St. Ambrose commencement speaker: Heroes are all around us

Students from the College of Arts and Sciences at Davenport’s St. Ambrose University watch fellow classmates recieve their degrees during the commencement ceremony May 15 at the i wireless Center in Moline, Ill.

By Anne Marie Amacher

MOLINE, Ill. — “There are truly heroes among us,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Radin, commencement speaker for St. Ambrose University’s May 15 graduation ceremony at the i wireless Center in Moline, Ill.

Radin serves as the assistant deputy chief of staff of Army Logistics at the Pentagon. He previously served at the Rock Island Arsenal in the Quad-City area.

“Today, I want to talk about heroes,” he said. “You would think that after 34 years in the Army I might qualify as a subject matter expert on the topic, but I found myself going to Webster’s to start with a definition. ‘Hero’ comes from the Greek word ‘heros,’ a person admired for courage, fortitude, prowess and nobility. And my staff tells me it could be a long sandwich filled with meat, cheese, lettuce and tomato!”

His focus was on the dictionary definition. “Heroes are not only the athletes we admire, but the academics we should admire; heroes are not just those who have power, but those who question power; not just those who contribute to our strength, but those who contribute to our strength of mind.”


He gave several examples of local heroes:

• St. Ambrose alumna Angie DeLost, an occupational therapist who dreamed that a home could be built for one of her clients challenged by dwarfism and brittle bone disease. DeLost contacted Extreme Home Makeover persistently, and that persistence paid off.

• The late St. Ambrose professor Michael Orfitelli, who started the National Youth Sports Program at St. Ambrose, serving underprivileged children each summer.

• Jody Landers, a wife and young mother of six from Muscatine. She learned how people in Africa had to walk miles each day to obtain water. Landers spearheaded the “Water for Christmas” effort, raising small amounts of money from moms and dads to build 55 wells over the years in Africa.

• Alumna Gayle Roberts, a farm girl who discovered a passion for science. She broke the proverbial glass ceiling by becoming the first female president of Stanley Consultants — the only woman president of a major international engineering firm.

• Ida Johnson, a single mother with five kids who fled a bad marriage and came to Davenport. She simply wanted to find a place for her kids to play, and from that grew United Neighbors, which began in her home 35 years ago and has since helped thousands of young children.

• The late Staff Sgt. Nathan Cox, a Davenport native, and his wife, Annie Cox. Nathan Cox died serving in Afghanistan. Radin said Annie Cox gave him a scrap book filled with photos of her late husband, which Radin keeps in his office at the Pentagon. “She gave me the book to honor his memory and remind us of what sacrifices they made as a family. I look at that book every day.

“Annie told me it’s not out of heroism that Staff Sgt. Cox joined the Army; he joined because he wanted to serve our country. But he’s my hero for how he served his country, and Annie’s my heroine for reaching out to other Army families to help them prepare as soldiers deploy.”

One last group of heroes Radin saluted was the St. Ambrose class of 2010. “The final question I have for all of you is: Who among you will become tomorrow’s heroes? Who will take this great education you received and return something back to society?

“I know there will be many heroes among you. You already started on that path.” He noted how St. Ambrose students have volunteered 15,000 hours this past school year in community service through programs such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters and building a Habitat for Humanity home.

“So, be inspired by those around you. Aim high. Trust your instincts and trust in what you have learned here at St. Ambrose. Most importantly, class of 2010, stand proudly, as you help others stand,” said Radin, who received an honorary doctor of public administration degree from the university during the ceremony.

Around 650 degrees also were conferred for bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral graduates. One special diploma was presented in memory of Derrek Drexler of Dubuque, a St. Ambrose student who died in March 2009 of a rare viral infection. His parents, David and Ann Drexler, accepted the diploma amid a standing ovation.

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