COD Honors 2015 Distinguished Alumni

Distinguished Alumni image

By Brian Kleemann

The College of DuPage Foundation recently honored eight alumni for their outstanding achievements as part of the 2015 Distinguished Alumni Reception.

Honored for their accomplishments are Marco Benassi, Jolene Kremer, George Macht, Heather Miller, Mariam Pare, Ted Raspiller, Tony Venezia and Eileen Ward. Click here for photos from the reception and other activities during the day and click here to watch a video.

“All of us who work in higher education know intuitively that we are making a difference in people’s lives,” said Acting Interim President Dr. Joe Collins. “My congratulations to all of our honorees who make us proud to be at College of DuPage.”

As part of the award, each honoree meets with and nurtures the educational growth of students. For more information about the awards or to nominate someone for the 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award, visit

Marco Benassi, Speech, Class of 1983

Marco Benassi, COD speech professor and forensics coach, has inspired hundreds of students. He became academically engaged and found his purpose as a student at COD, leading him to complete a bachelor’s degree in Speech from Bradley University, a master’s degree in Journalism from The Ohio State University and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia College Chicago. Benassi began as a freelance writer for the Chicago Tribune’s Tempo, Friday and Travel sections and worked as a speech trainer at The Executive Technique before returning to teach at COD, where he was named the 2000-2001 Outstanding Faculty Member. He has served as an MBA instructor at Benedictine University and Keller Graduate School of Management. For contributions as a national champion speech coach and college speaker at COD and Bradley University, Benassi was inducted into the National Forensics Hall of Fame, the national intercollegiate organization that promotes excellence in speech and debate competition.

“My speech teacher at COD, Frank Tourangeau, instilled in me the idea that there was something inside of me and he saw it. He believed in me, and what he did for me helps me when I’m with my students,” he said. “Teaching speech is making your students realize who they are at their best.”

Jolene Kremer, Journalism, Class of 1978

The journalism skills Jolene Kremer honed at COD have taken her far. The former Courier student newspaper editor completed an Associate in Arts degree at COD and a bachelor’s degree in Journalism at Northern Illinois University. She worked for more than 20 years as an award-winning reporter and editor at various northern and central Illinois newspapers. Then Kremer took her talents in a new direction, serving as creative services editor at Learning Point Associates and superintendent of marketing and communications for the Fox Valley Park District, where she garnered the top marketing award from the National Recreation and Park Association. Currently, Kremer is the PR, communications and marketing director at the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, where she led the effort to launch a national award-winning branding campaign, new website design and the Society’s first-ever Annual Reports, earning numerous honors for her work.

“When I was in high school, the first week of my junior year I took a journalism class, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I also knew I needed a bachelor’s degree. But my parents did not go to college, and I knew I had to find my own way. College of DuPage was the best choice for me,” she said. “I took every course I could – microeconomics, macroeconomics, world politics – whatever I needed to become a good journalist.”

George Macht, Culinary, Class of 1970

Not everyone has a kitchen named in their honor – but George Macht does. His name is synonymous with the COD Culinary program and its success. Macht began as a COD student, earning an associate degree in Foodservice Administration before transferring to the University of Wisconsin, where he completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He returned to COD in 1976, teaching culinary classes in a converted biology lab. Macht devoted more than 30 years to teaching and even met his wife, Vivian, at COD. Macht expanded the program, which moved into the Student Resource Center, allowing students to develop their skills in larger kitchens, the Escoffier Dining Room and the Culinary Market. He chaired the task force to raise funds for the program’s current home in the Culinary & Hospitality Center. Macht spearheaded a culinary training program in Italy’s Tuscany region and continued to lead classes abroad each spring until he retired from full-time teaching in 2008.

“If it were not for COD, I never would have gone on to each for 30 years at COD,” he said. “I told my students to look to their left and look to their right and see this network of people who will help you with your career for the rest of your life.”

Heather Miller, Nursing, Class of 1999

As a nurse, Heather Miller understands the challenges cancer patients face. Her mother battled cancer for many years, and as a youngster Miller, the oldest of five children, stepped up to help in every way she could. This life-changing turn led Miller to her life’s passions – treating cancer patients with dignity, providing opportunities for quality health care, designing award-winning cancer treatment centers, mentoring other health professionals, and being active in her community. Miller is the regional director of cancer services at Broward Health in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and an experienced pediatric oncology nurse and manager. Miller completed her associate degree in Nursing and Applied Science at COD, her bachelor’s degree in Nursing at Florida International University and her master’s degree in Nursing Administration at Indiana State University. A mother of two young children, Miller serves on the board of the American Cancer Society and Gilda’s Club, a free cancer support community, and is involved in numerous community events that benefit children with cancer.

“I was welcomed at College of DuPage with open arms,” she said. “I was fortunate to get my nursing foundation at COD. I had professor who looked beyond the classroom and wanted to know what my drive and passion were. Just know this place is exceptional and will cultivate health care leaders of the future.”

Mariam Paré, Arts, 1999

Artist Mariam Paré proves each day that creativity knows no bounds. Not even a gunshot wound that left her paralyzed would keep her from pursuing her passion. Paré was a 20-year-old art history major when the tragic shooting occurred on that fateful day in 1996—a day that changed the course, but not the direction, of her life. Following extensive rehabilitation, she enrolled at COD to continue her art studies, earning two associate degrees in Graphic Design and Web Design in 2003, while beginning a degree in fine art. Today, Paré is a visual artist known for her mouth paintings made in association with Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (MFPA). Her work is exhibited nationally and internationally as well as in private collections. She continues to inspire people with her amazing artistic ability and message of perseverance. Over the past 10 years, she has shared her message with audiences all over the world through TV appearances, interviews, news segments and in print publications.

Ted Raspiller, Ed.D., Business, 1988

Ted Raspiller believes community college can be a life-changing experience – as it was for him. The president of Virginia’s John Tyler Community College attributes his success, in part, to his own experience as a COD student. Raspiller grew up the son of two educators. He graduated high school a year early, began college courses at Northern Illinois University, but decided to enter the workforce at the end of his freshman year. Three years later, Raspiller returned to college, this time enrolling in classes at COD, ready to continue his education. He earned an associate degree from COD, a bachelor’s degree from Governors State University, and a master’s and doctorate from NIU. Raspiller took on the top job at John Tyler Community College two years ago, bringing more than two decades of experience in higher education, including teaching, leadership and administration, workforce development, fundraising and counseling. He also served as a mentor to future leaders, heading up Old Dominion University’s Community College Leadership Doctorate Program.

“College of DuPage changed my life,” he said. “For the first time, I had teachers who cared about me. I wasn’t in lecture hall with 300 students. Instead, my teachers knew me – and I remembered them.” 

Tony Venezia, Animation, 1972

Tony Venezia is a Hollywood star in his own right. His special visual effects has been featured in commercials, television and blockbuster films, including “Twister,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” “Total Recall” and “When a Man Loves a Woman.” He launched his notable career studying animation at COD. He completed his bachelor’s degree in Filmmaking at Illinois State University before heading west, to the University of California in Los Angeles, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts in Animation. Venezia worked on the West Coast for 23 years and spent 15 years as co-founder of Electric Filmworks Inc., a company that specialized in creating and producing digital film optical effects, motion graphics, motion-control model shots and second-unit photography. He also taught at California Institute of the Arts, UCLA, Columbia College and Illinois Institute of Art. A professor in COD’s Motion Picture/Television program since 2005, Venezia initiated COD’s Associate in Applied Science degree in Animation. He also runs Venezia Arts and Design in Wheaton.

“As a kid, I had a dream of working in Hollywood. But when I first entered COD, I was a lost soul,” he said. “College of DuPage helped me find my way. Even in 1970, COD offered some of the most innovative classes in the state if not the country. I wasn’t used to people believing in me in this way, and I felt I could not let them down.”

Eileen Ward, Humanities, 1975

Eileen Ward, who graduated magna cum laude from Fordham University, moved to Illinois in 1973 with her husband, Tom, where they raised two sons and pursued their respective careers. Ward began teaching liberal arts courses at COD in 1975. In addition, she served on the formation committee for COD’s Older Adult Institute and taught in that program for 18 years. Ward team-taught in English Language Community, a program combining English composition courses and social science courses for non-native speakers of English. Beyond the classroom, she coordinated humanities offerings delivered non-traditionally through the Learning Lab and led travel/study courses to Ireland, Canada, Greece, and other national and international destinations. She was named COD’s 1997-98 Outstanding Faculty Member, the same year she retired, after more than two decades of teaching at COD. Some of her students chose to honor her by establishing a scholarship in her name. The fund that supports six textbook scholarships annually continues today to assist students with the expenses of a college education.

“I took many courses taught by my colleagues at College of DuPage where I came to understand and absorb the uniqueness of the community college experience,” she said. “There were no categorical limitations on who could study here.”