“The things I treasure most from North Park are the relationships I formed with people who influenced me in a significant way.”
—Paula Lewis Devitt C’77
Paula Lewis Devitt C’77
North Park University Distinguished Alumni Award
As the daughter of devoted missionaries serving in Brazil, Paula Lewis Devitt was inspired to pursue a life of medical service to those in need. At age 16, Paula was guided by Sylvia Schmidt Larson, RN, a Swedish Covenant Hospital graduate also working in Brazil, who told her about North Park College, “the best nursing program in the United States.”
“God opened doors for me I could not have imagined. I only was able to attend through work study and the scholarships I received from generous alumni support,” says Paula. “That is what made it possible for me.”
Paula quickly bonded with her roommates Sharon Holmstead C’77, Julie Swanson C’77, and Robin Hart C’77, and nursing classmate Allison Phillips C’77: “I knew I had come to the right place,” she says. After graduation, at her first job, Paula cared for a patient just out of open heart surgery. Her prompt and accurate assessment of cardiac tamponade helped save the patient’s life. “I knew North Park had prepared me well for the real world.”
Paula and her husband Dr. Neal Devitt moved their family to Santa Fe, N.M., where she joined St. Vincent Hospital as a critical nurse educator. Paula went on to co-develop the Heart Saver program, training hundreds in CPR and earning her recognition as one of “10 people who make a difference” in Santa Fe.
She moved to La Familia Medical Center, where she developed a community health workers program. This innovative outreach and education program, which recruited patients to promote health in their own communities, also received numerous awards. Paula is nationally recognized for more than 20 years of work in diabetes education, earning New Mexico’s Women’s Health Services Award.
Paula reflects: “The things I treasure most from North Park are the relationships I formed with people who influenced me in a significant way.” Honored to be recognized, she says: “I hope sharing my story inspires others to invest in today’s students and ensure their success.”
Johan Eldebo C’07
North Park University Distinguished Young Alumni Award
Johan Eldebo’s work in humanitarian service began with “an empty fridge.” During a class to help teach English to refugee families in Rogers Park, Johan recalls the father of one family gesturing toward an empty refrigerator to show they had no food. The message was jarring to an international student from Sweden, but it also was a turning point “when statistics became real people and helping those in need in the most difficult places in the world became a big part of my life.”
At North Park, Johan valued friends and classmates from different continents and cultures, and “professors who actually invested time in you and encouraged you to ask the right questions.” Faculty support enabled him to start a campus chapter of the United Nations Society and participate in Model UN conferences in New York, Chicago, and Armenia. He recalls: “Joining with thousands of students to debate current affairs and explore the inner-world of the United Nations helped shape and fuel my passion to see a better world created through international cooperation.”
After graduation Johan completed a United Nations internship in Brussels and earned his master’s degree at King’s College London. He joined World Vision, serving as part of the organization’s emergency response team as Senior Humanitarian Policy Adviser in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Burundi, and Afghanistan.
This May, Johan accepted a new position as Senior Coordinator of Humanitarian Learning for the International Rescue Committee, where he works to connect humanitarian experience with academic research for practical impact in difficult and dangerous contexts. He also is a visiting scholar at the NYU Center on International Cooperation, focusing on humanitarian decision-making.
“This honor,” says Johan, “makes me grateful for the inspiration and values from my North Park faculty and friends that guided my journey there and since.”
Arthur A.R. Nelson A’52 C’55 S’60
North Park Academy Distinguished Alumni Award
North Park is embedded in the life of Art Nelson, a graduate of North Park Academy, North Park College, and North Park Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity. His service in church ministry spans more than 50 years, from coast to coast, in Covenant churches. In Chicago, as the former senior pastor of LaSalle Street Church, he served the residents of Cabrini Green with legal aid, tutoring, senior housing, and help for the homeless.
Art continues to support Habitat for Humanity and other causes to promote justice and compassion.
Devoted to higher education, Art twice served as chair of North Park’s Board of Trustees and as interim president (1979-1980), when he was instrumental in reconfirming North Park’s decision to stay in Chicago: “We are renewing our commitment to the city and to the spiritual values of our founders’ sense of mission and education. If the school left the city, it would lose its rich diversity of students.”
Art’s North Park Academy years were “crucial in shaping how I would engage, pursue, embrace, and discard options to become a more responsible and hopefully wiser person.” His advice to students today: “College helps you find not so much the answers as the questions. Learn to love all your neighbors as yourself, and embrace the city with all of its joy and pain, and wonderful diversity.”
A “much more life-changing experience” happened when he met Laurel Freedell during his first week of college in 1952. This past September Art and Laurel C’54 celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. Art and Laurel’s three children, their spouses, and five of their eight grandchildren all have graduated from North Park.