Three people were named Tuesday to receive Viterbo University's Pope John XXIII Awards for Distinguished Service this year.
Bill Medland, Viterbo's president since 1991, and his wife, Donna, are the fifth couple to be honored since the award was established in 1975.
Parker Palmer, a nationally known writer, teacher and lecturer, is receiving the award for his work as a teacher and value-driven leader.
The three will receive the awards at a banquet and ceremony Thursday, May 4. The Pope John XXIII Award is Viterbo's highest non-academic honor.
Palmer, a Quaker, has authored seven books. He said he's one of the millions of non-Catholics touched by the life of Pope John XXIII.
"He was a person who understood his own faith tradition to be not a narrow, fearful thing that required the world to be shut out," said Palmer, "but rather a confident ground on which to stand, from which one could be hospitable toward the stranger."
During the 15 years of Medland's presidency, Viterbo has seen financial and many other kinds of growth. In his first year, 179 undergraduate and graduate students earned a degree. Last year, 910 graduated.
Medland said he awarded degrees to about two-thirds of the approximately 11,000 living Viterbo graduates.
"I may have provided the vision," said Medland, "but everyone here - everyone - has contributed to the success of Viterbo."
While Bill has led the charge at Viterbo, his wife, Donna, has been a "bridge-mom" between the biological mother and adoptive families of 17 infants in the past five years.
"Bill and I have been through a lot together over the years," said Donna, "and since beginning his work at Viterbo it's been a - how can I say it - a growing experience."
The Medlands adopted their first foster child, Jeanne, now 10.
Palmer lives in Madison with his wife, Sharon, who grew up in Winona, Minn. He will give two lectures while in La Crosse to receive the award.
He said while the litany of external challenges like war and environmental degradation aren't going away, it's important for emerging leaders to become strong inside.
"The answer has to lie within the human heart, as it did with Pope John XXIII and Martin Luther King Jr.," he said. "They had a very strong inner life, a life of faith, a life with spiritual rootage that gave them ground on which to stand that was firmer and more reliable than the constantly shifting sands around them."
Joe Orso can be reached at (608) 791-8429 or firstname.lastname@example.org.