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Ifeanyi Menkiti '64, Joe Palca '74 and Rip Rapson '74 Win Blaisdell Distinguished Alumni Award

Joe Palca

Joe Palca '74

Ifeanyi "Tony" Menkiti

Ifeanyi "Tony" Menkiti '64

Rip Rapson

Rip Rapson '74

The Blaisdell Distinguished Alumni Award honors alumni for achievement in their professions or community service, particularly those who have lived up to the quotation from James A. Blaisdell which is inscribed into the gates of the College: “They only are loyal to the college who departing bear their added riches in trust for mankind.” This year, there are three winners:

Ifeanyi “Tony” Menkiti ’64 has taught philosophy at Wellesley College for 40 years and is the author of four collections of poetry: Before a Common Soil (2007), Of Altair, the Bright Light (2005), The Jubilation of Falling Bodies (1978), and Affirmations (1971). He is the owner of the Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Harvard Square, the oldest continuous all-poetry bookshop in the United States.

Born in Onitsha, Nigeria, he came to the United States in 1961 to attend Pomona College on the ASPAU program (African Scholarship Program of American Universities) and won the F.S. Jennings Distinguished Senior Thesis Award for his thesis on Ezra Pound. After Pomona, he attended Columbia University Pulitzer School of Journalism, New York University and Harvard University.

In 1975 he was honored with a fellowship in poetry from the Massachusetts State Council on the Arts and Humanities, followed in 1978 by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. In addition to his collections, his poems have appeared in Sewanee Review, Ploughshares, New Directions, The Massachusetts Review, Stony Brook, Southwest Review and the African journals Okike, Transition and Nigeria Magazine.

In 1996, Menkiti was awarded the Pinanski Prize for Excellence in Teaching from Wellesley College.

Menkiti serves on the board of overseers of the Mt. Auburn Hospital, Cambridge, Mass., a Harvard University-affiliated teaching hospital, and is a past trustee.  He has also served on the boards of the Greater Boston Youth Pro Musica, the Cambridge Arts Council and Revels, Inc. In 2013, he became a member of the Agbalanze Society of the kingdom of Onitsha, his birthplace.

Menkiti and his wife Carol Bowers make their home in Somerville, Massachusetts, and have four children: Nneka, Obiora, Enuma and Ndidi; and three grandchildren: Braxton, Carter and Clayton.

Joe Palca ’74 is a science correspondent for National Public Radio. Since joining NPR in 1992, Palca has covered a range of science topics — everything from biomedical research to astronomy. He is currently focused on the eponymous series, Joe’s Big Idea, which explores the minds and motivations of scientists and inventors.

Palca began his journalism career in television in 1982, working as a health producer for the CBS affiliate in Washington, D.C. In 1986, he left television for a seven-year stint as a print journalist, first as the Washington news editor for Nature and then as a senior correspondent for Science Magazine.

In October 2009, Palca took a six-month leave from NPR to become science writer in residence at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. He spent part of his time researching first editions of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, originally published in 1859.

Palca has won numerous awards for his work, including the National Academies Communications Award, the Science-in-Society Award of the National Association of Science Writers, the American Chemical Society James T. Grady-James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public, the American Association for the Advancement of Science Journalism Prize, and the Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Writing.

With Flora Lichtman, Palca is the co-author of Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us (Wiley, 2011). From 1999-2000, he was president of the National Association of Science Writers.

A psychology major at Pomona College, he later earned both an M.S. and a Ph.D. in psychology at the University of California at Santa Cruz where he studied human sleep physiology.

He makes his permanent home in Washington, D.C., with his wife Kathy Hudson and sons Sam and Jacob.

Rip Rapson ’74 is president and CEO of The Kresge Foundation, a national, private foundation based in Detroit. Since 2006, he has led Kresge in developing programs in arts and culture, education, environment, health, human services and the renewal of Detroit, distributing approximately $150 million annually.

Rapson was a political science major at Pomona, graduating magna cum laude. He was a four-year member of the Pomona-Pitzer tennis team, and its captain his junior and senior years.

After graduation, he worked in the Washington, D.C., office of Minnesota’s U.S. Rep. Donald Fraser.

Rapson left D.C. to attend Columbia Law School, after which he joined the Minneapolis law firm of Leonard, Street and Deinard. Rapson was recruited in 1989 to become the deputy mayor of Minneapolis under Mayor Don Fraser, and was the primary architect of the pioneering Neighborhood Revitalization program, a 20-year, $400 million effort to strengthen Minneapolis neighborhoods. Following an unsuccessful bid for mayor, he was appointed senior fellow at the University of Minnesota College of Architecture.

Prior to joining Kresge, Rapson was president of the Minnesota-based McKnight Foundation and he also launched the Itasca Project, a private sector-led effort to develop a new regional agenda for the Twin Cities, including statewide reform efforts in transportation, early childhood development and health disparities.

He is the author of two books: Troubled Waters, a chronicle of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act legislation he shepherded when working for Rep. Fraser, and Ralph Rapson: Sixty Years of Modern Design, a biography of his father, a renowned architect.

A past president of the Minneapolis Public Library Board, Rapson sits on the boards of a variety of Detroit civic organizations and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation of New York. He is the vice-chair of Living Cities, a national consortium of banks and foundations focused on urban revitalization, and chair of ArtPlace, a consortium of a dozen foundations committed to advancing the role of the arts.

He is married to Gail Rapson, and is the father of Avery and Anna.

The awards will be presented during Alumni Weekend, which will be held May 1-4. 

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