Every year, the Whitman Alumni Association Board of Directors honors three outstanding alumni and one faculty member with prestigious awards. In January, the association named Kris Nyrop ’79 the recipient of the Alumnus of Merit Award, the highest honor it bestows on an alumnus or alumna of the college, in recognition of excellence in his or her chosen field and service to the community and the college. Ned Lange ’56 received the Gordon Scribner Award for Distinguished Service in recognition of his major contribution of time and effort in support of the college over the course of many years. Joey Bristol ’01 earned the Pete Reid Award for Young Alumni for his outstanding performance in his career field, substantial commitment to serving others and significant commitment to the college. Don Snow received the Faculty Award for Service in honor of his distinguished work in strengthening ties between the college and alumni.
“HIV/AIDS prevention ... has always been much more than a career path.”
Kris Nyrop ’79 received the Alumnus of Merit Award for his work in the field of HIV/AIDS prevention and for his commitment to helping community members at risk of contracting HIV.
Nyrop has dedicated his life to social justice. He serves as program director of the Racial Disparity Project at the Defender Association, Seattle’s oldest and largest public defender’s office. But he said he happened upon activism by chance.
After graduating from Whitman, Nyrop lived in San Francisco when the first cases of mysterious deaths were reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the early 1980s.
“By the time I left San Francisco in 1983 to attend graduate school in Seattle, many, many gay men in San Francisco were dying from previously rare and, in some cases, almost unheard of diseases,” he said.
In 1986, Nyrop received his master’s in anthropology from the University of Washington. He was teaching an introduction to anthropology course at the university until a bicycle accident rendered him unable to work.
“While hobbling my way down Seattle’s Broadway on an August evening, I ran into a friend of mine from the anthropology department,” he said.
His friend worked as an ethnographer for the CDC, looking at the link between injection drug use and HIV/AIDS.
“The project he was working on sounded fascinating, and I needed work badly,” Nyrop said. “Timing, as they say, is everything.”
Within a year, he was working as a research associate for the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s National AIDS Demonstration Research Projects, conducting behavioral research to identify effective strategies in preventing the transmission of HIV/AIDS among injection drug users.
“This was applied anthropology at its finest as far as I was concerned,” he said.
While Nyrop conducted his research, friends continued to die from HIV/AIDS.
In the early 1990s, Nyrop helped found the Seattle-based nonprofit organization Street Outreach Services, a resource center providing referrals, counseling and day shelter for drug users, sex workers and other populations that have a high risk of contracting HIV. During this time, he served as a unit director at the Washington State Department of Health, and he also worked on the Mom’s Project, which was an experimental drug treatment program for pregnant women, and a needle exchange program aimed at combating the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C.
“HIV/AIDS prevention and all the work that followed from it was not a career path that I consciously chose,” Nyrop said. “I stumbled into it, and it has always been much more than a career path.”
In 2008, Nyrop returned to Whitman as an O’Donnell Visiting Educator, offering two interdisciplinary studies classes on the history of HIV/AIDS.
Nyrop said Whitman’s attitude toward HIV/AIDS has evolved along with the times, pointing to the recognition of David Nord ’83, who died of AIDS in 1999. Since 1996, the college has given the David Nord Award to students and faculty members whose research addresses critical issues facing the LBGTQ community.
“The college is engaging in the real and difficult and troublesome world. And that’s a worthy goal for a small liberal arts college,” Nyrop said.
“My entire life has involved Whitman ... I consider my work and social contact with Whitman friends a gift I can never repay.”
Ned Lange ’56 has served Whitman for 55 years. He is an Overseer Emeritus, a governing board member, a reunion chair and a class representative. He is the recipient of the Gordon Scribner Award for Distinguished Service in recognition of his years of leadership and support for the college.
Lange grew up in Walla Walla, scouring the Whitman campus for glass bottles to turn in for refund during World War II and playing on the obstacle course built for the Navy.
“My entire life has involved Whitman,” he said. “My home was on Alvarado, across the alley from the Phi Delt house, and the campus was my playground. My early memories of Whitman include my fascination with the Natural History Exhibits in the basement of Billings Hall, where my dad taught as an adjunct lecturer during the depression.”
Lange recalled visiting his sister, Beth Lange Kemmerer ’43, in her sorority section when he was seven years old.
“She would announce ‘man in section!’ as I entered,” he said.
At Whitman, Lange was student body president, business manager for The Pioneer, tour manager for his choir and a participant in Greek life and debate. He characterized these extracurricular experiences as “an integral part of the undergraduate education” and said the lessons he learned “proved invaluable in professional and civic activities.”
After graduation, Lange enrolled in law school at New York University as a Root-Tilden Scholar.
“When I arrived at NYU for law school, I was a bit intimidated by the academic institutions of national renown that my classmates had attended,” he said. “It was not too long before I realized that Whitman had prepared me as well or better than they.”
He later joined a law firm in Seattle, focusing primarily on banking law and consumer protection and regulation. He has served on several national banking and bar association committees and was named to the Consumer Advisory Council to the Federal Reserve in 1985, serving as chair in 1987.
“Throughout my career, both in professional practice, and in civic pursuits, the communication skills learned and practiced at Whitman have proved invaluable,” he said.
For Lange, Whitman runs in the family. He met his wife, Priscilla Alsip ’61, at a commencement ceremony in 1963, and the couple married seven months later. Their three children are Whitties: Alan Lange ’87, John Lange ’89 and Magill Lange ’98. And the list doesn’t stop there.
“Between Priscilla’s family and mine, 18 have attended Whitman, including our grandniece, Lucy Alsip Vollbrecht ’15,” Lange said. “She will graduate 100 years after my father graduated in 1915.”
Since retiring, Lange has continued to serve on boards and exhibit a passion for higher education. The Lange Community College Spark Scholarship Endowment was established last year to provide aid to students transferring to Whitman from Washington state community colleges, with a preference for underrepresented minority and first-generation students.
“I consider my work and social contact with Whitman friends a gift I can never repay,” he said.
“Whitman prepared me well ... Critical thinking, the ability to work on a team and flexibility – traits developed through the liberal arts teaching model – are all very useful here.”
Joey Bristol ’01 was selected to receive the Pete Reid Award for Young Alumni for his outstanding work in the Foreign Service.
Since graduating from Whitman with a degree in politics and environmental studies, Bristol has traveled all over the proverbial map, from working on environmental policy in China to organizing for the Obama campaign.
“I have enjoyed meeting groups of Whitties around the world,” he said. “Miles C. Moore Professor of Political Science Phil Brick and Director of Off-Campus Studies Susan Brick brought a group of Whitman students to China, and Grace Farnsworth Phillips Professor of Geology and Environmental Studies Bob Carson came to Bulgaria with another group of Whitman students in tow.”
For the last four years, Bristol has served as a diplomat with the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C., China and Afghanistan, where he currently works as a political-military officer at the U.S. Embassy.
Bristol spent a year learning Persian (Dari) language and learning about Afghan culture, history and politics after volunteering for the one-year tour of service in Kabul.
He credits Whitman in large part for his success in the diplomatic field.
“Whitman prepared me well,” he said. “Critical thinking, the ability to work on a team and flexibility – traits developed through the liberal arts teaching model – are all very useful here.”
As a student at Whitman, Bristol excelled at golf and skiing, and he worked in Residence Life as an SA and RA. During his senior year, Bristol collaborated with Phil Brick to write an essay about Native American involvement in the conservation movement.
“Professors Phil Brick, Timothy Kaufman-Osborn and Bob Carson all left meaningful impressions on me through coursework,” he recalled.
In Afghanistan, he oversees programs for weapons destruction, mine clearance and assistance for landmine victims.
“Who knew I would move from dealing with industrial policy and macroeconomics in China to sorting through humanitarian demining programs and learning how mine detection dogs are trained?” Bristol said.
His next posting will be as a line officer based out of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s office in Washington, D.C., but first he hopes to visit his alma mater.
“Receiving the award is an exciting and humbling surprise,” Bristol said.
“… I can tell you honestly that no other alumni are like the Whitman people. Our folks are fit, funny and feisty – ready to go, still interested in the world. Intrepid.”
Don Snow, senior lecturer of environmental humanities and general studies, said he was “astonished and delighted, in that order” to receive the Faculty Award for Service, which recognizes his dedication to strengthening the ties between the college and alumni.
Snow, a prolific author whose essays, stories and other writings have been published extensively, delights in leading alumni expeditions from Montana to Idaho to the San Juan Islands to Mount Rainier.
“It doesn’t take a whole lot to seduce me into an alumni trip,” he said. “Give me a paddle, a pair of boots – I’ll go anywhere.”
Snow joined the Whitman faculty in 2001 as a visiting professor of creative writing. He was drawn to the college after he gave a lecture here on the mythological meanings of salmon to Northwest fishing tribes. At the time, he was teaching at the University of Montana and running the magazine Northern Lights in Missoula.
“I knew virtually nothing about the college,” he said. “The lecture was really well-attended, which impressed me. Then afterward, two students came up to the podium to continue the discussion. When we parted ways a half-hour later, I knew I wanted to teach here.”
A Utah native who grew up hiking, hunting and fishing in the forests of western Pennsylvania, Colorado and Wyoming, he said the alumni trips inspire his writing outside the confines of the classroom.
“The outdoor trips for me are key,” he said. “The outdoors always enliven my imagination. Say, a Lewis and Clark trail trip – like the first alumni trip I ever did with Whitman. I get out there along the Missouri River, talking with the alumni about Lewis and Clark’s encounters with the Mandan, the Shoshone, the Blackfeet, and it’s like I’m right there in camp with Meriwether and William. People have to stop me from trying to kill a beaver.”
As for the alumni, he says he loves spending time with them during the trips and hearing their stories.
“I’ve done alumni trips for other colleges and universities, and I can tell you honestly that no other alumni are like the Whitman people,” he said. “Our folks are fit, funny and feisty – ready to go, still interested in the world. Intrepid.”
Reflecting on his time at Whitman, Snow said the college has been a wonderful place for him and his family, including daughter Tenly Snow ’06. He said he was speechless when he received this award for his work with alumni.
“It’s nearly impossible to express the gratitude and joy that come with this kind of recognition. Since I really can’t, I just go quiet. That’s rare for me.”
— by Gillian Frew ’11
The Whitman College Alumni Association annually recognizes alumni who exemplify outstanding achievement in their careers, communities or through service to the college. Your help is needed to identify alumni for the Alumna or Alumnus of Merit Award, the Gordon Scribner Award for Distinguished Service, the Pete Reid Award for Young Alumni and the Sally Rodgers Award for Lifelong Achievement (given every other year).
Criteria for each award and nomination forms are available online at whitman.edu/alumniawards. For more information, contact Nancy Mitchell, associate director of alumni relations, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (509) 527-5952 or (800) 835-9448, ext. 1.