.
“What I enjoy most is really just kind of rolling up my sleeves and working in that ministry (the Lord’s Diner). I work every Thursday. … I help prep the food at the Lord’s Diner. They serve about 2,500 people a night. I use my lunch hour to go over there and help cook those meals.”
As for the fundraising portion of his job, he said working with donors, who “just give out of their heart,” inspires him and keeps him motivated to continue doing the work he is doing.
St. Maria De Mattias Award
Named for the foundress of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ (ASC), the St. Maria De Mattias Award honors alumni who display a deep loyalty to Newman University, its mission of Catholic education and those who have given meritorious and continuous support and stewardship to Newman University and Catholic life.
Danny Krug is the 2020-21 recipient of this award. Danny is the director of Hispanic Ministry for the Catholic Diocese of Wichita and works with the local parishes to fulfill specific needs.
She graduated from Newman University in December of 1990 with a degree in business administration.
Originally from Venezuela, Danny worked in a parish that was part of the diocese there. The priest wanted her to become more acquainted with the English language and she jumped at the chance to come to the U.S. She began an intensive eight-week English program at Wichita State University. That is when the ASC offered her a scholarship to attend Newman University.
Her work with the Hispanic community is changing lives. Her role includes working with youth, citizenship and English language classes, retreats and faith formations.
Being able to work in a field that she is extremely passionate about is something she is grateful for every day.
“I had never thought that I would be able to work and do the things that I like. … Everything here is focused on the Hispanic community.”
She added, “I think it’s great that we are able to do (so much) through this office. I’m blessed to be here.”
Danny has also spent time ministering to men and women, communicating with both Spanish and English speaking individuals, at the Butler County Detention Center in El Dorado, Kansas. She said the individuals there sometimes just need someone to talk to. “They need to hear about the hope that God’s love brings them and that people love them.”
Danny said she will forever be grateful for her college experience and the staff, faculty and ASC sisters who supported her along the way.
“We don’t know why God put that person in front of us. I went through college and that is a big deal. That is my big deal. I mean, having been able to go to college and graduate and because of that, it opened so many doors. That opened everything.”