Ten successful University of Wisconsin Oshkosh graduates have been chosen to receive top honors for 2022 by the Alumni Association Board of Directors. Over the course of the summer, we will introduce you to these outstanding alumni.
Student involvement while on campus led two UWO alums to a passion for community, leadership and sustainability.
Thomas Kenote ’16, of Keshena, has earned UW Oshkosh’s Outstanding Young Alumni Award; and Jim Rath ’76, of Naples, Florida, has earned UWO’s Outstanding Service Award.
Kenote driven by commitment to protect tribal natural resources
Kenote, who graduated with an environmental studies degree and went on to earn a master’s in natural resources science management—forest ecology from the University of Minnesota in 2020, currently serves as the director of the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) at the College of Menominee Nation, after nearly two years as the geoscience project director.
Time spent at UWO allowed him to infuse his interests in both environmental and indigenous studies, laying out a path for his future.
“As a student at UW Oshkosh, Thomas was a model citizen, scholar, activist and leader and he has continued on this path,” said Jim Feldman, environmental studies program director.
While a student at UWO, Kenote was involved with the Multicultural Education Center, the Inter-Tribal Student Coalition, the sustainability office and the McNair Scholars Program. He presented his McNair research “The Mamaceqtaw and the Education System: A qualitative case study on the educational experiences of Menominee Indian students” at Harvard University and earned the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in 2015.
In the years since graduating, Kenote has become a leader in the field of sustainability and educational outreach.
“Thomas has built a reputation as a researcher, teacher, listener and collaborator who is driven by his commitment to the protection of tribal natural resources, the sustainable management of tribal forestry and the elevation of indigenous ways of knowing,” said Cordelia Bowlus, outreach program manager for McNair at UWO. “He believes that in order to address, mitigate and adapt to climate change, the Menominee Nation must build upon the indigenous nation’s long history of sustainable development.”
At SDI, Kenote and his staff promote the indigenous sustainable model through education and intern/externships while fostering collaborations with the College of Menominee Nation, the tribal community and numerous external entities, such as UW System schools, the Midwest Climate Adaption Science Center and the Nature Conservancy.
Kenote also is a mentor who helps recruit and retain indigenous students in higher education, knowing how important American Indian faculty and staff are for student success.
“SDI’s role in student research and organizing has transformed many people’s lives and has been a wonderful success over the years,” said Michael Dockry, assistant professor at the University of Minnesota.
“Thomas, a Menominee tribal member, has been expanding upon this legacy by connecting with College of Menominee Nation students, supporting them in their educational journey and helping them find ways to integrate their own cultural knowledge into their studies. He is a positive role model for the entire American Indian community in Northeast Wisconsin and beyond.”
Student involvement at UWO played role in Rath giving back
Jim Rath, a political science major, started his career in government as the zoning and code administrator for Manitowoc County before joining the Wisconsin Public Service Corporation as a long-time account executive. He retired after serving as president of the Village of Sherwood from 2013 to 2017.
Prior to his long-tenured career, he was an active student leader at UW Oshkosh. Rath was part of Delta Sigma Phi fraternity, a member of the Oshkosh Student Association (OSA), Reeve Union Board (RUB) and the Newman Center. For him, each played a role in developing his servant leadership.
“I was fortunate to work with Dr. Zillar Khan and Dean Moede on the Reeve Union Board,” Rath said. “They each modeled what servant leadership is all about by giving of their time and developing leadership skills in each of us.”
With encouragement from his fraternity brothers, Rath went on to serve as Delta Sigma Phi president and later as inter-fraternity council president, regional commissioner and district governor. He provided mentorship to undergraduates and was a recipient of the Harvey H. Hebert Memorial Award for distinguished service.
“All these experiences together nurtured my desire to become involved in service opportunities throughout my adult life,” he said.
Rath gives back often, including to his hometown of Two Rivers. Rath and his wife Sharon donated to the Educational Horizons Foundation Inc., of Two Rivers High School, was a sponsor of the Two Rivers Community House when it was remodeled and a sponsor when Two Rivers created a pavilion at the Neshotah Park Beach. They also are sponsoring a small part of the current Two Rivers project known as Central Park 365.
Rath also has been a long-time contributor to the UWO Foundation and has given to a number of initiatives over the years, but his main support has been the Rath Family Scholarship endowment that he established with his siblings, the Delta Sigma Phi Scholarship fund, UWO athletics and the Culver Family Welcome Center.
Also important to Rath has been volunteering his time. He volunteered for 25 years with the Wisconsin Special Olympics Sports Management Committee for Basketball. His role included securing officials from across Wisconsin to volunteer as referees at UW Oshkosh, which hosted the state championships. He also assigned officials for the UWO men’s basketball team camp from 2013 to 2019 and was the time clock and play clock operator at Titan football games from 2015 to 2o19.
“Jim has made countless contributions to the betterment of the University,” said former Titan men’s basketball coach Pat Juckem, now head coach at Washington University in St. Louis. “What separates him is that he expects nothing in return. His selflessness and deep commitment to UWO is remarkable.”
Rath also served on the UWO alumni association board 1998-2016. During this time, he served as treasurer 2000-09 and president 2013-15. He is still active with the Alumni Relations Office, currently helping coordinate UWO alumni events in Naples, Florida.
“The varied nature of Jim’s service sets him apart,” Juckem said. “From his continued participation in his UWO fraternity, manning the alumni tent at Oshkosh functions, to running the scoreboard at Titan football games, the breadth of Jim’s service is unprecedented. Most impressive is his characteristic smile and good humor that is always on full display. You cannot help but be in awe with Jim’s commitment to his University.”