Distinguished Alumni Awards 2019
WAA honors four extraordinary alumni.
The Wisconsin Alumni Association has presented its highest honor, the Distinguished Alumni Award, for more than 80 years. This year’s honorees have made exceptional contributions to bettering the world, both within and outside their professions.
Diane Endres Ballweg ’85
Diane Endres Ballweg stands out for her fierce commitment to giving not only financial resources — but also time and talent. The owner of Endres Manufacturing, a steel fabricating business in Waunakee, Wisconsin, she started the company’s foundation in 1996 and serves as its president.
Endres Ballweg earned three degrees — including her UW–Madison degree in music — while raising her three children. She taught music in several area schools and through her music studio, The Perfect Octave. She earned her private pilot’s license in 1997, and since 2001, she has shared her love of aviation as an instructor and the founder of the aviation program at Edgewood High School in Madison.
A member of the Bascom Hill Society, she has made substantial gifts to the university’s Mead Witter School of Music (for which she serves on the board), the School of Human Ecology, and many other campus units and initiatives. Most recently, Endres Ballweg provided two Steinway grand pianos for the UW’s new Hamel Music Center.
She has also given to Madison institutions ranging from the Overture Center and the Madison Symphony Orchestra to the Madison Children’s Museum and Porchlight. She serves on the National Committee for the Performing Arts at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
Endres Ballweg has also been active with the Madison Community Foundation. Its president, Bob Sorge ’90, MBA’13, says, “Nobody has more energy than Diane. In almost the same sentence, she will tell you about an event she hosted in her home last night, offer to do the same for you, and ask if there’s anybody special she might thank with a personal note.” Endres Ballweg definitely lives up to one of her favorite sayings, an Einstein quote that she paraphrases as, “Don’t strive to be a person of wealth, but rather a person of value.”
Phill Gross ’82, MS’83
Phill Gross is a cofounder and managing director for Adage Capital Management. The Boston-based firm manages some $30 billion in assets, mostly for nonprofit and academic endowments and foundations. Adage has outperformed the S&P 500 in 17 out of the 18 years of its existence.
According to UW–Madison deputy vice chancellor and chief diversity officer Patrick Sims, “Phill Gross is a person who sought out and valued diversity and inclusion long before it was formally declared as the right thing to do.” Gross’s commitment deepened when he became friends with the late Mercile Lee. She was the founding director of the UW Chancellor’s and Powers-Knapp Scholarships, which attract students from underrepresented backgrounds. Phill and his wife, Liz, made a major gift to the Chancellor’s Scholarship Program, and they’ve offered to match donations to extend the program’s reach.
Gross’s long list of additional UW involvements includes serving on the UW Foundation board’s investment committee, and he and Liz have been generous supporters of Alumni Park. A member of the Van Hise Society, Gross has been extremely generous to the Wisconsin School of Business and joined its Wisconsin Naming Partnership as a founding member. He is an avid supporter of the school’s Business Emerging Leaders Program for high school students, which cultivates diverse student leaders.
The Grosses also support philanthropy in Boston and beyond, including efforts to get inner-city kids involved in sports. Gross is a founder of Strategic Grant Partners, a Massachusetts consortium of foundations that benefits education, youth, and families.
Phill and Liz also support medical research at Tufts University; the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, where Phill is chair of the science committee; and the Harvard Medical School, where he is on the board of fellows.
Dennis George Maki ’62, MS’64, MD’67
Physician Dennis Maki is a UW–Madison emeritus professor of medicine whose research on hospital-acquired infections has saved countless lives.
After postgraduate training at Harvard and the Centers for Disease Control, Maki returned to the UW campus, where he built a nationally renowned infectious disease program, which he led for more than three decades. He has also served in multiple roles at UW Health in the past 46 years.
Robert Golden, dean of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, calls Maki a triple threat, referring to his expertise in education, research, and patient care. According to his fellow physician David Andes, Maki’s outreach is unsurpassed by anyone in the school’s history, and he’s won more than a dozen teaching awards.
A 1958 graduate of Edgar High School in Marathon County, Maki personifies the Wisconsin Idea. He has visited virtually every hospital in the state, and has held visiting professorships throughout the world. His more than 370 research papers provide the basis for most of the infection-prevention techniques used around the globe.
A Bascom Hill Society member, Maki has given to many areas of campus, including the medical school, the All Ways Forward Campaign, and the Great People Scholarship. He and his wife, Gail, have also given to many local charities, including Access Community Health Centers, Madison Area Urban Ministry, and the Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation. Maki has been a consultant to the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the United Kingdom National Health Service. He’s received a UW–Madison Hilldale Award and was named a Wisconsin Medical Alumni Association Distinguished Alumnus in 2009.
Jill Soloway ’87
Jill Soloway is the creator of the groundbreaking Amazon series Transparent, a comedy that explores issues related to gender identity through the lives of a complicated American family. Transparent received two Golden Globes, 24 Emmy nominations, and eight Emmy awards, including two for Soloway’s directing. For the series finale, Transparent transitioned into a movie musical cowritten by Jill and sibling Faith Soloway.
According to Tony Michels, director of the UW–Madison Center for Jewish Studies, “Not since Norman Lear has a writer so audaciously spurred television audiences to laugh and think and ask, ‘Who are we?’ ”
Soloway also cocreated and directed the Amazon series I Love Dick and wrote and directed the feature film Afternoon Delight, which won the 2013 Directing Award at Sundance. Soloway founded Topple, a production company that aims to help women, people of color, queer people, and their allies use their stories and voices to change the world. Topple was recently joined by the publishing imprint Topple Books on Amazon.
Soloway has published two memoirs, She Wants It: Desire, Power and Toppling the Patriarchy and Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants.
Soloway, who identifies as gender nonconforming and uses the singular they pronoun, is an activist and supporter of LGBTQ causes and feminism. They cofounded 5050by2020, an artist-empowerment network and strategic initiative of Time’s Up, which seeks to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
Soloway credits UW–Madison women’s studies courses with helping them start to think about gender roles and the place of women in society, a continual theme in their writing. Soloway has generously taken the time to return to campus to speak to students who want to pursue careers in film.