Maraniss, Lyon, Landesman to receive honorary degrees

April 1, 2014

by Greg Bump

A Pulitzer Prize winner, an agricultural business leader and a renowned theater producer will be the recipients of honorary degrees at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in May.

Best-selling author David Maraniss; Tom Lyon, who built and led the world's largest animal genetics cooperative; and producer and former National Endowment for the Arts Chair Rocco Landesman will be honored.

The honorary degrees, as well as doctoral and professional degrees, will be presented at the 5:30 p.m. commencement ceremony on Friday, May 16 at the Kohl Center.

David Maraniss

David Maraniss

Maraniss grew up in Madison and attended UW–Madison, though he left the university in 1975 to work for the Trenton Times in New Jersey before receiving his undergraduate degree. Two years later he joined the Washington Post.

Maraniss has authored 10 books, including biographies of Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, and famed Green Bay Packer coach Vince Lombardi. His book “They Marched into Sunlight” movingly juxtaposes two very different events that happened on Oct. 17 and 18, 1967: a brutal battle involving a U.S. Army battalion in Vietnam, and an anti-war demonstration on the UW–Madison campus that turned violent.

He remains an associate editor at the Post; he also maintains a residence in Madison, is a board member for the Dictionary of American Regional English, a former trustee of the Wisconsin Union, and served as the honorary chair of the campaign to raise funds to renovate the Madison Central Library.

“Maraniss is one of America’s best journalists,” writes School of Journalism and Mass Communication professor and director Greg Downey in his nomination. Downey notes that the nomination has the unanimous support of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication faculty, and is also supported by the Department of Political Science and the School of Library and Information Studies.

Tom Lyon

Tom Lyon

Lyon began his career at Midwest Breeders Cooperative in 1967, and helped expand the business beyond its regional base. Through several mergers, the company evolved into a nationwide cooperative known as 21st Century Genetics, which quickly became an international force in the cattle breeding industry.

In 1991, Lyon initiated the formation of Cooperative Resources International, creating an organization with more than 1,250 employees, 50,000 farmer-members and more than $100 million in revenue. The Shawano-based cooperative includes Genex Cooperative (cattle breeding services), AgSource Cooperative Services (milk recording and data management services) and the Central Livestock Association (cattle marketing services).

“Tom advocated and lived by the notion that the success of a company should be measured by the value it brings to its customers,” wrote Professor Kent Weigel, chair of the Department of Dairy Science, in his nomination.

A former member of the UW System Board of Regents, Lyon served as the board’s president from 1990-92. He presided over the hiring of two of the most influential women in the history of higher education in Wisconsin, former UW–Madison Chancellor Donna Shalala and former UW System President Katharine Lyall.

Lyon also served on the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Board of Visitors and on the UW Extension Board of Visitors. He is a 1962 graduate of Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in dairy science.

Rocco Landesman

Rocco Landesman

Landesman, a 1969 UW–Madison graduate with a bachelor’s in English, has produced multiple award-winning plays and musicals, including works by contemporary playwrights August Wilson, Marsha Norman and Tony Kushner.

“His work as a producer and advocate for new work redirected the American theater at a vital time for the history of commercial and regional theater,” wrote his nominators, theatre Professor and Arts Institute Director Norma Saldivar and Department of Theatre and Drama chair Ann Archbold.

“Along with heightening the level of discussion on the American stage to include issues of AIDS, racism, and socio-political themes, Landesman revolutionized the commercial theater by creating a new model for business,” they wrote.

Landesman served as chair of the NEA from August 2009 through December 2012. During his tenure he pursued three major initiatives: Art Works, which sought outcome-focused reinvigoration of the agency’s granting program; Our Town, which posited art projects as drivers of community revitalization; and ArtPlace, an effort involving collaboration between 13 national and regional foundations and six of the nation’s largest banks to increase funding for the arts.

He also worked with other federal agencies to build relationships, including bringing music therapy to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

“All of these initiatives speak to Landesman’s pervasive optimism and his absolute knowledge in the power and usefulness of art,” Saldivar and Archbold wrote.

The following programs are included in this commencement ceremony: Doctor of Philosophy, Doctor of Musical Arts, Doctor of Juridical Science, Juris Doctor, Doctor of Medicine, Doctor of Physical Therapy, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Doctor of Pharmacy, Doctor of Audiology, Doctor of Nursing Practice, Master of Fine Arts, Master of Laws, Master of Laws-Legal Institutions, Master of Public Health, and Master of Physician Assistant Studies.

More information about UW-Madison’s spring commencement can be found here.