A reception was held Saturday evening for the 11 members in the first class to receive the Faribault Falcon High Flyer Distinguished Alumni Award. The reception was held at the Faribault American Legion.

I had members of the organizing committee on an AM Minnesota program not long ago.

A lot of high schools in the area have developed Sports Hall of Fames, but not many have an overall alumni recognition program, which I think is a terrific idea.

These individuals are Faribault High School graduates who have made "distinctive contributions to benefit others through humanitarian activities or extraordinary personal and professional accomplishments."

A permanent display is in the lobby of Faribault High School, including individual framed photos of each of the charter members and an engraved "High Flyers" plaque recognizing the inductees.

The steering committee would like everyone to nominate people in their class they feel are worthy of this Distinguished Alumni designation.

The criteria are:

  1. Nominee must be a Faribault High School graduate.
  2. Candidate must have graduated at least 10 years before nomination.
  3. Nominee must have attained a high level of achievement in at least one of the following areas:
  • Personal/and/or professional life
  • Community service
  • Humanitarian activities

Questions may be directed to jfagerlund@charter.net

I want to thank the committees again for their cooperation and believe this is a terrific idea that is long overdue.

I think all schools should embrace their own version of a Distinguished Alumni award program. Do you agree?

The steering committee was nice enough to share photos of each with me and some information about each of the Falcon High Flyer Class of 2017 Distinguished Alumni recipients.

I will list them alphabetically.


  • Faribault High Flyers Steering Committee
    Faribault High Flyers Steering Committee

    Tracy Bahl

    Tracy Bahl, FHS Class of 1980, executive vice president of health plans for CVS Caremark Corp. and founder of the Bahl Foundation.

    Bahl credited FHS for steering him toward the career path he would choose in life. Telling the Falcon High Flyer Selection Committee, "a very significant influence in my career path was an honors physical education program offered at the high school."

    Through the program he became a lifeguard, certified in advanced first aid, and was exposed to a broad range of health, fitness, and wellness topics.

    He said, "I loved it and knew I wanted to do something in that field."

    He started at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter as a physical education major, planning to coach football, teach physical education and study sports medicine. Eventually he would enroll in a new program combining business, health and exercise science.

    Bahl graduated with a triple major and upon graduation completed MBAs from the University of Columbia School of Business and the London Business School.

    He began his career as a cardiac rehab tech in Southern California and made the transition to health care management when he joined Cigna Healthcare in 1991.

    The selection committee says, "Tracy attributes his success to a loving family, quality teachers and coaches and a supportive community, which is why Faribault is where he started the Bahl Foundation in an effort to give back."

    The Bahl Foundation advances the well-being of children through health, education, faith and the arts.

    Bahl says, "Our mission is centered on the belief that children across the globe are the future of our society worldwide, yet are often the most vulnerable and challenged to achieve their dreams."

    The Bahl Foundation was instrumental in the establishment of the Bahl Field Soccer Complex and Paradise Center for the Arts Bahl Auditorium in Faribault.

    The Foundation also supports scholarships and the STRIVE and STAY programs, which assist students in Faribault's middle and high schools.

  • Faribault High Flyers Distinguished Alumni Steering Committee
    Faribault High Flyers Distinguished Alumni Steering Committee

    Dr. William Bottke

    Dr. William Bottke, FHS Class of 1984, director of the SSM Institute for the Science of Exploration, NASA'S SSERI Program.

    Dr. Bottke was valedictorian of his high school class and told the Falcon High Flyer Distinguished Alumni selection committee he was, "always fascinated by space. Many of my earliest memories are of the Apollo program and astronauts landing on the moon."

    "I have always wanted to do what I am doing now, which is to study our system of worlds and understand how they formed and evolved."

    Bottke says, "I have very fond memories of my childhood and high school years in Faribault, as well as my education in Faribault Public Schools."

    He recalled that the district's technology program, which introduced him to the internet via the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium, had a "huge influence on my development."

    He explained a seventh-grade math teacher inspired him to, "do much more with the new technology than I would have thought possible."

    After graduating from Faribault High School, Bottke pusued a bachelor of science degree in physics and astrophysics, graduating with high distinction from the University of Minnesota in 1988.

    By 1995 he had completed his doctorate in planetary science at the University of Arizona. He later pursued postdoctorate fellowships at Caltech and Cornell University.

    Those experiences led him to the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colo., where he works on planetary research.

    He became the director for the department of space studies at SwRi in 2013 and supervises about 40 scientists. He has received a number of awards for his contributions to space science and has a asteroid named after him.

    Bottke says he's had "28 years of experience working to understand the origin, evolution, and nature of our solar system, which includes planets, asteroids, comets and meteorites."

    His love of lifelong learning was cultivated by great teachers.

    Bottke told the selection committee of an excellent geometry teacher whose maxim he passed on to his own children: Math is important because it "teaches you how to think."

    Bottke lives in Longmont, Colo., with his wife of 21 years, Veronica Riojas Bottke. They have three daughters.

    Bottke is the son of quite possibly Faribault's most recognized teacher, May Bottke, and William Frederick Bottke Sr.

  • Faribault High Flyers Distinguished Alumni Steering Committee
    Faribault High Flyers Distinguished Alumni Steering Committee

    Mary Ann Budenske

    Mary Ann Budenske, FHS Class of 1966, lawyer, human rights advocate.

    When Budenske graduated from Faribault High School, she told the selection committee she had a goal to someday become a lawyer and live a life without financial challenges.

    After graduation she went to Mankato and was unable to realize her dream at that time, eventually moving to Colorado and then Wyoming.

    While in Colorado, Budenske worked as a Realtor and started a family.

    In 1987, she left Coloradio as a single parent with a four-year degree and her real estate license. She hoped to find work and a place to live in Casper, Wyo., but it didn't happen.

    The economy in Wyoming was reeling. There was no day care available and she couldn't find a job. She told the committee she "had to re-evaluate."

    She bartered free rent in exchange for cleaning nearby apartments. She then convinced the owner to hire her to manage one of the buildings.

    Shortly after, she took over an abandoned consignment shop on the property and transformed it into a thrift store and food pantry called Poverty Resistance. Poverty Resistance is now a downtown staple in Casper.

    During her early years in Wyoming, she decided to pursue that elusive law degree and, while on public support, went back to school and eventually obtained her degree.

    Budenske began helping people with very little means with their legal issues. She also helped women obtain divorces. "People don't understand how, and often don't have the time or money, to navigate the legal and government resources available to them," Budenske said.

    Casper City Manager John Patterson said, "She's dedicated her life to serving others. She's out there on the front lines daily making life better for her fellow man."

  • Faribault High Flyers Distinguished Alumni Selection Committee
    Faribault High Flyers Distinguished Alumni Selection Committee

    Richard Carlander

    Richard Carlander, FHS Class of 1955, chairman of the board of directors of the State Bank of Faribault and president of Faribault Bancshares Inc.

    I have told many people over the years how much I admire this man and all the philanthropic good he has done in Faribault. He is a truly humble person who loves Faribault with every fiber of his being.

    Carlander doesn't just talk the talk, he walks the walk.

    Carlander says he learned the value of hard work and integrity under the leadership of his father, John Carlander, who was elected president and director of the State Bank of Faribault in 1938. His father taught him several operating principles, which continue to guide his life.

    First he told the selection committee, he learned "there is no substitute for experience." Carlander began at the bottom of the banking business as a teen, running errands.

    He was an only child and had a good relationship with his father but says at work he "knew who was boss."

    He caddied at the Faribault Golf and Country Club and was a bookkeeper while attending college.

    Carlander credits his high school golf coach, Raymond Budenske, with also influencing his work ethic. Carlander earned six golf letters at Faribault High School.

    After college he worked his way to assistant cashier in the installment loan department, where he learned another principle, "the bank sells service."

    "Prompt attention to customer needs, conservative decision-making and a reputation for integrity contribute to the nearly eight decades of successful operation in Faribault," the committee noted.

    Over the many decades the Carlanders have supported more than 95 organizations or projects.

    Obviously I can't list them all here, but in the information the selection committee provided to me they say, "because his humility belies his generosity, the extent of his philanthropy may never be fully known. Nevertheless, it is evident that Richard J. Carlander deserves the sobriquet, "Godfather of Charitable Giving."

  • Faribault Flyers Distinguished Alumni Steering Committee
    Faribault Flyers Distinguished Alumni Steering Committee

    Dr. Richard Haugland

    Dr. Richard Haugland, FHS Class of 1961, foster parent, business owner, scholar, founder of the Starfish School in Thailand.

    For his 55th class reunion, Haugland created a video for his class because he could not be in attendance.

    He passed away last year.

    These are some excerpts of what he said in that video.

    "After high school, I became a professional dropout. Not being very adventuresome, I followed my sister to Hamline University, where I started with a math major. Then I had an outstanding chemistry professor named Ole Runquist. He effectively said, 'You have to be a chemist, there are no other options left.'

    "He turned out to be right. I got accepted for graduate school in chemistry at Stanford University."

    Haugland recalled dropping out of Stanford in early 1966 to become a volunteer in the Vista program.

    "I was sent to the upper peninsula of Michigan, where I lived with an American Indian family and worked with such projects as Head Start and food stamps."

    He then went back to graduate school to get a, "student deferment and delay my first visit to Vietnam by more than 20 years. I returned to Stanford and finished the work on my Ph.D., but I had not written my thesis. I partially dropped out again to become a volunteer teacher at Pine Point Indian School."

    He did write that thesis and got his Ph.D. in 1970.

    He was at the top of the draft list and decided to go to the University of California, San Francisco, as a post-doctoral fellow in biophysics.

    That's where he met his Italian wife. They had a daughter and son and in 1988 the Haugland family took a tour of five Southeast Asian countries.

    "This had a profound effect on our futures. We sponsored foster children in Thailand and Cambodia for 40 years. During one of my annual trips, I visited an orphanage for HIV-positive children. I gave a teddy bear to a little girl. The next week, she died. I returned home and thought 'Why am I working so hard?'"

    It was time for a big change.

    "The chemical company I started was sold for $325 million. This gave us a lot of options. We decided we wanted most of the money to go to 'causes.'"

  • Faribault Flyers Distinguished Alumni Steering Committee
    Faribault Flyers Distinguished Alumni Steering Committee

    Dr. Vui Mai

    Dr. Vui Mai, Class of 1995, physician in family practice medicine and obstetrics at Fairview Clinic in Princeton, Minn.

    Mai says ever since he was a 7-year-old in Vietnam he knew he wanted to be a physician.

    He saw loved ones die from lack of medical care and told his grandmother that he wanted to become a medicine man so he could cure her illness.

    The story about his journey would make a great book, movie, or both.

    At 13 he crossed the China Sea in a rickety boat with 78 people, including his sister, seeking refuge from communism, poverty, hunger and lack of educational opportunities.

    Their father was a South Vietnamese soldier fighting with the U.S. Army and was killed three months before Vui was born so an older brother insisted that the two leave to get an education and a better life.

    When he arrived at Faribault Junior High, Mai says he was a very shy person and lonely. He says he spoke heavily accented English. He says no one could understand him.

    His English as a second language classes helped him not only learn the language but about life in America.

    Mai said when junior high staff member Dale Larson spoke a few words of Vietnamese he learned while serving there, Vui felt more at ease and a lifelong bond emerged.

    Dale and Kathleen Larson worked with Mai to establish a scholarship fund to cover the cost for children in his village to attend school.

    After graduating from high school, he attended St. Olaf College in Northfield and then the University of Minnesota Medical School.

    Thanks to his Minnesota education, Mai jokes he now "speaks English with a heavy Norwegian accent."

  • Faribault Flyers Distinguished Alumni Steering Committee
    Faribault Flyers Distinguished Alumni Steering Committee

    Harold C. Passer

    Harold C. Passer. Ph.D., FHS Class of 1939, chief government economist for the Commerce Department, professor at Princeton University and treasurer for Eastman Kodak.

    Passer attended Harvard University upon graduating from Faribault High School and graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1943 with a bachelor's degree and Ph.D. in economics.

    Passer was liaison to the government Council of Economic Advisers and in an advisory role to President Nixon.

    Family members describe him as a great conversationalist and a good listener.

    He grew up in tiny Cannon City to go to the Ivy League world of Harvard, but his niece told the selection committee that Minnesota always remained a part of him.

    "Uncle Harold never forgot his family in Minnesota or his Faribault roots. He was proud to be from Minnesota and would return at least once each year to visit his family."

    He passed away from cancer in 1999.

    His niece calls him, "An embodiment of the American dream" for his love of America and its promises.

  • Faribault Flyers Distinguished Alumni Steering Committee
    Faribault Flyers Distinguished Alumni Steering Committee

    Erica Staab-Absher

    Erica Staab-Absher, FHS Class of 1995, director of Hope Center in Faribault and author on the topics of grief, domestic abuse and spirituality.

    Staab-Absher received a bachelor's degree in social work from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and went to work at Face to Face Health and Counseling in the Twin Cities. She then went to North Carolina to study the art of massage.

    When her 27-year-old brother passed away in an accident, she felt the need to come back to her home and be close to family and her brother's unborn daughter.

    Staab-Absher told the selection committee the community of Faribault surrounded her family with amazing support at that difficult time, "I've never felt so loved and cared for."

    She continues her love of massage part time and enjoys living in Faribault with her husband, Matt, and their daughter, Kalea. "I love that we are a small town just a few miles away from the big city. I love going to the grocery store and seeing people I know. In my position, it's most amazing to work with people who are actively involved in making Faribault a better place."

  • Faribault Flyers Distinguished Alumni Steering Committee
    Faribault Flyers Distinguished Alumni Steering Committee

    Elizabeth Wall Strohfus

    Elizabeth Wall Strohfus, FHS Class of 1937, WASP pilot, instructor and storyteller.

    I absolutely adored this woman and feel so blessed to be able to call her a friend. Every time I would see Strohfus, she would give me that terrific smile and a peck on the cheek. I can close my eyes anytime and see the smile and hear her unmistakable laugh.

    Strohfus was a central figure in lobbying Congress for recognition of WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots) as veterans. She worked hard to get Congress to pass a bill allowing WASPs to be buried in Arlington Cemetery.

    Strohfus was awarded two Congressional Gold Medals. One for her service as as a member of the Civil Air Patrol before joining the WASP organization and the other honoring her service as a WASP.

    Strohfus could light up a room with her laughter and great ability to tell stories, and that's what she did from age 70 until her death last year at 96.

    She traveled the country talking to students in high schools and colleges.

  • Faribault Flyers Distinguished Alumni Steering Committee
    Faribault Flyers Distinguished Alumni Steering Committee

    Dr. Gary Tollefson

    Gary Tollefson, M.D.,Ph.D, FHS Class of 1969, revolutionized the fields of psychiatry and pyschopharmacology.

    Tollefson passed away in 2009 and was a medical inventor who helped transform the field of neuropsychiatric medications.

    He held a medical degree in psychiatry and a Ph.D. in psychopharmacology, and his leadership led to the development of many drugs that have become household names -- Prozac, Cymbalta and Zyprexa among others.

    Tollefson is also personally credited with co-inventing the drug Strattera for attention deficit disorder (ADHD).

    Tollefson obtained his degrees from the University of Minnesota.

    This is the extent of the information the committee has on Tollefson.

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