Alumni

2014 Alumni Achievement Awards

Five Western Illinois University alumni have been selected to receive the WIU Alumni Achievement Award at the Saturday, Dec. 20 Commencement exercises.

This year’s Alumni Achievement recipients are Kristin L. Andress ’89, CEO of Andress Consulting in Solana Beach, CA and bestselling co-author of the book, “Imagine Being In a Life You Love;” Richard M. Beuke ’77, founding partner of Beuke and Beuke Attorneys at Law in Clarendon Hills, IL; Matthew A. Bills ’99, principal  with Grippo & Elden LLC in Chicago; Nick Padgett ’88, co-founder of Frontaura Capital LLC in Chicago; and Tom Stalf ’92, president and CEO of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

Bills, Padgett and Stalf will be recognized at the 9:30 a.m. ceremony, while Andress and Beuke 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


Kristin L. Andress

Kristin Andress

Andress, a 1989 WIU mass communications graduate, founded Andress Consulting in 2003. Her firm provides strategic planning, marketing and communication solutions to corporations and thought leaders. She serves as a strategic consult to Stedman Graham, CEO of S. Graham & Associates, a management consulting firm that specializes in corporate and educational markets. She is president of Legacy Wisdom, with the mission to impart the collective wisdom of leaders who have learned, earned and served, as a legacy to the Millennial generation. She is a partner in the companies, RealizeX and Varsity Quad, which focus on personal leadership and education. Andress began her career at Arthur Andersen. She fast-tracked to a leadership position, and before age 30, she managed a multimillion dollar budget, led a team of 52 in the United States and oversaw teams in England and in Asia. Andress earned a Master of Arts degree from the University of Missouri.

In her community, she is active in promoting animal rights and participates in supporting social responsibility. Andress is writing her next book, “The Economics of Goodness,” and will be traveling to Africa and the Middle East to combine her business skills with her profound curiosity to see how disparate parts of a business or a community can come together in scale and through innovation. At her alma mater, she has served as the keynote speaker at Parent’s Weekend, and recently returned to speak to students and give the keynote address as part of College of Business and Technology Week, sharing her experiences and offering tips on designing life rather than leaving it to chance.

During her time at Western, Andress served as president of Alpha Sigma Tau sorority and as vice president of the PanHellenic Council. She received the awards of President of the Year and Greek Woman of the Year. She was on the cabinet of the Student Government Association, and a member of the Student Alumni Council, Phi Kappa Phi, Order of Omega, was a contributing writer to the Western Courier and graduated with honors. Andress is the daughter of Sandy Henry and Richard Andress.

Richard M. Beuke

Richard Beuke

Beuke, a 1977 marketing graduate, is the founding partner of Richard Beuke and Associates PC (now Beuke and Beuke Attorneys at Law). He has served as an attorney in the Chicago-area for 33 years, and has been practicing criminal law since his admission to the Illinois Bar in 1980. After graduating from IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, Beuke joined the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. A skilled litigator, he rose swiftly through the ranks during his eight years there, eventually becoming one of the head prosecutors in the Gang Prosecution Unit, where he learned a great deal about how the police gather evidence and how prosecutors build cases against defendants. He tried over 60 murder trials to a jury verdict, earning the respect of countless judges, fellow prosecutors and the top criminal defense lawyers in the state.

Beuke, who began his career as a criminal defense attorney in 1988, has tried cases nationwide and has represented hundreds of clients on the wide spectrum of criminal charges from traffic offenses to homicide. He has defended a number of high profile clients in Illinois and nationally, such as the Hinsdale Police Department, Railroad Policeman and Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge. Beuke has appeared several times on Chicago news stations serving as an expert and consultant.

Beuke has been extremely supportive of his alma mater and is an active member of the WIU Alumni Association. He has hosted and attended many University and alumni events over the years, and has provided financial support to several areas including the Alumni Association, athletics and scholarships.

In his community, Beuke has served on numerous committees and has joined with several local law enforcement agencies to develop programs to ensure and enhance relationships between the police and the citizens they serve and protect. Over the years, he has taken several pro bono cases to represent those who are unable to afford legal services. Beuke has been actively involved with a number of inner-city social and church organizations to promote social and athletic programs keeping the youth of those communities on a positive path.   

During his time at Western, he was a member of Phi Sigma Epsilon fraternity and was active in many student activities.

He has been married to his wife, Re, for 32 years and they have three sons, PJ, Matt and Rick Jr. After graduating from John Marshall Law School, PJ took a position with the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office. He soon realized that his true passion was to partner with his father in his practice, and together they formed Beuke & Beuke. It gives Rick immense pride having a day in, day out partnership with his son. Matt has been with Northwestern Memorial Hospital for 3 years and Ricky currently attends Illinois State University, majoring in Criminal Justice.

Matthew A. Bills

Matthew Bills

Bills, a 1999 management graduate, is a principal at the Chicago law firm of Grippo & Elden LLC, where he represents companies and individuals in complex business litigation nationwide. He became a partner at Grippo & Elden in 2010 and regularly represents clients in a variety of high stakes commercial disputes involving breach of contract, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, non-competes, post-closing disputes, and insurance coverage. In addition, Bills regularly consults, speaks, and writes on a variety of electronic discovery issues. He is a member of the Seventh Circuit Electronic Discovery Pilot Program Committee and serves as chair of his firm’s Electronic Discovery Resource Group. He also represents clients in pro bono matters. Bills has been named an “Illinois Rising Star” every year since 2011. In 2013, Bills was profiled as one of “40 Illinois Attorneys Under Forty to Watch.”

Following law school, Bills worked as a law clerk to the Honorable James F. Holderman on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Bills then entered private practice as an attorney at Winston & Strawn LLP in Chicago. He is a 2002 University of Illinois College of Law graduate. In law school, Bills was on the editorial board of the University of Illinois Law Review, a member of the trial team and graduated summa cum laude, Order of the Coif.

Bills has continued to serve his alma mater since graduation, regularly attending WIU and alumni events, serving two terms on the WIU Alumni Council, delivering the 2012 keynote address at the Centennial Honors College Pre-Law Symposium and providing financial support to many areas, including the Alumni Association, University Housing and Dining, the Centennial Honors College, the College of Business and Technology, the Department of Management, Student Activities and the University Union.

While at WIU, Bills was the Student Government Association president for three years, the College of Business and Technology and the Department of Management Outstanding Senior, recipient of the William E. Brattain Outstanding Student Leader Award and served on the Western Courier staff, as a Student Orientation Team leader, and as a member of Phi Eta Sigma, Phi Kappa Phi, Beta Gamma Sigma, and Sigma Iota Epsilon. In addition, he was an officer of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. He was also a Lincoln Academy of Illinois Student Laureate, the 1998 Student Convocation Speaker and graduated summa cum laude.

Nick Padgett

Nick Padgett

Padgett, a 1988 computer science graduate, with minors in finance and math, co-founded Frontaura Capital LLC in July 2007 after researching and visiting Africa’s frontier companies and stock exchanges. Since its founding, Frontaura has established itself as one of the world’s best performing global frontier market funds. Frontaura was conceived while Padgett was on a two-year sabbatical, which culminated in a 65-country trip around-the-world honeymoon with his wife. Previously, he was involved with Inforte Corp., a global technology-consulting firm. He provided the seed money for the 1993 founding of the business, served as a member of its board of directors and was one of its largest shareholders.  Padgett joined the company full-time in 1997 as its chief financial officer, a job he held through 2003. He coordinated the company’s initial public offering in 2000. Prior to its IPO, Inforte placed 14th on the Inc. 500 list of fastest American growing companies in 1999. Prior to Inforte, Padgett worked as a research analyst at investment bank William Blair & Company, covering technology stocks from 1994 through 1997.

The American Business Awards named Padgett as Financial Executive of the Year in 2003, highlighting his ability to accurately forecast revenue, manage costs and meet earnings guidance in an environment that bankrupted many direct competitors. He graduated in 1994 with an MBA from The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. Prior to business school, he worked as a consultant for Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), with assignments in Chicago, London and Manila. He has held the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation since 1997.

Over the years, Padgett has supported Western in many ways. He currently serves on President Thomas’ National Advisory Council, the College of Business and Technology (CBT) National Advisory Board and was named the 2012 College of Business and Technology Distinguished Alumnus. In addition, he has sponsored a scholarship in computer science for 20 years, and has provided funding and donations to many areas, including the CBT and the Malpass Library.

While at WIU, he was a member of the Student Government Association, the Student Orientation Board and worked at WIUM-FM, WIUS-FM and what is now Administrative Information Management Systems. He was co-valedictorian, graduating summa cum laude with a 4.0 grade point average. Padgett’s travel pursuits have earned him membership in the Travelers’ Century Club, for visiting 100 countries, and the Circumnavigators Club, for traveling around the world.  He is also a member of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Tom Stalf

Tom Stalf

Stalf, a 1992 biological sciences graduate, has served as president and CEO of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium since February 2013. The zoo employs 2,000 people, earns $76 million in annual revenue and has a $240 million economic impact each year. It is home to more than 10,000 animals, and includes a 22-acre water park, an 18-hole golf club, a 10,000 acre conservation center and safari park. The zoo recently completed the largest expansion in history, the Heart of Africa, where a soybean field was turned into a savanna. Previously, he served as interim CEO, chief operations officer and senior vice president of operations at the zoo. Prior to moving to Ohio in 2010, Stalf was the zoo director at Niabi Zoo in the Quad Cities for 15 years. When he became director at Niabi, he was youngest individual ever named to a zoo director’s position. It was also during that time with Niabi that Stalf began traveling with famed zookeeper Jack Hanna, presenting educational programs and zoo promotions, and making television appearances, across the U.S.

In addition to his work at the Columbus Zoo, Stalf speaks on behalf of state and federal legislation that impacts wildlife and makes it a priority to educate communities about the welfare and conservation of animals and wildlife protection. He is a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, serving as an accreditation mentor and on the government affairs committee.

Stalf has hosted WIU events at Niabi and Columbus zoos, and has returned to campus to speak to students about his career.