Oxford Area High School honored five successful alumni May 22, and gave current students a chance to see what they could become in the process.

The school's first Distinguished Alumni Recognition Ceremony celebrated past graduates who have been models of success in a variety of ways including community service, success in the business world, and academics.

"This is what in reality, as a school district, what we're all about," School Board President Chauncey Boyd said. "This is a wonderful idea and I'm totally supportive of it."

For several years, Oxford has honored it's star athletic alumni on their wall of fame, but now the new awards show off successful Oxford graduates in other fields.

Honors went to the late Elizabeth Shortlidge Surla ('35); Carl Fretz ('48); Ray Stata ('53); Viscount Berky Nelson ('57) and Marilyn Ware ('61).

"The biggest impression left upon me was the fact that if you are driven to aspire to greatness, you absolutely can accomplish anything," Oxford Principal David Madden said. "Oxford Area High School has produced a multitude of excellent people, a few of which are represented here today."

Some of the honorees have stayed near Oxford, and some have traveled far, with Ware now serving as the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Finland.

From 1988 to 2003 she was Chairman of the Board of American Water Works, Inc., and has been honorary President of WaterAid America - a charity that provides safe drinking water in developing countries.

Though she could not be present for the award ceremony, Ware's brother Paul, who also is an Oxford grad, accepted on her behalf.

"She would encourage you to pursue your dreams, no matter how they end up," he told the students. "What I learned here was that people can be diverse and work together. We had a grounding here that was very precious."

Surla's daughters Catherine and Maryanne were on hand to receive the award for their mother, who died in 2005.

Surla served as a Lieutenant in the Navy WAVES in World War II and graduated from Duke University. She was known for her support of education, social welfare and positive international relationships through her life and was a benefactor of Oxford Mainstreet Inc., and the Oxford Area Historical Association.

Nelson, a teacher, historian and college administrator, traveled back to Oxford from the west coast where he is Director of Student Programming at the University of California, Los Angeles.

In addition to being an advisor to more than 900 student organizations on the UCLA campus, Nelson has written numerous articles and several books.

"I would have come back here if I had to walk," Nelson said. "Oxford has given me the value system and the concepts that I could not have acquired anywhere else."

It was a somewhat shorter trip for Stata from Norwood, Mass. where he is chairman of Analog Devices, Inc., a company he founded that has emerged at the forefront in manufacturing high-performance electronic signal processing devices.

Stata recalled how he enjoyed the library at Oxford, and particularly a book called Energy and Matter.

"This little book really got me interested," he said. "It inspired me to go to a technological school and into the technology business. It all goes back to that little book."

Most of the recipients went on to attend distinguished universities but Fretz went to work at People's Bank after graduation and worked his way up to CEO without an additional degree.

"This will be the most tremendous honor that I could ever expect to receive." he said. "I can still picture in my mind every one of my grade teachers and administrators who made an impact on my life."

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