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Tacoma Community College » Alumni & Friends » Distinguished Alumni

Distinguished Alumni

In 2006, the Tacoma Community College Foundation began celebrating the accomplishments of Alumni who have demonstrated the highest level of professional achievement and service to the community.  

If you would like to nominate someone for the Distinguished Alumni award, fill out the nomination form. You may also submit any additional materials such as a resume, news articles, brief letters of support from a nominee’s colleagues, and other materials.

2006 - John Hall2012 - Dave Burmark 
2007 - Brian Sonntag2013 - Connie Ladenburg 
2008 - Fred Stabbert2014 - James Curtis & Chris Anderson 
2009 - Jim Walton2015 - Ali Criss & Vernelda Savoy 
2010 - Ed Troyer2016 - Andre Stout 
2011 - Dr. Walter Nolte  


photo of connie ladenburg2016 Andre Stout

When he decided to launch a second career as an educator, youth basketball coach Andre Stout came to TCC. He earned his Associates Degree at the college in 1998, his Bachelor of Arts at the University of Washington Tacoma in 2002 and his Master’s in Education at the University of Washington Tacoma in 2009. He is currently the principal at Pioneer Middle School in Steilacoom, Washington.

Now, Stout has been named TCC’s 2016 Distinguished Alumnus. A committed educator, Stout taught for years before coming a school administrator. He also served as a basketball coach, and successfully integrated the value of education with his coaching.

As a basketball coach, he required his team to spend the first hour of practice reading to their coaches and each other, a practice that significantly increased the athletes’ reading levels.

“He kept emphasizing that basketball is just for a short while, but learning will carry you through the rest of your life,” said the late Pastor Dick Foege, whose grandson was among the many youth Stout’s mentoring positively impacted.

Pastor Foege was so impressed with Stout’s tenacity and persistent insistence that all youth receive an education that he founded a TCC Foundation scholarship in Stout’s name. Stout attended many TCC Foundation scholarship events with Pastor and Ms. Foege.

After teaching for a number of years, Stout decided to become a school administrator. He is credited with designing and implementing a reading fluency program that has been adopted by the Boys and Girls Club of America. Stout was recently featured in an article in the Spring 2011 edition of Principal News, the Washington Association of School Principal’s journal.

The article, “The Phoenix Club,” focuses on a mentoring program he began at Steilacoom High School for “turnaround students.” In the program, teachers and other staff members closely follow the progress of identified students and assist them with their high school careers. The program shifts the balance of interactions with these students to one where school officials assume the role of advocates and not enemies.

‘’Mr. Stout has a solid record of making a positive impact in schools as he truly cares for his students and staff,” said Kathi Weight, the district’s Executive Director of Student Achievement. “He understands what constitutes good instruction and about high standards necessary for student achievement.”

Stout has fond memories of the time he spent at TCC, and appreciates the support his instructors gave him when he returned to school as a single parent. The scholarship named in his honor helped ten students get an education at TCC. 

Stout’s next career move will bring him back to Tacoma. Starting fall 2016, he’ll be principal at Truman Middle School.

2015 distinguished alumnus ali criss2015 Ali Criss

Voted 2014 & 2015 Best Financial Advisor in the South Sound by South Sound Magazine and a 2013 40 Under Forty Honoree by the Business Examiner, Ali Criss has won accolades as a young leader.

Criss attended TCC from 2001-2003. She holds a BA from Pacific Lutheran University and is a Certified Financial Planner®.

In addition to serving as a small business owner and Managing Partner of local wealth management and retirement planning firm Financial Insights, Criss pours her energy into community volunteerism.

Criss serves on the Emergency Food Network Young Professionals Ambassador Board, which she helped to create. She is also a member of Rotary #8, where she was formerly Chair of the Rotary International Youth Exchange. She is enthusiastic supporter of the TCC Foundation's fundraising efforts.

"I realized with hard work, a passion for learning, and perseverance that anyone can be successful, anyone can be intelligent, and anyone can create the life they want. And you know what? We deserve it."


2015 distinguished alumnus vernelda savoy2015 Vernelda Savoy

A recognized clinical leader within the CHI Franciscan organization, nurse Vernelda Savoy says that knowledge, caring and patient advocacy are key to being a great nurse. After obtaining her Associate degree in Nursing from TCC, Savoy began her career as a staff nurse in the ICU at St. Clare Hospital in 1990.

Savoy obtained her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Pacific Lutheran University and her Masters in Health Administration from Chapman University. She became charge nurse, and then served as a manager at St. Clare, where she was instrumental in opening the Progressive Care Unit and launching the Orthopedic Unit.

Savoy is known at St. Clare and Hospice House for providing quality assurance for the units under her leadership, and for being an excellent mentor to beginning nurses.

Savoy says that nursing is a diverse field that provides a wealth of opportunities to care and serve through the entire continuum of life. She invited TCC's Class of 2015 nurses to consider joining her at CHI Franciscan and offered some advice: "Congratulations to all of the 2015 graduate nurses! I welcome you all to the profession of nursing - we are a proud bunch who work hard, care much and strive for the best outcomes for our patients."

photo of james curtis2014 James Curtis

The third of five children, James Curtis experienced early childhood on the south side of Chicago, raised by a single mother who suffered from post-polio syndrome. Inspired at an early age by their mother, who moved the family to Tacoma in pursuit of a better life, he and his siblings planned to achieve great things in life.

But growing up in Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood in the late 80s and early 90s, Curtis struggled in school and lost sight of his earlier vision. He graduated from Stadium High School and took a series of low-wage jobs, ending up as a janitor at Tacoma General Hospital. One day, he decided it was time to go to Tacoma Community College and pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer.

Curtis almost didn't enroll at TCC. Discouraged by his performance on the assessment test, he told an advisor that he wasn't cut out for college. She told him to study at the library and try the test again in six months. "TCC wouldn't let me leave," said Curtis in his 2011 Commencement speech.

Half a year later, Curtis enrolled at Tacoma Community College, having tested into college-level English and Math. At TCC, Curtis found faculty mentors who pushed him to excel and won his first scholarship, from the Floyd and Dolores Jones Foundation. He obtained his AA degree from TCC in 1999 and transferred to the University of Washington, where he studied sociology, graduating in 2001.

Curtis came back to TCC and worked in outreach while attending UW's law school, earning his Juris Doctorate in 2005. After two years in private practice, he joined the Pierce County Prosecutor's office as Deputy Prosecutor in 2007. He currently chairs the office's Diversity Committee.

Today, Curtis mentors youth from his old neighborhood, Tacoma's Hilltop. He also serves as a coach and a motivational speaker. In 2012, the Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association presented Curtis with the Bertha M. Snell award for perseverance through adversity in the practice of law.

Curtis challenges graduates to help someone else achieve success. "There's going to be someone around you who lacks in confidence, someone around you who doesn't have hopes for their future. It is your job to rekindle their torch, because your torch is burning bright right now." Curtis told the Class of 2011 graduates.


Photo of Chris Anderson2014 Chris Anderson

Chris Anderson, CEO of the Tacoma IT company 2bridges, is a 2014 Tacoma Community College Distinguished Alumnus.

A graduate of the Student Computing Services and Future Problem Solving programs at Henderson Bay High School in Gig Harbor, Anderson has logged more than 20 years of experience as an IT professional.

Anderson founded his own company, 2bridges, in 2004. He says the company's goal is to "flip IT on its head," approaching IT problems from a customer and business standpoint.

"People constantly ask me what I do, and what we do at 2bridges, and it's really hard to define, other than we listen," said Anderson in a video posted on the 2bridges website.

Instead of offering off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all IT solutions for business IT needs, 2bridges creates customized solutions based on what customers say they need. Anderson says the goal isn't to roll out a product that will need to be upgraded after a 3-5 year life span. Instead, the company builds micro-solutions that will be able to expand along with small to medium-sized businesses - and builds relationships meant to last for decades.

"We want the industry to change," said Anderson. "There are so many companies that have undermined the trust with the community."

In addition to providing IT solutions and support, Anderson believes that IT professionals should be customer advocates and educators. He wants customers to be comfortable with technology, and not to feel like they're constantly fighting their IT systems. And he keeps that in mind when hiring.

"We try to pick people who can work with other people, who actually care about the problems," said Anderson.

Since attending Tacoma Community College for both business and IT certificate programs, Anderson has supported the school's Networking & Cyber Security program by offering internships to more than 15 students in the program, hiring several of them. He serves on the Advisory Committee for TCC's IT department and also invests volunteer time in the larger community through his work with the Tacoma Sunset Rotary, Tacoma-Pierce Chamber and Connected Tacoma technology think tank.

photo of connie ladenburg2013 Connie Ladenburg

Connie Ladenburg has always followed her passion. As a TCC student in 1968-1969 she knew she wanted to get into social work. After marrying her high school sweetheart John Ladenburg in 1969 and raising five children, she knew she was ready to finish what she started.

In her mid-forties Connie went back to school and received her Master of Social Work, then began a very long list of accomplishments in public service. "I am a macro-thinker," said Ladenburg in a recent interview. "I was interested in prevention, in early intervention work - trying to help kids so they don't become involved in criminal activity and at-risk behavior."

Connie Ladenburg has a long history of serving her family and her community, taking on a number of PTA roles. She co-founded Southend Neighbors for Family Safety; co-founded Community in Schools of Tacoma and currently sits on its Board; co-founded the Alliance for Youth of Pierce County; co-founded Tacoma 360 and currently sits on its Steering Committee; founded the Youth Leading Change program at Safe Streets Campaign and coordinated a substance abuse prevention program.

Highlights of her career include her current service on the Pierce County Council representing District 4. Connie served two terms on the Tacoma City Council, providing leadership to the Council in multiple areas. She also held the position of Deputy Mayor in 2005. Connie is a former member of the House of Representatives representing the 29th Legislative District.

Her nomination states, "Connie's dedication to the community is unsurpassed. Her long-time dedication to the people of Pierce County has made great impacts in so many areas and in so many positive ways, including education, neighborhood safety, and her commitment to justice. And she made all these contributions while raising five children. TCC is fortunate to call Connie Ladenburg our Distinguished Alumnus for 2013."

When asked about advice for getting involved in our community she said, "Follow your passion in your involvement."

Photo of Dave2012 Dave Burmark

A graduate of Wilson High School in Tacoma, Dave Burmark enrolled at TCC in 1976. After earning his Associate’s degree from TCC, he obtained his Bachelor’s in Psychology and Sociology from the University of Puget Sound and his Master’s in Education from Pacific Lutheran University.

As someone whose own career pathway included twists and turns, Dave can empathize with students who aren’t sure what they want to do with their lives. He was a West Coast Grocery warehouse worker until 1989, when he finished graduate school and became a counselor at Peninsula high school. He currently serves as a Career Counselor at both Gig Harbor and Peninsula high schools.

In his 23 years as a high school and career counselor, Dave has guided generations of students through the college application and scholarship process at TCC. He has been integral to the strong relationship Gig Harbor High School and Peninsula High School have with the Running Start program at TCC. Dave worked with TCC Outreach staff to set up ACCUPLACER testing at each high school location, enabling students with little or no transportation to take the assessment. TCC Running Start staff describe him as “hands down, the best high school counselor that any of us in the TCC Running Start office have ever worked with.” He was selected from among all counselors who work with Running Start staff to co-present at annual state-wide conferences about the challenges and advantages of high school students participating in Running Start.

Known as someone who won’t say no to anyone asking for help – student, colleague, or friend -- Dave is highly regarded by co-workers, community members, students and parents alike. More than 20 people contributed to his nomination, including current high school students and colleagues from Peninsula, Gig Harbor and TCC.  

 “Dave Burmark’s impact on students and their futures in the Peninsula and Gig Harbor communities has been profound,” reads his nomination. “In the best of ways, Dave touches lives at such a critical stage for young adults, putting them on the right path, giving them ideas to broaden their horizons, supporting them through transitions—and truly changing their life trajectory for the better.”

Dave has been involved in a number of community activities over the years, coaching PAA soccer, assisting at Gig Harbor community events Tidefest and Winterfest, mentoring counseling interns, and serving as Key Club Advisor. He is a regular guest speaker in UPS counseling classes, and served on the Professional Education Advisory Board at UPS from 2002-2008.

As his nomination states, Dave represents the enormous impact TCC alumni can and do have out in the world after they leave TCC.

Photo of Walter Nolte2011 Dr. Walter Nolte

Dr. Walter Nolte, 2011 Distinguished Alumnus, graduated from Tacoma Community College in 1970. After receiving his B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Puget Sound, Nolte returned to Tacoma Community College in 1984 as Dean for Vocational Education. Nolte received his PhD in Educational Administration from the University of Texas in 1991 and currently serves as president of Casper College in Wyoming.

“His passion and innovation in higher education have influenced the paths of many across the United States, and he is committed to higher education and to student success,” said TCC President Dr. Pamela Transue. “His published works, his community activities, and his professional career all focus on the importance of education, and we are proud that his degree from TCC set him on that path.”


Ed Troyer2010 Ed Troyer

What Ed has done for this community, not only in his professional life, but as a private citizen, is quite simply, amazing.

Ed Troyer was born and raised in Tacoma. He graduated from Wilson High School in 1980 and from Tacoma Community College’s Criminal Justice program in 1982. He transferred to Western Washington University in the fall of 1982 and after attending for a year, he applied for a position with the Pierce County Sheriff’s office at age 21. When he was commissioned, he was just 22 years of age and the youngest officer on the force at the time. He has been with the Pierce County Sheriff’s office for 26 years now and he attributes his hiring to his Associates degree from TCC.

As the Public Information Officer for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, we have come to rely on Ed for the facts and the details of major news events.  He doesn’t talk “cop” because he truly wants people to understand. The residents of our community are certainly the beneficiaries of his decision to take the PIO position, which he refers to as “fun” and one he took after a life-threatening, close call – a bullet into his headrest and several rounds to his patrol car’s hood from the hand of a 15-year old.  He decided then that he’d been very lucky, but that maybe he’d pushed his luck long enough. I understand he used to say, “If I survive this. I’ll . . .do this.” After the shooting, he thought it was time to make good on his promises and accepted his current position.

In his spare time Ed is Executive Director for the Tacoma/Pierce County CrimeStoppers, a nationwide community watch group that gives rewards for tips leading to the capture of wanted criminals. CrimeStoppers is a place where the media, public and law enforcement come together. In the last 5 years, 64 out of 125 bank robberies have been solved by CrimeStopper tips. Through CrimeStoppers, Ed works with Seattle University graduate students in the Seattle University Albers School of Business and Economics Executive Leadership Program on a six month practicum titled “Leadership for a Just and Humane World.” In this program, graduate students address a social injustice in the community. This year they created the “Crimes Against Seniors” tip line and website which allows anyone to confidentially report abuse or criminal activity against seniors.”

Ed has probably received more honors than we’ll ever know about, but his most recent ones include his induction as an honorary member of the Marine Corps League Detachment 504. He also earned the Pierce County Sheriff Department’s  Medal of Merit for being the “face” of the Dept. both locally and nationally during the Lakewood police officer tragedy. And he was recently presented with the Rotary International Paul Harris Fellowship for all he has done in the community and for his efforts in Mexico.

Ed has also opened his heart and his home to many foster children over the years and has raised five children. Ed will be the first one to tell you that he doesn’t do it alone; that he is just one of many who work to accomplish very important things for the people of our community. But his efforts have certainly gotten our attention, the attention of the community and indeed, that of the nation. We are extremely proud to present him this award.

Jim Walton2009 Jim Walton

The 2009 recipient, Jim Walton, is a man of many talents, great energy, and love of community and education. He brings strength, wisdom and inspiration to those whom he serves and TCC is proud to call him an alumnus.

Jim served the City of Tacoma in many roles for more than 32 years, although government employment was the furthest thing from his mind when he attended TCC in 1969. According to an entry at blackpast.org, two incidents in May 1969 demonstrated Jim’s leadership style in maintaining calm in a crisis. When racial tensions surfaced on campus, Jim used the system to work through them, even at risk to his personal safety.

Later in May of ’69 violence broke out in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, which was home to most of Tacoma's black population. Jim, the youngest of several black leaders from the area, helped quell the outbreak and win concessions from the City Council. From that group of leaders grew the Black Collective, formed to address issues of concern to the black community. Jim continues to help lead the Collective today.

In 1970 Jim began his career in public service with a position as director of the city’s Human Relations Department. In 1977 Jim became assistant city manager and in 1990 was promoted to deputy city manager. He served as Tacoma’s city manager from 2003 until he retired in 2005. Jim has amassed a long record of community service.

Jim has provided administrative oversight and participation on the Board of the Youth Build Program and the Local Employment and Apprenticeship Training Program. He was the first African American president of Sunrise Rotary; he was President of United Way of Tacoma-Pierce County; he serves or has served on the boards of Commencement Bank, Safe Streets, Hilltop Homeownership Development Center, United Way of Pierce County, the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, and Goodwill Industries. He was elected to the Pierce County Charter Review commission in 2005 and served as Vice Chair.

He has received almost as many awards and commendations for his service to the community. To name a very few: he has received the Tacoma-Pierce County Municipal League’s Distinguished Citizen Award; the Washington City/County Management Association’s Excellence in Leadership Award; the National Urban League Volunteer Community Service Award; the Youth Build Award; the City of Tacoma’s Community Service Award; and he was named one of TCC’s 2004 Honorary Degree recipients. The Mayor proclaimed June 30, 2005, as James L. Walton Day and he was presented with the keys to the city.

Fred Stabbert2008 Fred Stabbert

Fred Stabbert began attending TCC in 1965, the year the college opened. He graduated from TCC with his Associate in Arts and Sciences Degree in 1967. He then attended the University of Puget Sound, graduating with a degree in business in 1968.  

Fred’s first experience with college was at Seattle Pacific University. As he relates it, he was right out of high school and he followed his now wife Faith to the university. But, he said, he really wasn’t ready for college and the university was very expensive. He moved back to Tacoma and was going to quit school and just go to work at the grocery store he worked while in high school. But he talked to his Wilson High School English teacher, Bob Rhule and got a little advice. Bob, a longtime instructor and administrator and interim President at TCC told Fred, “don’t quit school. Keep your hand in – take at least one class and keep going.” So that is what Fred did. He took statistics during his lunch hour, accounting after work at night, and he worked other classes into his schedule wherever possible. By this time, Fred said he had made up his mind that “education mattered to me.” He really concentrated and worked hard because he wanted an education. As he put it, “I knew I didn’t want to work in the store all my life.” 

Fred says that his experience at TCC really influenced his life.  He said he has always tried to encourage others to “go out and take the first step.” They might not be confident, he said, but once they take that first step they know they can succeed. Fred says the most important thing is to “just take it one step at a time and keep going.” He said if he would not have graduated from TCC he wouldn’t have gone on to UPS – it all ties together.

When Fred moved from TCC to UPS in 1967, Booth Gardner, former governor, was Dean of the Business School. Fred says that Booth was an inspiration to him. Fred was motivated to get his business degree and Gov. Gardner gave him private tutoring and encouraged Fred to succeed. Fred really applied himself, taking heavy course loads of 22 plus credits per term and graduated in 1968.

Fred personifies a person of distinction, leadership, success and compassion.  Fred has been successful in the business world as CEO, President, and Director of West Coast Paper Company and in his leadership roles at the Winslow Group, International Paper, and Crown Zellerbach Corporation. “Fred’s rise in Zellerbach was meteoric,” said retired Crown Zellerbach Senior Vice President Dwight Taylor. “He was one of the best I’d seen.”

Fred is currently founder and President of Mission Match Partners, LLC., a leadership consulting firm. He is a Trustee of Seattle Pacific University and Chair of the Board of CRISTA Ministries, a family of ministries that includes Kings Schools, the Seattle Urban Academy, KCMS Spirit 105.3, Senior Living, Camps and World Concern which is a relief and development agency serving developing nations worldwide with donations of money, clothing, food, medicine and technical personnel to teach primary health care and food production. More than 960,000 people have received direct help from World Concern.

Brian Sonntag2007 Brian Sonntag

Brian Sonntag began attending TCC in 1970 and took classes for about two years. He later went on to attend University of Puget Sound from 1971 to 1972. In the midst of raising a young family and attending college he also began a career in banking.

Brian has served the public for more than 35 years. A lifelong Tacoma resident, his career began with a job in the Pierce County Clerk’s office in 1972. In 1978 he was appointed County Clerk, was elected to the position later that year and re-elected to a second term four years later. In 1986 he was elected as Pierce County Auditor and re-elected in 1990. In 1992, Brian was elected State Auditor and has been re-elected three times.

Brian has dedicated his life in service to others. His efforts as State Auditor have shown his great integrity and dedication to ethical use of public funds.  Brian is an outstanding example of a successful TCC alumnus.

The Sonntag family has a long history in Tacoma. Brian’s father, Jack, was elected as Pierce County Auditor in 1948 and served 22 years in that office.  His brother Dick served on the Tacoma City Council and Tacoma School Board. Brother Jack was a career teacher, principal and football coach in the Tacoma School District. Several Sonntag family members including Brian’s son Brett and brother Dick Sonntag have attended TCC. 

His extensive community involvement has included serving on the United Way Boards in Pierce and Thurston Counties; on the board of Tacoma/Pierce County Boys and Girls Club, and working as a YMCA volunteer and a youth baseball and basketball coach. He has also volunteered for the March of Dimes and served as master of ceremonies for the Puyallup Valley Daffodil Festival. He currently serves on the Tacoma Athletic Commission. 

Brian is a Certified Government Financial Manager (C.G.F.M.) by the national Association of Government Accountants (AGA). He is also a board member of the Washington Coalition for Open Government and a trustee for the AGA’s Academy for Government Accountability. Since 1993, Brian has served on the Washington State Productivity Board which encourages state employees to identify opportunities for more efficient and economical systems and practices.  

Auditor Sonntag has received numerous awards including the Warren G. Magnuson Award, presented by the Municipal League of Seattle/King County for his effort to improve local government accountability. In 2009 he received the Andersen Award from the Washington Coalition for Open Government and in 2000 he received the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Freedom’s Light Award for his advocacy of strong public access laws. Brian is a dedicated and caring public servant who continues to give back so much to his home town of Tacoma.

TCC Alumni2006 John Hall

TCC's first Distinguished Alumnus John Hall began attending TCC in 1979 and took classes for about three years. As a young man, he saw his mother and sister go back to school at TCC. His sister attended for two years and transferred to PLU and became a nurse. And, in 1995, his niece received her AA degree. John received his Associate in Arts and Sciences degree, with honors, in June 1981. And his wife, Sue, received her AA degree at TCC in 1999.  Attending TCC is indeed a family affair for the Hall’s. John later transferred to UPS and received his B.A. degree.

John is a significant force for positive change in our community and an articulate advocate for TCC. John has been an active volunteer on behalf of the TCC Foundation’s Invest in Your Future capital and endowment campaign. This community-wide effort has raised more than $6 million to strengthen key academic initiatives at the college and fund capital improvements. And, because of his passion for the college, his company, Rainier Pacific stepped up and provided a significant gift in support of this vital campaign.

In addition to his volunteer work on behalf of the college, John’s community service extends to many organizations in the Tacoma Area – Goodwill Industries, the Economic Development Board, the Washington Financial League, United Way of Pierce County and the Business Advisory Board of the University of Washington, Tacoma’s Milgard School of Business. He also serves on citizens’ committees for the Tacoma Public Schools and is a member of Tacoma Rotary 8.

The TCC Distinguished Alumnus Award is not John’s first honor. Previously, the Executive Council for a Greater Tacoma named John as one of its top five fast-risers and he was identified as part of a new generation of Pierce County decision Makers by The News Tribune’s 1995 series of articles of new County Leaders.

John has more than 18 years of financial services industry experience. He was the president and CEO of Rainier Pacific Bank and he served as chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Rainier Pacific Foundation. He is currently the president of Korum Auto Group. John is a generous, humble and caring man, working behind the scenes to build a better Tacoma for all its citizens.

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