Jun 18th, 2014 @ 1:38 pm | Author: Greg Vanney
President Steven W. Shirley recently presented three Valley City State University Distinguished Service Awards, two at the annual VCSU Foundation Recognition Luncheon held in the Student Center cafeteria Monday, June 16, along with an award at a special recognition event Tuesday, June 10.

Accepting a posthumous Distinguished Service Award at the June 10 event was the family of the late Steve Welken, a 1997 graduate of VCSU and avid supporter of the university.

Jennifer Feist, executive director of the Valley City–Barnes County Development Corporation, and Mary Simonson, executive director of the Open Door Center in Valley City and chair of the VCSU Foundation Board of Directors, received Distinguished Service Awards at the June 16 luncheon.

“Steve Welken, Jennifer Feist, and Mary Simonson are very deserving of this special recognition,” said President Shirley. “Their dedication, support, and tireless efforts have been instrumental in helping VCSU succeed and fulfill its mission.”

The VCSU Distinguished Service Award—the university’s highest honor—is given at the discretion of the president in recognition of exceptional contribution toward the university’s vision. Since the first award was given in 1975, a total of 22 individuals and organizations, including the 3 recent awards, have been recognized with Distinguished Service Awards.

Profiles of Distinguished Service Award recipients Jennifer Feist, Mary Simonson and Steve Welken follow.

Jennifer Feist
Jennifer Feist serves as executive director of the Valley City–Barnes County Development Corporation. A fixture in Valley City and Barnes County for more than 25 years, Feist began her local career as executive vice president of the Valley City Area Chamber of Commerce. Her first meeting with the Development Corporation was July 20, 1987.

With Feist’s leadership, Valley City and Barnes County have become an economic force in the region. She was instrumental in attracting John Deere Seeding Group, Eagle Creek Software Services, Malach USA and the expansion of Drug Plastics. The I-94 Corridor will allow for further development, including a John Deere expansion and a new National Guard Armory.

Feist’s knowledge of and support for financial programs (Flex PACE) has helped bring new businesses to the area and allow for the expansion of existing businesses, including Cinema Flix, the Open Door Center, Pizza Ranch, and Stoudt Ross Ford, among others.

VCSU has been a beneficiary of Feist’s efforts as well, with the creation of the Regional Technology Center, the recruitment of Eagle Creek Software to the center and the development of a partnership between Eagle Creek and VCSU. Feist also played a key role in helping secure financing to support development of the Dakota College at Bottineau’s nursing education program at VCSU.

Mary Simonson
Mary Simonson, executive director of the Open Door Center in Valley City and Lisbon, N.D., is chair of the VCSU Foundation Board of Directors and also chair of its scholarship committee, which has greatly increased scholarship support for VCSU students under her leadership.

An adjunct instructor of psychology at VCSU since 1978, Simonson holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in counseling and guidance from the University of North Dakota. She joined the Open Door Center in 1982.

Simonson helped reestablish the Special Olympics in North Dakota, and she was inducted into the Special Olympics North Dakota Hall of Fame in November 2013. She also received the 2011 Public Health Service Award from City–County Health District in Valley City and has been honored with numerous other awards as a champion of the developmentally disabled.

She serves on the Valley City–Barnes County Development Board and serves or has served on many other boards and organizations, including the North Dakota Association of Community Facilities, the Brain Injury Association of North Dakota, Valley City Rotary, State Council of Developmental Disabilities, Special Olympics North Dakota, Beta Sigma Phi sorority, and Wells Fargo Community Bank, among others.

Simonson and her husband, Mikal, a VCSU alumnus, are members of the VCSU Foundation’s V500 Club and are VCSU annual fund donors; they are recognized at the Regent level for lifetime giving to the university. The couple has also established the Simonson Scholarship at VCSU.

The couple has two adult sons, Nick and Ben (a VCSU graduate), and one grandson.

Steve Welken
Steve Welken died at age 39 in August 2013 from injuries sustained in an auto accident. He was serving as treasurer of the VCSU Foundation Board and as a member of the board’s Corporate Task Force and Investment Committee at the time of his death.

Welken held a business administration degree from VCSU; he joined Grotberg Electric in Valley City in 1996 and was named president of the company in 2010.

Welken also taught accounting classes at VCSU and was a staunch supporter of VCSU Viking athletics. In addition, he served on the Valley City–Barnes County Development Board, the Valley City Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club.

Welken’s wife, Erin, and their two young daughters accepted the Distinguished Service Award from VCSU President Steven W. Shirley at a reception with Steve’s parents, Larry and Deloris Welken, other family and friends, and VCSU administrators June 10 in the McFarland Hall Alumni Room on the VCSU campus.