Outstanding Orono Alumni Honored
The Orono Foundation for Education and its Alumni Association are pleased to announce this year’s Promising Alumni and Distinguished Alumni Award winners. The awards, established 20 years ago, recognize alumni who have achieved outstanding success in their careers while strengthening and supporting the community. To qualify, promising alumni must have graduated on or after 2006; distinguished awards go to alumni who graduated before 2005.
Genna Torney class of 2006 | Promising Alumni Award
Congratulations to Genna Torney ’06, Orono Schools Youth Development Coordinator, who established and now manages the Orono Community Education SPARKS and STRIVE programs. These programs support students through personalized tutoring, mentorship, mental health support, and scholarship opportunities. She uses her Spanish language skills to help Spanish-speaking families and recruits volunteer mentors. Genna brings together staff from Orono Schools, community organizations, and individual volunteers who work together on this holistic effort.
Genna developed her entrepreneurial spirit in the DECA program at Orono High School. Her exemplary vision and creative efforts to solve needs in the community have helped countless families. Selection Committee member Micah Benway noted that Genna would like to one day open a restaurant to donate meals to those in need and to teach young people skills in the hospitality industry.
Genna says, “I appreciate all that Orono Schools provided me as a student, including staff who were pivotal mentors, an internship, as well as leadership and service opportunities. All of these opportunities contributed to my career path in social work. It is such an honor to receive the Promising Alumni Award. I hope I am giving back to our community by walking alongside students and families in the district and serving them well in my role with Orono Community Education.”
Julie Maas-Kusske, class of 1993 | Distinguished Alumni Award
Julie is well known in the community as Mayor of Maple Plain. She credits Orono Schools for encouraging her and setting high expectations. Julie is a leader and role model in the community and her church. “Community service is like the act of planting a small tree. It offers little shade today but will offer much shade to future generations,” she says.
Julie took advantage of the opportunities our smaller district affords and felt welcome to explore a variety of interests. She fondly recalls the personal attention she received and notes, “You are never just a number at Orono.”
“I am grateful for the opportunity I had to attend Orono Schools,” Julie said. “I was blessed to be able to participate in three sports, sing in the choir, serve on the student senate, participate in the drama program, lead the S.A.D.D. (students against drunk driving) group, and represent the student body on committees. Many Orono teachers, staff and coaches helped to form who I am today. They encouraged me to take risks, push myself and learn from my mistakes. I truly believe I would not be the person I am today without my Orono Schools education and experiences. I am honored to be among those who have received the Distinguished Alumni Award before me.”
Elizabeth “Liz” Young Jarnigan, class of 1983 | Distinguished Alumni Award
It’s an honor to present a Distinguished Alumni Award to Elizabeth “Liz” Young Jarnigan ‘83, the current director of athletics at Southern Illinois University. Paul Springmeyer, a selection committee member, said it best about Liz:
“It is always inspiring to see the paths Orono Alumni take following their time in this great district. Liz is a perfect example of this, with a career steeped in success, but more importantly, a legacy built on instituting accountability and excellence for collegiate student-athletes inside the classroom, on the field, and in their future endeavors. She has proven to be an inspiration and role model for girls and women in sports and her leadership is unquestionable. We are proud to call her one of our own.”
Liz said, “Being recognized with an Orono Distinguished Alumni Award is an incredible honor that provides me the opportunity to express gratitude to those who had a positive impact on my life. I am thankful for the outstanding education I received as a student in Orono Schools. The fact that I have been able to forge a career in a male-dominated industry is a testament to the support and encouragement I received from my teachers and coaches while growing up. They provided me with the educational foundation to succeed in college and beyond. They also encouraged me as a competitor and aspiring leader. No Orono teacher, though, has inspired me more than my own mom (Mrs. Young to a few generations of Orono students). Through her life’s work teaching and coaching young women (even before the days of Title IX), I learned both the value of education and the importance of teamwork. As an original ‘sporty girl,’ she also taught me about the competitive drive. She is my role model!”
While my career path has taken me away, Orono has always been my home. What a privilege to have grown up in this amazing place! I owe anything I’ve accomplished to the foundation I received from my family, the community, and Orono Schools. Receiving recognition from the school that helped me develop the confidence and skills to pursue my dreams is extremely special. Go, Spartans!
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the traditional Alumni Awards breakfast will not be held this year; a suitable celebration will be announced at a later date.
Nominate an Orono alum today!
Nominations are now open for the 2021 Distinguished and Promising Alumni awards. Please submit your application online at http://bit.ly/AWARDS-FORM or email email@example.com for more information.