Lawrence University Honors Former President, Local Jazz Legend and Wisconsin Business Leader at 156th Commencement

Richard Warch will find himself in a familiar spot this Sunday (6/12) for Lawrence University’s annual graduation ceremonies — near the front of the processional and upon the commencement stage. But instead of overseeing the conferring of honorary degrees as he did for 25 years, he will be the recipient of one this time.

Warch, who retired in 2004 as president of Lawrence, along with well-known composer and jazz musician John Harmon and Wisconsin business leader and philanthropist Herbert Kohler will be recognized for their achievements and contributions by Lawrence with honorary degrees during the college’s 156th commencement, which begins at 10:30 a.m. on the Main Hall green. Two hundred and seventy-nine seniors are expected to receive bachelor of arts and/or music degrees.

During the ceremony, Lawrence will award an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts to Harmon, an honorary Doctor of Laws to Kohler, the chairman, chief operating officer and president of the Kohler Company, and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters to Warch. In addition, the annual Lawrence University Outstanding Teaching in Wisconsin Award will be presented to Marilyn Catlin, a family consumer education teacher at Appleton East High School and Joseph Vitrano, who teaches Latin and English at Wauwatosa East High School.

A baccalaureate service featuring Julie McQuinn, assistant professor of music, will be held Saturday, June 11 at 11 a.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel.

The three honorary doctorate degree recipients, along with President Jill Beck, Lawrence Board of Trustees Chair William Hochkammer and student representative Andria Helm, a senior from Rocky Mount, N.C., will address the graduates during commencement. Both the baccalaureate service and commencement ceremony are free and open to the public.

Harmon, a native of Oshkosh who now resides in Winneconne, has left an indelible musical imprint, locally as well as nationally, as a pianist, composer, arranger and educator. After earning a bachelor of music degree in composition from Lawrence in 1957, he embarked on a musical career that saw him study with legendary pianist Oscar Peterson, work as a performer and arranger in New York City and tour Europe as the leader of a jazz trio. He also was a founding member of Matrix, the critically acclaimed contemporary nonet that recorded five albums in the 1970s and early ’80s.

In 1971, Harmon returned to Lawrence and founded the college’s award-winning jazz studies program. He has remained involved with his alma mater over the years, directing Lawrence’s jazz combo program and teaching improvisation and jazz composition.

As a composer, Harmon has received more than 50 commissions for a wide variety of genres, including orchestra, band and chamber ensemble. In addition, he has written more than 50 works for chorus. He has held composer-in-residence appointments at more than 40 elementary and secondary schools in Wisconsin and beyond and has served in that role at the Red Lodge Summer Music Festival in Montana since 1991.

Harmon’s musical virtuosity has been recognized with numerous honors, among them the Renaissance Award from the Fox Valley Arts Council, the Distinguished Service Award from the Wisconsin Music Teachers Association and the Performance of the Month Award from Jazziz, the international jazz magazine. Most recently, Harmon was elected a fellow of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.

Arguably best known for the world-class golf courses he has built in Wisconsin, including Whistling Straits, the acclaimed links course along the shore of Lake Michigan in Haven, Kohler has established himself as a visionary business leader and generous benefactor of the arts.

A graduate of Yale University, he worked his way up through the ranks from high school laborer in the family manufacturing business founded by his grandfather in 1873 to become head of what is now one of the world’s largest privately owned companies. He was named a director of the Kohler corporation in 1967 and held successive appointments as vice president of operations, executive vice president and chairman of the board. He was appointed company president in 1974.

During his career, Kohler has received more than 200 design and utility patents and his business acumen has earned him induction into the National Association of Home Builders’ National Housing Hall of Fame, the National Kitchen and Bath Hall of Fame and the Family Business Hall of Fame of the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. In 1997, he was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, which recognizes distinguished Americans who have made significant contributions to the nation’s heritage.

In addition to his executive responsibilities with the Kohler Company, he serves as chairman of the Kohler Foundation, a philanthropic organization that supports educational, cultural and preservation projects in Wisconsin.

The Kohler family has held a long association with Lawrence. Just as his mother and uncle had done previously, Kohler served as a member of the Lawrence Board of Trustees (1974-2002). Kohler Hall, a student residence, and the Kohler Gallery in the Wriston Art Center are named in honor of Kohler’s mother and father, respectively.

The Kohler Company, the Kohler Trust for Arts and Education and the Kohler Foundation have supported numerous campus projects and programs, among them Science Hall, Wriston Art Center, the reconstruction of the Björklunden lodge, the Kohler Program in Art History and an arts program endowment. The Kohler Endowed Scholarship Fund has provided financial assistance for countless students.

Warch, the second-longest serving president in Lawrence’s history, was named the college’s 14th president in 1979. Prior to that, he served the college two years as vice president for academic affairs.

During his 25-year tenure, Warch established himself as a national advocate for the residential liberal arts college model of education, promoting the values of teaching and learning as well as civic and voluntary service.

In 1987, he was cited as one of the country’s top 100 college presidents in the two year study, “The Effective College President,” which was funded by the Exxon Education Foundation. That same year, while delivering one of the keynote addresses of the NCAA annual convention, Warch sparked national discussion by calling for the elimination of all athletic scholarships in favor of administering financial aid to all students equitably on the basis of demonstrated need.

Among the most important legacies of Warch’s presidency was the creation of the popular weekend student seminar program at Björklunden, Lawrence’s 425-acre “northern campus” in Door County and the establishment of Björklunden as an integral part of the Lawrence educational experience.

As president, Warch oversaw the construction of six new campus buildings and the renovation of eight others. Lawrence’s endowment grew from $23.4 million at the start of his presidency to $182.2 million at the time of his retirement.

Since leaving Lawrence, Warch has been honored by Campus Compact, a national higher education association dedicated to campus-based civic engagement, with its Presidential Civic Leadership Award and been appointed by Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle to the state Ethics Board.

A native of Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J., Warch earned his bachelor’s degree in history at Williams College and a Ph.D. in American Studies at Yale. He makes his home today in Ellison Bay.