What is Lincoln Award?
As an American icon, Abraham Lincoln is identified with strength of purpose and has come to symbolize not only a nation's division, but its reconciliation and the realization of its dream. In 1992, the Office of the President of NKU established the Lincoln Award to honor residents or former residents of Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana who exemplify the qualities of outstanding citizenship, notable achievement, and distinguished service in their professions and contributions to the Northern Kentucky or Greater Cincinnati community.
Bob Griffin was born in 1953 in northern Kentucky to John L. and Rose Griffin. He grew up in a large family with six brothers and five sisters. He attended St. Xavier grade school and Pendleton County High School in Falmouth, Ky.
Bob attended Northern Kentucky State College from 1971 to 1973 after accepting a scholarship to participate in the first-ever basketball team at NKU, playing for legendary coach Mote Hils.
After two years of school, Bob left to join the family business, Griffin Industries, and to marry his college sweetheart, Carol Larkin. The family business required him and his family to relocate on two different ventures during his early years of business, once to Columbus, In., from 1973 to 1978 and then to Jackson, Ms., from 1978 to 1986.
Bob moved back to northern Kentucky to manage the Griffin Industries corporate office in 1986, holding the title of Chief Operations Officer until 2006. At that time, he was promoted to President and CEO. Bob retired from Griffin Industries in 2013 after serving 40 years in the family rendering and agribusiness.
In 2015, Bob and his sons worked together to open Griffin Elite in Erlanger, Ky.. The Griffin Elite Sports and Wellness athletic performance staff design and implement programs that use the newest techniques for sport-specific training. The facility is also used for local volleyball and basketball games. Bob was very involved in the National Renderers Association, chairing many committees throughout his career. He remains very involved in local charities and non-profit organizations to this day. He has been a great supporter of NKU since moving back to northern Kentucky in 1986 and has served on numerous committees per requests by various past presidents. Bob remains a devoted Norse fan and is a loyal supporter of NKU Athletics, the university’s student athletes and athletics scholarships.
He currently resides in Edgewood, Ky., with his wife, Carol. Bob and Carol will be celebrating 46 years of marriage August 10, 2019. They have five children and six grandchildren, ranging in age from less than a year to 15 years old.
Carol Swarts was born on a farm in the Sand Hills of western Nebraska in 1933, a time and place where early education was taught in a oneroom country school.
Still, the limits of rural education, coupled with the mores of the day and life during the Great Depression, would not deter the young girl from the dreams of living a life dedicated to helping others as a physician.
With the love and support of her parents and three brothers, Carol realized her dream of becoming a physician, earning her B.S. degree in chemistry and medical degree from the University of Nebraska in 1959. She was one of only three women in her medical school graduating class.
Following graduation, Carol continued her training at the Swedish Hospital Tumor Institute in Seattle and then at Christ Hospital and University Hospital in Cincinnati. She spent much of her career practicing radiation oncology in the northern Kentucky/Cincinnati area. It was also during this time Carol met and married her late husband, designconsulting engineer, Frank S. Milburn.
Carol would continue to break gender barriers, later serving as the first woman president of St. Luke Hospitals (1993-1995). This is especially notable as she was the first female president of any hospital in the northern Kentucky/Cincinnati region.
In 1999, Carol left her full-time practice to pursue her love of travel and provide medical outreach throughout the world, volunteering for the World Health Organization in Fiji, Save the Children in Vietnam and the Mission in Haiti; assisting cataract surgeries in Brazil and India and talking with women in Kenya. Despite her “retirement,” Carol continues to this day to practice medicine as a locum tenes radiologist oncologist all over the world.
In addition to her medical outreach, the Nebraska native has been a philanthropist to academia and a staunch contributor to endeavors for environmental conservation. She has provided generous gifts to NKU and other schools, including her alma mater.
At her instigation, the Swarts family founded the Straws (Swarts spelled backwards) Charitable Foundation in 1998, which provides support for education, research and the prevention of environmental degradation. Carol also helped to fund the Carol Swarts, M.D. Emerging Neuroscience Research Laboratory at the University of Nebraska, which, among others, is studying the causes of Alzheimer’s disease–a disease that has taken the lives of many of her family members, including her father and late husband.
At NKU she established the Frank Sinton Milburn Outstanding Professor Award in honor of her late entrepreneurial husband, an annual accolade honoring the university’s top faculty. Carol also has donated objects from her extensive travels to the school’s Museum of Anthropology and was instrumental in the museum acquiring a rare collection of Southeast Asian ceramics. Beyond that, she has donated work by her late mother Elenore, a teacher and artist, to the university.
Of great importance to Carol is her interaction with students of all ages and walks of life, having travelled to Costa Rica, Ecuador and Sweden, where she performed field experiments alongside NKU biology students.
Most recently, Carol helped to establish a summer internship program with NKU pre-med students to attend her alma mater, University of Nebraska Medical School, where they are interning with Dr. Howard Gendelman, an internationally known researcher in neuroinflammatory diseases.
Carol continues a medical practice in Alaska, while maintaining residences in Northern Kentucky and Seattle.
Sheila and Marty Zalla were both born and raised in Covington, Ky. They married in 1962 and had the first of their 10 children in 1963. The young Zalla family bought a few acres and a farmhouse in the then-wilds of Edgewood, Ky., as Marty had always loved farming. Even though he grew up in “the city,” he spent summers working on the farm of close family friends.
Marty also took over as second generation owner of Building Crafts, Inc. and grew the modest business his father, Andrew, had started into a multi-dimensional, multi-million dollar engineering and construction firm. While still consulting, Marty is retired from Building Crafts and his son John is the third generation owner and CEO. John graduated from NKU’s Construction Management Program in 1988 and earned his MBA from NKU in 2006.
In addition to being the busy mother of 10 children, Sheila yearned to continue her education. She began taking classes at Thomas More College and transferred to NKU in the early 1970s to pursue a bachelor’s degree in communications. Sadly, just a few credits shy of graduation, Sheila left NKU after her son Michael was tragically killed in a car accident in 1986. Michael was also a student at NKU and a member of the newly formed Honors Society at the time of his death. There is a tree planted in his honor on the academic quad outside the School of the Arts.
After his death, Sheila and Marty set up the Michael Francis Zalla Memorial Foundation in his honor, which supports educational institutions, social services, mental health resources and religious organizations in the community. As part of the many generous gifts distributed by the foundation, each year they provide support to students in the NKU Honors College. Many of the student beneficiaries write to them and tell them of the experiences they had as a result of this support. This brings them great joy.
Several other members of the Zalla family have also studied at NKU. Daughter Ellen earned a bachelor of arts in psychology in 1987, and daughter Ann earned a bachelor of arts in journalism in 2001. Mary Zalla, a 1987 NKU graduate in journalism, received the NKU Outstanding Alumnus Award in 2017 in recognition of her achievements as Global President, Consumer Brands and Managing Director of the Cincinnati and Chicago branches for Landor, a brand consulting and design firm. Mary also currently serves on the NKU Foundation Board of Directors.
Marty and Sheila’s youngest child, Jane Zalla, just graduated from NKU’s accelerated nursing program in December of 2018. She passed the state board in February (as did 100% of the students from the accelerated program) and will be starting her nursing career on the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit of St. Elizabeth Hospital.
Marty still loves to farm and single-handedly raises 100 acres of soybeans on his farm in Walton, Ky. He also enjoys cooking, baking, fishing, traveling and spending time with his 23 grandchildren. Sheila does not love to farm and after raising and caring for 10 children, is happy to let Marty cook. She does love spending time with her family, especially her grandchildren, as well as enjoying time with friends and traveling.