2021 Alumni Achievement Award

John Knapp '71


John A. Knapp ’71

John Knapp has made an indelible impact on Minnesota’s legal community and beyond.

A highly respected attorney with a long list of state and national honors, Knapp helped Minneapolis-based Winthrop & Weinstine grow into one of the Minnesota’s premier law firms, serving on its first board of directors and chairing its Legislative and Regulatory Practice Group for more than 30 years.

He invested himself in the legal and public affairs professions, serving on state and national committees, publishing and speaking extensively, and mentoring law students. Knapp, whose areas of practice include campaign finance and election law, served as general counsel for the host committee for the 2008 Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities.

Knapp also invests deeply in his community. He chaired Catholic Charities’ Dorothy Day Task Force and helped fellow Johnnie Tim Marx ’79 secure $100 million for the new center in St. Paul. He also provides leadership in organizations including the Guthrie Theater, the Citizens League, the Alzheimer’s Association of Minnesota and North Dakota and the Nature Conservancy of Minnesota and the Dakotas.  

Ed Bonach '76

Ed Bonach ’76

Business leader Ed Bonach made such an impact on Indiana that when he retired in December 2017, he was recognized on the U.S. House of Representatives floor, awarded the Sagamore of Wabash — the state’s highest distinction — and honored with Ed Bonach Day in Indianapolis.

Bonach earned plenty more accolades in a 41-year career in life and health insurance that culminated as CEO of CNO Financial Group, where he is credited for revitalizing the company, boosting morale and increasing employee engagement.

However, as one of his nominators noted, “His professional accomplishments are second to his positive influence on the communities in which he resided.”

Among Bonach’s many contributions are helping launch the Boys Scouts’ Growing Future Leaders capital campaign in Indiana and serving on the boards of the National Arthritis Foundation and Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. He’s a member of the nonprofit Indiana Sports Corp’s board and a director of the Western Golf Association. Marian University, for which he is a trustee, recently purchased the Saint John’s Bible thanks to a matching pledge by Bonach and his wife, Peggy.

John Asmussen '76

John G. Asmussen ’76

A gifted accountant with a passion for education, John Asmussen devoted his career to public service.

Asmussen graduated from Saint John’s University cum laude in accounting and worked for the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor, becoming the deputy legislative auditor and serving on the boards of several state and national accounting organizations. He received the William Smith Gold Medal in 1997 for earning the nation’s highest score on the Certified Independent Auditor Exam.

That year, he became Minnesota State Colleges and Universities’ executive director of internal auditing and embarked on furthering his own education. He attained a doctorate in education policy and administration from the University of Minnesota, retired from Minnesota State and continued to advise higher education institutions on strategies for assessing and improving graduation rates.

Asmussen poured himself into research about how and why students learned, how their personal situations impacted their education and how colleges and universities could respond.

He died unexpectedly in February 2020, but Asmussen’s contributions to Minnesota’s higher education — and to the lives of those who knew him — keep his legacy alive.

David Hesse '81

Dave Hesse ’81

Dave Hesse ’81 was a captain in the United States Marine Corps and a successful 3M business leader who classmates recognize for his humility, generosity and commitment to community.

“He's the kind of man who has and would sacrifice his own self-interest for the good of his friends and the broader community,” one nominator said.

“Dave is a dedicated, honest, loyal friend who brings pride and honor not only to himself but to the larger Saint John's community,”

Hesse was commissioned the day he graduated from Saint John’s University. He honored the legacy of his brother Tom (Saint John’s Prep ’73, USMA ’77), who performed the commissioning and then tragically died in a car accident that weekend, by serving the next five years in the Marines before launching a three-decade career with 3M that had him assist in building businesses in more than 40 countries globally.

Hesse retired in 2018 and now focuses on his family, church and community involvement, contributing to non-profit organizations such as Second Harvest, Salvation Army and The Midway Men’s Club, which supports youth organizations in St. Paul.

Michael Ryan '86

Michael Ryan ’86

The Rev. Michael Ryan ’86 followed a unique path both to Saint John’s University and his current position of rector at Saint John's Episcopal Church in Kirkland, Washington — a path that led him to the right place at the right time.

Ryan took a detour before he enrolled at Saint John’s, one nominator recalled. “He had stories of taking a gap year to hitchhike around the country and do odd jobs, always relishing meeting new folks.”

He also took an indirect path to ministry, graduating from Saint John’s with a philosophy degree and starting his post-college career working in politics and as a lobbyist before entering the seminary.

Ryan served in South Haven, Michigan after graduating from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary and being ordained in 2009. He arrived at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in January 2020, just before the Kirkland area became a COVID-19 epicenter — and just in time to lend his trademark positivity, calmness and thoughtfulness to a congregation contending with the United States’ first stages of the pandemic that soon swept the nation.

Bill Kozlak '91

Bill Kozlak ’91

Jax Café is more than a restaurant. It’s a Northeast Minneapolis institution, an integral part of the community and a three-generation Kozlak family legacy.

Bill Kozlak ’91 has carried on that tradition since he bought the restaurant from his father Bill Sr. in 2000, maintaining the top-notch dining and exceptional service that Kozlak’s grandparents and parents carefully cultivated at the legendary 20th and University location.  

The past year has forced restaurants and bars like Jax to contend with unprecedented challenges. However, as one of Kozlak’s nominators wrote, “Bill has done so with the professionalism and poise that his family instilled in him and has made many sacrifices to maintain the Jax institution.”

Kozlak’s dedication extends to the community around Jax, where he is known for his support for neighborhood events, youth sports, school foundations and his alma maters, St. Thomas Academy and Saint John’s University. “Bill is always there to step in and arrange a fundraiser, golf event or luncheon to help raise money for those who are serving our kids, neighbors or those in need.”

Chris Palmer '96

Chris Palmer ’96

Dr. Chris Palmer works at the forefront of Minnesota’s battle against the pandemic as he helped lead North Memorial Health’s COVID response team during the initial stages of the outbreak.

As a Saint John’s student, Palmer led Johnnie football to the conference title in 1995 and won the coveted Gagliardi Trophy.

Ask him about either, and he’ll likely deflect credit onto his coworkers and teammates.

At work and on the field, Palmer lives out the Benedictine values of humility and community. He also carries out legendary coach John Gagliardi’s legacy of valuing personal character above winning, while coaching St. Anthony youth basketball, football and baseball and as a physician.

Palmer is employed by Emergency Physician Professional Association and has served as Medical Director for North Memorial Health’s Level 1 Trauma Center Emergency Department since 2013 and has earned a reputation for leading with integrity and putting his team first. He has faced unprecedented challenges as he headed the Medical Branch of North Memorial's COVID response team.

“He feels best about putting others first,” wrote one nominator, “and his entry into medicine and healthcare fits Chris very well.”

Nicholas Rowland '01

Nicholas Rowland 01

Nicholas Rowland, Ph.D. has reached several academic pinnacles since he started teaching at Pennsylvania State University in 2007, and he still has half of his career in front of him.

Rowland was promoted to full Professor of Sociology in May 2019 while becoming the youngest Faculty Senate Chair in Penn State’s history — a role that took on new significance in spring 2020 when COVID prompted the university to create an emergency alternative grading system.

A respected researcher with more than 50 publications and 100 presentations, Rowland serves on the board of two academic journals and conducts peer reviews for publications around the world. He also mentors students presenting at academic conferences and poster competitions through the undergraduate research laboratory he founded.  

Rowland’s “relentless work making future scientists out of undergraduate students,” as one nominator put it, earned him the designation of Faculty Fellow at Penn State’s Schreyer Institute of Teaching Excellence.

He was named Penn State’s first Faculty Scholar in 2017, and his many awards include the university’s highest teaching honor, the Atherton Award for Teaching Excellence.