Alumnus of Merit Award 2005
The Alumnus of Merit Award is the highest honor the Alumni Association bestows on an alumnus of Whitman College. This award is given to alumni who have achieved distinction in their chosen field, or rendered outstanding service to their community, or rendered outstanding service to, and demonstrated loyal interest in, Whitman College. Members of the Board of Trustees, the Board of Overseers, and the Board of Directors of the Alumni Association are eligible three years after their last term has been served.
2005 Alumnus of Merit Award Recipient
In 1939 Ashton (Ash) O'Donnell, upon graduation from Helena (Montana) High School, was a recipient of a four-year Pre-Professional Scholarship to Whitman College. Virginia (Gini) Graham, a 1939 graduate of Franklin High School in Seattle, was also awarded the same Whitman scholarship. It was in the fall of 1941 that they began their courtship and they were married in August 1943, following graduation.
With a degree in physics, Ash was employed on the Manhattan Project, initially at the University of California Radiation Laboratory in Berkeley and later in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where Gini was also employed on the Manhattan Project. From 1947 to 1954 he was with the United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in Richland, Washington and in San Francisco.
In 1954 Ash joined Stanford Research Institute (now SRI-International) in Menlo Park, California, as Manager of Nuclear Economics, later as Manager of Program Development. In 1961 he was appointed to the U. S. Diplomatic Service as Senior Scientific and Technical Advisor to the U. S. Mission to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria. In addition, he was President of the American International School (AIS). He and Gini and their four daughters — Sherry, Joan, Lynn and Jennifer* — enjoyed many wonderful international experiences.
Leaving the U. S. State Department position in 1964, Ash joined the Bechtel Group, Inc. in San Francisco and retired in 1986 as Vice President and Division Manager and as Director of Bechtel and Bechtel Investments, Inc.
Ash served on the Whitman Board of Trustees from 1982 to 1990, the last four years as Board Chair. Throughout the period, he lent his considerable leadership skills to Whitman. In 1997 he received an Honorary Doctor of Science degree from Whitman. He is now a Trustee Emeritus.
As life-long Northwesterners, Ash and Gini secured a stake in that region when, in 1968, they bought property in the Stanley-Sawtooth, Idaho area. A vacation home has served family and friends as a wonderful retreat when it is time to "get away from it all".
The O'Donnells have been generous donors to a variety of Whitman projects, including the renovation of Prentiss Hall and Lyman House. Speaking about their gifts to Whitman, Ash and Gini have said, "We were both privileged to attend Whitman College with the help provided by the Pre-Professional Scholarships offered for the first time in 1939. Our liberal arts education gave us a sound basis to cope with and to enjoy change. New opportunities were looked upon as a challenge, not a threat. The wide variety of cultures, people, languages, technologies and organizations that we, including our daughters, dealt with around the world made us appreciate the importance of a true liberal arts education."
It is with great pride that the Whitman College Alumni Association recognizes Ashton O'Donnell '43, as the recipient of the Alumnus of Merit Award for 2005.
*Daughters Sherry and Jennifer are Whitman alumni from the classes of 1968 and 1983, respectively. Sherry is married to Bob burns '68, son of Sandy and Pat Murphy Burns '41 and '42. Jennifer is married to R. Kenneth Conner '81. Ash and Gini have 6 grandchildren and one great-grandson.