Pendill Wall of Excellence receives new addition

MARQUETTE — The latest addition to what Marquette Area Public Schools Superintendent Bill Saunders called its “Mount Rushmore” and “Hall of Fame” was honored Wednesday evening for her notable accomplishments as an alumnus.

Mary Jo Mulligan-Kehoe of Huntington Beach, California, a member of the last graduating class of the former Graveraet High School in 1964, was inducted into the A. Felch Pendill Wall of Excellence, located at Marquette Senior High School.

Wall of Excellence honorees are alumni who have distinguished themselves in an occupation or profession, demonstrated service to others through commitment to public or community service and donated time and contributions in a philanthropic way.

“In my mind, this is one of the premier events that we do here at Marquette Area Public Schools,” said Saunders, who noted Mulligan-Kehoe is one of its most outstanding graduates.

Mulligan-Kehoe obtained a bachelor of science degree in biology and chemistry from Northern Michigan University, a master of science degree in biology from George Mason University and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from The Christian de Duve International Institute of Cellular Pathology in Brussels, Belgium, now known as the de Duve Institute. She performed her postdoctoral training at the National Institutes of Health in molecular and cellular biology.

Mulligan-Kehoe was on the faculty of Dartmouth Medical School for 16 years, focusing her research on vascular biology. She is recognized for the discovery and development of a protein that regresses atherosclerotic plaque by inhibiting blood vessels that promote plaque and tumor growth.

Along the way, she mixed volunteerism with earning her graduate degrees.

“It didn’t come that easily, but you know, it was worth it,” Mulligan-Kehoe said. “It was something that I wanted to achieve and I did it, and the philosophy of ‘you’ve got to go to grow’ worked, and I pass that on to a lot of people who are in a situation where they feel a little bit apprehensive about stepping out there into something that’s different from what they are accustomed to.”

Science also has helped her develop other long-lasting philosophies, such as not underestimating herself and not being afraid to try something, even if some difficulty were involved.

However, Mulligan-Kehoe is a believer in “free float time.”

“Don’t open the computer,” she said. “Don’t check your email. Just allow your head to go where it wants to go, your brain to think what it wants to think, pulling out creative ideas.

“And those were my best moments, where I was able to delve my best science ideas and to solve problems that were right in front of my face, but I couldn’t see them until I walked away from them.”

Mulligan-Kehoe, now retired, is working on an animated computer program that allows users to perform experiments.

“They can do experiments that are far beyond what you can do in a classroom because there are limitations with money,” she said. “There are limitations with equipment that you would need or supplies that you would need for these.”

Robert Mercure, a 1969 MSHS graduate, is chair of the Selection Committee of the Marquette Area Public Schools Education Foundation, with other committee members being Renee Balding, Brad Canale, Tammy McClellan and Joe Sullivan. That committee chooses the inductees.

“I never met Mary Jo before this evening, and that kind of has become common with many of the inductees to our Wall of Excellence,” Mercure said. “They’ve gone out and made their mark.”

He also pointed out the foundation has picked up the financial burden of the wall recognition, with the school district wanting to target its money toward students.

MAPS Board of Education member Keith Glendon said that when he hears stories of accomplished alumni, he thinks about his kids, who attend school in the district.

“I think about the opportunities that we are affording them, that you are affording them and you are living, and the possible futures that they may become,” Glendon said.

MSHS Principal Jonathan Young also spoke at the ceremony, noting he has the opportunity to watch students in their various activities, such as performing science experiments and playing in the orchestra, during the day.

“I recognize the future successes of our students and seen what they’re doing today, which is exciting for me, and that’s something that’s representative of this wall,” Young said.

MSHS Student Council Vice President Laura Beckman talked about A. Felch Pendill, for whom the wall is named. Pendill graduated from Marquette High School in 1916 as class president, actor, writer and star end of the 1915 undefeated football team. Pendill owned and operated a Chicago bedding company before he died in 1965. The Pendill family’s foundation established the Wall of Excellence, with the first dedication ceremony taking place in 2004.

Nominations for the wall are collected annually from October through March, with selection taking place in the spring. Forms are available from the Superintendent’s Office or at

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal .net.