2013 Distinguished Alumni/ae

Since 1995, the PSR Alumni/ae Council has presented the Distinguished Alumni/ae Awards to graduates who have provided outstanding service and leadership in their ministry, profession, and communities. This year’s honorees are Yvette Flunder, Lauren Friesen, Victoria Kolakowski, and Ray Welles.

Yvette Flunder (MA 1997):
(Alum Banquet Speech)

Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder founded the City of Refuge UCC in 1991 in order to unite a gospel ministry with a social ministry. A native San Franciscan, Bishop Flunder is a third generation preacher with roots in the Church of God in Christ. In 1984 Bishop Flunder began performing and recording with “Walter Hawkins and the Family” and the Love Center Choir. Other gospel music recordings include “There’s Power” with the City of Refuge Praise Ensemble, “We Won’t Be Silent Anymore” with The Fellowship Mass Choir, and “How Sweet the Sound”, with the Grammy Award winning Chanticleer.

Bishop Flunder is an ordained Minister of the United Church of Christ and a graduate of the Ministry Studies and Master of Arts programs at the Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, California. She received a Doctor of Ministry degree from San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo California. She also serves on the Board of Trustees at PSR. In June 2003 Bishop Flunder was consecrated Presiding Bishop of The Fellowship a multi-denominational fellowship of 110 primarily African American Christian leaders and laity representing 56 churches and faith-based organizations from all parts of the United States, Mexico and Africa.

Lauren Friesen (MA 1981):
(Alum Banquet Speech)

Dr. Lauren Friesen is Professor of Theatre and Chair of the Theatre and Dance Department at the University of Michigan-Flint. He is a recipient of the Kennedy Center Gold Medallion for "Excellence in Theatre" and the Indiana Theatre Association's award for his "Outstanding Contribution to University Theatre." His recent publications include a translation of Hermann Sudermann's The Storm Komrade Sokrates (University Press of America) and the essay "Ritual, Race and Reconciliation in Anna Deavere Smith's Play Fires in the Mirror," (Munster: LIT Verlag). His monologue "Still Waiting for Rachel" was published in Monologues for Men by Heinneman Press. He just completed the translation of a novel...But Stones Can't Speak by the holocaust survivor Carlo Ross. In April 2007, Vertigo Productions in Flint produced his latest 2-act play Rothko. He is an accomplished writer with over 30 publications of books, essays and poetry.

Victoria Kolakowski (MDiv 1997):
(Alum Banquet Speech)

Victoria Kolakowski is the first openly transgender person to be elected a trial judge in the United States. Born in Queens, New York, she was the first person in her family to attend college. Kolakowski earned master’s degrees in biomedical engineering, electrical engineering, public administration and divinity. She received a law degree from Louisiana State University. In 1990, Kolakowski moved to Berkeley, California. She served on the Oakland Budget Advisory Committee and was an administrative law judge for the California Public Utilities Commission. In 1994, the East Bay Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club named her Woman of the Year. In 1995, she received the Outstanding Woman of Berkeley Award.

In 2010, Kolakowski campaigned for a judgeship on the Superior Court of Alameda County, California. She won by 10,000 votes. Her victory was significant, not only for the transgender community, but also for women, who occupy a small percentage of judgeships. She received Equality California’s Equality and Justice Award.

Ray Welles (MDiv 1955):
(Alum Banquet Speech)

A native of Southern California, Ray found a congenial rut in Northern California and spent his entire professional life here. He has served congregations in Berkeley, Redding, San Francisco and Orinda. He “retired” in 1991, and has served nine congregations as Interim or Transitional consultant. A graduate of Pomona College, Rev. Welles attended Yale Divinity School, the Pacific School of Religion, and holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from San Francisco Theological Seminary. He was ordained in South Pasadena in 1955. Ray serves as Director for Carmel Valley Manor, and has been a Trustee of the Pacific School of Religion. He is an Annuitant Visitor for the UCC Pension Boards, visiting several dozen retired clergy or their widows each year. He authored three publications that say much about him:

  • Between the No-Longer and the Not-Yet, A New Model of Interim Ministry, 1977
  • Prophets and Paupers, Religion in the California Gold Rush, 1848-1869, with Harland E. Hogue
  • Familiar Strangers, Encounters with Jesus, Eight Soliliquies by Those Who Knew Him, 2000

In 2001, Ray received the Arts Minister of the Year Award from the Center for Arts and Religious Education at the Graduate Theological Union. While in Redding, he engaged Frank Lloyd Wright to design the building for the new congregation there. For many years, Ray had a private practice in family therapy and spiritual counseling. He also helped design the Interim Ministry specialty, and was instrumental in the building of Orinda Senior Village in Orinda.