By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — “We love our alma mater,” Beth (Figge) and Brian Lemek said after receiving the McMullen Award from St. Ambrose University on April 7 in Christ the King Chapel. Graduates of Assumption High School in Davenport, and St. Ambrose in 1986, the couple serves as the first wife and husband team on the St. Ambrose University Board of Trustees.
Bishop Thomas Zinkula presided at Mass prior to the award presentation and reflected on the importance of names in his homily. The founders of St. Ambrose contemplated naming the school St. John College in honor of the Diocese of Davenport’s first bishop, John McMullen. When the bishop returned from cancer treatment on the East Coast, he said no to the naming. He chose St. Ambrose, in honor of the fourth-century Bishop of Milan and doctor of the Church. “The university had the last laugh,” Bishop Zinkula said. The “prestigious McMullen Award” and McMullen Hall on campus bear Bishop McMullen’s name.
St. Ambrose Seminary evolved to become St. Ambrose College and then St. Ambrose University. Bishop Zinkula said St. Ambrose has responded to change over the decades, but its mission endures: to enable students to develop intellectually, spiritually, ethically, socially, artistically and physically to enrich their lives and the lives of others. He said the Lemeks play an important role in maintaining the university’s mission.
After Mass, Bishop Zinkula blessed the award, on display in the sanctuary. St. Ambrose University President Amy Novak said the McMullen Award, presented annually, recognizes individuals who embody the university’s mission. The award is made from a cross that hung in the sanctuary of the chapel before its 2006 renovation. The cross bears the university’s seal and recognizes the heritage of St. Ambrose and the relationship each recipient has with all “who have come before, those who are with us now and those who will come in the future,” Novak said.
She spoke of the Lemeks’ commitment to each other, their family and the enrichment of their hometown and the Maryland community in which they live. The couple grew up in Davenport and remained in the Quad-City area after graduation. In 1998, they moved out East to pursue a new opportunity. They own and operate 61 Panera Bread restaurants throughout Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey.
Brian also is a founding director of Revere Bank and serves on the board of Sandy Spring Bank, which acquired Revere. Beth dedicates her time and skills to their parish, Blessed Sacrament in Washington, D.C.; Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.; the President’s Council and glowmedia project. That initiative offers free mental health resources to educators and helps young people to develop the emotional agility necessary to thrive.
The couple joined the St. Ambrose Board of Trustees after the arrival of Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, past-president of the university. In 2016, they co-chaired the Building Our Future campaign that raised $20 million for the new wellness and recreation center facility on campus.
The Lemeks said they were surprised and pleased to be chosen for the award. “We were flattered and humbled,” Brian said. Their ties with St. Ambrose include getting married in Christ the King Chapel. They appreciated that the award is made from the original chapel cross.
Traditionally, the university presents the McMullen Award close to the Feast of St. Ambrose, which is Dec. 7. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic postponed the award ceremony.