We are thrilled to recognize four outstanding alums of Mount Mary University, for their commitment to service, professionalism, support of the arts and being active volunteers in their communities. Additionally, we have the privilege of honoring the 53 year-long tradition of the Starving Artists' Show, which has provided support to students since its inception.

Please join in celebrating these individuals and this institution on Saturday, April 22.

Madonna Medals
Professional Excellence: Peggy Kelsey '86
Service to the University or Association: Sister Marilyn Kesler, SSND '63
Outstanding Community Service: Bonnie Penno '74
Tower Award
Emma Daisy Gertel '08
President's Award
Mount Mary Starving Artists' Show


Madonna Medals


Madonna Medal, Professional Excellence

Margaret "Peggy" Kelsey, '86
As the Executive Vice President, General Counsel, Corporate Secretary, and Compliance Officer of WEC Energy Group, Peggy Kelsey has demonstrated her ability to lead in a variety of ways. Previously serving in a variety of leadership roles with Wisconsin-based Modine Manufacturing, as well as rising to the rank of partner with Milwaukee law firm, Quarles & Brady, Peggy's commitment to professional excellence is evident.

As an advocate for equitable and equal opportunities in the workplace, Peggy has used the values and competencies learned at Mount Mary, centered on social justice and empowerment of women, to support female professionals across the country. An active volunteer and advisor in her community, Peggy serves on a number of boards, including the Greater Milwaukee Committee, teach for America, and Marquette University's Women's Council. 

Peggy has been recognized for her professional contributions by the Milwaukee Business Journal, in 2005 as a Woman of Influence in 2012 as Best Corporate Counsel - Public Company ($1 billion-plus). Having earned her Juris Doctorate from Georgetown Law and an MBA from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Peggy has committed to a life of learning and is now instilling that hunger in generations to come. 

bonnie.jpgMadonna Medal, Community Service

Bonnie (Behnke) Penno, '74
Bonnie Penno can best be described as a driven and compassionate woman. Having dedicated her life to service, as an occupational therapist, community volunteer, and educator, Bonnie exemplifies the values of Mount Mary University and the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

As an active volunteer in her church, serving as a Master Gardner in local community gardens, or spending time in foreign countries teaching children English and providing them with necessary medical care, Bonnie's commitment to social justice and service to others is significant. 

Recognized for her tireless work related to sustainability and eco-conscious living, including planting trees, creating green spaces in her community, or educating and supporting people through her church's Green Sanctuary Committee, Bonnie's work has led to significant improvements in processes and providing support for the future of the work. 

While volunteering with Habitat for Humanity's Women with Hammers group, Bonnie went above and beyond, learning woodworking and carpentry skills, to provide assistance in the building of homes for deserving families in her community. She has traveled far and wide as part of a team supported by Habitat and continues to develop her skills as a jane-of-all-trades. 

A firm believer that all should have access to affordable, healthy, and quality food, Bonnie serves as the Board President of the Iowa City Free Lunch Program, which provides important resources and tools to those struggling with food insecurities. 

Bonnie continues to be an advocate for women's education, having seen first-hand the impact it can have, and encourages others to find ways to give back in their communities as well. Bonnie and her family have demonstrated a lifelong dedication to supporting those in need, and proudly continue that work not only on a local level but on a global scale.


Madonna Medal, Service to the University

Marilyn Kesler, SSND '63
Sister Marilyn Kesler has been a beloved figure across the Mount Mary community for decades. During her time as an undergraduate student, Sister found ways in which to embrace opportunities for personal and professional growth and to model the values and traditions of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. 

Upon returning to campus in 1981, Sister Marilyn began as the Director of Residence Life, as well as serving as an adjunct professor of education, preparing the educators of tomorrow. Remaining involved with Mount Mary while serving in the role of Provincial Leader for the School Sisters of Notre Dame's Milwaukee Province, Sister was the driving force behind many improvements across campus. 

Leading the charge for the development of the Gerhardinger Center, which houses Mount Mary's science programs, Sister Marilyn was integral in expanding the opportunities for our students to learn in state-of-the-art facilities, under the guidance of amazing faculty. The Bloechel Center, Mount Mary's athletics facility was also a project moved forward by Sister Marilyn in collaboration with former MMU President, Dr. Patricia O'Donoghue and the dedicated members of the Board of Trustees.

Returning from a sabbatical (ahead of schedule), at the request of President O'Donoghue, Sister Marilyn began her formal role as an ambassador of the University. Whether serving as a connector between students and alums, deepening support from the community, or serving as a lead fundraiser, Sister's impact can still be felt across campus and beyond to this day. Armed with an unrivaled ability to make people feel not only included, but appreciated, Sister has maintained long-lasting relationships with students, alums, faculty & staff, administration, and members of the Board of Trustees. She is a trusted advisor and friend to many. 

Having served most recently as part of the Alumnae & Donor Relations team, Sister Marilyn has secured some of Mount Mary's largest donations and grown the Fidelis Society, Mount Mary's planned giving society by leaps and bounds. Her passion for educational opportunities for women and love for Mount Mary is evident; the community is certainly better for having known and loved her. 

Tower Award

Emma Daisy Gertel '08
Emma Daisy Gertel's artistic talent, and passion for community, and creating is evident through her work as an advocate, educator, and creator. During her time as a student at Mount Mary, Daisy found the supportive and collaborative community to be integral to her personal and professional growth.

Through a volunteer role, Daisy would be introduced to her first employer, Express Yourself Milwaukee; this opportunity would lead her down a nearly 13-year path of service, artistic expression, and leadership. The primary mission of Express Yourself Milwaukee was to offer at-risk and marginalized youth, ages 7-21, the opportunity to gain access to multi-discipline art programs, meeting them where they were in their life and their neighborhoods. As Daisy continued to develop as an artist, she embraced the opportunity to grow her skill set, serving as an assistant arts facilitator, administrator, grant writer, and eventually as Co-Executive Director of the organization.

Beginning a new adventure, Daisy began a journey of entrepreneurship and creative flexibility. Whether partaking in a group mural curation at Bayshore Town Center, designing beautiful works of art shared at the Michigan Festival of the Arts, or personalized pieces showcasing the strength and softness of women, Daisy has found her calling, and is proudly pursuing her passion. Most recently joining Artist Uprising, an organization that works to connect artists and creators with brands and businesses, Daisy is putting her business prowess and creative talents to good use as their Creative Director of Art Curation.

A forever advocate of supporting women and a talented artist, Daisy's indelible mark is felt in communities across the nation.

President's Award

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Mount Mary Starving Artists' Show

Founded in 1969 as a way for alumnae to give back to their alma mater, the Starving Artists Show has provided support, community, and a tradition, unlike any other show of its kind.

Under the leadership of Mount Mary alumnae, the Mount Mary Starving Artists Show began with a simple purpose, to raise money for the college. As dedicated volunteers, active ambassadors of the arts, and connected members in their communities, the show grew exponentially and introduced thousands of supporters to the beautiful Mount Mary campus and the passionate alumnae and their families.

Whether showcasing the work of up-and-coming artists, or sought-after talent from across the United States, the Starving Artists Show was a form of artistic expression and support for those who find a connection in creating. Patrons from all over the region joined friends, family members, and familiar faces year after year, to browse the wares of the talented artisans and support the impact mission of Mount Mary.

The success of the first year, where over $400 in donations was raised for Sister Georgeann's geography department to the establishment of a $1 million+ Alumnae Endowed Scholarship fund shows the determination and foresight of the alumnae leadership. The Starving Artists Show has had such a significant impact raising over $2.5 million that provided innovative technology to our students, empowered young women to pursue their journey of higher education, and supported the good work of faculty to prepare tomorrow's game-changers.

The sense of community, the long-lasting relationships, and genuine love for Mount Mary were at the core of what drove these efforts for over a half-century. Alumnae and their families volunteered their time and talents for years, eventually welcoming new generations; old friends celebrated personal and professional milestones and created new memories on the grounds that housed the show for over five decades. Students became alums and found community in the work and fun of planning such a well-known and loved show.

Serving as ambassadors and advocates of a Mount Mary education, the devoted alum volunteers embodied the innovation and creativity that MMU grads are known for. The ability to consistently draw upwards of 5,000 patrons year after year and maintain such an excellent reputation remains the hallmark of this beloved event.

The Starving Artist Show which was a labor of love for many will be a lasting legacy to be treasured always.


Each year, Mount Mary selects its most distinguished alumnae to receive a Madonna Medal or Tower Award (15 years since graduation) to honor them and recognize their outstanding achievements. Awardees are selected based on their dedication to their profession or volunteerism, as well as their unique impact on the community.

Mount Mary also recognizes an individual, organization or foundation for its support of the University with the President's Award of Distinction.

You can learn more about the alumnae awards on the nominations page.