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Purlee, Wai Honored at Sandburg Alumni Awards Reception

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Sept. 6, 2013
GALESBURG—Jim Purlee  and Naomi Johnson Wai were honored at Carl Sandburg College’s annual Alumni Awards Reception on Aug. 29 in the Crist Student Center on the College’s Main Campus in Galesburg. Purlee received the College’s Distinguished Alumnus Award, and Naomi Johnson Wai received the College’s Outstanding Young Alumnus Award.

A graduate of Alexis High School, Purlee earned an Associate in Arts from Sandburg in 1970. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois-Springfield and a master’s degree from Western Illinois University.

During the early part of his career, Purlee was a teacher, a coach, a principal and an executive for Gunther Construction before going back to his farming roots and purchasing 160 acres of land in 1978. Today, Purlee Farms has grown to 9,600 acres of corn and soybeans. His success and innovation in no-till methods has earned him recognition as a Prairie Farmer Magazine Master Farmer in 2011, winner of the Innovation of Agriculture Award in 2002 and was acknowledged in the Best Managed Farms contest sponsored by Farm Progress Companies.

Additionally, Purlee has served on the Big River Resources Ethanol Board. In 2005, he helped to organize the board and assisted in raising funds to construct an ethanol plant in Galva. Purlee has devoted his knowledge and time to several community organizations, including the Carl Sandburg College Foundation Board, First Presbyterian Church trustee, Galesburg Rotary Club, Knox College Board of Trustees, OSF St. Mary Medical Center Board, Wells Fargo Bank Board of Directors and the YMCA Fundraising Board.

“Sandburg was a very great first step. It was the best place for me in 1968,” Purlee said. “I’m very honored.”

Wai earned her Associate in Applied Science Nursing degree from Sandburg in 2001. Her passion for the medical field began when she was in high school and held an admitting job at a local hospital’s emergency room. She enrolled in 1999 at Sandburg, where she was on the dean’s list and became a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. Upon graduating Sandburg in 2001, she transferred to the University of Illinois at Chicago and earned a bachelor’s in nursing in 2003. She then went on to the Yale University School of Medicine, where she completed the physician associate program in 2005.

She became a fellow in surgical critical care, trauma and burn surgery in Bridgeport, Conn. Wai later took a job as physician’s assistant at Bridgeport Hospital, where she worked as a surgical care specialist. Wai also has worked as a physician’s assistant at the Galesburg Clinic; the Dean Clinic in Madison, Wis.; and the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. She is currently a lecturer for the Rush University Physician Assistant Program.

“I’m so honored to be receiving the Outstanding Young Alumnus Award here at Carl Sandburg College,” Wai said. “I never expected anything like this.”



Jim Purlee     Naomi Johnson Wai

                      Jim Purlee                                       Naomi Johnson Wai