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CASSH grads receive Distinguished Alumni Awards

Posted 8 a.m. Friday, Sept. 1, 2023

Three CASSH alumni — Neil Duresky, ’64; Jazzma Holland, ‘15 & ’21; and Isaac Hoffman, ’07 — are being recognized with 2023 Distinguished Alumni Awards.. 

Duresky, Holland, Hoffman celebrated for community impact

The UW-La Crosse Alumni & Friends Foundation recognized three CASSH graduates with Distinguished Alumni Awards in 2023. 

The alumni — Neil Duresky, ’64; Jazzma Holland, ‘15 & ’21; and Isaac Hoffman, ’07 — returned to campus with other award recipients to take part in a panel discussion and celebration Sept. 22 and 23. 

Though they differ in age and field, they are united by a lifelong connection to their alma mater, and their shared passion for making our communities a better place.

Neil Duresky, ’64 

Graff Distinguished Alumni Award 

Neil Duresky

From being a newspaper carrier in his teens through his many musical gigs in retirement, Neil Duresky remains committed.  

After graduating in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science, he went on to graduate from Air Force Officer Training and Aerospace Munitions Officer Schools in 1965. Following service in Turkey and the United States, Duresky returned to La Crosse in 1969 to work in personnel at Lutheran Hospital.   

Two years later, Duresky began working as an Internal Revenue Service officer, a position he held until retiring in 1997. 

During his career and later in retirement, Duresky was deeply involved in public education. He served on the La Crosse Board of Education (1992-2004, 2006-11), on the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (2000-04) and on the Governor’s Education Excellence Task Force (2003-24), among others. 

“Neil’s dedication to providing excellent educational opportunities for all our schools’ children was exemplified by his specific interest in meeting the needs of special education students,” says Gerald Kember, retired La Crosse superintendent. 

Prior to college, Duresky had a successful avocation in music. He played bass in La Crosse’s second rock ‘n’ roll band, The Saffires, from 1958 to 1959. 

After “retiring” from performing for four decades, Duresky returned to the local music scene. He’s been a regular with The Grumpy Old Men Swing band for more than 15 years.  

Beyond performing, Duresky has been devoted to preserving traditional jazz. He brings banjo players to La Crosse for an annual festival. And he co-produced a scholarship fundraiser for a Sparta jazz student to attend UWL. The scholarship honored Sparta native Jim Beebe, a nationally known traditional jazz trombonist and band leader.   

“What distinguishes Neil from others is his outstanding and longstanding commitment to public service,” says UWL Professor Emeritus Joseph Heim.  

About the award  

The Graff Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes alumni who have achieved honor and distinction  beyond the immediate environments in which they live and work. The award is named for Maurice O. Graff, the late, longtime vice chancellor at UWL.

Jazzma Holland, ’15 & ’21 

Parker Multicultural Distinguished Alumni Award

Jazzma Holland

Driving change.  

Creating opportunities.  

Empowering future generations.  

For Jazzma Holland, these are much more than abstract platitudes. They are an essential part of who she is.   

Holland, ’15 & ’21, has worked to promote social justice and open doors for young people of color every step of her adult life — from her time as an undergraduate at UWL, to her current role as assistant director of Student Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Programming at Edgewood College in Madison.  

“Jazzma has set the bar high for what it means to be a dedicated practitioner and educator while never losing focus of self, family and community,” says Antoiwana Williams, who recently retired from her role leading UWL’s Affirmative Action Office and Youth Safety Program. 

Holland began her career at UWL as the administrator of the Center for Organization, Vision & Engagement.   

Later, she became assistant director and ultimately director of UWL Upward Bound, a federally funded TRIO program that supports eligible high school students transitioning to college.   

Finally, she was the assistant director of Student Leadership, overseeing all multicultural student organizations on campus.  

In the community, Holland is the co-founder and president of the La Crosse-based nonprofit Black Leaders Acquiring Collective Knowledge, and the founder of the Black Women in Wisconsin Empowerment Conference.  

She is also the host and creator of “AllThatJazz,” a podcast in which she speaks to the Black community about heritage, networking, mental health and other important issues.  

“Jazzma continues to make a difference on campus and in the community by drawing on her own experience as a first-generation woman of color,” Williams says. “She is a kind, caring and compassionate woman who will always go beyond the call of duty to assist anyone.”  

About the award  

The Parker Distinguished Multicultural Alumni Award recognizes outstanding alumni who have contributed significantly to the improvement of multicultural understanding on the campus and in their careers. History Professor Emeritus James Parker established the award in 1997. 


Isaac Hoffman, ’07 

Improving the Lives of Others Award

Isaac Hoffman

Many residents and families in La Crosse are better off now than they were five years ago, in large part thanks to Isaac Hoffman.   

Hoffman, director of the La Crosse Area Family Collaborative, has been instrumental in recent efforts to connect people in need with stable housing, school and community resources, and other key social supports.   

“Isaac is a respected community leader, with an ability to engage people with diverse perspectives and bring them together to work toward a common goal,” says Sandy Brekke, a senior consultant for Gundersen Health System’s Office of Population Health. 

Hoffman, ’07, holds a bachelor's degree in sociology from UWL.    

He began his career as a youth counselor for the Family & Childrens Center in La Crosse, later serving as a Child Protective Services social worker and a neighborhood social worker.   

Hoffman’s empathy and resourcefulness has allowed him to help address some of the most pressing social issues affecting La Crosse and many other communities, including homelessness, family separation and student behavior in schools.   

In addition to his work with the La Crosse Area Family Collaborative, Hoffman played a key role in developing and administering an emergency winter shelter plan in 2022-23.   

Through Hoffman’s coordination, 59 families secured emergency shelter and case management, and 27 families accessed help through other means.   

This successful effort will now serve as the basis for meeting the community’s emergency shelter needs in the future.   

“Under (Isaac’s) leadership, there was an efficient community collaborative system that committed to a streamlined process to protect some of the most vulnerable children and families in our community,” Brekke says. “A passion to improve the lives of those most vulnerable is the driving force behind the work Isaac does.”   

About the award   

The Improving the Lives of Others Award recognizes a UWL undergraduate alum who has chosen a career in the La Crosse region dedicated to improving the lives of others. It was established in 2023 by Provost Betsy Morgan. 


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