WSU Names 2011 Honorary Degree RecipientsApril 14, 2011
OGDEN, Utah – During its 137th commencement, Weber State University will award honorary degrees to a former Utah governor; a renowned Utah clothier; president of a prominent construction company; and a former Weber State educator and administrator.
The recipients are Michael O. Leavitt of Cedar City; Mac “Mr. Mac” Christensen of Salt Lake City; Orluff Opheikens of Ogden; and Robert B. Smith of Idyllwild, Calif. Their degrees will be conferred during commencement exercises April 22 at 8 a.m. at the Dee Events Center.
Michael O. Leavitt
Leavitt, who will deliver this year’s commencement address, was elected Governor of Utah in 1992 and served three terms in office. He was one of the founders of Western Governors University. He also was selected to serve as chairman of the National Governors Association, the Republican Governors Association and the Western Governors’ Association.
In 2003, Leavitt joined President George W. Bush’s cabinet as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Two years later, he was appointed secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. There he managed the largest civilian department in the federal government, with more than 66,000 employees and a budget that accounts for almost one of every four federal dollars.
Leavitt joined his family’s insurance brokerage firm, the Leavitt Group, after earning his degree in business and economics from Southern Utah University. In 1984, he became the chief executive officer for Leavitt Group, which is now the second largest firm of its kind in the nation.
He is also the founder and chairman of Leavitt Partners, an international business that provides advice to clients operating in the health care and food safety sectors.
Christensen founded “Mr. Mac,” a popular men’s clothing store in Utah, which he operated for 43 years. Beyond his work with “Mr. Mac,” he has volunteered as president of the Mormon Tabernacle choir, served as a Weber State University trustee from 1999 to 2007 and raised money for the American Diabetes Association.
In 1997, Christensen was chosen as the director for the LDS Washington D.C. Temple Visitors’ Center, which welcomes thousands of visitors each year. He was appointed president of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in 2000.
As president of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, he manages 360 choir members, 125 orchestra members and a large staff. Christensen oversees the administrative tasks of the choir including programs, travel and budget. In addition to his regular duties, he has secured an independent record label for the choir, allowing them to use their recordings whenever they please.
Christensen has received several awards on behalf of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, including the 2003 National Medal of Arts Award, the 2005 Governors Award and 2006 Mother Teresa Award.
Opheikens is the founder and president of R&O Construction, which ranks as the fifth largest commercial contractor in Utah. Contracting with major projects throughout the western United States, R&O Construction’s annual gross revenues exceed $260 million.
Over the years, Opheikens not only has built a reputable business, but he has participated in community efforts. He played a key role in statewide economic development efforts and has served on boards of directors and committees such as the Ogden/Weber Chamber of Commerce and the Ogden/Weber Convention and Visitors Bureau.
As a supporter of higher education, Opheikens established annual funds for scholarship and internship opportunities for WSU construction management students. His philanthropy also has benefited Weber State through the construction of recreation, meeting and lecture facilities. Opheikens serves as a member of the Weber State University National Advisory Council and the WSU Alumni Association.
Opheikens has received numerous awards, including “Realtor of the Year” in 1978-79, Ogden/Weber Chamber Wall of Fame in 2007, and Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2008.
Robert B. Smith
Smith has served Weber State University in many capacities, most notably as provost from 1981 to 1996. During his tenure he was heavily involved in transitioning the institution from a college to a university. He also spearheaded efforts to obtain and implement computers as learning tools on campus and initiated an exchange program.
Before joining Weber State, Smith worked for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He played an instrumental role developing the institution, first as a chemistry professor and later as the founding dean of the College of Science, Mathematics and Engineering.
Away from campus, Smith was the chair for the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges for nine years. He also directed a national Academic Leadership Institute for the chief academic officers of state universities.
Smith is a past recipient of the H. Aldous Dixon Award from the WSU Alumni Association and Crystal Crest Award from the WSU Student Association. He took first prize in the Utah Arts Council’s original writing competition in 1992.
Visit weber.edu/wsutoday for more news about Weber State University.