Top Grads

Alumni Society - Top Grads - Summer 2010

While storms raged outside Swasey Chapel on the first night of Reunion 2010, hundreds of former students gathered inside for the annual Alumni Convocation, during which nine graduates received the Alumni Citation. The award, given on stage by President Dale Knobel, recognizes graduates who have achieved the highest levels of leadership in their fields through contributions to their professions, their communities, and to Denison itself. Have a look at this year’s recipients, and see why they have earned the highest award bestowed upon a graduate by the college.

James M. Petro ‘70

Other education: J.D., Case Western Reserve University; Honorary Doctorate of Public Administration, Denison University; University of Toledo.

Current gig: Attorney and managing partner of the Columbus office of Roetzel & Andress.

Past gigs: Admitted to the Ohio Bar in 1973, Petro practiced law in Cleveland until 1994. He constantly was engaged in public service: prosecuting attorney in Rocky River (a Cleveland suburb) and Franklin County, city law director in Rocky River, four terms in the Ohio House of Representatives, county commissioner for Cuyahoga County, and assistant law director for Cleveland. In 1995 he was elected as Ohio auditor of state and continued his statewide service with his election as attorney general of Ohio. He retired from state office in January 2007.

Pro bono: Beginning in 2007, Petro focused on the Innocence Project, a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and to reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. More than 250 people have been successfully exonerated nation- wide, including 17 who had served time on death row. This experience with innocence-related cases, as well as his reform efforts as attorney general, is the subject of False Justice, the book Petro co-authored with his wife Nancy Bero Petro ‘70. It will be published in September 2010.

Interesting tidbit: In 2005, Petro personally argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, becoming the first Ohio attorney general to do so in nearly 40 years.

David T. Abbott ‘74

Other education: M.S., Columbia University, J.D. Harvard University. Current gig: Husband to citation winner, Jan Lee Roller ‘76, and executive director of the Cleveland-based George Gund Foundation. The group– Ohio’s largest private foundation– works with philanthropies including Northeast Ohio nonprofits serving education, community development, the arts and the environment.

Hello, Cleveland!: Three years as a reporter for The Cleveland Plain Dealer was enough to establish Abbott’s love of the city. After earning his law degree in 1982, he returned to Cleveland and worked for more than 10 years in county government, serving eight as the county administrator. From 1993-97, Abbott was the executive director of the Cleveland Bicentennial Commission, leading a multi-million dollar celebration, including major events such as the dramatic lighting of downtown bridges and the opening of the Great Lakes Science Center. At the bicentennial’s conclusion, Abbott spent some time as director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum before going on to serve as president of University Circle Inc. The mission of this organization is to improve the University Circle neighborhood–home to the Cleveland Museum of Art, Case Western Reserve University, the Western Reserve Historical Society, and University Hospitals–recognized by many as the cultural, educational and health care center of Cleveland.

James D. Parsons ‘74

Other education: J.D., University of Chicago. Current gig: President of The Brinson Foundation in Chicago, Ill., whose mission is to support educational, public health and scientific research programs. The foundation currently funds more than 100 grantees across the country and is a loyal supporter of the Chicago branch of the Posse Foundation, an organization that connects outstanding inner-city high school students to colleges and universities. Posse’s long and successful association with Denison began during Parsons’ tenure on the Board of Trustees.

Setting the bar: Having joined Gardner Carton & Douglas out of law school, Parsons focused his legal practice in the areas of corporate finance and securities law. He became a partner in 1984 and moved up to managing partner in 1991. When his term as man- aging partner ended in 2004, Parsons passed on returning to law full time and instead moved into the world of nonprofit work, where he assumed the presidency of The Brinson Foundation.

Joseph I. Banner ‘75

Current gig: President and CEO of the Philadelphia. Serving as COO, then VP/COO, then Eagles president, Banner has overseen the creation and execution of every department of the organization over the last 16 years.

Youth oriented: Banner formed the nationally acclaimed Eagles Youth Partnership, which has touched the lives of millions of local young people. Along with the EYP, Banner created the opportunity for youth to strengthen their community by playing an integral role in bringing to Philadelphia the City Year Urban Youth Corps, which offers a wide range of volunteer service programs. Banner served as the co-chair of the Philadelphia City Year board of directors, was elected to its national board of trustees, and chaired its National Leadership Committee.

Think Pink: Under his leadership, the Eagles Tackling Breast Cancer campaign has raised more than $1 million for breast-cancer awareness, patient care and research in the Philadelphia area by selling pink merchandise adorned with the Eagles logo.

Chris Noel Bradshaw ‘75

Current gig: Founder and President of the African Library Project in Portola Valley, Cal. Out of Africa: A junior year spent studying in the Sierra Leone was what it took to open Bradshaw’s eyes to the overwhelming poverty and conditions that some African people endure. But it wasn’t until 2004, while on a pony trekking trip in Lesotho with her family, that she realized what she could do to help. When Bradshaw’s son asked a question about the presence of libraries in the country, the guide replied that there might be one in the capital. Bradshaw was struck by his response, and thus began the African Library Project.

Driven: Using local book drives in schools and churches in her California community, Bradshaw and her business partner, a Peace Corps volunteer and retired librarian, created four libraries and instituted a bookmobile “donkey library” in the valley she had traveled on horseback. After the African Library Project went online in 2005, book drives expanded across the U.S. to Canada and Puerto Rico. A board of directors also was formed to maximize the project’s potential. With 500 libraries now established in eight African countries, Bradshaw is well on her way to realizing her vision of thousands of libraries across sub-Saharan Africa.

Bradley D. Blum ‘76

Other education: M.B.A., Northwestern University.

Current gig: Blum is the CEO of Romano’s Macaroni Grill, a premier Italian Mediterranean brand in the casual dining industry. Since taking over in 2008, Blum led the company (headquartered in Dallas, Texas) in transforming its food, creating a menu inspired by the fresh and simple Mediterranean diet and way of cooking.

Expertise: Blum also runs a company, Blum Enterprises LLC, which he formed in 2005. The goal of Blum Enterprises is to enhance the brands of already established restaurants and increase business performance. It also develops and operates new restaurant brands.

Claim to fame: Blum began working for General Mills in 1978, specifically with the Big “G” cereal division, leading brands such as Cheerios and Wheaties and creating Cinnamon Toast Crunch. In 1994 he joined Darden Restaurants, the largest casual dining restaurant company in the world and the parent of Olive Garden and Red Lobster. Serving as Olive Garden’s president until 2002, Blum was the driving force behind the successful turnaround of the chain, which saw an increase in operating profits of 600 percent. He also created Olive Garden’s Culinary Institute of Tuscany in Italy. In 2002, he became the CEO of Burger King. Speed Demon: An accomplished race car driver, Blum placed in the top 10 in the 2005 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

Jan Lee Roller ‘76

Other education: J.D., Case Western Reserve University.

Current gig: While maintaining a full-time practice of law as a partner with the Cleveland firm Davis & Young, Roller remains actively involved with several nonprofit and civic organizations. She is president of the board of the Cleveland City Club, the oldest continuous free speech forum in the country, and is a frequent speaker on trial tactics.

Past gigs: Roller, who happens to be married to another citation winner, David Abbott ‘74, has been president of the boards of the Cleveland Bar Foundation, Near West Theatre, Urban Community School, and Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry. She is the founder of the Ohio Democratic Women’s Caucus and City Year Cleveland and was named an “Ohio Super Lawyer” in insurance defense and personal injury in 2010.

Susan V. Booth ‘85

Other education: M.A., Northwestern University.

Current gig: After honing her theatre skills for more than a decade, Booth became artistic director with the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Ga. A mere six years of work there found her onstage at Radio City Music Hall accepting a Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theater. Having initiated the Collision Project for teens and the Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Competition, she created local production partnerships with more than 10 theatre companies, and oversees regional collaboration with five other theatres. Outside the Alliance, Booth is president of the board of directors for Theatre Communications Group, co-chairs Atlanta’s One Book, One Community program, and serves on the board of the Metro Atlanta Arts and Culture Coalition. Claim to fame: Three plays have been launched on Broadway by Booth’s commercial collaborations: The Color Purple, The Last Night of Ballyhoo, and Elton John’s Aida. In house, she has directed Proof, Doubt, Day of the Kings, Intimate Apparel, Jacques Brel, Bluish and Frame 312.

William H.L. Thomas ‘85

Current gig: When Thomas happened across the perfect pair of khakis in 1984, he saw his chance to save a for- gotten bit of Americana. He borrowed some money and discovered a factory where he could reproduce 250 pairs of pants, which he sold out of the trunk of his car until 1989. He moved back to his hometown of Reading, Pa., and launched Bills Khakis, which he once called, “the quintessential American company.” From a small startup business in 1990 to grossing multimillion dollar sales, the Bills Khakis brand is now sold in more 500 men’s specialty shops across the nation, and Thomas is the company’s CEO.

Name drops: Bill Gates, Bill Clinton and Bill Bradley are just three of many Bills who wear these khakis. Additionally, GQ dubbed them, “the pants of the gods.”

Published June 2010