Athletics to Confer Alumni Awards Friday

Three recipients of 2014's athletic alumni awards
April 21, 2015

Marquette University Alumni Association Press Release

MILWAUKEE -- On Friday, April 24 the Marquette University Department of Intercollegiate Athletics will bestow six awards on seven distinguished alumni during National Alumni Awards weekend. Each individual used their Marquette experiences to make a positive impact in their respective professional fields and in the world through a spirit of service.

Distinguished Alumna of the Year
Mary Beth Crossett Smits, ENG `90

Smits was a member of the women's basketball team from 1986-90 and says some of her most cherished memories came from the long road trips she shared with her teammates.

"We would sit in the back of the bus and have all kinds of interesting conversations -- about school, friends, family and life," she says. "Those were the times when we really came together as teammates and friends."

Today, she serves as vice president of Secondary Markets at Best Buy, where she formulates new strategies to help the company reduce tens of millions of dollars of expenses tied to customer product returns. But she can envision herself leading a nonprofit someday and already volunteers with two organizations that focus on youth development.

Lifetime Achievement Award
Dale E. Petranech, Arts `57

Although he ran cross country and track at Marquette, Petranch has been an influential voice in the world of open water and marathon swimming since he was named the first chairman of U.S. Swimming's Open Water Swimming Committee in 1977.

Now a retired Red Cross disaster worker and former member of the Marine Corps, Petranech became the oldest swimmer to successfully cross the Catalina Channel at the age of 50 in 1985.

In September 2014, he was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame, but Petranech has always measured his success in the accomplishments of others, not his own.

"I always considered myself as an administrator as opposed to leader," he says. "I would rather see others succeed than myself."

Petranech lives in New Jersey, but remains involved with Marquette through his support of the James M. Allen Endowed Athletic Scholarship.

Young Alumna of the Year Award
Elizabeth B. Wilkie, Arts `09

Following graduation, Wilkie entered the Peace Corps and served in Panama for two years in the spirit of service given to her by her favorite professor, Dr. Eufemia Sanchez de La Calle.

Professor de La Calle tragically passed away in 2012, but Wilkie used her life as inspiration to continue giving back. After returning from Panama she has served as a Spanish and culture teacher at the UNO Charter School Network in Chicago, where she is writing the native Spanish speaker curriculum for elementary and middle school levels.

"It is Femmy's Marquette spirit of service that I've carried with me," she says.

A former member of the track and field team, Elizabeth continues to coach the boys' and girls' track team at Oak Park-River Forest High School in Oak Park, Illinois.

Friends of Marquette Athletics Award
The Hon. W. Greg Ryberg, Jr. Arts '68 and Elizabeth Denkewalter Ryberg, Arts `69

The spirit of giving is a core value for the Ryberg's. Greg, a former state senator in South Carolina, has been a member of the Marquette Board of Trustees since 2008, and Elizabeth is community advocate and fundraiser.

Greg, who retired in 2012 from the state senate after serving five terms, is a successful businessman and board member with the Aiken Augusta Warrior Project, which helps members of the military with education and employment.

"My Marquette experience strengthened my early values taught by my family of right and wrong, morals and ethics, whether it is in my personal life, business, elected office -- or on the golf course," he says.

Elizabeth is a community advocate and fundraiser whose favorite causes include children who are victims of mistreatment, people with disabilities, and the construction of bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly streets.

"Success, to me, is the feeling of expectation and excitement that there is a new idea to explore and new paths to reach a goal," she says. "I feel success when I can persuade other people to become enthused as we see a project through."

M Club HY Popuch Memorial Service Award
Robert L. Wilkins, Arts '62, Law `68

When he came to Marquette, Wilkins did not have a firm plan for his professional career other than to play football.

A member of Marquette's last football team in 1960, Wilkins received his undergraduate degree and law degree from Marquette and eventually went on to practice law for 45 years. He concentrated in estate planning, probate, real estate, business law and tax planning.

Today, he serves in an "of counsel" capacity at the law firm Moertl, Wilikins & Campbell, S.C.

He also still follows Marquette basketball and other MU sports while working as a college tennis and high school soccer referee.

Robert L. And William P. McCahill Award
Elizabeth K. Koberstein, Nurs `14

Koberstein appreciates it when people compliment the strength of her character but graciously declines any such praise.

"You should really spend more time with my parents," she says.

Her mother is fighting Parkinson's disease but still insists on handling everyday tasks such as mowing the lawn or carrying heavy groceries. She attended every one of Koberstein's volleyball matches her senior year because, as Koberstein says, she does not want to miss any of the fun.

Her father was a veteran of the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War and recently passed away after fighting a brave, two-year battle against metastatic lung cancer.

Given the main source of her inspiration, it should be no surprise that she chose a profession that allows her to make a career out of the act of giving back. She recently began her first nursing job, a one-year residency at Milwaukee's Zablocki VA Medical Center.

"What I like the most about nursing is being able to make a difference in someone's life, often when they are most vulnerable," Koberstein says. "I feel purpose in being able to be a difference for someone in that time."

In addition to her success on the court at Marquette, Koberstein was a two-time Big East All-academic performer and the 2013--14 Big East Scholar-athlete Sport Excellence Award winner for women's volleyball.

"I was blessed to have many people behind me, ready to help me every step of the way," she says. "Marquette facilitated my growth as a student, athlete and person."

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