Decembers to Remember for Couple
When they landed at Denver International Airport this past December, Kristine Nakano (BA-60, MA-61) and Alvin Saiki (BA-61) thought they were just heading to Breckenridge with several family members for a winter vacation in celebration of the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary on Dec. 23.
They knew something else was in store when their van started heading north on Interstate 25, and that’s when their two daughters revealed they’d arranged a surprise visit to the UNC campus, where the retired teachers met as freshmen in December 1958. Their visit included a customized guided tour of campus, lots of reminiscing and the recreation of a family heirloom — a photograph taken of the couple embracing on the steps of Belford Hall, where Kristine was living in December 1960.
“It was sad to see that the Bru-Inn and other parts of our lives from here were gone,” Alvin says. “But it was nice to see that so many buildings were still in good shape and to realize how much the university has grown.”
Marathon Man Continues Record-Breaking Pace
Brent Weigner (BA-72) is no stranger to breaking running records. The retired geography teacher
and junior high cross-country coach in Cheyenne, Wyo., has been setting them most of his life.
On Dec. 2, the 62-year-old cancer survivor added more milestones by becoming the oldest person in the world to run an ultra-marathon (any distance greater than 26.2 miles) on the continent of Antarctica.
By finishing fourth in the Antarctic Ice Marathon and 100k, he also broke the 60-and-over record set in 2012, and the U.S. record set in 2006. He covered the 62.1 miles, facing a wind chill of 12
below zero, in 15 hours, 41 minutes, 4 seconds.
In 1999, Weigner became the first person to run ultra-marathons on all seven continents, a feat which he completed in 267 days — a record that still stands today. He’s the only person to have run ultra-marathons at the North and South poles.
At UNC, Weigner competed on the track team and UNC’s first cross-country team. He became one of the first two UNC student-athletes in school history to qualify for the NCAA Cross Country
“Records come and go,” Weigner says. “What I enjoy is thinking about new records to set that are out of the ordinary.”
—Elizabeth Same, senior, Journalism major
Unopened Love Letters from WWII Reveal a Wife Who Never Gav e Up Hope
Before Dr. Bill Brenner left to serve in World War II, his wife promised to write him biweekly letters. When 63 of those letters were returned, Josephine didn’t know if her husband was dead or alive.
Bill was held as a POW in the Philippines for 18 months, surviving the Bataan Death March, three death camps and time in a British Commonwealth camp before returning home to his wife and son at the end of the war — four years after he had left.
When Linda (Fox) McCaffery (MA-76) heard of Bill’s story, the history instructor at Barton Community College in Great Bend, Kan., contacted him to see if he would share his experiences through an oral history. At first, he politely declined. One year later, Linda received a phone call from Bill saying he had changed his mind. After Linda and Bill’s initial meeting, Bill brought Josephine along for the second. As Bill recounted his experiences, Josephine began to cry.
“Many of the things he was telling me, she was hearing for the very first time,” Linda says. It was then that Linda was told about the returned letters, still unopened and sitting in a shoebox at their home.
“While discussing the letters, Bill suggested we share not just his story but the hardships his wife endured as well,” Linda says. “First we thought of putting on a program, then we considered writing an article; eventually, we decided it was best to write a book.”
I’m Praying Hard for You,”Love Letters to a Death Camp: The World War II Ordeal of Bill and Jo Brenner is a combination of Josephine’s letters and Bill’s words. The book tells the story of why the couple’s love for one another helped them never give up hope, even in the worst of circumstances.
Linda and Bill, who now is 97 years old (Josephine passed away in July 2000), hope to commission a bronze statue with the proceeds from the book’s sales. The statue would be placed in Bill’s hometown of Larned, Kan. It would feature a soldier returning from war and a woman and child running toward him, dedicated to all who served and all who waited.
–Katie Owston, junior, Journalism major
Forbes Lists Grad Among Nation’s Most Powerful CEOs 40 and Under
J. Justin Hutchens (BS-95) was named one of America’s most powerful CEOs under the age
of 40 by Forbes. The 2012 listing includes chief executive officers who run the biggest publicly traded companies — Google, Under Armour and Groupon are among them. Justin, 37, is CEO of National Health Investors Inc., an investment trust that specializes in financing healthcare real estate, including nursing facilities, assisted- and independent-living facilities, medical office buildings, and hospitals. Hutchens graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Human Rehabilitation Services from UNC and subsequently obtained a management degree.
Justin started his career in healthcare as a resident assistant at a Greeley care facility while a student at UNC. Following his father’s advice to excel in his work, no matter what level of responsibility he had, Hutchens worked his way up through six companies over the next 18 years.
In 2009, he joined National Health Investors Inc. as president and chief operating officer and two years later he was appointed chief executive.
Justin lives in Tennessee with his wife, Tiffani (BA-95, MA-97), who holds degrees in Liberal Arts and Special Education from UNC.
Broken Leg Doesn’t Deter Meteorologist during Flooding
National Weather Service meteorologist Tanja (Henson) Fransen (BA-95) didn’t let a broken leg slow her down when record flooding swept through northeastern Montana last spring.
Tanja, a warning coordination specialist in Glasgow, Mont., put her injury aside — not only serving as the regional voice of the National Weather Service but also by assisting on site (with her right leg in a cast) when flooding was at its worst. From her truck, Fransen recruited members of the community to help her family and other volunteers fill sandbags to protect residents and their homes along Cherry Creek.
For her efforts, Tanja was named “Montana Hero of the Day” June 23 by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, and she also received the National Weather Service Western Region Isaac Cline Award for Outreach. During the past year, she and a colleague were presented with the NOAA Administrators Award for researching and implementing a Cold Advisory for Newborn Livestock that was developed in her office.
Tanja interned with the National Weather Service when she was a senior in 1994, and she credits Professor Emeritus Glen Cobb for his guidance.
“That jump-start on my career was a huge step for me, and I don’t know if I’d be where I am today without my professor’s connections and encouragement,” she says.
–Katie Owston, junior, Journalism major