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University to Honor Alumni for Merit, Accomplishments


Alumni Merit Award logo

Ten alumni from across the University have been recognized for their achievements and will receive this year’s Alumni Merit Awards.

The National Alumni Board, Development Division, leadership and faculty from ten schools and colleges across the University selected this year’s winners.

Thomas Downey  (A& S '86) 

Downey graduated from Saint Louis University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in English and a certificate in creative and professional writing. He grew his interest in journalism and communications as an undergrad on the staff of The University News and served as editor-in-chief his senior year. Immediately after graduation, Downey started working for McDonnell Douglas here in St. Louis as a writer on military fighter jet programs. His writing talent landed him a five-year assignment and move to Washington, D.C., where he held a variety of communications and business development positions. During that time, he also served as a public affairs officer in the U.S. Navy Reserves and worked on Capitol Hill as a Brookings Institution Congressional Fellow.

Downey continued to work for McDonnell Douglas in California, Seattle, St. Louis and Chicago. He was instrumental in leading communications during the merger with Boeing. He served in many important roles over the years, including a position as director of communications for Douglas Aircraft, vice president overseeing a revamp of the employee communications program, and president of communications reporting directly to the CEO and chairman.

Downey's Jesuit background is what motivated him to serve as President of the Boeing Employees Community Fund, which raised money for local communities through charitable giving.

Currently, Downey is vice president of communications and reports directly to the chairman and CEO back in Chicago. He is a member of Boeing’s Executive Council.

William Sly, M.D. (Med '57)

William Sly, M.D., is an internationally-known physician and scientist and was the inaugural holder of the James B. and Joan C. Peters Endowed Chair in Biochemistry and Molecular Microbiology. A SLU emeritus professor as of 2014, Sly spent most of his academic career in St. Louis.

After completing his undergraduate and medical degrees as Saint Louis University, Sly conducted research in laboratories at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, in Paris, France and in Madison, Wisconsin. He was named the Alice A. Doisy Professor and Chair of the Edward A. Doisy Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Microbiology at SLU in 1984.

Throughout his career, Sly was credited with significant contributions in several research areas including leading the first group to describe a patient with MPS VII, also known now as "Sly syndrome." His research contributed to the resolution of a famous forensic case involving a "mystery murder," and he and a colleague, James Shoemaker, M.D. provided evidence that also led to the defendant's release and exoneration.

Sly has received numerous awards and honors including induction into the National Academy of Sciences and the Passano Foundation Award. He has also served on many oversight, advisory and scientific editorial boards.

Thomas Hillmeyer (Cook '64)

Thomas Hillmeyer graduated from Saint Louis University with a bachelor of science in accounting in 1964. His family supplied hamburger patties to McDonald’s through their wholesale meat business and Hillmeyer began working for the family business during college.

Following graduation, he was hired as a managing partner and owner operator for two of the original St. Louis McDonald’s owners. He continued to advance over the years and retired in 2015.

During his time at McDonald’s, Hillmeyer consistently served his community. He helped to open the first St. Louis Ronald McDonald House Charity, and it remains his favorite charity to date. He is still actively involved in volunteer work at the Mercy Hospital for Children Family Room. Hillmeyer was president of the Board of Directors at Ronald McDonald-St. Louis for two years and served a total of nine years on the board. He continued to stay engaged with SLU, participating as a guest speaker for business classes and holding a position as a board member of the Emerson Electric Center for Business Ethics.

Hillmeyer served in many roles throughout his career including: training and mentoring future store managers, owners and business executives; serving as the president and treasurer of the St. Louis Area Owners Association multiple times; and helping to open 21 St. Louis area restaurants. Hillmeyer attributes his success to his education at SLU and specifically his accounting degree, which prepared him for all areas of operation in running a business.

Patrick Lee (Parks '59) 

Patrick Lee graduated from Saint Louis University with a bachelor’s of science in aerospace engineering in 1959. Lee’s talents in inventing and engineering enabled him to create his own company, Enidine Incorporated, in 1966. Based out of Buffalo, New York, Enidine grew to be one of the premier companies manufacturing shock absorption and vibration isolation products. Throughout the years, other fluid power and motion control companies with synergistic product lines were acquired and in 1996 a holding company, International Motion Control, Inc. (IMC), was formed.

IMC grew into a worldwide conglomerate with manufacturing facilities located in the United States, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Japan, Korea and China and with a network of over 300 independent distributors. Upon its sale in 2007, Lee established the Patrick P. Lee Foundation, a private family foundation dedicated to furthering the education of others. In recognition of Lee's engineering education, the foundation supports ten scholarships at Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology. The goal is to promote education of the engineering mindset and assist in successful manufacturing endeavors within the United States. The Lee Foundation also focuses on spreading awareness of mental health issues.

Lee has received a number of awards for his outstanding work and philanthropy. He is the recipient of the Philanthropist of the Year Award and the prestigious Horatio Alger Award. He was also inducted into the Smurfit-Stone Entrepreneurial Alumni Hall of Fame after a nomination from a fellow Parks alumnus.

J. Barry McCormick  (Institute of Technology '62 and Grad Institute of Technology, '67) 

St. Louis native J. Barry McCormick enlisted in the U.S. Army before starting his engineering degree at SLU. He graduated in 1962 with a bachelor of science in electrical engineering and graduated in 1967 with his master’s degree. McCormick joined the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation as an instrumental engineer for the Flight Test Division immediately upon graduation. His work at McDonnell landed him a position at the Edwards Air Force Base in California, where he oversaw flight testing for the F-15 fighter aircraft as an instrumentation supervisor.

By the 1990s, McCormick was serving as manager of advanced planning on the National Aerospace Plane Program (NASP). Much of his work and time was spent contributing to evolution of analog to digital systems in flight test data as well as incorporating computers in ground checkout systems.

McCormick’s resume' includes an award for "Toastmaster of the Year," professor of computer architecture at Fontbonne University and volunteer work with the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and the Pima Air and Space Museum. He has also served as a robotics instructor in the Foothills School District.

McCormick’s desire to remain a man for others and lifelong learner is evident from his accomplishments throughout his career. He has remained engaged with SLU since graduation. He served as president of the SLU Institute of Technology Alumni Association and was a member of the University Alumni Board. He also started the James Cronin Scholarship Fund in honor of his most influential professor, James Cronin.

Linda Heitman, Ph.D. (Nursing '87 and Grad Nursing '01) 

Linda Heitman, Ph.D., earned a Master of Science in Nursing Research in 1987 and a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing in 2001. Following the completion of her master’s degree, Heitman became the transplant procurement coordinator and medical-surgical clinical nurse specialist at Southeast Missouri Hospital in Cape Girardeau. For six years, Heitman continued her work at the hospital, transitioning to roles as regional heart center coordinator, cardiovascular clinical nurse specialist, and finally, cardiovascular clinical nurse specialist/case manager.

She left her role to pursue an opportunity as a faculty member in the Department of Nursing at Southeast Missouri State University. During this time, she received her Ph.D. from SLU. Heitman’s doctoral thesis, “Intergenerational Familial Influences on Cardiovascular Health Behaviors in Families,” was presented at the Mayo Clinic Nursing Conference in Rochester, Minnesota and at the International Congress of Nursing in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Heitman has been a valuable professor at Southeast Missouri State over the years, developing the Clinical Nurse Specialist track on the graduate side and Adult Health II on the undergraduate side. She specializes in cardiovascular nursing as her field of research, with publications that have been featured in a wide array of scholarly materials. She has presented both nationally and internationally on clinical nursing topics. Her recent contributions to the community include her own consulting services in advanced practice nursing and clinical nursing skills and currently she is working on a grant with Mid America Transplant Association in St. Louis to develop an online learning program on organ donation for undergraduate nursing students.

Michael Riley, Sr.  (Doisy '75) 

Michael Riley, Sr. earned his Bachelor of Science in physical therapy from Saint Louis University in 1975. Upon graduation, he entered private practice and worked with hospitals and skilled nursing facilities in central and southern Illinois. After five years, he moved back to his hometown of Belleville, Illinois, following the death of his father. There, he formed Professional Therapy Services, Inc., and has been president since its inception. His company now has over 400 professionals that provide care to hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, home health agencies, and freestanding outpatient clinics.

Riley is an active professional within his industry, currently serving as the president of Illinois Physical Therapy Association. This organization represents licensed physical therapists from across the state. He has also served as the president of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, a not-for-profit, member-based, economic development corporation on two separate occasions. The council’s goal is to unite the region for economic growth by bringing together leaders in business, industry, labor, education and government.

Riley’s love of service and contributions to his community is a direct result of his education at Saint Louis University, where the Jesuit values had a transformative impact on him. He is currently a member of the Advisory Board for the Department of Physical Therapy at Saint Louis University, and served in a similar role for Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. Riley has been active in Catholic education with executive board positions at the grade school and high school levels. He is a recipient of the Values and Vision Award from Althoff Catholic, as well as a Distinguished Citizen Award from the Okaw Valley Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

J. Breezer Rickey  (CPHSJ - Social Work '92) 
J. Breezer Rickey graduated from SLU with a Master’s in Social Work in 1992 and immediately began serving the poorest of the poor. She started in the Chicago area, where she served inner city families and abused children. Her interest in serving as a resource and advocate for the helpless took her all the way to Calcutta, India. Breezer had admired Mother Teresa since she was a child and spent two years working alongside her at the Home of the Dying Destitutes. This reaffirmed her commitment to serve the helpless and vulnerable all over the world. Due to her work alongside Mother Teresa, she was featured on ABC World News with Peter Jennings during Mother Teresa's funeral in 1997.


Throughout her career, Rickey has worked with some of the most isolated populations within modern society including: low-income neighborhoods overrun by gang violence, children and families infected with HIV/AIDS, and women struggling with homelessness and mental illness. She expanded her reach to the global community by working as dean of student affairs in Beijing, China. She also has provided special trainings to executives and their families who relocate for international opportunities. After earning a Master of Science in organizational development from Loyola University-Chicago, Rickey was asked to serve on the faculty of Loyola, teaching master’s level classes.

Rickey has founded a number of organizations including an international global community dedicated to faith, diversity and justice, a grassroots March Against Violence movement in her own Chicagoland neighborhood, and most recently, a personal consulting practice that serves churches, schools and nonprofits that need help with dispelling community violence.

Frank Friedlein, Jr. (Professional Studies '76) 

Frank Friedlein, Jr., graduated from Saint Louis University with a Bachelor of Business Studies - Accounting in 1976. While attending SLU, he was employed at Brooks Erection & Construction Company as vice president - controller. His responsibilities included the management of accounting, personnel, auditing, tax, contract administration, and management information systems. During his employment at Brooks, the company grew from $6 million to $42 million in annual sales. The education SLU provided, along with the mentoring he received from the president of Brooks, instilled a strong work ethic and professionalism that remain with Friedlein to this day.

Friedlein has over 45 years of experience in senior financial management, over 35 years of which have been directly related to the construction industry. He formed Construction Accounting Services and provided accounting services, business consulting, and computer systems for small to medium-sized contractors throughout the Midwest. During his career, he was involved with various start-ups, distribution, and manufacturing companies as an employee, owner and consultant.

Currently, he is chief financial officer/treasurer at O.J. Laughlin Plumbing Company, Inc., a privately held, third generation plumbing contractor that has been in business since 1951. He joined the company in 2008 and was involved with the transition of the company from second to third generation ownership.

Friedlein has had the opportunity to achieve many professional and personal goals during his career, but his most rewarding accomplishment has been the opportunity to affect the lives of others. He is a founding member of The Friends of the Dominican Sisters Sparkill-STL, a non-profit organization that coordinates events that raise funds for the sisters. This organization has donated $275,000 to the sisters for their general welfare and retirement needs. He plans to remain active once he retires, serving as a mentor for startup companies and being more involved with SLU’s School for Professional Studies.

Margaret Vandeven, Ph.D. (Grad Ed '14) 

Margaret Vandeven, Ph.D., earned a Doctor of Philosophy in educational leadership from Saint Louis University in 2014. Vandeven began her career in education as a communication arts teacher in O’Fallon, Missouri. From 1995-2002, she taught high school English and served as a school administrator in Maryland. Shortly after that, she returned to Missouri and served as an English teacher and school administrator.

Vandeven then began her career with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, later receiving tenure at the department. For two years, she served as supervisor of the Missouri School Improvement Program. She held multiple other positions, including director of school improvement and accreditation, director of accountability data and accreditation, assistant commissioner for the Office of Quality Schools, and deputy commissioner of learning services.

She was appointed as Missouri’s sixth commissioner of education by the State Board of Education in December 2014. She assumed her role on January 1, 2015. Prior to her appointment as commissioner, Vandeven assisted with the planning and implementation of the Department’s Top 10 by 20 Initiative, which calls for Missouri to be one of the top 10 states for education by 2020. Today, Vandeven is passionate about ensuring all Missouri students are prepared for post-secondary success after leaving the PK-12 system.

 Saint Louis University established the Alumni Merit Awards  in 1955 to recognize outstanding alumni and acknowledge the notable success of the University’s alumni. Those selected for the award are alumnae and alumni who have listed the mission of Saint Louis University in daily life and who have achieved outstanding success in civic leadership, professional and social welfare activities, intellectual and cultural pursuits and have a continued interest and service toward supporting the enhancement of Saint Louis University. 

Alumni are welcome to nominate their fellow SLU graduates for the awards. The National Alumni Board, Development Division, leadership and faculty from 10 schools and colleges across the University select the winners. Recipients are honored at an annual award ceremony held during Homecoming and Family Weekend.