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Janice White Clemmer, Stephen Hillis, Dan Ahern and Alyssa Macy honored as 2021 inspiring alumni

PMG IMAGE - Four Madras High School alumni will be honored during Homecoming this Friday, Oct. 22.

Madras High School will honor four Distinguished Alumni, Dr. Janice White Clemmer, Stephen Hillis, Dan Ahern and Alyssa Macy, at a homecoming assembly livestreamed into MHS classrooms from the Performing Arts Center at 11 a.m., Friday, Oct. 22. The public will get a chance to see the honorees when they are introduced at that evening's homecoming football game between the first and second quarter.

This is the fourth year of the program, which honors the achievement of Distinguished Alumni, to inspire students and serve as examples of what they can achieve.

Dr. Janice White Clemmer (1959)

Janice White started kindergarten in Portland, then her family moved to Warm Springs, where she attended a one-room school until the second grade. At that time, the Jefferson County School District invited tribal students to attend school in Madras or go to boarding school. Because of her parents' bad experience with boarding school, she was bused to Madras from then on and said Walt Richardson was a favorite bus driver.

The class of 1959 was a small class that attended Madras Union High School (now Westside). "Everybody knew each other and we all seemed to get along quite well. I had opportunities to participate in many organizations like Girls Athletic Association and Future Homemakers and it was great. I was also an officer -- concessions manager. For me, it was always a positive experience, and people have kept in touch over the years," she said.

Favorite teachers included science teacher Oly Johnson, who was funny and made students feel comfortable participating in class. She was in a journalism group that helped put out the White Buffalo student newspaper, and she said journalism teacher Howard Hillis was a good, enthusiastic teacher.

"MUHS had many good teachers who taught the core values of life. We paid attention and worked hard, and you were expected to do what was asked," she said.

Asked if she experienced racism, she said, "Not that I know of. I was outgoing and my attitude was 'It's not on my head, it's on your head.' I didn't see that happening at school. But sometimes you have to speak up for yourself; not let people run over you."

After graduating, she attended one year at the University of Oregon, then transferred to Brigham Young University, where she met Terry Clemmer, M.D., who she married in 1963. He was in the military and served in medical centers in Honolulu and San Francisco, then they moved to Salt Lake, where he founded the Life Flight helicopter system.

During that time, Janice White Clemmer earned a B.S. in archaeology in 1963, Master's Degree in history in 1975, M.A. in education in 1976, a Ph.D. in history in 1979, and Ph.D. in cultural foundations of education in 1980, finishing with a Juris Doctorate from J. Reuben Clark Law School at BYU in 1993. She was the first Native American woman in the U.S. to earn two Ph.D. degrees.

"I've always enjoyed reading, and I was onery and stubborn enough to stick with it," White Clemmer said of her vast education, adding, "It takes good planning, support and goal settingm and I had great opportunities."

When she got her teaching certificate, she taught for a while in both public and private schools, where she said, "You saw good, strange, bright and sad with the students."

Electronic devices have brought a lot of change. "Unfortunately, some become addicted to their devices, which is a disservice to education. The internet is both a blessing and a curse," she said.

White Clemmer was a tenured professor at BYU's College of Education, served as co-coordinator of BYU's Native American Studies program, taught diversity curriculum for new teachers, and served on the Salt Lake City School Board and the National School Board Association. She was a powerful advocate for the Native American community and the importance of honoring diversity in American culture.

At MUHS, she said, "I was fortunate to have good friends who were similarly minded in going to college and completing college."

Stephen Hillis (1960)

Madras was a small community with paving just on the main street when Stephen Hillis was in high school. His favorite teachers at Madras Union High School were Robert Duke, Bill Wright, Myrtis Lewis, Oly Johnson and English teacher Barton Clements.

"Mr. Clements helped convince me that I wanted to be an English teacher. He allowed us to do some thinking on our own, to understand what we were reading and apply it to life," Hillis said, adding, "That became my goal with students, to show them when they read to make it meaningful."

Hillis participated in journalism and drama, and in 1959 student actors put on the trial play "January 16th" in the actual courthouse on D Street. At lunch time, students could watch movies for 5 cents, and Hillis was the projectionist. Movies were viewed in a week by showing just part of them each day.

"Those days, almost nobody had a car, and if someone had one, we used it," he said, noting that cars parked on the north side of the football field and turned on their lights to illuminate the field for the games.

Since girls made up the cheerleaders and pep rally, Hillis and some other boys formed the "Racket Squad" to yell and encourage the teams. Also, inside MUHS, students made popcorn and sold it to sports fans at the games. "Jerry Ramsey was the popper, and I took over when he graduated," Hillis said.

Students organized a fundraiser in the community that helped purchase the first White Buffalo sports bus, which was like an old Greyhound bus. Each spring there was also a big auction of all unclaimed lost and found items on the front steps of the high school. "We raised quite a bit of money doing that," he recalled.

After graduating in 1960, Hillis served in the U.S. Army, then graduated from Pacific University with a teaching degree in 1965. He began his teaching in Iowa before returning to Madras in 1974, where he began an outstanding and celebrated teaching career.

Hillis was an admired and beloved teacher who developed authentic and meaningful relationships with students, staff, parents and the community. At Madras High School, he taught English, mythology, speech, journalism, senior college prep, and was advisor to the White Buffalo newspaper, the senior class, and was English department chair.

Outside the classroom, he served 18 years on the Oregon Education Association Board, was a regional vice president, and was one of two directors from Oregon on the National Education Association Board.

In the community, Hillis was elected to the Jefferson County Library Board in 2002, where he continues to serve, helped on the library's Community Read Committee, and is still serving and making popcorn on the library's film committee.

He helped create the Madras Area Community Action Team and helped it transition to the Partnership to End Poverty and was on the Madras Aquatic Center Board. As part of the Juniper Junction Community Council, a goal was to establish a relief nursery for at-risk youngsters. The result was the MountainStar Relief Nursery in Madras, on which Hillis continues to serve on the advisory board.

Hillis was recognized with the 2011 Senior Citizen of the Year award by the Chamber of Commerce, the Partnership to End Poverty's Legacy Award, and the OEA's Lifetime Achievement Award.

Judge Daniel Ahern (1977)

Raised in Madras since the age of 4, Dan Ahern learned about hard work and valuing customers while working at his parents' grocery store and as a newspaper delivery boy. He applied those values to his future positions as Jefferson County Judge and Circuit Court Judge for the 22nd Judicial District, from which he retired in 2019. As a judge, he was known as being smart, compassionate, fair and respectful to all participants. Ahern said he became interested in law as a child. "I used to watch 'Perry Mason' (TV show) when I was 8 and wanted to be an attorney," he said.

At MHS, he enjoyed taking journalism from Stephen Hillis. "I remember one time he took 12 of us to Sun Valley, Idaho, to a journalism class. I also liked Larry Larson's business classes, especially business law. I had Beth Crow in third grade and loved her and saw her in the community later, and in the fifth grade, Ed Roley was my favorite teacher of all time," he said.

A standout athlete, Ahern said he admired his cross-country coach Bob Nelson, but his favorite sport was basketball. "Joe Blincoe was my last basketball coach, and I enjoyed him and his funny stories," he said.

"But my best memory of high school is that's where I met my wife Fran (Moses)," he said of his classmate, who was from Warm Springs.

Thinking ahead to career choices, Ahern decided he wasn't any good in science, so he'd better be a lawyer.

"When I had to pick a college, there were two professionals in town I admired, attorney Sumner Rodriguez and Dr. Thomas, and both of them went to Reed College. So, I thought I should go to Reed, too, because they were so successful," Ahern related.

He earned a B.A. in political science from Reed in 1982 and a law degree from the University of Oregon School of Law in 1985, then had choices to make.

"I could work in Portland or come back to my hometown. One summer, I had worked for Madras attorney Paul Sumner and really liked it, plus, my wife was from here, too," he said of his decision to join the practice of Sumner.

In 1988, at age 29, he was elected to the position of county judge on the Jefferson County Court (now Commission), where he did public service as a commissioner and also handled juvenile cases for 7 and a half years.

In 1996, Ahern was appointed as a Circuit Court Judge by Gov. John Kitzhaber, and in 2010 became presiding judge of the Second Judicial District, which covers both Jefferson and Crook counties. He retired in March 2019, after a 33-year career.

Since retiring, he has been working part-time as a senior judge for the state and occasionally in Warm Springs Tribal Court as a judge. Ahern also is a board member of the Economic Development Committee for the Tribes and of the Jefferson County Scholarship Committee.

Alyssa Macy (1993)

High school was not much fun for Alyssa Macy, who remembers having a lot of teen angst. Her parents had split up when she was young, and her father was away a lot, busy running a business in Warm Springs

Then tragedy struck her senior year. "My father, at the age of 49, died in an alcohol-related accident, which had a tremendous impact on me," she said.

"There was one teacher, Mr. Bill Wysham, who I'd taken forestry classes from, who had a very big impact on my life," Macy said, noting she was living alone, with no parents, when Wysham and his family invited her to stay with them.

"I lived with them for one year," she said, noting it was a new experience. "Lark, Bill, Rafe and Kim Wysham were a close family and had traditions I didn't have in my family, like all eating dinner together. They believed in me, encouraged me and welcomed me," she said.

After graduating from MHS, Macy turned down college running scholarships and took a year off to continue processing the loss of her father. "I moved to the Midwest and didn't keep in touch with the Wyshams, but I went to his funeral. I have such gratitude for what he and his family did for me," she said.

"I was very proud to be from Warm Springs and grow up in Central Oregon; it shaped me in so many ways," she said of her love of the outdoors, environment and taking care of Mother Earth. "No matter where I go, Warm Springs will always be home to me," she added.

Pursuing an education, Macy attended Arizona State University, had a Public Policy Fellowship/International Affairs internship at Princeton University, spent a decade advocating within the United Nations on behalf in Indigenous Peoples, and returned to Warm Springs in 2015 to serve as the chief operations officer for the Confederated Tribes. In that position, she managed a $35 million operations budget and led strategic planning, communications and fundraising efforts.

"I've been shocked at some of the places I've ended up," she admitted. "But I've lived my life being open to opportunity, and I did the things I found interesting, and some things that didn't fit. My curiosity and my career have taken me all over the world – to a meeting at the United Nations with the European Union, to Istanbul, Turkey, and Norway – and I'd wonder 'How did I end up here?' It was because I was willing to say yes to opportunities," she said.

Her years as the Confederated Tribes COO were hard and didn't have a good work/life balance. "I decided I wanted to do something that brings me joy and is doing good," she said of her 2020 job as the chief executive officer of the Washington Environmental Council/Washington Conservation Voters.

"It's a statewide nonprofit that addresses the impact of climate change. It's very compelling work and I'm the first person of color to run it," Macy said, adding, her position is an important example "for students of color, who have parents with addictions and who doubt themselves."

She said she experienced racism growing up and was sad to hear about racist comments (over mask wearing) during recent school board meetings. "We're all trying to coexist in this place, and the Tribes are a major economic contributor," she commented.


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