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Distinguished Alumnus Award: Preheim active in infectious diseases research, care of veterans

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Laurel Preheim, Omaha, Neb., winner of Bethel College’s 2011 Distinguished Alumnus Award, is a medical doctor and avowed pacifist who has spent his career working with military veterans.

Preheim will be a special guest on the Bethel campus Monday, April 18, when he will speak in convocation on “Infectious Diseases Challenges in the 21st Century” at 11 a.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium of the Fine Arts Center.

Preheim retired from the Department of Veterans Affairs Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System last July after 32 years there, most recently as chief of medicine.

He majored in natural sciences at Bethel, receiving a bachelor of arts degree in 1969. He earned his M.D. at Northwestern University Medical School. His post-graduate medical training included an internal medicine residency and an infectious diseases fellowship at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; a post doctoral research fellowship in the Department of Microbiology at St. Thomas’ Hospital, London; a stint as visiting scientist in the DNA lab at the Central Public Health Laboratory, London; the Health Care Leadership Institute through the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C.; and the AAIM-MERCK Executive Leadership Program in Boston.

He also served as visiting professor for the Infectious Disease Association of Thailand at Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Hat Yai and Prince of Songkla universities and as a visiting professor at the United Medical and Dental Schools of Guy’s and St. Thomas’ hospitals, London.

As a physician, researcher, scholar and professor, Preheim has served in numerous leadership capacities at both the Creighton University School of Medicine and the University of Nebraska College of Medicine (he continues part-time at both), particularly in the areas of infectious disease, medical microbiology and immunology.

He has been on the Best Doctors in America list since 1996, has published extensively, lectured across the United States and beyond and received many research grants and awards.

Preheim is one of a long line of students who came to Bethel after graduating from Freeman (S.D.) Academy. He met his wife, Twila (Friesen) Preheim, a 1969 graduate, at Bethel. They are the parents of three children, Nathan, Chloe and Heidi, and grandparents of nine.

Preheim calls it “a privilege” to have helped train more than 6,000 medical students, graduate students, internal medicine residents and/or infectious diseases fellows over the past 32 years, and “an honor” to have led a department that provides inpatient and outpatient care for more than 50,000 veterans in the VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System.

“I remain a pacifist,” he says, “but I have tremendous respect for and owe a debt of gratitude to the brave men and women who have been willing to sacrifice their lives in order to preserve my religious freedoms.”

The Preheims are longtime, active members of Countryside Community Church (United Church of Christ) in Omaha. In retirement, Preheim says he will continue to pursue his hobbies of golf, tennis, photography, gardening, music, model railroading and grandchildren.

The Bethel College Alumni Association presents the Distinguished Achievement Award to acknowledge character and citizenship, achievement in a chosen profession or vocation, and work of benefit to humanity.

Preheim and other alumni award winners will be honored at the annual Alumni Banquet Saturday, May 21, at 6 p.m. in Memorial Hall on the Bethel College campus. To make a reservation, visit or phone Thresher Bookstore in Schultz Student Center, Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m.-5 p.m., 316-284-5205. Cost of the banquet is $18.50 per person if paying by May 6, $20 per person May 7-11. Payment or credit card information is required when the reservation is made. No refunds can be given after May 13, since the Alumni Office will have been charged for reserved meals by that date. Attenders receive a nametag at the door that serves as their banquet ticket.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2010-11 Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States and is in the first tier in its category in the U.S. News & World Report annual ranking of “America’s Top Colleges” for 2011. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

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