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Wonder Women

by Sharon Rolenc

Harriet Hentges '62
Commitment to Social Justice

How does peace "stick" in a post-war society? The answer to that question was the focus of Harriet Hentges' groundbreaking work at the U.S. Institute of Peace, where she served as executive vice president and chief operating officer for 11 years. She created post-conflict stabilization programs in the Balkans, Rwanda, Afghanistan and Iraq.

"We had the expertise and a great body of research already there," Hentges says. "We just needed to find a way to mobilize those resources."

Hentges' leadership has influenced business practice in the corporate world. In 2009, she was named one of the Top 100 Women in Grocery by Progressive Grocer, because of her work as vice president of corporate responsibility and sustainability for Ahold USA, a leading food retailer in the mid-Atlantic.

"Harriet brings ethical responsibility to all that she accomplishes," says Jacqueline O'Hara '55, CSJ. "She's a wonderful example of the intelligent, wise graduates and leaders associated with St. Catherine University."

Hentges is quick to credit others for her accomplishments — including being honored with this award.

"Lots of people helped me develop the skills I needed to succeed, so in some ways, this honor reflects on the community from where I came," she says. "What you hope is that the path you found becomes a light for others — an example of what they can achieve."

Hentges served two nine-year terms on the St. Catherine University Board of Trustees, from 1984 to 1993 and 2001 to 2010 — periods of significant growth and development. She also was named to the University's Centennial 100 (a roster of the 100 most influential people in St. Kate's first 100 years). She was a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet community from 1958 to 1973.

Sara Hietpas Gavin '77
Ethical Leadership

In her commencement speech to the class of 2006, Sara Hietpas Gavin '77 offered clear words of guidance to a group of young women ready to take on the world.

"Do something — or some things — that matter," she said. "Work is likely to be something that matters to you. Find or build a place that aligns with your values and allows you to be with people you like and respect."

Gavin's professional life has been a testimony to this advice. She is president of the Minneapolis office of Weber Shandwick, an international public relations firm that consistently is rated among the top places to work in the Twin Cities. She has represented several high-profile clients including Novartis, Medtronic and the Hazelden Foundation.

Gavin is a past honoree of The Catholic Spirit "Leading with Faith" award and was recognized in April as a Community Champion during the Girl Scouts of Minnesota–Wisconsin River Valleys' centennial celebration.

"If you want to build an enduring business, you have to be known for your integrity," says Gavin. "We're in the business of helping our clients become respected and trusted. So you need to bring a strong ethical compass into work."

Gavin's company gives generously through its pro-bono program, Making a Difference. Each year her office partners with one nonprofit to develop PR strategy and execution. The company also hosts an annual "Telling Your Story" workshop for nonprofits that provides guidance on how to reach their target audiences. In 2012, 72 individuals from 46 nonprofits benefited from this service.

As a current trustee of Minnesota Public Radio, board member of College Possible (formerly Admission Possible) and former trustee of St. Catherine University, Gavin has helped shape the mission, vision and values for these organizations during times of profound change.

"All of the organizations affected by Sara's generous gifts of self and talent are the better for the experience," says Sharon O'Connor '77, a friend and classmate.

Christine Palumbo '75
Professional Excellence, Service to Humanity

Be warned. Christine Palumbo's infectious enthusiasm may compel you to change your life. This dietitian-turned-media-darling has influenced the health and well being of millions of Americans through television and radio appearances, news articles and her professional practice.

"Whether through an hour-long counseling session, a presentation or a television appearance, I am always excited to see people start to understand that they aren't victims of their genes. They have the power to change through their choice of diet," she says.

If you asked Palumbo what achievement she's most proud of, her appearance on "Oprah" won't be the first thing she mentions. "I have three grown children who are filled with faith, and they are productive members of society. They are achievers," she says.

For 18 years, Palumbo has been an adjunct faculty member for Benedictine University, a Catholic university located in suburban Chicago. She also served on the American Dietetic Association Board of Directors from 2006 to 2009. She has won numerous professional awards, including being recognized as the 2011 Outstanding Dietetic Educator by the Illinois Dietetic Association.

"In the dietetics profession, her name exemplifies leadership, professional excellence and service to humanity," says Patricia Babjak, chief executive officer of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

A tireless volunteer, Palumbo is often the first to raise her hand when help is needed. An active lector since she got her start at St. Kate's at age 19, Palumbo developed and coordinates the Child Lector program at her church in Naperville, Illinois.

Robert Frazier, co-director of liturgy and music at St. Raphael Catholic Church, happened into one of Palumbo's trainings shortly after he started working at the church. "I knew right away that we had something very special going on here," he recalls. "Christine goes out of her way to personally connect with each child lector and to support him or her with thoughtful preparation, scriptural insights, regular and ongoing skill development, and much encouragement and affirmation."

Palumbo stays connected with St. Catherine University through her leadership with the Alumnae Relations Chicago Chapter, by giving generously to the Annual Fund and through presentations to dietetics students.

Pamela Wheelock '81
Courageous Leader

As a little girl growing up on a small dairy farm in southern Minnesota, Pamela Wheelock would never have imagined that she'd be state finance commissioner or a corporate executive.

"My experience at St. Kate's was life-changing for me," she says. "It's where I discovered what's possible for me in the world."

Wheelock has held influential positions in all levels of government, including state finance commissioner for Governor Jesse Ventura, where she was responsible for the development of the state's economic forecast and budget. She's been called a "financial wizard" by the local media and is often invited to discuss solutions for local and state budget challenges.

When asked, Wheelock says her proudest achievements happened when she was director of planning and economic development for the City of St. Paul. The Minnesota Science Museum, Xcel Energy Center and the return of NHL Hockey to Minnesota are tangible examples of what she achieved on behalf of the city and its residents.

In the nonprofit sector, Wheelock served as vice president and program manager at the Bush Foundation. Most recently, she served as interim president and chief executive officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, where she still chairs the board of directors.

"Her ability to think deeply about the challenges communities face and to envision a way through the conflicts inherent in change to arrive at solutions that really work — these qualities epitomize what we at Bush mean when we use the words 'courageous leader,'" says Peter Hutchinson, former president of the Bush Foundation.

Wheelock serves on numerous boards, including the Minnesota Women's Economic Roundtable and ION, the InterOrganization Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing women in corporate leadership. She is a former St. Catherine trustee and served as board chair during the institution's transition from the College of St. Catherine to St. Catherine University.

Annie Ballantine '05
Rising Star

Annie Ballantine will never forget her first-year orientation at St. Kate's. The theme was "dream big." It's a philosophy she carries to this day.

"You can have big dreams for your life and lofty goals and actually achieve them — that point was always stressed at St. Kate's," she says.

From the start, Ballantine forged her own path. The major she wanted wasn't offered at St. Kate's, so she worked with faculty in the art department and the Family, Consumer and Nutritional Sciences department to create a self-designed program. After graduating from St. Catherine, she worked at Gunkelman Flesher by day and went to school at night to earn an interior design degree.

By 2007, she had moved into International Market Square in Minneapolis and opened the doors to Annie Ballantine Designs. Ballantine has taught interior design classes at St. Kate's. For the past year, she has worked closely with an outside consultant and Trudy Landgren, associate professor of family and consumer science, to create curriculum for a new interior design program at St. Kate's. The major was approved this spring, and the program will start accepting first-year students in the fall.

"Annie Ballantine is the quintessential St. Catherine University woman," says Paula King, Ph.D., dean of the School of Business and Leadership. "She embodies the mission of the University and is generous with her time and creativity."

Beyond her professional accomplishments, Ballantine has been active with the Arthritis Foundation and, more recently, with Courage Center. She suffers from painful rheumatoid arthritis and works to raise awareness of the disease. An inspiration to others who struggle with disabilities, Annie shows what an individual can overcome to be a successful business owner.

Ballantine's commitment to St. Kate's runs deep. As a student, she attended the University as an O'Shaughnessy Scholar. She was one of several alumnae who recently honored the legacy of Larry O'Shaughnessy through the creation of the O'Shaughnessy Scholars Scholarship, which will be given to another incoming student of excellence.


Each year since 1979, St. Catherine University has recognized outstanding graduates who demonstrate leadership, service, professional excellence and the ideals of St. Catherine University. This year, a committee of alumnae selected five outstanding leaders to receive awards. The honorees demonstrate faith in action, ethical leadership and a pioneering spirit.