St. Catherine Alumnae Award winners will make you feel proud to be a Katie.
By Sharon Rolenc
Each year since 1979, St. Catherine University has recognized outstanding graduates who demonstrate excellence in leadership, service to others, an influential role in family, profession, community, church or volunteer activities, and the ideals of St. Catherine University.
The very definition of servant leaders, this year's honorees demonstrate a passion for advocacy, faith in action and support for the most vulnerable in our community.
Cathy Clifford Brennan SP'70
Spring is the busy season for Cathy Clifford Brennan. As vice president of advocacy for the Minnesota Occupational Therapy Association (MOTA), she is often at the State Capitol testifying on legislation.
With over 40 years of professional experience in the occupational therapy field, Brennan is sought after for her expertise in reimbursement and documentation, as lawmakers and healthcare professionals work to understand the ever-changing industry regulations.
For Brennan, advocacy started before she even attended St. Kate's. "With two disabled brothers, we always had to fight for services. I recall my mother on the phone often, advocating for bus service and programs for the boys," she explains.
In addition to her advocacy work, Brennan serves on numerous professional committees, writes a quarterly "Ask Cathy" column for MOTA and has received several industry awards, including recognition as a prestigious Fellow of the American Occupational Therapy Association.
"Cathy has taken on many very demanding professional and volunteer roles, always with an eye to how she can help others. She values service above all else," says Marjorie Mathison Hance SP'70, the friend and classmate who nominated Brennan.
Advocacy lights Brennan's fire, but teaching is what she loves best about her career. While serving as director of the occupational therapy (OT) department in what is now known as Hennepin County Medical Center, she was asked to teach as an adjunct in St. Kate's OT department and she seized the opportunity. A decade later, she ventured into consulting to better manage her career and the equally demanding job of raising two children.
"The ability to get up in front of a roomful of people and share knowledge that they need — that truly energizes me," she says.
Although most of her volunteerism has been in the OT profession, Brennan recently seized another opportunity — co-chairing the Opus Prize committee when St. Catherine was selected to host the international humanitarian award celebration in November 2012. The many hours involved in committee work required frequent visits to the St. Paul campus, where Brennan was struck by the students' commitment to social justice.
"Not only did I feel privileged to be part of the Opus Prize, but it really opened my eyes to a lot of good things going on here at St. Kate's," she says.
Barb Schultz Prokop SP'77
Gardener, advocate for the poor
Barb Schultz Prokop is passionate about healthful, locally grown food and raising awareness of hunger issues in her community. With fellow Guardian Angels Catholic Church congregant Maggie Lindberg, Prokop started a community garden at the Oakdale church, which provides fresh produce to local food shelves and shelters.
"It's easy for people to acknowledge hunger after an earthquake in Haiti, a hurricane in New Jersey or a tornado in north Minneapolis, but Barb recognized it in her own east metro community. She saw a need for fresh produce as an opportunity to address this and acted on it," says Kathleen Jo Hayes SP'02, a congregant who nominated Prokop.
Since its inception nearly 20 years ago, the garden ministry has provided over 150,000 pounds of fresh produce to low-income people in the community; it saw a record harvest of over 11,000 pounds in 2012. Prokop and Lindberg rely on 200 to 300 volunteers each year ranging in age from retirees to the four-year-old church preschoolers who are in charge of planting and harvesting potatoes.
"The teachers do a great job of preparing the kids not only for gardening, but also teaching about how we care for the earth and how we care for one another," Prokop explains.
The seeds of Catholic social teaching have long held root in Prokop. A double major in occupational therapy and theology while at St. Kate's, she understood the importance of spiritual as well as physical healing.
She left professional work to raise her children and focused her volunteerism on faith in action. She has held numerous volunteer leadership positions with her church since 1987, including chairing the Justice and Outreach Commission. Prokop has also volunteered with Catholic Charities' Office for Social Justice, where she served on an east metro affordable housing committee.
"We fought against the idea that this was just inner-city redistribution of the poor," she says. "It's also our parents, our children, the bank teller, the preschool teacher — it's even our police and firemen who need access to affordable housing in Washington County."
Prokop and her husband, Charlie, live in Oakdale, Minnesota, where they raised three children, Sarah, Kevin and Greg.
Laurel Trimbo SP'61
Throughout her 35-year career, Laurel Trimbo taught all levels of mathematics from grades 7 to 12 in Brandon and Bloomington, Minnesota. She was known for having special talent and patience, taking on ESL, special education, at-risk students, and gifted and talented students with equal commitment.
"Laurel's subject-matter competency and teaching ability made her a favorite among staff and students. My oldest daughter, now in her 30s, often exclaims that she learned more from Ms. Trimbo than any other teacher she had," says Maureen O'Meara, a fellow Bloomington Public Schools teacher.
Trimbo serves as a Eucharistic Minister and companion minister at Pax Christi congregation and is active with the church's Boomers & Beyond Senior Group, Prayer Shawl Ministry and mailing team. She also stays active at St. Kate's, most recently as a member of the Alumnae Council and as a class leadership team member.
But one of her most influential roles to date has been with the Amicus (meaning "friend" in Latin) One to One program, where she visits, writes and forms a friendship with an inmate at the Shakopee correctional facility for women.
"When men go to prison, the women in their lives actively support them, visit them. But when a woman goes to prison, often no one comes to visit. Well, I figured I can talk to people, so I signed up for the training," says Trimbo.
Her quiet support over the years has had a profound impact on the women with whom she's been paired.
"Her caring did not end when I was released from prison in 2009," says Carol Bell, the first inmate paired with Trimbo. "I had no job, unstable living and no transportation. Over the next few years, Laurel was instrumental in helping me enroll in college and secure employment, transportation and housing. She also provided emotional support as I reconciled with family."
Spend any amount of time with Trimbo and the words "quiet" and "humble" come to mind. When asked about the many accomplishments that led to her receiving this award, she says, "I've never considered what I've done extraordinary. I've helped when it was needed, or tried to offer something specific that was needed."
Trimbo lives in Eden Prairie with her three dogs, two of which she rescued from puppy mills. She raises over $1,000 annually for the Animal Humane Society's Walk for Animals.