(Ashland, Ore.) — An arts graduate with a 30-year career as a museum curator and a regional education leader who has championed the underrepresented will be honored Friday when Southern Oregon University presents its annual Distinguished Alumni Awards during a luncheon on campus.
Bruce Guenther, who earned a bachelor’s degree in applied design from SOU in 1971, will receive this year’s Distinguished Alumni Award. The award recognizes alumni whose personal and professional achievements have significantly benefited humankind and brought distinction to Southern Oregon University.
Javier del Rio, currently the assistant superintendent for business and human resources at the Phoenix-Talent School District, will be recognized with the Excellence in Education Award. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from SOU in 1994 and a master’s degree in education in 2005.
Guenther grew up in Medford and came to what was then Southern Oregon College in the late 1960s to study art and participate in the honors program. He found his career path when he landed a National Endowment for the Arts curatorial internship at the Portland Art Museum after graduation. Guenther served in curator roles at the Seattle Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and Orange County Museum of Art in California. He returned to the Portland Art Museum as chief curator in 2000 and oversaw two major expansions before retiring in 2014.
Del Rio, who came to SOU as an exchange student from Spain, went to work for MCI Telecommunications in Los Angeles after earning his bachelor’s degree. He discovered his calling a few years later when he began teaching under an emergency credential in the Los Angeles Unified School District. He earned his teaching license from Cal State, Northridge, while he worked and then returned to SOU for his master’s degree. He has served in a variety of roles in the Phoenix-Talent School District and as principal in the Medford School District. At each stop in his education career, del Rio has advocated for underprivileged and underrepresented children, and those for whom English is a second language.