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The School Bell by Cindy Zahrte: Honoring our distinguished alumni − 2019

The School Bell by Cindy Zahrte: Honoring our distinguished alumni − 2019


The Distinguished Alumni Program was developed and is supported by the Tomah Area School District and the Tomah Area School District Foundation. It is hoped that this recognition will provide role models for our current students, instill pride in our community and provide an opportunity to celebrate the successes of these outstanding individuals.

We are delighted to be honoring four individuals for their accomplishments during the 2019 homecoming week. Along with their parents, educators in the Tomah Area School District and others in our community helped raise and nurture these individuals. We can all feel pride in how Tomah contributed to their success.

We welcome home and honor the following four inductees into the Distinguished Alumni program this week. Please extend congratulations to these outstanding Tomah High School alumni and/or their family members:

Thomas Earle —

Class of 1928Thomas Earle graduated from Tomah High School in 1928. He was a star athlete and served as president of his class.

After completing undergraduate work at Long Beach, California Junior College, Tom earned a graduate degree and his C.P.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 1941, Tom joined the Walker Mufflers company in Racine as director of budgets. He spent most of his life in Racine. He retired in 1968 to Milwaukee, a year after the death of his first wife. At his retirement, Tom was serving as vice president and treasurer for Walker Mufflers.

Tom married his high school sweetheart, Ruby Day, in July 1976. He maintained an office in Madison, where he continued to stay busy with business ventures and involvement in the stock market. In 1984, Tom gifted shares of stock in Briggs and Stratton to the Tomah Area School District and a local organization that provides support to individuals with disabilities because he himself had dealt with a speech impairment.

In 1986, Thomas Earle passed away. With no known heirs, Tom arranged with an out-of-state firm to establish the Thomas B. Earle Charitable Foundation Trust, which was to benefit people living in the Tomah community and its immediate surrounding area by improving the quality of the lifestyle of the handicapped and needy, both young and old. Since it began in 1986, the Thomas B. Earle Charitable Foundation Trust has contributed over $1.5 million to our community.

Bob Honel — Class of 1947“Tomah citizens from all walks of life often helped or encouraged me in different ways, making many decisions. As she steered me into a successful life, Honoring me with different awards,” Honel said.

“Consequently, I was taught many things, especially to show love and compassion for my fellow man. Music (playing the piano) was used to bring joy and happiness to many, many people.

“Having lived in the South, far West, and Midwest, my life was nurtured by people of all faith, nationalities and personalities. My calling came from the Lord, not for the ministry, but for music, which made me become a friend and servant to others.

“Therefore, the honor bestowed upon me, being selected as a Tomah Distinguished Alumni, should be shared with all who helped raise me, teachers who taught me, friends who encouraged me and parents who loved me.

“God’s love and mine to one and all.”

Bruce Otto — Class of 1954Bruce was born and raised in Tomah. He graduated from Carroll University, double majoring in math and chemistry. He then received a PhD in organic chemistry at The Ohio State University. He continued his education at Stanford University’s Business School.

Dr. Otto’s entire career was at the Amoco Corporation in the Chicago area. He began as a research chemist, working on the development of gasoline additives, receiving two patents. He also held several managerial positions including manager, general manager and vice president. He served on the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois as vice president and president. Bruce also was chairman of the Council for Solid Waste Solutions. Additionally, he chaired Amoco’s United Way campaign for several years.

Bruce valued hard work, education, family, volunteerism and giving back. He served on Carroll University’s Board of Trustees for eight years and was instrumental in the growth of the college and increasing alumni support. He and his wife, Evie, established several endowed science scholarships there. He served on the Chemistry Board at The Ohio State University. Bruce was a leadership member of the Boys Scouts of America and volunteered for many years for Habitat for Humanity and his church’s thrift shop.

After retiring, Bruce spent winters in Florida and summers in Wisconsin. He played tennis and golf weekly, scoring two holes in one. He loved to fish. He tied his own flies and made his own fishing rods, returning to Tomah with his family every May for the opening day of trout season. Bruce passed away in 2016.

Sherrill Dodsworth Smith — Class of 1981Dr. Sherrill Jeanne (Dodsworth) Smith is being honored for her service to the nation and her profession and for dedication to the advancement of nursing education. Her contributions of knowledge, talent and time and her record of achievement provide a role model for members of our community.

Sherrill graduated from Tomah High School in 1981. She attended the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, earning her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing in 1985. She then went on to attain a Master of Science in nursing from Wright State University in 1997 and a Doctor of Philosophy in nursing education from the University of Northern Colorado in 2008. Sherrill began her professional career as an active duty Air Force nurse. After leaving active duty in 1991, she continued as a nurse reservist. She was selected Air Force Reserve Nurse of the Year in 2005 and retired with the rank of colonel in 2011.

While her career included leadership roles in community health, most recently Sherrill has pursued a path in nursing education, developing a research trajectory investigating novel uses of technology to enhance nursing learning. She has published 26 manuscripts, three textbook chapters and presented numerous papers at regional, national and international conferences. Her accomplishments in nursing education led to her appointment as Dean of Nursing at the University of Wyoming in August 2019. Her career achievements include the Wright State University Presidential Early Career Achievement Award, International Nursing Association for Simulation and Clinical Learning Integration of Simulation Award, and the Nursing Research Society’s Nursing Education Research Scientist of the Year.

Cindy Zahrte is the superintendent of the Tomah Area School District.


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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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