The Outstanding Alumnus Award was established at one of the first Commencements of the University. An early recipient of this award was Violet Lumley Rau, one of two Yakama Indian women who, along with Dr. Kathleen Ross, founded Heritage University. Violet Rau was a member of the Yakama Nation and the Chair of the Board of Directors for four years early in the University's history. Besides being an outstanding educator in Yakama Nation programs, Violet established a very successful entrepreneurial business in Indian arts and crafts, which marketed internationally and employed local Yakima Valley people. In 1994, Violet died unexpectedly while on a marketing trip. The Outstanding Alumnus Award was renamed in her honor shortly thereafter.