14 minute read

Sioux Award Recipient Biographies

Greg Everson, '72

Greg Everson, ’72, is a pioneer in the field of medicine, specifically the care and treatment of hepatitis C, a chronic liver disease that has been the leading cause for liver transplants. As the Chief of Hepatology at the University of Colorado, he and his colleagues helped uncover and characterize the disease in the late ‘80s and in subsequent decades he made major contributions to testing treatments that have led to a cure that is 98% to 99% effective.

Everson says hepatitis C had probably been around for more than a century, but it was likely misinterpreted as some other disease. It became a “silent” epidemic with the proliferation of intravenous drug use in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The virus proliferated because many people who carried the virus did not show any signs of infection; allowing hep C to spread through the population. It’s now estimated that as many as 2.4 million people in the U.S. have hepatitis C.

By the 1980s, the available tests detected hepatitis A and B; but other cases of hepatitis tested negative – these cases were termed non-A non-B hepatitis. Researchers knew they had a new hepatitis virus to contend with.

“It took a while to actually discover the virus that was ultimately identified (as hep C),” said Everson. “It was one of the first diagnoses made solely on the basis of molecular biology.”

Everson says the pharmaceutical industry went to work on developing drugs for hepatitis C. The University of Colorado had a long history of expertise in liver research — the first liver transplant in a human was conducted at the school’s medical center in 1963 — so it was a logical place for testing. Everson was the principal investigator on hundreds of studies and clinical trials as new drugs and treatments were developed.

Early treatments based on interferon were only partially effective, but in the last five years, direct-acting antiviral (DAA) therapy has proven to be nearly 100% effective.

“It’s an amazing story. A chronic liver disease that was the leading cause for liver transplant could be eradicated with antiviral therapy. The ongoing big hurdle is that the DAA treatment is quite expensive and many of the U.S. cases are in populations with limited access to healthcare or in places outside the United States that have extremely limited resources.”

The director of the Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CCTSI), Ron Sokul, MD, told a CCTSI writer when Everson retired in 2017 that his contributions to hepatitis C research were significant. “Because of Greg’s insight and tireless work at the Clinical and Translational Research Center over the years,” he said, “we now have a cure for hepatitis C. His leadership and contributions to the study design and testing of these drugs cannot be overstated.”

Everson believes one of his most important career contributions was to co-author a book with one of his patients called “Living with Hepatitis C: A Survivor’s Guide.” The book spawned five editions, and after the development of DAA therapy Everson penned “Curing Hepatitis C.”

“I had many, many people, oftentimes people I never met, send me letters saying how they benefited from the help that was contained within those books,” said Everson.

Everson says he was fascinated by all the scientific advancement that occurred during his youth—from the Apollo space program to medical advancements—so he was drawn to scientific pursuits. Thanks to the family legacy of his mom, older brother and older sister all being UND grads, it was logical for Everson, who grew up in Grafton, North Dakota, to attend college in Grand Forks. “I was proud to go there and to have graduated from UND,” he said.

From UND, Everson attended Weill Cornell Medical School in New York City and did his residency in internal medicine at Creighton University in Omaha. He did a fellowship in gastroenterology at the University of Colorado and then joined the faculty, where he became a key figure in Hepatology, Transplant Hepatology, and in the march toward a cure for Hepatitis C.

When he retired from the University of Colorado in 2017, Everson did not step away from medicine entirely. He had started a company in 2007, HepQuant, that develops liver function testing platforms. He is now CEO and Chief Medical Officer at the company. HepQuant is currently going through the rigorous process of getting FDA approval for a minimally invasive blood test that could change the way liver patients are managed.

“I never had in my toolbox a true test of liver function, so I set out to establish one,” said Everson. “If we are ultimately successful (in receiving FDA approval), we’re talking about changing the paradigm of how liver patients are assessed and how to determine the effectiveness of drug therapies. Right now, a lot of the testing that is done requires invasive tests like biopsies, radiologic procedures or expensive equipment.

“It could end up being my most important single contribution to the field.” ///

Jennifer Neppel, '86

Jennifer (Kohns) Neppel is Deputy Chief Investment Officer for CommonSpirit Health, formerly known as Catholic Health Initiatives, the largest Catholic healthcare system in the United States. With 140 hospitals in 21 states, Neppel and her investment team are responsible for the management of investment pools for operating pension, insurance and defined contribution plans with aggregate assets exceeding $30 billion. “Every day is interesting because even though we manage money for our hospitals, it comes down to our patients and providing the best care we can,” explains Neppel.

Excellent care is something Neppel has experienced personally throughout her life and is thankful she is able to give back to others through her career.

That love and care began as a child growing up in East Grand Forks, Minnesota, where her mother, Jeanette, and father, Dr. Donald Kohns, taught her the impact she can have on others through her work. “My dad was a professor in the College of Business and Public Administration at UND. He loved his students and is still very close to them. In fact, we ran into one of his former students at a hockey game and he said, “I just love your dad.” It shows you can make a bigger difference in the lives of others than you realize,” Neppel said.

She also credits former UND Professor Dr. Mark Langemo for inspiring her personally as well as professionally. “He was always motivating us and one of the things he would always say is, “Yes, you are graduating from UND, but it’s that North Dakota work ethic that will set you apart,” and that has always stayed with me. If you work hard and are honest, that really helps you succeed,” Neppel remarked.

While Neppel continues to credit that North Dakota work ethic for much of her success, it’s safe to say her intelligence, skills, determination, and philanthropic values are also strong factors.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in Business & Public Administration with an emphasis in Information Management and Finance from UND in 1986, working in a bank was the next career step. After all, she had worked at First National Bank, now Alerus Financial, throughout her four years at UND.

Neppel was offered her first job out of college at First Interstate Bank, now Wells Fargo, in Denver, married her husband, Jay, ’86, and moved to Colorado all within a month of graduation. “That was a crazy and exciting time of life,” Neppel recalled.

While working at First Interstate, Neppel chose to pursue a master’s degree in Finance from the University of Colorado Denver and soon after was offered a position with a mutual fund company, Oppenheimer Funds. She believes this career move opened doors to her next opportunity in the investment arena where she thrives today.

“I’ve been at Catholic Health Initiatives (now CommonSpirit Health) for 22 years. It is amazing to work for a non-profit where we can make a difference in the lives of people every single day,” Neppel said.

In addition to serving as Deputy Chief Investment Officer for CommonSpirit Health, Neppel manages the Direct Community Investment Program and serves as Chair of the Defined Contributions Plans Investment Committee and member of the Foundation Board.

She is a Chartered Financial Analyst, which she acknowledges as her biggest professional achievement. She is also a Certified Cash Manager, and, most importantly, she says, a wife and mother to two wonderful children, Julia and Josh.

Though Neppel has a lot on her plate, she once again credits her North Dakota work ethic and Dr. Langemo for providing a strong foundation. “Dr. Langemo used to talk a lot about time management and prioritization and I think that has really carried through over the years. I always have a to-do list and stay organized. So, I think that has been the key to balancing a career and family,” Neppel said.

With many accolades and professional successes already in her lifetime, Neppel said her greatest accomplishments are her family and her ability to give back.

“You think about the education that you have and then your work experience and how you can use that to give back to others. I think that is very rewarding,” Neppel said.

When it comes to philanthropy, Neppel and her husband are very involved with several Catholic charities including founding board members of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museum and serving on the Investment Committee for the Catholic Foundation in Denver.

Neppel also served on the UND Foundation & Alumni Association Board of Directors from 2008-17 and has many fond memories of the relationships formed during that time with other board members and UND Alumni Association & Foundation staff.

With an undying passion for the University of North Dakota, Neppel is forever grateful for the friends she made through her sorority, Delta Gamma, and the faculty and professors whom significantly impacted her. Her message to current students is to work hard, but also enjoy your time at UND. “Make good friends and really reach out to your professors and then think about how you can give back and mentor others in the future,” Neppel concluded. ///

Gordon Henry, '66, '70

First and foremost, Gordon Henry identifies himself as an educator. During his 33 years as an influential leader at the University of North Dakota, he held numerous roles including dormitory head resident, Assistant Dean of Men, Associate Dean for Student Development, Director of the Memorial Union, Associate Dean of Students, and, during his last 14 years at UND, Vice President of Student Affairs. “I always believed strongly that I wasn’t the Vice President for students. I was the student’s Vice President,” Henry stated.

Anyone who knows Henry could testify how true those words are. Former students and co-workers describe him as a compassionate, giving man who is full of grace and truly cares about every person he meets. Henry believes to his core that building relationships and, in turn, building trust, is what his job was all about. “Students must trust you, and if they trust you, they will use the services you provide them; therefore, gaining the trust of students is a priority,” Henry explained.

Born in Westhope, North Dakota, Henry began his education career as a Science teacher and coach in Tioga, North Dakota. He recalls the day in 1965 when he received a phone call that would change his life forever. “It was a UND administrator who had heard that I could relate with young people and he asked me to come and run a residence hall while doing graduate work. I asked him if he wanted me to come for an interview,” Henry recalls. “He said, ‘Nope, you have good references. You are hired if you want the job.’ And, that is how I got to UND.”

Henry is quick to say he’s never been sorry that he said “yes” to that job offer.

Henry and his wife, Pat, quickly packed up and came to Grand Forks, where Squires, Walsh and Brannon Halls became their new homes over the next four years. “I said to Pat, ‘Well, let’s get started. We need to learn all their names.’”

And that is exactly what they did; many of which they still remember to this day.

In 1970, Henry finished his doctorate degree in counseling at UND and soon took on larger roles and responsibilities. Throughout it all, he never forgot why he was there. “Students have always been the essence of who I am. Every day I would wake up and think, ‘What can I accomplish today that might make a difference for the students I encounter?”

In each of his roles, Henry made sure he was out and about with the students. He encouraged his employees to do the same and told them that relationships are not built sitting behind a desk. “I have eaten a formal meal many times at every fraternity and sorority on campus. I’ve been in every residence hall, and Pat and I have had numerous students over for meals at our home. I changed titles, but that never changed who I am,” he remarked.

In addition to his various positions throughout the years, Henry supervised a variety of student programs on campus, held the rank of Assistant Professor of Counseling, consistently taught classes, and served on both masters and doctoral committees. He was also instrumental in helping to develop the UND Crisis Response Program to assist students, faculty and staff with emergencies. He recalls receiving phone calls at 2 a.m. to come to campus to respond. “Those were some of the most difficult times, but also some of the most rewarding because it was an opportunity to help people when they were hurting,” he said.

Every crisis, group meeting, lecture or ceremony Henry attended he viewed as an opportunity to build relationships with students.

In 1984, when Henry was named Vice President of Student Affairs, he oversaw many student service programs on campus including Multicultural Programs, Student Health, Dean of Students Office, the Memorial Union, Native American programs, Career Services, Counseling Center, TRIO program and Financial Aid. Though a prestigious title was attached to his name, he remained humble. “I never felt that staff worked for me. In my mind the goal was to work as a team. I never liked being called the boss,” he said.

As Vice President, Henry continued to teach classes in leadership, educational philosophy and graduate courses. He explains that even though he was an administrator, he never felt like one. He was always a teacher and educator first; and purposefully taught a class every year he was Vice President.

Throughout his days, Henry has stayed true to a strong set of values and philosophies that define him. He believes that if you want to motivate people, you need to show them you care for them. “If an employee knows you care, they will walk through walls for you,” he said.

He also believes that you cannot be an educator unless you believe people can change and grow. Throughout most of his career, Henry was involved with discipline on campus. He believed in students and helped them develop parameters of what it would take to change their behavior. “You can’t give up on people,” he stated.

He believes in teachable moments and explains that whenever he presents programs to others his goal is to share at least one idea participants can take with them to incorporate into their own work or personal life.

And, most importantly, he believed that the decisions he or the University made must be right for students. “I would always ask myself, ‘But, is it right for students, or is it only right for me or the University?’ Sometimes, we do what is easiest to do for students, but not necessarily what is best for them;” he said.

Henry left UND in 1998 to fulfill a goal to become a motivational speaker and seminar provider on life skills development; a career he continued until 2010, when he formally retired. ///

Gary Hagen, '74, '77, '86

Gary Hagen, ’74, ’77, ’86, wasn’t sure about taking a teaching job at the small college in Mayville, North Dakota, as he was finishing up his master’s degree at UND in Business and Vocational Education. Newly married, he and his wife, Deborah (Staveteig), ’78, went to the town forty miles south of Grand forks to check out the campus of Mayville State University. “The campus and community were nice, so I decided to stay for a year or two, at the very most,” said Hagen of the decision to take the job.

Forty-two years later and Hagen just recently retired after spending a very successful career at Mayville State; the last twelve years as president.

“I don’t know how one or two years became 42 years, but I discovered that small classrooms and the ability to really get to know my students appealed to me.”

The ability to connect with students carried through Hagen’s entire career. He says his own time as a “inexperienced, somewhat shy” freshman at UND from the small town of Northwood, North Dakota, influenced him. He understood the anxieties students can experience and felt it important to help them get the best start possible to head off problems further into their college careers.

In addition to the lessons he learned in the classroom, Hagen also got some valuable insight into leadership from legendary UND President Tom Clifford. As a sophomore, Hagen was president of his fraternity and got a chance to meet with Clifford. He says he was surprised that Clifford wasn’t brash and tough. Instead he found him to be a “normal guy” who wanted to put people at ease.

“Here’s this man who just let his title speak for itself. He would never tell you he’s the president or he’s the boss. He just visited with you, helped you figure things out, and just put you at ease. I thought that if I ever had a chance to be in charge of anything, I would like to be that kind of guy.”

Hagen would get his chance to put these thoughts into action at Mayville. He taught for 21 years before becoming involved in administration for an additional 21 years. Each time he moved into a new leadership position at the school, it seemed to be in reaction to a crisis. His first administration job was as Chief Information Officer in the mid-‘90s, where he was charged with getting the campus wired for computers in only eight weeks.

He then became Vice President for Academic Affairs just in time to help the school retain its accreditation.

But his biggest challenge came when he was named president of the university in 2006. The school was grappling with low enrollment, significant accumulated debt, and more deferred maintenance needs than any other campus in the North Dakota University System.

“The campus was really struggling. There were some considerations being made at that time to close campuses and ours was certainly mentioned. Morale was very low and negative feelings seem to travel fast, so there was no choice but to establish an entirely new campus climate.”

Hagen created a new climate through a collaborative management approach which involved all areas of campus in strategic planning and problem solving.

“When people are appreciated and taken care of and they have a direct say in the major decisions that affect them, they’ll be happier. And if they are happier, they will be more productive.”

It’s an approach he says he took from the Tom Clifford playbook. “He didn’t seem like the type who would strongarm anyone or force them, he’d set the environment and get you to buy in; and the next thing you knew you are part of a productive process.”

So as a new president, Hagen put together a team of administrators who looked to the campus for collaboration. Transparency was one of the keys with budgets on the web for all to see. The goal was to break down traditional barriers between administration and the rest of the campus. “Everyone on the President’s Cabinet had to come to work each day and check their egos. Our job was to serve the faculty and the staff. If we could make their jobs better, then our students would get a better experience.”

Hagen says it took time, but they went from having the lowest faculty and staff and student satisfaction survey results in the North Dakota University System to the top in all categories. Enrollment success followed with seven consecutive years of all-time record high enrollments. Fundraising flourished and the campus endowment increased from just under $2 million to over $9 million. The campus deferred maintenance fell by 75% resulting in a functional, beautiful campus.

While he is proud of all those accomplishments, Hagen says the thing that really stands out for him from his time at Mayville is his interactions with students. He appreciated the small classroom nature of Mayville State that allowed him to get to know his students well, and he loves the fact that he regularly runs into his former advisees all over the region. He loves to tell the story of his experience moving his father to the nursing home in Larimore, North Dakota. The nursing home administrator, the lawyer, and a high school teacher who happened to drop by were all his students or advisees from college.

“It is so much fun to run into these students from a long time ago, and see how well they’ve done, see their families, and see they are still here in North Dakota.

“My roots are in North Dakota and I am proud to be a UND graduate, which allowed me to stay here and enjoy a long, meaningful career.”///