Collins and Vonk Awarded Distinguished Alumni


(Le Mars) — The joint LCSD Foundation and Alumni Association Distinguished Alumni committee is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award – Ms. Gayle Albert Vonk and Dr. Steve Collins.

Gayle is a lifelong Le Mars resident and graduated in 1973. Steve also grew up in Le Mars and graduated in 1969.

Lorraine DeJong nominated Gayle Vonk for her dedication to Le Mars Community School and founding the educational funding group, LEEP (Le Mars Community Education Enhancement Project) in 2009.

Lorraine wrote, “During that year (2009) continued budget cuts were causing programs, educational items and even teachers to be cut from the school district. Gayle’s compassion and concern for students and teachers caused her to get a group together to discuss what could be done about it. As a result, LEEP was founded to enhance the value and meaning of education for our students, families, teachers and communities in Le Mars Community School.”

Her vision has led to the success of the organization in additional funds to cover expenditures that were above and beyond those provided in the school budget. LEEP’s first fundraiser in 2010, Taverns for Textbooks, brought in $4,166 and a check was presented to the school board. A new unique men’s cook-off fundraiser called MENuMasters began in 2012 and continued for the next eight years. Since LEEP’s inception the group has raised and given over $214,474.50 back to the students and classrooms at Le Mars Community.

Gayle is also involved in the community of Le Mars, the Plymouth County Fair, is an owner and operator of her own business, Wall Elements, is a Big Sister to a “Little” at Clark Elementary School. Her love of the community and school has been a driving force to work and improve the educational quality of life in Le Mars.

Dr. Steve Collins was nominated by Barbara Wernli Collins. She nominated him for his career as a senior research scientist and engineer at Raytheon, the third largest U.S. aerospace and defense contractor in the world. During his 35 years at Raytheon his work entailed solving difficult technical problems in areas of defense, sensors and imaging, cyber, mission support and innovation. He was awarded six U.S. patents in a variety of technical fields and in 2000, was promoted to Engineering Fellow, the highest elite level of Raytheon engineers. His project team received the Raytheon President’s Award for Excellence.

While living in Lexington, Mass., he played in the Lexington community band for 15 years and served on the board of directors and as secretary.

After retiring in 2014, he returned to Le Mars and was involved in various community projects. He has used the technical and people skills he developed at Raytheon, and his hobby skills in audio/visual arts to enrich the efforts of fundraising for the Westmar Eagle Sculpture, the Historic Preservation Commission, writing grants for Main Street/Chamber of Commerce, helping organize the LCS Noteables Jazz Band get-togethers and co-authoring of the Sesquicentennial History book.