Five chosen as outstanding alumni at UW-Richland

By UW-Richland

(Richland Center, Wis.) Kathy Granger, University of Wisconsin-Richland Alumni Association president, has announced the names of the five individuals selected as recipients of the 2017 Outstanding Alumni award.  The honorees will be feted at the annual Fall Alumni Day and Brunch on Saturday, October 7.

The honorees representing the era of the Richland County Teachers College include two members of the Class of 1965, Ronald F. Benish, Reedsburg; and, Robert Nugent, Richland Center.  Representing the era of the current UW-Richland campus are:  Carmen Decot Couden, Class of 1997, Milwaukee; Joseph L. McDonald, Class of 1976, Viroqua; and, Christopher McNeill, Class of 1997, Lodi.

Ronald F. Benish is a 1963 graduate of Hillsboro High School.  Following his graduation from the Richland County Teachers College in 1965, Benish completed his undergraduate degree at UW-Platteville (1968).  He later earned a master’s degree from UW-Platteville (1992) and a Master in Education Administration degree from Winona State University in 1997.

Benish’s teaching career included elementary and junior high experiences at Trippville Elementary (1965-68); Hillsboro Elementary (1966-68); the Bloomington School District (1968-1991); and, in the Beaver Dam School District (1991-94).  He was principal in the Wonewoc-Center School District (1994-95) and also K-12 principal in the Belmont Schools (1995-97).  Benish served as administrator for the Wonewoc-Center Schools (1997-98) and the Hillsboro Schools (1998-2010).

His prolific basketball coaching career included varsity level squads in Bloomington (boys), Beaver Dam (boys), Belmont (boys), Hillsboro (girls), Reedsburg (girls) and New Lisbon (girls).  He coached varsity basketball for 31 years, amassing an impressive 550-158 won-loss record, 17 conference championships, nine sectional appearances and a state championship (Bloomington/1972).  Benish also coached junior varsity football, varsity track and served as an athletic director for eight years.  He was inducted into the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1999.  He is a member of the Reedsburg Lions Club and many sports booster organizations.  He and his wife Nancee have three children and eight grandchildren.

Robert Nugent graduated from Boscobel High School in 1962 and earned his undergraduate degree in elementary education at UW-Platteville in 1969, following his graduation from the Richland County Teachers College.  He later completed his master’s degree in elementary education and administration at UW-Platteville and has also completed post-graduate credits at UW-Platteville, UW-Madison, and UW-La Crosse.

He taught in the Highland School District from 1966-68 and then began his lengthy teaching and administrative career in the Richland School District in 1971, retiring in 2005.  While with the Richland School District, he taught at Jefferson and Doudna Elementary Schools and served as principal at Doudna from 1980-90 and again from 2000-05.

Nugent has been very active within the community, having served for twenty years on the Westby Cooperative Credit Union board of directors; as secretary/treasurer of Franklin Farmers Mutual Insurance Company; as chairperson of the Ithaca Township Zoning Commission; and, as a member of the Ithaca Lions Club.  He is also currently serving as chairman of the board of directors for The Richland Hospital.

He served for 20 years as a 4-H beef leader and softball coach; for 15 years as a Wisconsin-certified forensics adjudicator; for 20 years as a Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) wrestling official; and, in 2012 was named Lion of the Year.

Carmen (Decot) Couden, Waukesha, is a partner in the Foley & Lardner Law Firm in Milwaukee where she is senior counsel. She graduated from Richland Center High School in 1995 and then enrolled at UW-Richland.   During her days at UW-Richland, she served as secretary and, later, president of the Student Senate and was very actively involved in a variety of university organizations.  She earned her undergraduate degree in political science at UW-La Crosse in 1999 and earned her law degree from the University of Iowa College of Law (with distinction) in 2004 and it was there that she was also awarded the College of Law’s Dean’s Achievement Award.

In addition to her tenure with the Foley & Lardner LLP since 2004, Couden has served as a prosecuting intern in the Johnson County Attorney’s Office in Iowa City (2003-04); as research assistant at the University of Iowa College of Law (2003-04); as a customer services specialist with M& I Bank Commercial Credit Card Services (2001-02); as a service banker with M&I Bank in Brookfield (2000-01); and,  has worked with First Federal Savings Bank system (1997-99).  She was named to “Wisconsin Super Lawyers: Rising Stars” in 2012-17 and “Wisconsin Law Journal’s 2012 Up and Coming Lawyers.” 

Couden is very involved in an array of community and state-wide organizations, including:  Better Business Bureau of Wisconsin (volunteer and legal counsel, 2011-present); State Bar of Wisconsin—Labor & Employment Section, board of directors (2015-present); Wisconsin Equal Justice Fund board of directors (2013-present); Curative Care Network board of directors (2014-present); COA Youth (2016-present); and, Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee board of directors (2016-present).

She is a member of: Association of Women Lawyers; Hispanic National Bar Association; Wisconsin Hispanic Lawyers Association; University of Iowa Alumni Association; University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Alumni Association; and is a lifetime member of the University of Wisconsin-Richland Alumni Association.  She has been admitted to practice in the state of Wisconsin and before the United States Supreme Court, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the Eastern and Western Districts of Wisconsin, the Northern and Southern Districts of Illinois and the Eastern and Western Districts of Michigan.

When her extremely busy schedule allows, Couden enjoys do-it-yourself home improvement projects, traveling, reading and spending time with her family and two dogs (Chaos and Devious).

Joseph McDonald is currently serving as the chief executive officer and general manager for the Vernon Electric Cooperative, a position he has held since 2010.  Prior to that time, he was program manager for executive and staff education with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) headquartered in Madison.   From 1990-2007 he was the chief financial officer for the Adams-Columbia Electric Cooperative in Friendship, Wisconsin and, from 1987-90, he served as office manager for the Crawford Electric Cooperative in Gays Mills. McDonald served as vice-president of the Bank of Gays Mills from 1980-87.

A 1974 graduate of North Crawford High School, he attended UW-Richland during the 1974-75 and 1975-76 school years; he graduated from UW-Platteville in 1978 with a degree in business administration.  In 1987, he attended the Graduate School of Banking at UW-Madison, and, in 2003, completed the Executive M.B.A. program, also at UW-Madison.

During his tenure at Vernon Electric Cooperative (VEC), McDonald has transformed the co-op into a national leader in member-owned community solar.  As a result of his leadership, VEC received the national Silver Switch Award from the Rural Electricity Resource Council for providing outstanding community outreach. 

McDonald serves on various non-profit boards, including: Coulee CAP; the Federated Youth Foundation; Rural Housing of Wisconsin; Bethel Home and Services; UW-Platteville’s Sustainable and Renewable Energy Systems advisory board; the Bethel Butikk Food Pantry advisory board; and, the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association’s education committee.

Christopher McNeill graduated from Dodgeville High School in 1989 and, following his studies at UW-Richland, transferred to UW-Platteville where in 1996 he received his bachelor’s degree in elementary education with dual certification in K-12 art education.  In 2004, he received certification from the National Board for Professional Teacher Standards and was re-certified in 2014.  In 2007, McNeill received his master’s degree in reading from Cardinal Stritch University.

McNeill was a third andfourth grade multiage teacher in Sharon, Wisconsin, during the 1996-98 school years and then began his tenure with the Lodi School District where he has served ever since.  From 2001-07 he was the Lodi School District language arts department chair.

He is a co-founder of “Summer Saunters,” a summer hiking program for students in third through twelfth grades.  The goal of the program is to keep kids active during the summer to help reduce childhood obesity.  He is also an instructor and co-founder of the Ouisconsing School of Collaboration charter school in Lodi.

McNeill has been accorded many honors during his career, including:  a Sallie Mae First Year Teacher of the Year Award nomination; the WISC-TV Top Notch Teacher award; the 2007 Herb Kohl Fellowship; the 2010 Lodi School District Outstanding Impact Award in 2010, 2016, and 2017; the George & Helen Hartzog Volunteer Youth Group Award; the Wisconsin Association for Environmental Education’s Formal Educator of the Year Award; and, the NBC Crystal Apple award nomination.

He is very active in the Lodi community where he has served as a member and president of the Harmony Grove Association, as a Susie Days volunteer and as a youth basketball volunteer coach.  He also operates “Second Chance Studio,” a small business that creates artwork out of reclaimed lumber and other materials.  He and his wife Diane have one daughter, Morgan, a small dog, and six friendly chickens.

Reservation information for the October 7 Fall Alumni Day and Brunch will be available in early August.  For further information about these awards or the upcoming alumni events, contact Kathy Granger, Alumni Association president at 608.489.3629 or  For more information about UW-Richland, visit 




Kathy Granger