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Campus News / News

By Sara Myers, Digital Media & Communications Specialist 

Former U.S. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor died this past Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, according to CNN

O’Connor was the first woman to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. According to CNN, the former U.S. Justice died from “complications related to advanced dementia.” She was 93. 

According to the Rockford Register Star, the Hon. Sandra Day O’Connor delivered the commencement address at Rockford University on May 14, 1989. O’Conner was also a recipient of the Jane Addams Medal in 1987

In the CNN article, President Joe Biden called her “an American icon” and also said, “I did not agree with all of her opinions, but I admired her decency and unwavering devotion to the facts, to our country, to active citizenship and the common good.”

A Thrilling Recap of Unforgettable Performances

RU Performing Arts students perform in Maddox Theatre

by Lindsey Giardino 

It’s always an exciting time within Rockford University’s performing arts program.

Each academic year, the department produces a collection of theater productions open to the campus community and general public. This past fall, those productions included a 1960s themed cabaret show directed by RU Performing Arts Professor Timm Adams entitled, “Good Vibrations: Songs of the 60s!”

Complementary tickets were sent to Rockford University alumni who graduated in the 1960s and 1970s, and many attended a performance.

Another performance, “These Shining Lives,” was directed by Professor Deborah Mogford in November 2022. The heart-wrenching play is based on the true story of Catherine Donahue and her friends who worked for the Radium Dial Company and how women’s lives were changed between 1922 and 1938 by the right to vote and new job opportunities.

In addition, Rockford University’s choirs and special guest Camerata Emanon put on a choral concert in November, performing “And the Angels Sang.” 

The fall season came to a close with a dance performance, “Orchesis: New Beginnings,” co-directed by Performing Arts Department Chair and Technical Director Beth Drog and graduating senior Marissa Ott. Not only did this feature Rockford University dancers, but it also  featured dancers from Rockford Dance Company, Evolve Dance Company, Auburn High School and South Beloit High School.

“Rockford University Performing Arts truly produces excellence in the realm of performing arts here in Rockford,” said Margaret McGraw, administrative and marketing assistant for the visual and performing arts program at RU. “The rigorous program provided by our hardworking faculty produces in our students the skills they need to progress in their artistic career.”

Although guided by faculty, each show is the collective hard work of every student in the program, McGraw said.

While there are many highlights of the overall program to call out, one pressing event is the retirement of Professor Jeff Hendry, who retired at the end of the spring semester after 41 years. He created the majority of the costumes seen on stage at Rockford University.

To purchase tickets to a future Rockford University production or to learn more about all the happenings, call 815-226-4100 or visit

Rockford University Performing Arts students performing

This story was originally published in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Catalyst

by Kyle Fritz, Assistant Director of Athletic Communications 

Kevin Diemer playing basketball

Rockford University’s junior and Men’s Basketball forward Kevin Diemer surpassed another career milestone this past season, when he scored his 1,000th career point in the Regents’ 74-64 win at Benedictine University. Kevin is no stranger to achieving career milestones however, as he is also in the men’s basketball record book for grabbing his 500th career rebound in the 2021 Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference Tournament (NACC) Championship game at Wisconsin Lutheran College. 

Currently, Kevin is one of only 17 RU men’s basketball players with 500 career rebounds, one of only 26 players with 1,000 points and one of only 15 players in program history with both 1,000 points and 500 rebounds. All of these accomplishments put him among some of Rockford’s best players, as he currently sits 21st on the all-time scoring list with 1,081 points and 12th in the all-time rebounding list with 659 boards.

“It was a really awesome experience to be able to reach that milestone, and what made it even more special was that it came in the most important win of our season thus far,” Kevin said, when asked about reaching 1,000 points. “My teammates truly are the best, and I want to thank them for helping me along the way. They really made it a special night for me, and I could not be more grateful for them.”

Kevin is not the only Diemer to make both of these lists. His older brother Tony accomplished both of those feats just a few years prior. Tony joined the 1,000 point club with a 26-point effort at Edgewood College back on January 23, 2018. Tony then joined the 500 rebound club ten months later with 10 rebounds in the Regents’ opening game of the 2018-19 season at Carroll University. Both of these were special moments for the Diemer family, as Kevin played alongside his brother during each of those seasons and was able to watch him hit both career milestones.

Tony finished his career fourth on Rockford’s all-time scoring list with 1,650 points and tenth in program history with 679 rebounds. However, Kevin is close to surpassing both of Tony’s marks and still has another year of eligibility remaining. Kevin currently needs just 569 points and 21 rebounds to vault ahead of his older brother on Rockford’s career scoring and rebounding lists. No matter who ends up on top though, Kevin and Tony have already made history as the first pair of brothers to score 1,000 points and grab 500 rebounds at Rockford University.

“Our entire childhood we competed in any way we could, which really helped both of us get better in the long run,” Kevin said. “I know I would not be the competitor I am today without him.” 

The 2022-23 men’s basketball team qualified for the NACC Tournament by winning their final four NACC games of the regular season against Benedictine, Lakeland, Aurora and Illinois Tech. Those four wins sent the Regents to the conference tournament for the third straight year and for the fourth time in the last five years. 

The Regents entered the 2023 NACC Tournament as the number six seed, but unfortunately came up short in their first round game at third seed Marian University. Despite the postseason loss, Rockford still had an outstanding season. Rockford finished with a 13-11 overall record, marking the third straight year the Regents have posted a winning record, which is the longest such streak in 20 years. 

Tony Diemer Regents Basketball

This story was originally published the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Catalyst

Thriving on the Digital Battlefield

Rockford University Esports lab

by Lindsey Giardino 

When Rockford Female Seminary was chartered on February 25, 1847, playing games on a computer was not imaginable. It did not exist.

Fast forward 176 years later, and Rockford University’s Esports program is growing and thriving as another attraction for new students. The Esports program, formally called Regent’s Esports, formed in the fall of 2019.

The 2022-23 season was especially exciting. The program received generous funding to purchase new gaming computers and launched scholarships specifically for students in Esports. Regent’s Esports also has its own state-of-the-art facility located in the heart of the Burpee Student Center, which features two dedicated streaming/content creation desktops, 16 MSI gaming stations, and top tier gaming peripherals.

“Students from all aspects of the university get involved with our program for the chance to compete in the games they are passionate about,” said Alex Johnson, director of student involvement and orientation and Esports coordinator. 

Esports students play on teams in competitive matches. 

Rockford University Esports Director and Graduate Hall Director, Tanner Elliott, has been with the program since 2019, but officially began his new role in 2023.

“This program has developed me professionally, socially, and academically just as much as my education has here at RU,” he said. 

“My goal is to make students on the teams feel like they found where they belong at RU and give them the best experience possible.”

Rockford University Esports team

This story was originally published in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Catalyst

Rockford University Costume Designer Takes Last Bow

Jeff Hendry between two model forms

By Aris Sherwood

Walk into the lobby of Maddox Theatre in the Clark Arts Center at Rockford University, and you will find mannequins dressed in costumes of shows past. Underneath them are the designers’ names on plaques. Newly retired professor of theater arts and costume designer, Jeff Hendry’s name is captured on many.

Hendry retired at the end of the 2023 spring semester after 41 years.  During his time here, Hendry has worn many different hats due to his diverse background. He has directed shows and has even taught Rockford University theater history and Shakespeare courses.

Originally from Phoenix, Arizona, Hendry received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theater Production from the University of Arizona, and Master of Fine Arts in Costume Design from University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

When he left graduate school, Hendry said he was searching for jobs primarily in the Midwest. Rockford University was where he ended up and stayed.

“I kind of bounced around a lot,” he said.

actors perform wearing Jeff Hendry's design in The Importance of Being Earnest in Spring 2023.
Actors perform wearing Jeff Hendry’s designs in The Importance of Being Earnest in Spring 2023.

Designer of Many Hats

“I have an odd skill set compared to most costume designers,” he said. “Most design people have a secondary emphasis in graduate school in another design area. I didn’t. I had directing as my secondary emphasis. I guess that’s always interested me.”

In the early 1990’s, the faculty from the theater department came together to create a musical theater major, Hendry said. Since then, Hendry has taught both performance and history/literature. He is now the only professor left of the program’s original creators.

“Professor Mogford likes to refer to me as a ‘Renaissance Man,’” he said. “I wear a lot of hats, and quite frankly, that’s part of the reason why I’ve stayed here for so long. If I had gone to a larger university, I’d end up in the costume shop and that’s all I’d be doing, because I wouldn’t have the opportunity to work in these other areas that I really enjoy.”  

Besides teaching, costume designing, and directing, on top of his extensive freelancing career, Hendry said Rockford University has given him opportunities beyond what he ever expected. Back when the university was connected to Regents College in London, England, Hendry said he was sent to London to oversee and operate the program.

“Living in London for a year and a half totally changed my outlook on life,” he said.

When Rockford University applied for and received a grant from the American and Japanese Foundation of Education, three professors were chosen to work on a communications effort with 9 other schools in the country and travel to Japan for research of their choosing. 

“I was researching Kabuki Theater and came back and produced a play in traditional Kabuki style, which was really exciting for me and the students. I could have never imagined doing that sort of thing when I came here”

For those future Rockford University students and next generation of costume designers who will not get to experience Jeff Hendry, the professor, he had one piece of advice:

“Don’t be afraid to take a risk. If any place, this is the place you can take a risk,” he said. “When I was starting here, my God, I made so many mistakes when I look back on it. But I learned from every single one of them, and it made me a better teacher and a better designer.”

This story was originally published in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Catalyst

By Sara Myers, Digital Media & Communications Specialist

2013 Rockford University BSMS Capstone Team

The year 2013 became the start of a new chapter for Rockford University. It was the year that the institution announced its name change from Rockford College to Rockford University. 

In honor of ten years since this milestone and their own graduation, multiple alumni from the class of 2013 shared their favorite college memories, and how RU prepared them for their careers. 

Joanna (Bares) Mladic

Joanna Bares (now Mladic) said she was originally drawn to Rockford College because of the vast volunteer opportunities available. Mladic studied history and secondary education during her time at RU, and initially aspired to be a history teacher, she said.

As a student she wrote for RU’s student newspaper the Recensio and participated in volunteer projects through Rotary International. She said her time in Dr. Catherine Forslund’s history classes were some of her fondest memories. That’s where she said she learned to analyze and interpret historical documents. 

“All my professors were wonderful,” Mladic said.

After graduating, Mladic decided that instead of pursuing a teaching career, she would use the skills she learned in Forslund’s history classes. In 2014, she worked at RU as a technical services assistant, serial manager and archivist. Later, she became RU’s Electronic Resources Librarian and Archivist. 

Today, Mladic works at the North Suburban Library District, located in both Loves Park and Roscoe, as the Global History Librarian.

Julia Halsted

By the time Julia Halsted began studying at RU, she already had a family and a home in Rockford. She said she needed a bachelor’s program with flexibility since her family was the first priority. She enrolled in the Rockford University Degree Completion Program.

“I ended up being a ‘comeback kid’ as they call it around here and relocated back to the (Rockford) area,” Halsted said. 

She said the program fit perfectly for her lifestyle. Halsted was able to finish her bachelor’s degree at her own pace. Halsted said she wanted to do something related to business so pursued the management studies degree. Since then, she has worked for RPS 205, the Rockford Park District, Winnebago County, and is now the Director of Operations of Administration and HR Finance at Region 1 Planning Council in Rockford.

When Halsted graduated from RU, she walked at commencement while pregnant with her second child, Anabel. 

“I chose to have Rockford University (instead of Rockford College) on my diploma,” Halsted said on her degree. “I think because I’m so forward looking, I was really excited to be among the first to have that distinction.”

Bill Newkirk

Alumnus Bill Newkirk was visiting friends who lived in the Rockford area when he heard about Rockford College for the first time. He said he was drawn onto the beautiful campus during that trip.

Newkirk received both his bachelor’s degree and MBA in accounting from RU, in 2012 and 2013, respectively. He credits his mother, who is a certified public accountant, for inspiring him to go into the accounting field. 

During his time at RU, he was involved in student government and was even a resident advisor, he said. He recalls having many professors who made an impact on him, such as Bob Evans, Bill Lewis and Hank Epstein. 

“It laid the foundation for my accounting knowledge,” Newkirk said.

Since graduating, he has taken over the family accounting firm, Newkirk and Associates, He said he has been able to use his foundation at RU in the real world and since 2016, has helped grow his family business.

Newkirk is now married to his wife Susie (previously Smith) who graduated RU in 2009. They have three children together.

This story was originally in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Catalyst

By Sara Myers, Digital Media & Communications Specialist 

This year celebrates fifty years since the class of 1973 graduated from Rockford College (now Rockford University). Graduates from this golden grad class shared stories with us on why they are proud to call Rockford their alma mater.

David & Barbara Tanaglia

High school sweethearts Dave Tanaglia and Barb Ragnar (now Tanaglia) met at Auburn High School in Rockford. For their first year of college, they chose separate schools.

Dave received an athletic scholarship for swimming at RC, which secured his decision to stay in Rockford, he said.

Barb originally went to Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois during her freshman year, but said she quickly realized a big campus was not for her. So, she decided to join her boyfriend —now husband — and other friends from Auburn at Rockford College.

“Besides David, there were a number of other people from our class in high school (at Rockford College),” Barb said. “It was almost like going to high school. It was a familiar environment.”

Aside from the social experience, Barb said she appreciated the visiting professors.

“As an economics major, I took a lot of history and English classes,” she said. “I remember one year we had one from France and he had lived through World War II. One of my economics professors was very bright, had a photographic memory.”

After getting her economics degree, Barb said she moved on to pursue a career in banking. Later she would get her Master of Library Science and switch careers.

While Barb progressed in her career, Dave used his Biology degree to become a veterinarian.

The couple later married after their time at Rockford College and eventually had two daughters.

Barb is currently on the RU Board of Trustees and is an active member of RU’s alumni association

“We both have had successful lives,” Barb said. “We want to give back to the university because we really feel that this is a place that has a lot to give people. We want to make sure that it stays successful in the future.”

Barry Smith

Barry Smith said he chose Rockford College after being influenced by his mother, an alumna from the class of 1939. 

Some of his fondest memories from the Rockford College days include special people like his academic advisor Dr. Victor Crawford. He said he also remembers the day he discovered that his sociology professor was actually his mother’s roommate during her time at RC. 

He even remembers getting to sing in the U.S. Presidential Inaugural Ball in Washington D.C. in January 1973 with RC’s Regent Singers.

Smith graduated with his Bachelor of Arts in Biology in 1973. He would later receive his doctoral degree in Plant Biology from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Although he studied biology, Smith said he spent his entire career working in the Chicago advertising market through retirement. 

“I have valued my original liberal arts education, it has allowed me to do different things without having to be specifically trained in something,” Smith said. 

Now, Smith lives with his husband John Hobbs in North Carolina, where they live close to Hobbs’ grandchildren.

Rockford College students in 1973 ride bikesRockford College student chat on campus in 1973.

This story was featured in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Catalyst

Cherie Poole Townsend ’73

07/27/2021 4:35 pm

Cherie Poole Townsend ’73 retired from public service leadership and is now serving as executive director for the International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology and for IACFP Europe, a public interest foundation in Belgium. Cherie also has her own business as an executive coach for women who are seeking positions of greater influence or leadership in public service organizations.

Joyce Williams Warren ’71

07/27/2021 4:20 pm

Joyce Williams Warren ’71 retired after 31 and a half years as Circuit/Chancery Judge for the Sixth Judicial District in Pulaski and Perry counties in Arkansas.

Carolyn Sweasy Hedin ’71

07/27/2021 3:50 pm

Carolyn Sweasy Hedin ’71 remains busy and committed to her studies, teaching yoga and Vedic Chant, and by supporting the Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Red Wing, Minn., a nonprofit center that offers residencies for writers and artists of all genres from the United States and from around the world.