2018 Outstanding Alumni Awardees
2018 Oustanding Alumni Awardees
The Outstanding Alumni Awards are given by Northwood University to its graduates who believe and support the university mission and core values and who are an example to all future alumni of Northwood University. The following Alumni will be honored on Thursday, March 22 at 5 p.m. Learn more about each of the awardees here!
Young Alumni Volunteer Award - Dan and Kristina Waskiewicz - Class of 2011
Kristina earned her BBA in accounting and management and then earned her CPA within one year of graduation. She previously worked at Rehmann group where, in just five years, she rose to the role of audit manager. She credits her time at Northwood with providing her many opportunities to learn to network properly and effectively with her classmates and teammates, many of whom she is still close with today.
At Northwood, she was a member of the Student Alumni Network, BPA, and the Northwood track and field team. She was a GLIAC All-Academic athlete and served on the student athletic advisory committee.
What is your most valuable memory from your time as a NU student?
One of my most valuable memories from my time at Northwood is the time spent developing relationships with my classmates. Those individuals are now my closes friends, colleagues, and even my husband. The people you meet at Northwood, all go out into the business world and are valuable resources. They may be future clients, referral sources, references and will assist you in your personal career advancement. - Kristina Waskiewicz
Dan is the Director of Investments at Oppenheimer and Company, Inc., in Frankenmuth. He earned his BBA with a concentration in finance and economics and was the recipient of the prestigious Arthur E. Turner Award, the top honor given to a graduating senior.
Dan also competed with Northwood’s track and field team where he earned GLIAC All-Academic honors all four years he attended. His favorite memories were made in the times following competitive meets where he and his teammates were able to enjoy their training time and look forward to the week ahead.As young alumni who are members of Northwood’s Alumni Leadership Council and Project 100, Kristina and Dan exemplify the spirit of the Northwood Idea and personify the true meaning of volunteerism.
Business will always be competitive, especially in the automotive industry. How do you best handle competition? Do you tend to stay calm and collected, or does pressure create diamonds?
I view competition as a measuring stick of what I can continually accomplish. There will always be someone smarter than I, more successful than I, and better than I in one way or another. I tend to stay calm in realizing that I can only control my internal response to my external environment. Beyond that, some things I cannot control nor do I have the time or energy to focus on what is outside of my control. If I can keep my head down and work harder than the next person, competition will take care of itself. -Dan Waskieqicz
Alumni Service Award – Chaplain James R. Damude – Class of 2000
Captain James Damude serves as a Chaplain in the United States Army at the Joint Special Operations Command, in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He earned his BBA in marketing and management from Northwood University in 2000. Captain Damude went on to complete his Certificate of Ordination at Global University in Springfield, Missouri, and earned his Master’s of Divinity in 2016 from Rawlings School of Divinity in Lynchburg, Virginia.
“My Northwood University experience taught me education is an investment into the future,” he said. “I have come to value informal education and building networks outside of the classroom.”
While at Northwood, Captain Damude played on the Northwood University hockey team and was a member of the residential life program. He was a member of the American Advertising Federation group on campus and Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship. He was awarded the Northwood Student Service Award in 2000.
Captain Damude also served as a volunteer advisor to the organization The Church Reloaded as a student. As part of this group he and other students traveled to the Dominican Republic, Honduras, the Ukraine, Jordan, Israel, Morocco and India. He compares his time serving as a student to his service in American armed services today.
“I have the incredible honor of serving as a U.S. Army Chaplain, where I take care of soldiers who take care of our country,” he said. “These men and women are intentionally sacrificing higher-paying careers, time with family and their own personal well-being to protect our world and preserve our freedoms.”
Captain Damude met his wife, Sara—a 2003 Northwood graduate— on campus while practicing for a student swing dance competition. Now married for 15 years, they reside in Cameron, North Carolina with their four children Easton, Sydney, Emily and Silas. Recently, James and his two oldest children taught at Northwood’s LAB (Learning About Business) Camp and spoke on philanthropy in the marketplace.
What/who inspired you to pursue a career in ministry after graduating Northwood University?
While looking for jobs Captain Damude said that it became apparent that a job he could get was to be a Chaplin and he was interested to see what it was like. A few professors on campus, Matchek, Moots, and Phillips, helped guide him to use his life to the fullest possibilities.
Alumni Leadership Award - Jennifer (Griffin) Williams - Class of 1983
Jennifer Williams is a Northwood alumna and avid volunteer and philanthropist. She earned an associate’s in executive secretarial disciplines in 1983, and held positions at F.T.D. Florists Transworld Delivery and Cambridge Arts Products Business Television Video.
Jennifer serves on numerous committees at First United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Michigan. Since 1997 she has participated in W.O.W. Women of the Word Bible Study weekly, facilitating a small group & leader team, teaching and giving weekly lectures. She was a member of the Compass Committee, which—as the church's executive leadership committee—advises the Senior Pastor and all other church committees on direction, from 2012 to 2014.
From 2015-2017, she served on the Nominations and Lay Leadership Development Committee which advises Senior Pastor and addresses and places those needed in positions of leadership. Most recently, she has served on the United Methodist Women Rummage Committee. As a member of the eight-woman committee, Jennifer helps to organize more than 700 volunteers at each sale twice each year, raising more than $100,000 in support of 35 outreach Missions.
In 2014 Jennifer joined the Northwood University Auto Show Gala Committee, and she and her husband Graham became co-chairs of the committee from 2015 to 2017. Jennifer and Graham led the event to a record-breaking fundraising amount of more than $116,000 for scholarships in 2017.
Jennifer and her husband Graham, a Northwood University Trustee, live in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Their son, Griffin, is a 2016 Northwood graduate and a third-generation member of the family’s business, Power Process Piping, Inc.
"There is a formula up at Northwood and it’s been the same way since 1959 and I could never put my finger on it but every student is far above what the typical college student is."
Alumni Achievement Awards
Paul Reitz – Class of 1994
Paul George Reitz is the CEO and President of Titan International, one of the largest manufacturers and a global leader of off-the-road tires and wheels for the agriculture, construction, forestry, and mining industries. He joined the company in July 2010 as Chief Financial Officer and was promoted to President in February 2014. He is also a member of the Board of Directors. In 2002, he earned his Master of Business Administration from the University of Iowa.
Prior to joining Titan, Paul was the Chief Accounting Officer for Carmike Cinemas based in Columbus, Georgia. He has held previous leadership positions with McLeodUSA Publishing, Yellow Book USA Inc., and Deloitte and Touche LLP.
Paul graduated from Northwood University in 1994 with a major in accounting. While at Northwood, he played tennis for four years and was named a GTE Tennis Academic All-American. He remembers Coach Zane Colestock as “a 2nd dad” to him and credits him for getting the team to work and compete hard every day. He was also a member of Alpha Rho Mu fraternity.
“Northwood University has played an important role in both my professional and personal life through its principles that are centered on the strengths of an entrepreneurial, free-enterprise society coupled with the importance of personal accountability,” Paul says. He cites the passion and energy of Dale Haywood and Jeff Bennett for encouraging him to wake up each day to a job that he loves.
“For me, it was the combination of these special teachers and the Northwood values, that after my time there has empowered me to never stop learning and developing my business mind,” he says. “I give credit to my time at Northwood in cultivating that endless curiosity about business. The business principles I developed through my Northwood education has created a foundation that I’m proud to have built into a successful career.”
Paul met his wife Amy (Jewell) Reitz at Northwood on the first day of class in 1992. She is a 1995 graduate. He says “It’s good to look back to our first meeting at Northwood and see what we have built together over 25 years”. They have two children, Jake and Samantha, and reside in Auburn, Alabama.
How have the ideas of individual freedom and individual responsibility affected your professional life?
Continuous learning – it is your responsibility to keep current with what’s going on in the world around you and how the world is changing. “You’re responsible for yourself and you learn from experiences."
Ryan LaFontaine - Class of 1999
As the Chief Operating Officer of the family-owned and operated LaFontaine Automotive Croup, Ryan LaFontaine has been the source of countless incredible initiatives and opportunities that have led to the rapid growth of the company. The La Fontaine Automotive Group consists of 34 franchises, 20 retail locations and 5 Collision Centers. In 2016, the group's revenue was more than $810,000,000, with close to 20,000 new and pre-owned vehicles sold. The entire business, centered on 'The Family Deal,’ is inspired by leadership by example, ensuring employees put their families first.
Under Ryan's leadership, the organization has received countless honors and awards such as the Cadillac, Buick & GMC Dealer of the Year from 2010-2016, the Buick National Sales Leader from 2011-2016 (recognizing the no. 1 volume dealer in the nation), the 2015 Honda Council of Excellence, and the Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Customer First in 2016.
His advocacy for the environment and the community has led him to open four nationally-recognized LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certified facilities, including: The Ford Motor Company's only Gold LEED Certified dealership worldwide, located in Birch Run, Michigan; Gold LEED Certified Cadillac Buick GMC of Highland; Silver LEED Certified Volkswagen of Dearborn; and Silver LEED Certified Chevrolet of Dexter.
In 2016 Ryan served as President of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, and was recently Chairman of the 2018 North American International Auto Show, the youngest dealer to ever serve in that capacity. He serves on many boards and has a passion for community involvement. He served as the Vice President of the Cadillac LMG Board, Vice President of BPG LMG Board, GMF Advisory Board, On-Star Advisory Board, National Green Summit Speaker/Board Member and was a 2017 Northwood University Auto Show panelist.
A cancer survivor, Ryan was honored as the 2014 Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Man of the Year, and he has raised more than $2 million and has funded 10 cancer research grants. He is most proud of starting his own 501c3 foundation in 2016 with his sister Kelley and is Chairman of the U CAN-CER VIVE Foundation. U CAN-CER VIVE has raised more than $500,000 benefiting cancer research grants in the state of Michigan.
Ryan is a 1999 graduate of Northwood University’s automotive marketing and management program, and Kelley and their brother Mike are also Northwood alumni. He credits his time at Northwood with building a lifelong network of friendships. While a student, he served as president of Phi Delta Theta fraternity and was a team captain of the Northwood University International Auto Show. He provides a sponsorship annually for the auto show and recently committed $100,000 for the LaFontaine Automotive Endowed Scholarship to support students in automotive marketing and for renovations to the former graduate school building.
Ryan is a devoted husband to his wife, Wendi and loving father of five children. They currently reside in Linden, Michigan.
After graduation, all of us students aspire to find our first job and not only maintain a sufficient performance, but excel in our desired field. What is your greatest achievement so far in your industry?
It is hard to pinpoint one particular achievement, but professionally it would be the overall growth of the LaFontaine name. The dealerships have grown from two to 20 stores and from 150 employees to over 1300. He described it as taking something that was given to him and growing it to the next level. On the personal side, it would be getting married to his wife, Wendi, and having five beautiful children. Ryan is also celebrating 10 years cancer-free this year.
Kelly Cheeseman - Class of 2000
Kelly Cheeseman serves as Chief Operating Officer of the National Hockey Leagues’ Los Angeles Kings, and represents the Kings as an Alternate Governor. In addition, he also serves as COO for AEG Sports, which oversees multiple sports teams and events including the LA Galaxy Major League Soccer team; Ontario Reign AHL team; Amgen Tour of California cycling race, and Eisbären Berlin of Deutsche Eishockey Liga where he plays an integral executive role and is a member of the hockey franchise’s Board of Directors.
Kelly has been with the King’s organization for 17 years. As part of the senior executive leadership team, he plays a key role in achieving record organizational success and setting a number of franchise records in ticket sales, sponsorship and online digital metrics, including a current club record sellout streak of 245 consecutive games—213 straight regular season contests—dating back to December 3, 2011. In 2014, he was named to Street and Smith’s Sports Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” list.
Under Cheeseman’s leadership since 2008, the Kings Season Ticket base has grown by more than 80 percent and achieved record renewal rates. In 2015, the Kings were named the Sports Team of the Year at the Sports Business Journal’s Sports Business Awards event in New York.
In addition to his day to day role as COO, Kelly has served as a member of the NHL Ticket Advisory Board, is a Board Member for the Kings Care and LA Galaxy Foundations, and is also a member of the Board for the Discovery Science Center Los Angeles. He oversaw the $1 million pledge to Children’s Hospitals Los Angeles that also included a $1 million commitment to the L.A. Kings Bloodmobile and $500,000 to the Blood Donor Center, and $1 million gift to Camp Ronald McDonald.
A 2000 graduate of Northwood University in West Palm Beach, Florida, Kelly earned his bachelor’s degree with a major in marketing management and minors in advertising and management information systems. He also served as senior class president, was a member of the Men's Varsity Baseball Team and was named the 2000 Student Athlete of the Year.
Kelly and his wife Andrea reside in Redondo Beach, California, with their daughters, Emma and Maisie.
Would you say the Northwood University mission statement of a “Global, free-enterprise society,” has defined your career thus far?
I’m not sure it’s defined my career, but the entrepreneurial spirit that is at the core of the Northwood Idea has provided the creativity and innovation that helped set us apart as a company and organization. It’s something that has always inspired me. At AEG Sports and with the Kings, we have always driven ourselves to be different and dare to do things other teams wouldn’t. This includes reaching out globally to try new things in our sports like playing the first NHL games in China with the Kings, signing David Beckham to the LA Galaxy, starting a new west coast division of the NHL with the Ontario Reign or daring to do a second championship parade on the beach! We don’t like sitting still and doing the same thing over and over.