Lawrence Medal winner noted for service to global community
Ronnie Yimsut, BLA ’88, came to UO via the Killing Fields of Cambodia and since graduation has devoted his life to public service both in the United States and Cambodia.
The 2012 Ellis F. Lawrence Medal will be presented at the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts commencement June 18 to Ranachith (Ronnie) Yimsut. The medal is presented each spring to an outstanding alumnus and is the school’s highest alumni honor.
The sole survivor of a Killing Fields attack that killed most of his family in Cambodia in 1977, Yimsut fled alone at age 15 to a Thai refugee camp and eventually settled in Oregon. Today, he works as a senior landscape architect for U.S. Forest Service Region 9 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in an office that covers twenty states.
A member of the Forest Service’s Technical Service Team, Yimsut designs and plans National Forest recreation and tourist sites and conducts environmental impact studies on landscape ecologies and ecosystems. He is called on to help reclaim or conserve resources that have been damaged by floods or fires, and he works to preserve national forest scenic byways.
Above: Ronnie Yimsut shows a plan view of one of the buildings at Bakong Technical College.
In 2009, Yimsut was selected as one of the "Milwaukee Area’s Most Influential People" for his local, regional, national, and international work.
“Simply stated, the word for Ronnie is inspiration,” Rick Kell, a U.S. Forest Service team leader who works with Yimsut, told the Milwaukee Business Journal in a story about Yimsut’s civic award.
During his off hours, Yimsut devotes his time, educational resources, and personal funds to redeveloping his hometown near Angkor, home to one of the most sacred archeological sites in all of Southeast Asia.
His activist work has merited attention from human rights organizations. He has been the subject of documentary films by CBS News, NBC News, PBS, National Geographic Explorer, and others.
Much of Yimsut’s energy is invested in building a technical college in his Cambodian hometown. In 1993, he began formulating the idea for the school, now known as Bakong Technical College. Three of the seven buildings are completed and a grand opening is tentatively scheduled for November 2013. He recently began promoting “sweatequitourism” to encourage participants to lend a hand in building the college. http://dreamworldtoday.blogspot.com/2012/01/participate-in-btc-sweat-equitourism.html
Yimsut’s most recent book is a memoir, “Facing the Khmer Rouge: A Cambodian Journey.” The book helped provide evidence in November 2011 during the ongoing Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), a United Nations-backed tribunal in Phnom Penh that since 2007 has heard testimony regarding the genocide, bringing to trial Khmer Rouge regime members charged with war crimes.
His other books include “Journey to Freedom,” “In the Shadow of Angkor,” “Life is a Poem,” and “Children of Cambodia’s Killing Fields.”
Above: Yimsut reads from his new memoir during a presentation at Tsunami Books in Eugene in December 2011. Photo by Marti Gerdes.
The presentation of the Lawrence medal and Yimsut’s commencement remarks will take place at UO School of Architecture and Allied Arts ceremony on Monday, June 18 at 3 p.m. on the East Lawn, Erb Memorial Union, 1222 E. 13th Ave., on the University of Oregon campus in Eugene.
The Ellis F. Lawrence Medal is named in honor of the founder of the School of Architecture and Allied Arts, Ellis F. Lawrence, a Portland architect and educator. Recipients are individuals whose professional and personal achievements embody the integrity, educational philosophy, and commitment to their chosen fields as exemplified by Lawrence, an outstanding teacher, leader, and nationally respected architect. Lawrence served as dean for thirty-two years from the founding of the school in 1914. He was founding president of the Oregon chapter of the American Institute of Architects and was often called the father of city planning in Oregon. His buildings and the educational and professional organizations he founded make him the most significant Oregon architect of his time.
Above: Ronnie Yimsut