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Pillager inducts four to school hall of fame

Pillager School inducted four into its hall of fame, choosing honorees from a list of alumni and community members to represent the theme, “Pillager School may be small, but you can go anywhere from here!”

The school reported the theme plays out in the lives of this year’s inductees who have had “great impact on our local communities and around the world. The inductees are Donald Bergstrom, Mike Greer, and Jim and Janice Rardin.

Being a graduate of a small school like Pillager never stopped Bergstrom from following his dreams, and his dreams and passions led him to jobs around the world.

Valedictorian of the class of 1958, Bergstrom was a well-rounded Pillager student, active in football, track and the Letterman’s Club; annual staff, paper staff, science club and dramatics; as well as being student council president his senior year.

It was after graduation when Bergstrom began to prove that being from a small, central Minnesota school was no reason not to go after your dreams. Bergstrom struck out for Arizona State University in Tempe to obtain a bachelor of science degree in engineering. The U.S. Air Force beckoned next, and from 1965-1970, he served as an operations/engineering officer. He was the test director for low orbit military satellite programs throughout 42 missions that involved three different generations of orbital vehicles. He specialized in directing orbital operations utilizing support teams comprised of military personnel, subcontractors and consultants working as one unit. He is credited with personally saving one mission by his correct assessment of conflicting data. Based on Bergstrom’s actions during this mission, the general in charge ordered Bergstrom to be present at all subsequent launch and recovery operations.

After leaving the Air Force, Bergstrom worked for various national and international companies from 1971-1976. Duties with these companies ranged from management consultant to project manager to project coordinator/expediting supervisor at locations from Chicago to Phoenix to Sao Paulo, Brazil. In all of these roles, Bergstrom was responsible for timely and cost-effective construction projects and deliveries that all his employers depended on.

In 1976, Don began a 26-year career with General Electric Company. His first job was as principal project engineer for a nuclear generating station in Switzerland. His administrative and engineering ability produced a completed nuclear power station on deadline and under budget. Bergstrom’s safety design changes led to a nuclear plant capable of withstanding airplane crashes, floods and terrorist attacks and which has set many records for performance.

In 1985, Bergstrom became manager of GE’s Litigation Technical Support division. Here, he managed and coordinated litigation support teams for legal and arbitration efforts. This division supplied expert witnesses, supervised document research, directed the preparation of discovery/document databases and coordinated trial support. Bergstrom oversaw a yearly budget for this division as high as $26 million.

From 1997-2002, Bergstrom was General Electric’s Principal Systems Design Engineer. In this position, he was in charge of resolving design and licensing issues for operating nuclear plants as well as defining the design basis for hardware and systems that enhance modification programs for operating nuclear plants.

From May 2010 to May 2011, Bergstrom was the mechanical engineering design manager for Diego Garcia where he supervised and approved designs for U.S. Navy projects. He also performed in-depth studies and cost analysis for complex U.S. Navy mechanical projects.

Bergstrom followed his dreams and his passions, and he serves as a role model for other young Pillager graduates that anything is possible, the school reported. “Anything from saving satellites to building nuclear power plants to working for international companies to handling millions of dollars in budgets is possible for a graduate from Pillager High School.”

After a four-year stint in the Marine Corps and a successful college football career at Bemidji State University, Greer started his 31 years at Pillager in 1965 when he was hired to teach social studies, history and German and coach football. In 1965, Greer became Pillager’s first Athletic Director (AD). Previously, these duties were handled by the school’s principal. Greer was in this position for 24 years before handing it over to another teacher/coach. The only organized sports at Pillager when Greer became AD were football (begun in 1947), boys basketball (begun in 1939) and baseball (begun in 1948). During Greer’s tenure as AD, Girls’ and boys’ cross country, girls’ basketball, volleyball, girls’ and boys’ track, softball, golf and wrestling were added.

Greer, along with Pillager’s first girls’ basketball coach, Carol Demgen, was instrumental in forming the first District 24 girls’ athletic programs, against multiple obstacles and objections. He also pushed to start Pillager’s softball program in 1986. Mike believed in equality in sports long before it became popular.

The school said more than Greer’s coaching achievements is what he gave to fellow teachers, players and students during his 31 years at Pillager that the public never saw. The fact that Mike was one of the most well-respected and well-liked teachers in Pillager history can be seen in numerous ways. Students in 1969, 1974 and 1986 dedicated their school yearbook to Greer. Coaches under Mike’s mentoring appreciated his knowledge and understanding of coaching: The school reported staff relied on Greer as well. Players respected Mike and learned more than how to win: “Beyond the victories, however, I feel the most important thing coach Greer did was to pass on to his players his dedication, motivation and caring. He wanted you to be a good ball player, but more than that, he wanted you to be the best person you could be.”

Greer’s influence during his 31 years at Pillager can best be summarized by this statement from one of his players: “Even today, thirty-three years after my last high school game, I find myself trying to emulate the attributes he possessed and taught to his student athletes. These types of enduring legacies separate the great coaches from the good coaches.”

Greer was known for many “Greerisms,” but one that was heard by almost all who knew him was, “This too shall pass.”

Greer was head football coach for 20 years (1992-1980). He coached three undefeated teams (1968, 1971, 1978) and won six conference championships. He coached five All-State players. In Baseball, he was head coach for 16 years (128-96) and won seven conference championships.

In softball, he began the program in 1986 and was head coach for 11 years, winning one conference championship and one sub-district runner-up. In Basketball, he was assistant coach for two years. He coached a total of 52 seasons at Pillager High School. He has been a finalist for the “Minnesota State High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame” and the “Minnesota State High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame.”

Jim and Janice Rardin are described in their Hall of Fame introduction as “Old School.” Their introduction continued to talk about commitment and devotion and work ethic. These are the attributes that guided their lives and ones they passed on to their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Pillager School reported. “These are the attributes that make them perfect Hall of Fame inductees and role models for future Pillager students,” the school stated.

Jim Rardin honorably served his country from 1946-1951. He served in Japan, in the Reserves, and in the Korean War. After his’s discharge, the couple continued Rardin Construction, which was begun by Jim’s father, Len, in 1925. They committed themselves to expanding the business into one of most trusted, full-service contractors in the Brainerd lakes area. This expansion has resulted in a Better Business Bureau A-plus rated company capable of construction ranging from a home remodel to a residential showplace to a complete commercial “super store.”

The Rardins are also committed to Pillager and to the Pillager schools. The Rardins are a “four-generation Pillager school family” with a parent, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren having attended or currently attending Pillager school.

Their support for Pillager schools goes far beyond just attending all of the activities their family was involved in, which they have done religiously for three generations, the school reported. The couple has contributed generously to the Pillager Schools such as Pillager Booster Club Golf Tournament, Pillager Dollars for Scholars, Pillager High School Music Department, elementary fundraisers and in the purchase girls’ basketball team warm-ups.

The use of Rardin Construction Company equipment has frequently been donated to the school. They contributed the Charlie and Carrie Peterson Memorial Forest to the school and also have set up a scholarship which is available to any graduating senior wishing to enter the construction trades. In addition to these contributions, Rardin Construction has committed itself to hiring numerous Pillager graduates throughout the years.

Tug Hengel said of the Rardins: “You get up, and you go to work… every day…. Jim and Janice always lived this way …. They are honest, and they are hard working. They are devoted to each other, their children and their community. Jim and Janice believe that strong communities have strong schools and they have supported this school many times. If the Pillager Public School system can continue to produce graduates with the same integrity and work ethic as Jim and Janice, then I believe the Pillager Public School system deserves our whole-hearted support.”

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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