Distinguished alumni honored during DWU’s Legacy Banquet

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Dakota Wesleyan University recognized three alumni with Distinguished Alumni Awards during the annual Legacy Banquet Thursday.

The Legacy Banquet honors alumni and friends of Dakota Wesleyan who have generously supported the university. Distinguished Alumni Awards are given to alumni who have distinguished themselves in their field and/or committed great acts of service to their community and/or humanity. To view a photo gallery from the event, click here.

Receiving distinguished alumni awards this year are: For the College of Leadership and Public Service: J. Leon Washington ’72; for the Donna Starr Christen College of Healthcare, Fitness and Sciences: Mike Denney ’69; and for the College of Arts and Humanities: Bradley Pratt ’79.

A full list of events for Blue & White Days is listed here.

J. Leon Washington, of Bethlehem, Pa., received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Leadership and Public Service.

Washington graduated from Dakota Wesleyan in 1972 with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. He went on to earn a Master of Arts degree in anthropology from California State University, East Bay.

He has been the dean of enrollment management at Villanova University for the past two years, but his 43-year career in higher education has included various positions in enrollment management at both selective private and public universities.

His roles have included admissions and retention at liberal arts colleges and major universities across the country, including: Villanova University, Pennsylvania; Lehigh University, Pennsylvania; University of California, Davis; California State University; Guilford College, North Carolina; Oberlin College, Ohio; Amherst College; Massachusetts; and Iowa State University, among others.

Washington has had the opportunity to provide leadership and strategic enrollment management planning services for offices of undergraduate admissions, academic preparation programs, and retention and advising services.  He has also managed additional critical areas for educational opportunity programs, financial aid, the learning skills center, services for international students and scholars, the registrar, student judicial affairs, and student affairs research and information.  After spending more than a decade in the California State University organization, Washington was appointed associate director of enrollment management services for the California State University Chancellor’s Office, where he was responsible for enrollment management of the entire 23 campuses of California State University.

Washington has continued to be a leader in recruiting minority students, a tribute to his experience as the first African-American to graduate from an all-white high school, Wade Hampton High School, and for his time at DWU as being one of 14 African-American students on campus. He also established the School of English in Brazil, where he increased enrollment from 10 to 60 students.

With a long and successful career in enrollment management, Washington serves on the DWU Board of Trustees and is the chairman of the Enrollment Management Committee.  He is also a regular and generous supporter of the Wesleyan Scholarship Fund. In addition, Washington has served on many national committees and boards in numerous higher education organizations.

Washington is married to Maria-Lucia and they have three daughters, Linara Washington-Jones, Lais Washington and Leandra Washington.

Mike Denney, of St. Louis, Mo., received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Donna Starr Christen College of Healthcare, Fitness and Sciences.

Denney’s positive approach to coaching has shaped and guided many young individuals to succeed athletically and academically. Now entering his 50th year of coaching, his mission is to teach, build and master the art of encouragement.

During his time at DWU, Denney was a four-year starter, All-Conference and All-District athlete in football and wrestling, was captain of both teams, and selected as one of the Outstanding College Athletes of America his senior year. He demonstrated a strong work ethic on and off the field and established a close relationship with many of his teammates and friends.

After receiving his Bachelor of Science degree from DWU in 1969, he was recruited to play with the Omaha Mustangs semi-professional football team. He taught and coached 10 years in the Omaha Public School System and 32 years at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He also earned his Master of Arts degree and Educational Administrative Endorsement from UNO.

During his tenure at UNO, Denney claimed seven NCAA Division II National Wrestling Championships between 1991 and 2011 and finished in the NCAA Division II National Tournament top three 23 times, in the top five 27 times and the top 10, 31 of 32 seasons, which leads the nation in NCAA Division II Wrestling. In all, Denney has had wrestlers win 203 NCAA Division II All-American Awards and has coached 35 national champions, which also leads the nation in NCAA Division II Wrestling.

In 2011, Denney became the first head wrestling coach at Maryville University. Charged with a task of building an entire program from scratch, Denney went on to lead his team to two consecutive NCAA Division II Regional Championships and two third-place finishes in the NCAA Division II National Championships. Denney has coached 22 NCAA Division II All-Americans and has crowned two national champions in his seven years at Maryville. In total, 77 student-athletes have been recognized as NCAA Division II NWCA Academic All-Americans in his tenure at UNO and Maryville University. The 2018 Maryville wrestling team won the NWCA Division II Wrestling Academic National Championship with a GPA of 3.453. His UNO team also won the Academic National Championship in 2004 – making history as the only college wrestling team to win both titles in the same year.

Denney has a long list of athletic accomplishments. He was named Omaha Metro High School Coach of the Year in 1975 and was inducted into the Omaha Metro Coaches Hall of Fame in 1984. He was selected as DWU Young Alumnus of the Year in 1981, inducted into the DWU Athletic Hall of Fame in 1988, and selected as DWU Alumni Coach of the Year in 1997. He was named the NCAA Division II Wrestling Coach of the Year in 1981, 1991 and 2009, and was inducted into the NCAA Division II Hall of Fame in 1999. He received the Nebraska Wrestling Coaches Association prestigious Guy Mytty Memorial Award for his outstanding dedication and service to high school wrestling in Nebraska in 2004. He was awarded the University of Nebraska at Omaha Chancellors Medal in 2004. He was selected as the “Amateur Wrestling News” Man of the Year and Dan Gable Coach of the Year in 2006. He was voted 2011 InterMat Coach of the Year – an award that recognizes the top college wrestling coach across all NCAA divisions. He was selected the inaugural Great Lakes Valley Coach of the Year in 2017. Denney also holds a third-degree black belt in Judo. He placed many years in the National Judo Championships and won the Masters National Championship at 209 pounds in 1982.

He and his wife, Bonnie, have been married for 49 years and have three children, Rocky, Michealene and Luke, and seven grandchildren.

Bradley W. Pratt, of North Mankato, Minn., received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Arts and Humanities.

Pratt was raised in DeSmet, S.D. After graduating from Dakota Wesleyan University in 1979, he taught music in northern Iowa for two years. Then, in 1981, he began his financial services career in Minnesota, became a founding partner of Pratt, Kutzke & Associates, an independent financial consulting and wealth management firm, and serving clients in the financial service industry for more than 30 years.

As a student at DWU, Pratt was involved in a variety of activities. He attributes his exposure to life experiences as a significant component to his well-rounded education. While on campus, Pratt shared his gift of positivity and camaraderie as one of the first male cheerleaders at DWU.

He spent his junior year working in the admissions department and taught elementary music for the Mount Vernon School District his senior year. Pratt remembers Dr. Paul Scheuerle fostering Pratt’s love for music and patiently taught him to play a variety of musical instruments. As a music major, Pratt is a perfect example of how an interest in liberal arts can translate into a successful career.   

Pratt has been a dedicated leader and a loyal supporter of Dakota Wesleyan University in numerous ways. He currently serves on the DWU Board of Trustees, where he led as chairpman for six years. Pratt is also a former DWU Alumni Board member.

Beyond his service to Dakota Wesleyan’s boards, he has given financially to DWU for 29 years. He has contributed as a leadership donor to the Wesleyan Scholarship Fund and earned room-naming rights as a major gift donor for the DWU/Avera Sports and Wellness Complex. His most recent contribution assisted in funding the new DWU Alumni Welcome Center, which will house the institutional advancement office and provide a space for alumni to gather.

Pratt is involved and supports numerous local organizations in Minnesota. He has served as president of the Minnesota Insurance and Financial Advisors, president of Mankato Area Youth Symphony, president of Southern Minnesota Financial Services Professionals, and several committee positions and past administrative chair of Belgrade Avenue United Methodist Church in North Mankato. He is also a current board member of Mankato Leave a Legacy. 

Pratt and his wife, Teresa, have two children, a daughter, Darci Pratt; and a son, Bryan, and his wife Kari, and their two children, Leila, 9 and Celia, 7. Bryan joined Brad’s business in 2004 and Darci joined in 2013.