Three to be honored as distinguished alumni

Northwestern College will present three of its alumni with awards recognizing their accomplishments and service during Homecoming Saturday, Oct. 1.

Dr. Bryan Den Hartog of Rapid City, S.D., will receive the Distinguished Professional Achievement Award for 2011; Peggy Bilsten of Phoenix, the Distinguished Service to Humankind Award; and Harold Vander Laan of Orange City, the Distinguished Service to Northwestern College Award.

A 1981 graduate of Northwestern, Den Hartog is an orthopedic surgeon at the Black Hills Orthopedic & Spine Center. After earning his medical degree from the University of Iowa College of Medicine, he completed his residency in orthopedic surgery at the University of Kansas School of Medicine and received specialized training in foot and ankle surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Den Hartog serves on the faculty for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society (AOFAS). He has published peer-reviewed articles in journals such as the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery and is a journal reviewer for Foot and Ankle International. Active in missions and part of the humanitarian committee of the AOFAS, he has trained doctors and performed surgery in Haiti and Venezuela.

Bilsten, a 1982 Northwestern graduate, was an elementary and high school teacher before she was elected to the Phoenix City Council. Three years later, she was elected the vice mayor of Phoenix. As vice mayor, she advocated for people with disabilities and fought the abuse of women, serving on the mayor’s and Arizona governor’s commissions to prevent domestic violence.

A passionate opponent of child sex slavery, Bilsten participated in rescue trips to Indonesia, China, and war-torn Central Africa. She now works with StreetLight PHX, a ministry dedicated to eradicating child rape for profit. She also serves as the executive director of the Arizona Sexual Assault Association and is part of the staff for the Global Training Network, which equips church planters, leaders and pastors around the world.

Vander Laan received an associate’s degree from Northwestern Junior College in 1949. He then earned a bachelor's degree at Westmar College, taught high school, and completed a master’s degree from the University of Northern Colorado before filling the role of registrar at Northwestern College for 28 years. He was also the college’s director of admissions for the first seven of those years. All three of his children are graduates of NWC.

Now retired, Vander Laan keeps busy with his hobbies and volunteering. A wood worker, he has completed several projects for Northwestern, including building a replica of Zwemer Hall for a Tulip Festival parade float.

The Distinguished Alumni Dinner begins at 6 p.m. Oct. 1 in the Vermeer Dining Room. Cost is $20. Reservations are required; contact the Northwestern College alumni office at 712-707-7134 or, or visit