2008 Outstanding American by Choice Recipients
The Honorable Albio Sires
Congressman Albio Sires serves the 13th Congressional District of New Jersey in the United States House of Representatives. Previously, he served two terms as New Jersey Speaker of the General Assembly from 2002 to 2006. Before being elected to Congress, Sires was serving his fourth term as an Assemblyman for the 33rd District in New Jersey and had been the Mayor of the Town of West New York in Hudson County since 1995.
Congressman Sires was born in 1951 in the Cuban town of Bejucal, where he grew up in the waning years of pre-Communist Cuba. His family fled Cuba in January 1962 with the help of relatives in America. They eventually settled in West New York, where he became a star basketball player at Memorial High School. Sires earned his undergraduate degree from St. Peter's College, where he received a four-year basketball scholarship. He attained a graduate degree at Middlebury College, VT. Congressman Sires' wife, Adrienne, is a school administrator. He has a stepdaughter, Tara Kole, who served a U.S. Supreme Court clerkship with Justice Antonin Scalia after graduation from Harvard Law School last year. She now works for a private law firm in Los Angeles.
Anh N. Duong and her family came to the United States as refugees of war after the fall of South Vietnam in 1975. She and her relatives left the day Saigon fell by helicopter and were taken to a Vietnamese boat that met up with a U.S. ship. Each family member jumped one by one onto the U.S. ship in high seas. Ms. Duong came to the U.S. as a refugee through Pennsylvania. While her parents struggled to start over, Ms. Duong entered 10th grade at Montgomery Blair High School in Maryland with a determination to excel, despite not speaking English. She graduated at the top 3% of her high school class and went on to graduate Cum Laude in Chemical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Maryland at College Park. Ms. Duong also graduated from American University earning a graduate degree in Public Administration.
Ms. Duong is most well known for her role in the development of thermobaric weapons. She designed the thermobaric bomb credited with helping win the war in Afghanistan and continues to develop anti-terrorism technologies for the Pentagon. In only 67 days, her team of nearly one hundred scientists, engineers and technicians successfully went from concept through development, scale-up and production of the first thermobaric weapon in the U.S. in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. This earned her team the Roger Smith Team Award, while Ms. Duong was given the Civilian Meritorious Medal.
Major General John L. Fugh (Retired)
John L. Fugh was born in Beijing, China. He was 15 when he migrated to the United States with his family. General Fugh was The Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army, retiring from that post in July 1993 as a major general. The Judge Advocate General manages the Army's worldwide legal organization, consisting of 4,700 active duty, reserve and civilian lawyers, and over 5,000 paralegal and administrative personnel. He was the first Chinese American to attain general officer status in the U.S. Army.
General Fugh is Chairman of the Committee of 100, a national, non-partisan group of prominent Chinese Americans who brings a bicultural perspective to U.S. relations with China and addresses the concerns of Americans of Chinese/Asian descent. In addition, he serves on the Executive Committee and as a director of the Atlantic Council of the United States. General Fugh graduated from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and the George Washington University Law School. He attended the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, the U.S. Army War College, and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He is a member of the Bar of the District of Columbia.
Duncan Wardle is Vice President, Global PR for Disney Parks. In his current role, Mr. Wardle oversees the strategic development, creative ideation, and execution of PR Campaigns designed to raise awareness, generate buzz, and increase visitation to Disney Parks worldwide. Born in London, England, Mr. Wardle attended Rannoch School and Napier University in Scotland before being chosen as one of seven students from the United Kingdom to represent his country at Epcot in Walt Disney World, Florida. It was at Epcot that Mr. Wardle met his future wife, Beatriz, a Mexican student attending the same program.
While spending the year as a student in the United States, Mr. Wardle was inspired by a portrait of America entitled “Golden Dreams”. Through the eyes of Thomas Jefferson, John F. Kennedy, Neil Armstrong, and Martin Luther King, Jr., he determined that this was a land of unique freedom, universal acceptance, and boundless opportunity. A land that he would return to ten years later to pursue his own American Dream. Having worked for the Walt Disney Company in London, Paris, and Hong Kong, he emigrated to the United States of America in 1997 together with his wife, Beatriz and daughter Adriana. Shortly after their arrival in America, their son James, the first U.S. citizen in the family, was born and on March 3, 2006, Mr. Wardle and Beatriz fulfilled their own dream of becoming U.S. citizens.
Andy Garcia was born in Havana, Cuba, where his mother, Amelie, was an English teacher, and his father, René was a farmer and attorney. His family fled to Miami, Florida when he was five years old. In high school, Mr. Garcia became interested in acting and continued pursuing it while at Florida International University. He moved to California a short time later, where he began his journey of becoming one of Hollywood’s leading actors.
Mr. Garcia is well known for his roles in The Untouchables, The Godfather: Part III, When a Man Loves a Woman, and Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen. He was awarded Star of the Year by the National Association of Theater Owners and received the Harvard University Foundation Award for his outstanding contributions to American performing arts. In addition to acting, Mr. Garcia made his directorial debut with the film Cachao ... Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos. He also produced an album based on that film that was nominated for a Grammy award. In 2005, he directed, wrote and starred in The Lost City, a film about people caught in the Cuban revolution as Fidel Castro came to power. Mr. Garcia is married to Maria Victoria Lorido and he is the father of three daughters and one son.
The Honorable Elaine L. Chao
Elaine L. Chao is the nation's 24th Secretary of Labor and the first Asian Pacific American woman appointed to a President’s cabinet in U.S. history. She arrived in the U.S. at the age of eight from Asia speaking no English. Secretary Chao's experience transitioning to a new country inspired her to dedicate most of her professional life to ensuring that people have the chance to build better lives and the opportunity to achieve financial independence.
Secretary Chao has been a trailblazer in the public, private, and non-profit sectors. She has been dedicated to carrying out the U.S. Department of Labor’s mission of promoting and protecting the health, safety, retirement security, and competitiveness of the nation’s workforce. She is a leader in ensuring that workers, especially vulnerable immigrants, are fully and fairly compensated under our nation’s labor laws. Under Secretary Chao’s leadership, the Department of Labor has instituted a number of successful programs benefiting America’s workers, particularly those in traditionally underserved communities. She has held leadership positions in the public, private, and non-profit sectors, including as president and CEO of United Way of America, Director of the Peace Corps, and Deputy Secretary of Transportation. She holds a graduate degree from Harvard University and an undergraduate degree from Mount Holyoke College.
Dr. James S.C. Chao
Born in Shanghai, China, Dr. James S.C. Chao has dedicated his life to shipping, trading, and financing. He began his career in shipping as a cadet on ocean-going vessels after completing his college coursework in China. By the mid-1950’s he had advanced through the ranks to become one of the youngest ocean-going marine masters. In 1958, he shattered all previous records in the Republic of China by achieving the highest score ever on the national Master Mariner Examination. By 1964, he founded Foremost Maritime Corporation and developed it to the current Foremost Group and remains as Chairman to this day.
An active and committed volunteer and supporter of higher education, he has served as an Advisor, adjunct professor, and Trustee of St. John’s University’s Board of Trustees where he received the Medal of Honor and the title of Trustee Emeritus of the Board of Trustees. He also served as Chairman of the Chiao-Tung University Alumni Association in America from 1988-1999. Active in many philanthropic activities, Dr. Chao is the recipient of numerous awards for his professional accomplishments and community service. He was inducted into the International Maritime Hall of Fame at the United Nations and received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor award.
Charles Simic was born in Yugoslavia in 1938. His childhood was complicated by the events of World War II. Mr. Simic attended the University of Chicago, working nights in an office at the Chicago Sun Times, but was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1961 and served until 1963. He earned his undergraduate degree from New York University in 1966.
Mr. Simic is the author of 18 books of poetry. He is also an essayist, translator, editor and professor emeritus at the University of New Hampshire, where he has taught for 34 years. Mr. Smic won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1990 for his book of prose poems The World Doesn't End. In 2005 he won the Griffin Prize for Selected Poems: 1963-2003. Mr. Simic held a MacArthur Fellowship, and has also held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He has received the Edgar Allan Poe Award, the PEN Translation Prize and awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Institute of Arts and Letters. He was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2000. In 2007, the same day he was appointed Poet Laureate, Mr. Simic received the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets.
Elsa A. Murano
Dr. Elsa A. Murano is the 23rd President of Texas A&M University. She is the first woman and first Hispanic-American to lead the oldest public institution of higher learning in Texas. Dr. Murano worked her way up the academic ranks and into administration from an unconventional beginning. At the age of 2, her family departed from Havana, Cuba, when Fidel Castro came into power. After living in several Latin American countries, she and her family settled in Miami when she was 14 years old. At that time, she only knew Spanish, a language in which she is still fluent, but quickly mastered English and launched an educational career that carried her through the doctoral ranks.
In 1995, she joined the Texas A&M faculty. In 2001 President George W. Bush asked her to serve as Under Secretary for Food Safety for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, making her the highest-ranking food safety official in the U.S. government. She returned to Texas A&M in January 2005 as Vice Chancellor and Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences until being appointed President of Texas A&M. Dr. Murano received an undergraduate degree from Florida International University, and earned both a graduate degree and a doctorate from Virginia Tech.
Rosario Marin was born in Mexico and has been a naturalized citizen since 1984. Currently, she serves in Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cabinet as Secretary of the State and Consumer Services Agency where she oversees the state’s civil rights enforcement, consumer protection, and the licensing of 2.4 million Californians in more than 255 different professions.
Appointed by President George W. Bush and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Ms. Marin served as the 41st Treasurer of the United States where she had oversight of the U.S. Mint and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. She championed the U.S. Treasury's financial literacy outreach program focusing especially on the 10 million unbanked Americans. In addition, she served on the White House Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. In 1995, for her tireless work on behalf of persons with developmental disabilities, Ms. Marin was awarded the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Prize at the United Nations. She was only the second person to receive the honor. She is a former member of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors and the National Association of Latino Elected Officials. She has also been an appointed California Film Commissioner.
When Elie Wiesel was 15 years old he and his family were deported by the Nazis to Auschwitz from Romania. His mother and younger sister perished, his two older sisters survived. His father died shortly before the camp was liberated in April 1945. After the war, Professor Wiesel studied in Paris and later became a journalist. During an interview with Francois Mauriac, he was persuaded to write about his experiences. The result was La Nuit or Night, his internationally acclaimed memoir, which has since been translated into more than thirty languages.
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter appointed him as Chairman of the President's Commission on the Holocaust. In 1980, he became the Founding Chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. He is also Chairman of The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, an organization he and his wife created to fight indifference, intolerance and injustice. Since 1976, he has been the Andrew W. Mellon Professor at Boston University. Professor Wiesel is the author of more than forty books of fiction and non-fiction. For his literary and human rights activities, he has received numerous awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal and the Medal of Liberty Award, and the rank of Grand-Croix in the French Legion of Honor. In 1986, Professor Wiesel won the Nobel Prize for Peace.
Lieutenant Colonel Donald Zacherl, United States Army (Retired)
Donald Zacherl was born in Canada and became a citizen of the United States in 1970. He is the president and chief executive officer of T3 Technologies, a business process and custom software development firm in Virginia. A retired Army Lieutenant Colonel, Mr. Zacherl attended the Military Academy at West Point. While in the Army, Mr. Zacherl served as a Field Artillery officer, was qualified as an Airborne Ranger, and commanded a battalion. Mr. Zacherl also served as the operations officer for the Counter-Terrorist Joint Task Force, and was personally congratulated by General Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for successful leadership and coordination of a national crisis management program.
Mr. Zacherl’s post-military accomplishments include selection as one of the 100 premier technology leaders in the United States in 2001 by ComputerWorld magazine. Mr. Zacherl was also profiled in 2001 in InfoWorld magazine as a business technology leader and executive. Mr. Zacherl founded T3 Technologies, a service disabled veteran owned small business, in March 2004. In addition to West Point, Mr. Zacherl earned multiple advanced degrees from Hofstra University and George Washington University. He participated in the Stanford University Chief Information Officer Executive Program and is a member of Beta Gamma Sigma, an international honor society.
Staff Sergeant Ramel Turic, United States Army
Staff Sergeant (SSG) Ramel Turic came to the United States in early 1998, leaving his home in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He enrolled at an American high school, Central High in New Hampshire. Knowing that he would not receive credits for the remainder of the year, he stayed at the school to improve his English. Once proficient in English, SSG Turic completed his high school education and received his diploma.
SSG Turic’s commitment to the United States was marked by his entry into the military service. He has been deployed several times; twice to Iraq in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, and twice to the Korean peninsula. SSG Turic has received numerous military awards and decorations and is also a recipient of the prestigious Saint Barbara’s Award. In February 2006, after serving the people of the United States for nearly six years, SSG Turic became a United States citizen. SSG Turic recognizes the opportunities that America provides having experienced the turmoil in the former Yugoslavia, and has spent his career fighting so that others might enjoy freedom.
Sergeant First Class Robert Olton, United States Army
Sergeant First Class (SFC) Robert Olton is a native of Barbados. He immigrated to the United States in October 1989 to be with his future wife. They married soon afterwards. In June 1992, SFC Olton enlisted in the United States Army as a cannon crewmember. After serving in Louisiana, Texas, and Germany, SFC Olton re-enlisted in the late 1990s to be stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In 1999, he became a United States citizen. SFC Olton has held a variety of duty positions throughout his career and his deployments include Bosnia and Herzegovina in support of Operation Joint Endeavor and Iraq in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Throughout his career, SFC Olton has advanced steadily in rank. Most recently, SFO Olton returned to duty with a line unit after serving as a drill sergeant, a position reserved for the top ten percent of Army non-commissioned officers. SFC Olton holds numerous medals, awards, and citations praising his service as a model soldier and non-commissioned officer. For fifteen years, SFC Olton has been committed to upholding the values and ideals America has come to represent throughout the world.
Dr. Abul Hussam
Born in Bangladesh, Professor Abul Hussam received his Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh. He completed his postdoctoral training from the University of Minnesota and Georgetown University. Professor Hussam joined George Mason University in 1985 where he is a Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
Professor Hussam was awarded the 2007 Grainger Challenge Prize Gold Award from the National Academy of Engineering for his SONO filter, a household water treatment system that removes arsenic from contaminated groundwater. This was the highest prize given to an individual by the National Academy of Engineering which comprises a citation, a gold medal, and one million dollars. Professor Hussam has given away most of his prize money for the cause. To date, about 100,000 SONO filters have been distributed in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal, which are saving millions of people from drinking arsenic contaminated water and suffering its health effects. In 2007, he was named one of the “Heroes of the Environment” by TIME Magazine. Professor Hussam is now Director of the Center for Clean Water and Sustainable Technologies at George Mason University where he directs a research team to work on sustainable methods for water purification.