Married couple Don Hemmes ’65 and Helen Van Zanten Hemmes ’67 are each receiving one of this year’s alumni awards. After graduating from Central with a degree in biology, Don earned an M.S. and Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1967 and 1970, respectively. Helen graduated from Central with a degree in English and went on to receive an M.A. in English in 1969, also at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Both Don and Helen accepted instructorships at their graduate school alma mater upon completing their graduate degrees.
After earning post-docs at the University of Zürich and University of California at Riverside, Don accepted a position as assistant professor of biology at University of Hawaii at Hilo in 1973. He was quickly promoted to full professor. In fall 1977, Don took a leave of absence to participate in research at the Cancer Institute within the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. Don and Helen also participated in a faculty exchange at Central with Drs. Don and Maxine Huffman during the 1984-1985 academic year.
At a Mycological Society of America (MSA) meeting in San Antonio, Texas, Don’s research on mushrooms caught the interest of Dr. Dennis Desjardin at San Francisco State University. This was pivotal for his research as a mycologist. Together with Desjardin, Don received a National Science Foundation grant to study the mushrooms of Hawaii. His field guide “Mushrooms of Hawaii,” co-authored with Desjardin, received high reviews. Don is author of numerous professional articles on cell and fungal biology.
During his tenure, Don received numerous awards for excellence in teaching, service and research. In 1986, Don was awarded the W. H. Weston Award for Teaching Excellence in Mycology by the MSA and was made a Fellow of the society for his research on Hawaiian fungi. He remains active in MSA, serving on the Endowment Committee. Don officially retired in 2006 and, as professor emeritus, remains active as a researcher and lecturer at UH-Hilo.
Helen’s career path included lectureships, jobs with the University of Hawaii’s College of Continuing Education and Community Service and employment with the County of Hawaii and in the not-for-profit world. Helen served as a community coordinator for the Hilo Adolescent Family Life Project through Child & Family Service and as president and chief professional officer of the Hawaii Island United Way for 19 years prior to her early retirement. She gained expertise in not-for-profit management and financial literacy through continuing education at UH-Hilo, as well as through the United Way of America and the Weinberg Fellows program.
Helen became active in her community through memberships in the American Association of University Women - Hilo Branch and the League of Women Voters of Hawaii County, among other organizations.
Since retiring in 2006, Helen has spent much of her time volunteering, having served as president of the Rotary Club of Hilo, director of the Waiakea High School Foundation, Finance Committee Chair at church and director and now secretary of the Hawaii Pacific Parks Association.
The couple enjoys traveling and has narrowed their “to visit” states to just a few, seeking out the flora and fauna at various locations, most recently exploring sites and national parks in Alaska and Maine. Don and Helen have been married since 1967. They have two sons, Kimo ’94 and David ’97, as well as four grandchildren.
Their years at Central College provided them with wonderful memories, lifetime partners and friends and a solid education for their careers and community service.