Founders Day Part III: Distinguished Alumni Award winners

Block, Frick, Gannon, Steinback, Ternberg to be honored at Nov. 5 gala

As part of the celebration of Washington University in St. Louis’ 1853 founding, five individuals will receive the Distinguished Alumni Award at the annual Founders Day celebration.

The gala also will recognize those being honored with Distinguished Faculty Awards as well as the Robert S. Brookings Awards. It takes place at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5, at the St. Louis Union Station Marriott. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin will deliver the keynote address. For ticket information, call (314) 935-6503.

Distinguished Alumni Awards

The 2011 Distinguished Alumni Awards will go to:

  • Susan Sanders Block (FA 1976)
  • Robert W. Frick (EN 1960, GB 1962)
  • John C. Gannon (GR 1972, GR 1976)
  • Kenneth B. Steinback (BU 1966)
  • Jessie L. Ternberg (MD 1953, GR 2008)

Susan Sanders Block


Block, a staple in the local interior design business for more than 30 years, is known for her unique and eclectic style. Since 1996, she has been the owner and creative force behind The Designing Block, but she may be equally well-known for the long list of cultural, educational and advocacy organizations she supports. By either measure, she has enriched the quality of life throughout the St. Louis region.

Since 1973, Block has been active with the Junior League, where she learned to become an effective volunteer. She soon put that experience to good use for a number of institutions, among them the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, COCA, CASA, Craft Alliance, Crisis Nursery, St. Louis Effort for AIDS, the St. Louis Public Library, the Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition, and Gilda’s Club of St. Louis.

Block also serves on the “friend’s” boards of the St. Louis Zoo, the Saint Louis Art Museum and Dance St. Louis. She is a member of the board of directors of Epworth Child and Family Services.

Five years ago, Block co-founded the Spirit of St. Louis Women’s Fund, an organization of female philanthropists who have generated nearly $1 million to support local women’s initiatives. For her volunteer leadership and support, Block was named a St. Louis Woman of Achievement for Creative Philanthropy in 2009.

Block also is an active and engaged alumna for the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, where she earned a bachelor of fine arts degree. In addition to serving as a member of its National Council, Block has chaired the annual Fashion Show for 16 years, is currently vice chair of the school’s Scholarship Initiative and is a member of the Eliot Society Membership Committee.

Robert W. Frick


Frick is an alumnus of both the School of Engineering & Applied Science, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1960, and of the Olin Business School where he graduated with a MBA in 1962.

A year after earning his business degree, Frick joined the Bank of America and was dispatched to California to capitalize on its burgeoning technology industry. He quickly rose through the company ranks, becoming executive vice president and chief financial officer.

In 1984, he was named vice chairman of the board of directors of BankAmerica Corp. and headed its World Banking Division. Just four years later, Frick resigned, at age 51, and set out to prove that a person “can do good and make money,” forging a new career in social entrepreneurship.

With his wife, Barbara, as a partner, they created K.E.S. Management Co., a real estate development and property management firm specializing in affordable, quality housing for low- to moderate-income residents in ethnically diverse neighborhoods.

These days, Frick devotes his time to working with young Silicon Valley companies, teaching business strategy at a nearby college, serving on the boards of several corporations, and raising funds and awareness for Habitat for Humanity. He recently rode his bicycle 3,300 miles to support his favorite charity.

The Fricks are patrons and life benefactors of the Eliot Society. Frick supports the society in many important ways, including by serving on its Executive Committee as membership chair and by leading the San Francisco Bay Area Membership Committee. For his support of the Olin School, where he is a member of its National Council, Frick received Olin’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1988. In 2004, Frick and his wife established the Robert and Barbara Frick Proressorship in Business Strategy.

John C. Gannon


Through his career with the Central Intelligence Agency, Gannon’s service to our country has spanned three decades filled with significant periods of great political upheaval. At the CIA, he served as deputy director for intelligence; as chairman of the national intelligence council; and as assistant director of central intelligence for analysis and production.

He has played a major role in shaping America’s national security strategy, a role that was expanded after 9/11 to include heading up the White House team’s proposal for reorganizing intelligence within the new Department of Homeland Security.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in 1966 from Holy Cross College, Gannon served as a naval officer in Vietnam. He chose Washington University for graduate school and earned a doctorate in history in Arts & Sciences in 1976. He then joined the CIA and served in numerous capacities until joining the private sector in 2005. Currently, he is senior executive and service-sector president for BAE Systems, a global aerospace, defense and security company.

His awards include the country’s highest intelligence honor, the National Security Medal, presented by President George W. Bush; the U.S. State Department’s Superior Honor Award; the National Security Agency’s Distinguished Service Medal; and within the CIA, a notable list of tributes and honors such as the Distinguished Intelligence Medal and the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Director Award, receiving the latter citation three times.

Service to society continues to be a part of Gannon’s life. He serves on the National Security Preparedness Group, an extension of the initial 9/11 Commission, and the CIA Memorial Foundation, which provides scholarships for the family members of deceased officers. For his alma mater, Gannon is a volunteer committee member for “Opening Doors to the Future: The Scholarship Initiative for Washington University.”

Kenneth B. Steinback


Steinback co-founded CSI Leasing Inc. in 1972 and currently serves as its chairman. From that small startup, he has built the largest independent, privately held information technology leasing business in the U.S.

CSI also is in many global markets, employing more than 700 throughout Mexico, Central and Eastern Europe, Asia and South America. This year, it was ranked 44th among all U.S. leasing firms by the Monitor, a leading industry journal. In 2010, the St. Louis Business Journal placed CSI as the 42nd largest privately held company in the metro St. Louis area.

The native St. Louisan graduated from the Olin Business School in 1966, then joined the U.S. Army. As a first lieutenant, he was stationed mostly in Germany at the Berlin data center. He then returned to his home town, working as a salesperson before establishing CSI Leasing. In 1998, Steinback purchased Executive Personal Computers, adding a retail computer equipment component that also is considered one of the country’s premier asset recovery solution providers.

Steinback has received numerous honors conferred by professional organizations, including the Computer Dealers and Lessors Association’s Spirit of Excellence James F. Benton Memorial Award and the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for the St. Louis Region.

He received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the Olin Business School in 1997. Active in his community, Steinback has been involved with many notable local nonprofit organizations, including Barnes Jewish Hospital, for which he chairs its foundation.

He and his wife, Marilyn Dann Steinback (AB 1966), generously support WUSTL. In addition to being Life Fellows of the Eliot Society, they have established the Kenneth and Marilyn Steinback Scholarship in Olin. Ken also serves on Olin’s National Council.

Jessie L. Ternberg


Ternberg’s education and career can be characterized by many “firsts,” all of which occurred at Washington University: first female resident in surgery; first female chief resident; first female surgeon on the faculty; first female chair of the medical school faculty council.

Ternberg broke through many of medicine’s glass ceilings at WUSTL because it was here she received those opportunities. It was also here that Ternberg forged a stellar 42-year career that included surgeon, researcher, professor, author and mentor/role model, and whose impact will be felt for many years to come.

In 1946, Ternberg earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Grinnell College, then enrolled in the University of Texas-Austin. While working on her doctorate degree in biochemistry in 1950, her research helped discover how vitamin B-12 is absorbed. She received a scholarship to attend medical school at WUSTL and after graduation conducted her medical internship at Boston City Hospital.

Realizing that she wished to become a surgeon, Ternberg encountered her “first” problem: she could not find a surgery residency program that allowed women to apply. At least not until she applied at Washington University, where she was accepted by the Department of Surgery and by Barnes Hospital.

Ternberg joined the medical faculty as an instructor in surgery in 1959. Although she was a general surgeon, it became apparent that she was especially skillful in pediatric surgery, so she received additional training in pediatric surgery at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. Back in St. Louis, she played a leading role in the creation of the Division of Pediatric Surgery at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, accepting the role of chief in 1972, and finally realizing her dream in 1975 of becoming a professor of surgery in pediatrics.

Ternberg also is widely recognized for groundbreaking research on free radicals. She has published more than 100 scientific papers and 10 book chapters. Her textbook, A Handbook of Pediatric Surgery, made her name familiar to a generation of residents.

Although she has received many top honors during her long and impressive career, perhaps the most notable is the creation of the Jessie L. Ternberg Award, established by former students and colleagues and presented annually to a female medical school student who exemplifies her “indomitable spirit of determination, perseverance and dedication to her patients.”

This is the third of a three-part series highlighting this year’s Founders Day celebration. To read the first installment, which highlighted the Distinguished Faculty Award winners, visit To read the second, which highlighted the winners of the Brookings Award, visit