Annual USF Distinguished Alumni Award Winners Announced

Joliet, Ill. – The University of St. Francis (USF), through the USF Alumni & Family Relations Office, honored five outstanding alumni with the annual Distinguished Alumni Award as part of the university’s Homecoming & Reunion festivities on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. Nominations for these prestigious awards were submitted by family members, coworkers, fellow alumni and others who could testify to the nominees’ achievements. The recipients were then selected by the USF Alumni Association’s Executive Board of Directors based on outstanding professional and personal successes, as well as involvement in civic, cultural or charitable activities. The most prestigious award, the Presidential Alumni Award, was selected by the University. In addition, one alumnus/alumna from each of the university’s four colleges is honored each year, highlighting the diverse disciplines of a comprehensive university.

The 2019 University of St. Francis Distinguished Alumni Award winners are:

Margaret Benoit

Presidential Alumni Award
Margaret Benoit ‘69
(B.A., English)
Retired educator at Joliet District 86

Margaret Benoit grew up on a farm and had wonderful, hard-working parents. They were kind and honest and they taught her, by example, to give her time and talent.

When she started school, she went to a one-room country school for three years, and then to St. Rose School in Wilmington, Ill. She attended high school at St. Francis Academy (now Joliet Catholic Academy), and went on to receive her B.A. from the College of St. Francis where she majored in English and minored in Music and Education.

Benoit feels she had many excellent and dedicated teachers, both in high school and college, who inspired her to join the teaching profession.

After graduating from St. Francis, Benoit was told by Sr. Vivian Whitehead, OSF, that there was a need for teachers at a Franciscan school in a very poor area of Fairfield, Ala. Benoit spent her first year as a teacher guiding a second grade class at St. Mary’s School in Fairfield. It was a special year for Benoit.

After that year in Alabama, Benoit returned to Joliet where she taught elementary grades (grades 1-5) for over 30 years in District 86. She also enjoyed directing Christmas programs and spring musical events. Now retired, Benoit enjoys volunteering at Our Lady of Angels retirement home, where she assists in the gift shop and presents “Music with Margaret” every Monday.

Benoit and her husband, Bill, have one daughter, Beth, who lives and works in Chicago. After Bill also retired from teaching, he began working at USF in the College of Education so both Bill and Margaret have very meaningful connections with USF. She is very proud to be a graduate of USF, and is most humbled to be the recipient of the Presidential Alumni Award.

College of Arts & Sciences Alumni Award
Julius Patterson ‘13
(BSW, Social Work)
MTSS Behavior Specialist and head varsity baseball coach at Thornton Township High School

Julius C. Patterson was born and raised in Harvey, Ill. His love for his community and the people that influenced him is evident in his everyday life.

As a child, Patterson was heavily involved in sports and music, and went on to receive an athletic scholarship to play baseball at the University of St Francis. Patterson graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social work in 2013 and continued his education at Illinois State University, obtaining a master’s degree in 2016.

Upon finishing school, Julius worked as a counselor for a non-profit organization that catered to Chicago’s inner-city youth. Patterson co-founded the South Suburban Defenders, a non-profit youth baseball team, which focuses on developing children’s skills and promoting the importance of giving back to the community.

In 2018, Patterson completed his professional educator’s license and is currently on staff as the school social worker and head varsity baseball coach at Thornton High School in Harvey, Ill.

Patterson’ deep love for his community and desire to give back led him into recently campaigning for the aldermanic position in Harvey’s 5th Ward. He is both creative and a scholar, and in his spare time, he dabbles in fashion design and produces music.

Julius C. Patterson is very much a “hometown hero”- his heart is in Harvey and his life is for his people.

Caroline Portlock

College of Business & Health Administration Alumni Award
Caroline Portlock ’02, ‘04
(B.S., Professional Arts; MBA Business Administration)
Director of the Workforce Investment Board of Will County

Prior to joining the Workforce Investment Board, Caroline Portlock was the workforce development director at Joliet Junior College and managed WIOA grants in Will and Grundy counties, totaling over $2 million.

Portlock participates in the Regional Planning Council for Workforce Boards and is a member of the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals and the Northern Illinois Workforce Coalition. She previously served as the board chair for the Grundy Livingston Kankakee Workforce Board and on the executive committee of the Grundy Economic Development Council.

She is the past president/CEO of the Grundy County Chamber of Commerce & Industry. responsible for the overall marketing, planning and directing operations for the business services organization. She was also the HR manager for a local casino, where her experience included recruiting, training and retaining employees with emphasis on employee relations and internal communications. There, Portlock successfully increased employee satisfaction and decreased turnover while also gaining experience in public relations and marketing.

Portlock received her PHR certification through the Society of Human Resource Management in May 2002, completed her MBA at University of St. Francis in May 2004 and received her IOM certification for non-profit organizational management through the U.S. Chamber in June of 2008.

She currently serves as president of the USF Alumni Board and is member of the USF Board of Trustees, Kiwanis Club of Joliet, Illinois Workforce Partners, and Advisory Council for the United Way of Grundy County.

In January of 2015, Portlock finished her first marathon at Walt Disney World, and in June of 2016, she earned her school black belt in combat hapkido. She is married to a local attorney, Vince G. Portlock, and spends her time chasing her Australian cattle dog, Rooby.

College of Education Alumni Award
Patricia Arias ’08, ‘11
(B.A., Elementary Education; M.S., Teaching & Learning)
Bilingual teacher at Joliet District 86

Patricia Arias’s life could best be described as a big roller coaster. She has lived through as many ups and downs, twists and turns, and highs and lows as anyone could imagine. Still, she would not trade a single moment for anything.

Arias was born in the bustling, large Mexican city of Moroleón, Guanajuato, where she lived until her parents brought to the United States when she was nine years old. She quickly became acculturated to the vastly different U.S. customs but, eight years later, found herself to be a newly single mom who had to drop out of high school to care for her child. Thankfully, when she was 20 years old and with the encouragement and motivation of her new husband, Oscar, she finally got her GED. This accomplishment left her with a great desire to return to school and further her education.

With this new determination and mindset, she enrolled in courses at Joliet Junior College. After obtaining her associate’s degree, she transferred to the University of St. Francis, where her love for education grew immensely. The university’s commitment and dedication to upholding its core values, including ensuring student success, is what made Arias believe that she was finally on the path to a future she never imagined would be possible.

She received her bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and several other endorsements from the University of St. Francis. She’s now both a student and a teacher at the university, taking classes and also teaching some courses as an adjunct professor.

Arias is also a mother to five children and grandmother to one beautiful, baby girl who is one of her greatest inspirations. Twenty-five years ago, if you had told her that this would be her life, she would not have believed it. However, it was strength, love and education that got her where she is today: a shining member of the University of St. Francis family.

Lisa Pittman

Leach College of Nursing Alumni Award
Lisa Pittman ’00, ’10, ‘13
(B.S., Health Arts; M.S., Health Administration; MSN Nursing Administration)
Assistant Vice President of Patient Care Services at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Chicago

Lisa Pittman MHA, MSN, R.N ., NEA-BC, OCN is a nurse executive and assistant vice president of patient care services at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) Chicago. She has 24 years of hospital-based nursing with progressive leadership experience.

After graduating from Parkland College in Champaign in 1994, Pittman obtained three University of St. Francis degrees – a B.S. in Health Arts in 2000, an M.S. in Healthcare Administration in 2010, and an M.S. in Nursing in 2013. In addition, Lisa holds two national certifications, both as an oncology certified nurse and an executive advanced-board certified nurse.

Pittman is a proven leader with experience in transformational culture change. She has a passion for assisting organizations to exceed expected benchmarks in quality, satisfaction and efficiency by ensuring evidence-based, patient-centered, cost-effective, and compassionate care. Key priorities in her leadership roles have been leading initiatives, achieving results and advancing professional nursing practice. Under her leadership, CTCA Chicago received the Press Ganey Guardian of Excellence Award three times and continues to perform in the top decile for patient satisfaction. Some of her work was highlighted in Press Ganey’s August 2018 issue of Industry Edge.

Pittman has presented nationally on several topics including “Improving Symptom Related Patient Outcomes: Oncologic Surgical Site Infection Bundle” (Oncology Nursing Society 44th Annual Congress); “CVAD No Blood Return Algorithm and its Impact on Patient Safety” (lnfusion Nurses Society Annual National Conference and the Association for Vascular Access Scientific Meeting); “Leveraging Patient Complaints to New Heights” (Rush University Medical Center’s What Patients Say: Improving Quality, Safety and the Patient Experience Using Patient Comments) and “Patient Centered Care Next Stop: Bedside Shift Report.” (Adventist Patient Experience Summit).

Pittman has two daughters that are the loves of her life: Danielle, also a practicing nurse who resides in Dallas, Texas, and Casey, a high school senior who is active in speech and theatre.

The University of St. Francis, in Joliet, Ill., serves close to 4,000 students nationwide, offering undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs in the arts and sciences, business, education, nursing and social work. There are over 50,000 USF alumni across the globe. For information, call 800-735-7500 or visit

University of St. Francis: Bigger thinking. Brighter purpose.

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2018 Distinguished Alumni Award Winners Announced

Sept. 22, 2018 | Joliet, Ill.

The University of St. Francis (USF), through the USF Alumni & Family Relations Office, will honor six outstanding alumni with an annual Distinguished Alumni Award as part of the university’s Homecoming & Reunion festivities on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. The most prestigious award, the Presidential Alumni Award, is selected by the university. In addition, one alum from each of the university’s four colleges is honored each year, highlighting the diverse disciplines of a comprehensive university. Nominations were submitted by family members, coworkers, fellow alumni and others who could testify to the nominees’ achievements. The recipients were then selected by the USF Alumni Association’s Executive Board of Directors based on outstanding professional and personal successes, as well as involvement in civic, cultural or charitable activities.

Award winners will be honored at USF’s Distinguished Alumni Dinner & Awards Ceremony on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018 at 6 p.m. in San Damiano Hall at the main USF campus in Joliet. To attend, please contact Reservations are required.

Presidential Alumni Award

William “Bill” ‘82 & Patricia “Trish” (Banks) ‘83 Bellah
(Bill – B.A., Journalism/Communications)
(Trish – B.A., Political Science)

Bill is Retired Founder/CEO of
Compass Chemical International, LLC and
current member of USF’s Board of Trustees

Bill and Trish both started at the College of St. Francis (CSF) in the fall semester of 1979. After graduating in 1982, Bill found work within the chemical distribution industry as an industrial chemical salesperson while Trish completed her studies the following semester. Over the next 17 years, Bill worked his way up in the chemical arena working for manufacturers, distributors, and chemical traders to hone his management and business skills before starting his grass-roots chemical business, Compass Chemical International, in 1999. Trish also made her mark after graduating in 1983 by working in the banking and mortgage industry and rising to the level of National Builder Accounts Mortgage Accounts Manager before deciding to focus on raising the three children they now had while Bill built his chemical business. Bill grew Compass at an astonishing rate, and after weathering the 2008/2009 recession, decided to sell Compass Chemical to a Private Equity Group out of NYC in 2015 when the markets reached new highs once again. Bill and Trish then decided to turn their efforts towards philanthropy, with the University of St. Francis as their number one beneficiary, so that they could give back to where it all began for them both. Since then, they have added numerous charities to their list of giving, including CASA of Kane County, Akron’s Children Hospital, St. Cecilia Foundation and many other deserving causes. They have now also taken an active interest in some of these by organizations by getting intimately involved on various boards so they can utilize their skills and gifts to affect change for the new generations to come. Bill and Trish reside in Franklin, Tenn.

College of Arts and Sciences Alumni Award 

Lillian (Doleshek) Buckley ’72 (B.A., History)
Development Director of Bridgeport Catholic Academy

From the time of her graduation from the College of St. Francis until today, Lillian (Doleshek) Buckley has spent a lifetime devoted to children and Catholic education. Her career has spanned 45 years of dedicated service to Catholic education. Her career began with a nine-year tenure as a grade school teacher at Holy Cross Grade School in the Back of the Yards and St. David Grade School in her Bridgeport community. Lillian next served for twenty years as Principal of Saints Cyril and Methodius Grade School in Lemont. She next became principal at Bridgeport Catholic Academy at her home parish of Nativity of Our Lord in Chicago’s Bridgeport community. She was very proud to serve as Principal of the grade school from which she graduated in 1964. Lillian continues to serve her community in many ways. For eighteen years, she has served on the Board of Directors of the Propagation of Faith for the Chicago Archdiocese. She has also served for nine years on the Board of Directors of St. Laurence High School, been on the Woman’s Board at Mercy Hospital the past fourteen years, a member of the Chicago Near-South Rotary. Lillian serves Nativity Parish as a Eucharistic Minister and this year she completed training for and now serves as a Minister of Bereavement. As a two-time breast cancer survivor, Lillian has been very active in supporting cancer causes and support groups. She has helped many women who have faced cancer with empathy, encouragement and support. Buckley resides in Chicago, Ill.

College of Business and Health Administration Award

Brian Bain ’02 (BBA, Management)
President of Tri-City Wolverines Youth Football & Cheer

USF has always been an important part of Brian’s life, as it gave him the opportunity to be the first person in his family to earn a college degree. Brian has been a proud Local 174 Carpenter since 1999. He graduated from USF in 2002 and has worked at Citgo Refinery as a Union Carpenter since 2009, following ten years of working in residential construction. His degree in business management has allowed him to follow his true passion: making a difference in the lives of children through youth sports.  Brian took on the position as president of the Tri-City Wolverines Youth Football and Cheer program and credits USF for giving him the training and knowledge he needed to make this non-profit organization successful. This year, the program has grown to include over 200 athletes. Brian has also partnered with USF Head Football Coach Joe Curry to offer USF/Wolverines Youth Football & Cheer Camp for the past three years. The camp is run by USF football players/coaches and Wolverines coaches. This past Spring, Brian partnered with Plainfield Central High School to start the Under Armour “Under the Lights” Flag Football League as a way to prepare Wolverines players for the fall tackle football season.  The league is already the largest of its kind in the State of Illinois. Brian hopes that he can continue his passion of coaching and developing young athletes in sports, while also preparing them for the real world. He takes great pride in knowing that everything he has put into the organization provides an opportunity for his own kids and hundreds of others young athletes to have a successful youth sports experience. Brian resides in Joliet, Ill.

College of Education Alumni Award

Holly Bontkowski ‘93 (B.A., Elementary Education)
Curriculum Project Manager at Naperville School District 203

Holly Bontkowski had the calling to be a teacher from her earliest memories. Coming to College of St. Francis, though, made this the clearest decision she ever made, and solidified that there was nothing else she would ever do. Holly began her career teaching 4th grade at Troy Craughwell, and then followed her students to 5th grade. After several years at Troy and learning from many wonderful mentors, Holly moved on to Indian Trail Middle School in Plainfield School District 202, where she intensely worked in a team setting to address literacy issues. This work led to consulting opportunities surrounding Standards and Assessment with and for the Illinois State Board of Education. In 2008, Holly won the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching, and was fortunate enough to attend a sabbatical at Northwestern University, where she met an instructor who got her involved with the Partnership for 21st Century, and then the development of the Common Core State Standards. In 2010, Holly took a position with Naperville School District 203 teaching Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies, and continued to develop her passion in literacy and authentic instruction. Currently, Holly serves both as an adjunct and a Program Coordinator at UST, and as a Curriculum Project Manager in Naperville School District 203, where she now leads other teachers in their own loves of education and their students. Holly resides Plainfield, Ill.

Leach College of Nursing Alumni Award

Dayna (Bernstein) Jaynstein ‘09 (M.S., Physician Assistant Studies)
Assistant Director, PA-C at Red Rocks Community College

Dayna graduated from the USF physician assistant program in 2009. Since graduation, she has worked clinically in Emergency Medicine in several Denver-area emergency departments. In 2012 Dayna was the recipient of the Peak Performers Award for the Top Hospital-Based Physician Assistant, an award that recognizes the efforts of inpatient providers in the Rocky Mountain Region.  In 2014, Dayna transitioned into academia and her current role as the assistant director and associate professor at the Red Rocks PA program in Arvada, CO. Since 2015, Dayna has been involved with the Society of Emergency Medicine Physician Assistants, the only national Emergency Medicine PA organization, and currently serves as the organization’s president-elect. Dayna resides in Denver, Colo.

The University of St. Francis, in Joliet, Ill., serves 4,100 students nationwide, offering undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs in the arts and sciences, business, education, nursing and social work. There are over 49,000 USF alumni across the globe. For information, call 800-735-7500 or visit University of St. Francis: Bigger thinking. Brighter purpose.