Trustee and distinguished alumnus Tom Higgins and the late Richard Bittner, a former trustee, community philanthropist and longtime SAU supporter, will be honored with the McMullen Award following a 10:30 a.m. Mass in celebration of the Feast of Saint Ambrose at Christ the King Chapel on Sunday, Dec. 6.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, seating at Mass is limited and Mass safety protocols will be followed. A live stream of the liturgy and award ceremony will be made available on the Special Events page 3o minutes prior to Mass.
The Most Rev. Thomas Zinkula, JD, JCL, Bishop of the Diocese of Davenport, and chair of the St. Ambrose University Board of Trustees, will preside. Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, PhD, will confer the awards for the final time in her tenure as president of St. Ambrose. Sister Joan will retire in August 2021.
Jeff Bittner will accept the award on behalf of his later father.
Named in honor of university founder Bishop John McMullen, the McMullen Awards are presented annually to individuals who embody St. Ambrose University's mission of enriching the lives of others.
Higgins, a 1967 St. Ambrose graduate, is the founding donor for the Institute for Person-Centered Care at St. Ambrose and the Master of Public Health degree program. His passion for investing social justice into health care began shortly after his graduation, with the founding of a drug crisis intervention clinic in downtown Davenport and, a few years later, as the U.S. Welfare Commissioner and a senior White House staff member in the Carter Administration.
Higgins is the founding CEO and chairman of Prosetta Biosciences and a leading proponent of the person-centered approach to health care that empowers individuals and their families to direct the work of teams of health and human service providers to serve individual needs and values.
Richard "Dick" Bittner was an attorney, entrepreneur, and philanthropist who served as CEO of the Bechtel Trust from 1987 until his death in 2019. Under his guidance, local organizations received tens of millions of dollars in support of the arts, education, and scientific research.
Over the years, St. Ambrose received more than $6 million in support from the Bechtel Trust. Dick also served as university trustee for 16 years.
For full biographies on the 2020 McMullen Award honorees, read below.
Richard "Dick" Bittner
Ambrosians are dedicated to enriching their lives to others. While Richard "Dick" Bittner may not have earned his degree from St. Ambrose, he could not have been more "Ambrosian."
From the outside, some may have described him as stern. However, those closest to him, including his wife Joan and his children knew better. He was a sensitive, caring man with a heart of gold and a dedication to making a difference in his community.
But making a difference doesn't begin to describe Dick's impact on the Quad City community. In addition to his successful career as an attorney, this entrepreneur and philanthropist served as CEO of the Bechtel Trust from 1987 until his death in 2019. Marie and Harold Bechtel were not family, but Dick ensured the legacy they created to honor their only child was fully realized, just as if it had been his own child. Their legacy became his legacy as he guided the trust's mission of serving children, the arts, education and scientific research in the Quad Cities community. Under his guidance, local organizations received tens of millions of dollars to enrich the lives of those in the Quad City community.
Dick's contributions, however, were not only in the form of dollars, but in his time as well. He served as a St. Ambrose trustee for 16 years and contributed over $6 million to the university through the Bechtel Trust. Then President Dr. Edward Rogalski offered him an honorary doctorate for his service and commitment, an honor befitting the institution's largest cumulative donor. Dick refused. His generosity and acts of kindness were not about earning praise for himself; they were about supporting young people and doing good.
It takes a special individual to dedicate one's life to ensuring a legacy and shunning credit, but the Quad Cities community is a better place because of individuals like these. The Quad Cities is a better place because of Dick Bittner.
Tom Higgins '67
Tom Higgins is a man on a mission, which aligns perfectly with that of his alma mater - improving educational opportunity, advancing social justice and aiding the underserved. That has been the hallmark of his career, ever since graduating from St. Ambrose as student body president. What followed was an impressive career with a litany of extraordinary achievements. He was elected three times as member of the Iowa General Assembly, appointed as the US Welfare Commissioner, and served on the White House Senior Staff as Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet of President Carter. He finished his public career as head of the Department of Human Services in Portland, Oregon.
As a social entrepreneur, he was the founding publisher of the Portland Business Journal and the co-founder and editor-in-chief of HealthWeek Publications. As a business executive, he was senior vice president of Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Maryland, and senior vice president of Southern California Edison and Edison International. Following that, he became the President of Business for Social Responsibility, a global non-profit organization that improves business performance in labor and the environment.
He gives back to the community through service on numerous boards, including Human Rights Watch, the SCAN Foundation and the 3rd St. Clinic. He is the founding CEO and chairman of the board of Prosetta Biosciences, where he continues a lifelong commitment to innovative solutions for better healthcare. As a trustee of the university, he took the opportunity in 2018 to meld his passion for social justice, healthcare, and his alma mater.
Through a $1 million gift, Tom conceived of and founded the Institute for Person Centered Care (IPCC) and Master of Public Health degree program. The IPCC, which empowers individuals and families to work with their health care providers to best serve the patient's wants, needs and values, brought Tom's mission and passion together. It aligns his long-held interest in re-imagining healthcare and social services with his alma mater's growing reputation as a premier provider of health and human services education. And that is quite a legacy to leave.
Past McMullen Award Recipients
2006 - Donald '51, MD, and Mary Jo Heming, William '49, MD, and Eda '81 Hofmann, Leo Kilfoy '51, PhD, I. Weir and Pat Sears, Joseph Walton '50, Rev. Edward Catich '34, '77 (Hon.) (posthumously)
2007 - Jane Folwell '01 (Hon.), Robert "Bob" Kelly '57, Rev. George McDaniel, PhD, '86, Rev. Msgr. Marvin Mottet `52 and Walter Neiswanger `48 (posthumously)
2008 - Don and Jerri Moeller and James `59 and Elaine Malay
2010 - James `56 and Mary Hagen, Ray `53 and Jill McLaughlin and the Most Rev William Franklin
2011 - Rev. William Dawson `50, Rev. Edmund Dunn `58 and Dimitri and Kathy `94 Papageorgiou
2012 - John and Patricia Bush and Richard Geiger
2013 - Edward '64 and Lynne (posthumously) Henkhaus and Mary Joy Allert Feeney
2014 - Joe '72 and Joyce O'Rourke and John '58 & Helen '57 Morrissey
2015 - Msgr. John Hyland '64, Karen and Jim Collins '69, '16 (Hon.)
2016 - Bernie Hardiek and Dr. Thomas and Mary Ann Stoffel
2017 - Daniel Broderick '82 and Thomas J. Mnich and Rev. Drake R. Shafer ‘69
2018 - Joanne and Jef '70 Heckinger and Drs. Bea and Paul Jacobson
2019 - Rev. Robert McAleer '67 and Thomas A. Sunderbruch ‘61