2015 Alumni Achievement Awards

Four Western Illinois University alumni have been selected to receive the WIU Alumni Achievement Award at the Saturday, Dec. 19 Commencement exercises.

George O. Baughman ‘60, ‘67, former educator at Lewistown High School; Steven L. Nelson ‘70, attorney and shareholder with Califf and Harper, Moline, IL; John C. Passananti ‘75, founder and senior managing partner of Business Strategies Group of Illinois at AXA Advisors in Oak Brook (IL); and Michael J. Thomas MS ‘86, former director of athletics at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

George Baughman will be recognized at the 9:30 a.m. ceremony, while Nelson, Passananti and Thomas will be recognized at the 1 p.m. ceremony.

Western’s Alumni Achievement Award is given in recognition of outstanding contributions in one or more of the following: exceptional accomplishment in one’s chosen field of endeavor; exceptional service in community affairs at the local, state or national levels; or exceptional service in support of the advancement and continued excellence of WIU.

View Past Recipients

George O. Baughman

George Baughman , a 1960 education graduate and a 1967 education master’s degree graduate, retired after 37 years as a teacher, coach, administrator, adviser and class sponsor at Lewistown High School. Baughman has also taught at Spoon River College, worked at an accounting firm and owns (and formerly managed) a farm.

Over the years, he has served on numerous local and state boards including the Masonic Lodge, Western Illinois Business Teachers Association, the Illinois Education Association, is a 40-year member of the Secretary of State’s Antique Auto Show judging team and has served as a deacon at the Lewistown Presbyterian Church.

Baughman has also served on the alumni corporation board of Gamma Kappa Chapter. Baughman has been an avid supporter of WIU over the years, as well as of his fraternity, Delta Sigma Phi. As an alumnus, he has served as a member of the advisory board for the fraternity from 1960-66 and from 1997 until recently. He was named Greek Adviser of the Year in 2000. Baughman has also been a member of the WIU Alumni Council and is currently a member of Western’s Library Leadership Board.

Through a planned gift in his estate, he established the George Baughman Scholarship for the College of Business and Technology and in 2008 he increased his gift to support the Malpass Library and Alumni Programs. Baughman also continues to support athletics, the libraries, Performing Arts Society and scholarships annually.

He has not missed a WIU Homecoming except during WWII and continues to drive Homecoming royalty in the annual parade and has attended more than 100 alumni events. He is a member of the Antique Auto Club of America and serves as Master Judge, as well as has awards at both the state and national levels for best antique car.


Steve L. Nelson

Nelson Nelson , a 1970 history graduate, has been an attorney and shareholder with Califf and Harper in Moline (IL) specializing in civil and commercial litigation, banking and financial institutions, bankruptcy, workers’ compensation and real estate.

He has been admitted to practice in the states of Illinois and Iowa since 1977. He is a member of the Illinois and Iowa bar associations; is admitted to practice in the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois and the Southern District of Iowa, and the U.S. Bankruptcy Courts (Central, Northern and Southern districts of Illinois and the Southern and Northern Districts of Iowa).

Nelson has been an avid supporter of WIU throughout the years, both with his time and financially. In addition to annual gifts, he and his wife, Regina MS-Ed ’91, have a planned gift to WIU, are members of the Leatherneck Club, Western Illinois Now and the Performing Arts Society.

He served on the WIU Board of Trustees from 2006-11, including as chair from 2008-10. He has served on the WIU Foundation Board of Directors for over 19 years, currently serving as vice president and as president from 1999-01; serves on the WIU-Quad Cities Advisory Board and has served on the WIU Foundation’s Development Council. He taught business law as an adjunct professor at WIU-QC from 2000-03.

In his community, Nelson is a member of the City of Moline Project Management Team, the Alleman Catholic School Foundation, and the Seton Catholic School Foundation. He received his Doctorate of Jurisprudence from Drake University Law School.


John C. Passananti

Passananti Passananti, a 1975 physical education graduate, is the founder and senior managing partner of Business Strategies Group of Illinois at AXA Advisors in Oak Brook (IL), which helps business owners implement strategies to protect, preserve and pursue value from their business. He has more than 30 years of experience in the Financial Services Industry, and has achieved the American College, Charter Life Underwriter (CLU) designation.

After graduating from WIU, the two-time All American Offensive Guard was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. Passananti has been involved with WIU since his days playing football. He is a member of Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity (formerly Phi Sigma Epsilon) and remains an active alumnus of the fraternity. He was inducted into the WIU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1985 and was instrumental in organizing the inaugural All-Leatherneck Reunion.

Throughout the years, he has given back to WIU, both with his time and financially, supporting Alumni Programs, athletics and the President’s Scholarship.

In his community, Passananti is a Sustaining Board Member of the JDRF (diabetes research) of Chicago, past board member of The Mulliganeers (Giving Kids a Second Chance), a past board member of the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame, past president of The Society of Financial Services Professionals and a past member of The J. Kyle Braid Foundation (Teaching Teens to Take Lead).

Michael J. Thomas

Thomas Thomas , a 1986 sports management graduate program alumnus, served as the director of athletics at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, from 2011-15. Previously, he was the director of athletics for six years at the University of Cincinnati. He also served as director of athletics at the University of Akron and as associate athletic director at the University of Virginia.

At UI, he established the State Farm Center, a $170 million renovation project, which included the university signing a landmark 30-year, $60 million naming rights agreement with State Farm. It was the largest corporate naming rights deal for a college-only venue in the country.

Throughout his career, he has launched more than $325 million in facility construction and renovation; served on national and conference committees, including chairing numerous subcommittees; and he has twice received the General Robert R. Neyland Outstanding Athletics Director Award.

During his Illinois tenure, UI student-athletes increased their overall GPA from 3.05 to 3.25 and annually rank near the top in the Big Ten graduation rates; the Illini won Big Ten championships in all four men’s spring sports in 2015 for the first time since 1927; Fighting Illini athletics had its three highest fundraising totals ever in the past four years and the athletic programs performed over 7,000 hours of community service annually.

Thomas has also been supportive of Western over the years. He has hosted WIU guests at University of Illinois athletics events and has assisted in planning, hosting and recruiting for alumni and friends events, as well as speaking to the groups.

In his community he is involved in the Challenger Baseball League, and he and wife, Jeni, served as co-chairs of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children).