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Four to be inducted into BHS Distinguished Achievement Hall of Fame

Branelle (Cibuzar) Rodriguez (top left), Col. Ronald L. Albers (bottom left), Dr. LJ Nickisch (top right), Brian Nystrom (bottom right).1 / 5
Branelle (Cibuzar) Rodriguez2 / 5
Col. Ronald L. Albers 3 / 5
Dr. LJ Nickisch4 / 5
Brian Nystrom5 / 5

History will be made this year as the Brainerd Public Schools Foundation inducts its youngest member, as well as one of its most traveled, into the Brainerd High School Distinguished Achievement Hall of Fame.

This year's event will take place Oct. 2 at Grand View Lodge in Nisswa.

Four Brainerd High School alumni will be honored at this year's event. They include Col. Ronald L. Albers, Class of 1965; Dr. LJ Nickisch, Class of 1974; Brian Nystrom, Class of 1977; and Branelle Cibuzar Rodriguez, Class of 2000.

Col. Ronald L. Albers

1965 Washington High School graduate

With more than 6,900 hours of flight time with the United States Air Force, Col. Ronald L. Albers' travels have taken him to Thailand, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and France, just to name a few. However, his heart and service, have remained allegiant to his community and home.

Albers was born Dec. 9, 1946, in Brainerd and graduated from Washington High School in 1965. After graduation, Albers opted to explore the world beyond Brainerd. Following extensive travels alone throughout Europe that summer, he returned to attend Brainerd State Junior College, graduating with an associate of arts degree in 1967. He then attended the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla., receiving his bachelor of arts degree in English in March 1969.

Just two short days following graduation, Albers entered Officer Training School and was commissioned a second lieutenant on June 30, 1969. In mid-July of 1970, he received his pilot's wings upon graduating from UPT at Columbus Air Force Base. His entire active duty career was spent in the 301st Air Refueling Wing (32nd Air Refueling Squadron) at Lockbourne AFB as a combat crewmember in the KC-135 aircraft.

During the Southeast Asia conflict, he flew 111 combat sorties and served three different tours from bases in Thailand, including flying operational missions covering the span of both Linebacker I and Linebacker II — the 1972 summer and Christmas bombing of North Vietnam. He separated from active duty in July 1974 as a captain and immediately joined the Ohio Air National Guard.

For more than 20 years, Albers was a traditional guard member with full-time employment in downtown Columbus, Ohio, as a safety and human resources manager. His duties in the Guard included instructor pilot, chief of command and control and flight commander. During Desert Shield and Desert Storm, he flew operational sorties as both a volunteer and an activated member of the 160th Air Refueling Group for more than four months. In 1994, the 160th ARG was deactivated and the personnel and aircraft from the 145th ARS were merged into the 121st Air Refueling Wing. In January 1995, Albers became a full-time Air Guard technician and served as the 121st ARW Chief of Safety until June 1996 when he became commander of the Operations Group. In January 2001, he was appointed to the position of vice wing commander.

Albers' last assignment was between May 2002 to October 2002, as Commander of the 16th Expeditionary Operations Group at LeTube Air Base 125 near Istres, France. During the six-month period, he was responsible for all personnel, aircraft and material used for aerial refueling support of Operation Joint Guard. Shortly after his return from France, he retired as both a military member of the USAF as well as technician from the Ohio Air National Guard.

Since retirement, Albers has remained active in the National Guard Association of the United States, Ohio National Guard Association, Ohio National Guard Enlisted Association, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Motts Military Museum. He is also a member of the Ohio Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., American Legion and Military Officers' Association of America.

Albers and his wife Rebecca live in Gahanna, Ohio and are parents to grown sons, Michael and Oliver.

Dr. LJ Nickisch

1974 Brainerd High School graduate

Specializing in a field not many individuals can even begin to understand or grasp, Dr. LJ Nickisch credits the stirring of his interests in math and science to several of his teachers at Brainerd High School.

Nickisch currently serves as senior scientist and vice president of NorthWest Research Associates, and is primarily known for his work in electromagnetic wave propagation in plasmas, especially the ionosphere. He is considered to be the world's expert in this field.

Nickisch graduated from Brainerd High School in 1974 and was active in band, football, Brainonian staff and National Honor Society. Brainerd educators including Bill Matthies and Gary Fitch have been attributed to propelling Nickisch's scientific dreams through a masters and doctoral program and into a continuing career as a theoretical physicist.

Following high school, Nickisch attended the University of Minnesota and graduated with a bachelor of science in physics; the University of Wisconsin with a master's of science and doctorate in physics. He also did undergraduate work at the University of Minnesota Institute of Technology and graduate work at the University of Wisconsin. Following receipt of his doctorate, Nickisch moved to California to work as a defense contractor in the area of electromagnetic wave propagation physics.

Nickisch is also noted for his work in the study of quantum vacuum fields, leading to the development of his theory of connectivity for which he was the recipient of the Outstanding Paper Award by the Institute for Space and Nuclear Studies for "Review of Experimental Concepts for Studying the Quantum Vacuum Field."

Nickisch's work has been published in over 25 peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings. Though his work is of the highest level and is recognized around the world, he is also known for his ability to affably engage with others in a way that is inclusive and that communicates clearly even the most difficult concepts.

Nickisch said he returns to the Brainerd lakes area at least twice a year to visit his father who still lives in the area, as well as his sister, Lauren.

Brian Nystrom

1977 Brainerd High School graduate

Brian Nystrom has dedicated his personal and professional life to helping others. His strong family values, faith and commitment to community have continuously been a true testament to his character.

His resume also lends further proof to his passion for the well-being of others. Nystrom has served 35 years in the mental health field. In 1991, Nystrom founded Nystrom & Associates, Ltd., as well as several other mental health related divisions, which now has over 750 employees and clinical interns. The Brainerd/Baxter clinic was added in the mid-1990’s moving to its new location in the Baxter medical campus in 2014.

Nystrom & Associates is a licensed outpatient mental health and chemical dependency clinic with twelve offices in Minnesota and Seattle, Washington. In 2014, alone, Nystrom & Associates programs provided over 30,000 face-to-face services per month to 42,000 unique annual patients.

In 1977, Nystrom graduated with honors from Brainerd High School. Much of his junior and senior year was spent taking classes at Brainerd Community College. He was also active in his church during this time.

Following graduation, Nystrom received a Bachelor of Arts degree, Cum Laude, in Social Work and Behavioral Science from Bethel University as well as a Master of Social Work degree with a specialization in mental health from the School of Social Work at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Nystrom is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker.

Out of the gates, Nystrom put his knowledge and passion to work. In 1978 he volunteered at the Women’s Center of Mid-Minnesota; participated in and presented at various seminars regarding marriage and family and domestic violence; and, from 1979 to 1981, served on the Board for the Alexandra House, originally the Anoka County Task Force for Battered Women, raising over $50,000 through grant writing to help provide startup funds for a shelter. Additional community service has included involvement with the Minnesota Chapter of the National Association of Christian Social Workers, New Life Homes and Family Services, Open Arms, Society for Hospital Social Work Directors, Steps of Success Group Home, Christians for Biblical Equality, Behavioral Health Care Providers Credentialing Committee and Quality Improvement Program Committee, Anoka County Adult Mental Health Advisory Committee, and the Anoka County Mental Health Director’s Network.

During his professional career, Nystrom has received high honors and achievements, including four governor appointment from 1992 to 2008 to the Minnesota Board of Marriage and Family Therapy, serving as Chair of the Board, Disciplinary Panel, Chair of the Internet Therapy Committee and Chair of the Supervision Committee. In 2001 he authored “Ordinary People, Extraordinary Marriages”. From 1998 to 2001, he served on the State Board of the Minnesota Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers and received the Health Central Innovator’s Award in 1984 and 1985.

“Not only does he strive to better himself, his staff and his company” reads his nomination letter, “he also supports other agencies and community resources so they, too, can make a positive impact in people’s lives.”

Nystrom met his wife, Mary Ann in 1977 when they were both students at Brainerd Community College. They have been married for 36 years, have four adult children and 12 grandchildren, and divide their time between their homes in Minneapolis and Nisswa.  

Branelle (Cibuzar) Rodriguez

2000 Brainerd High School graduate

Even as a young girl, Branelle (Cibuzar) Rodriguez dreamed of joining the U.S. Space Program. The Brainerd native's passion and desire to work on the cutting edge of space exploration has never wavered throughout her academic and professional careers. Fueling that passion from the beginning were her parents, Shellie and the late Alan Cibuzar, who continuously encouraged and supported her, not only through academics, but by providing her opportunities to be fully immersed in the Space Program from an early age.

Rodriguez graduated from Brainerd High School in 2000 with honors. She was a three-sport athlete, Academic All-American, seven-time letterwinner and captain of the BHS soccer team. Upon graduation, she continued her education at the University of North Dakota. Following her freshman year of college, Rodriguez had the opportunity to be a Space Camp counselor at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center over the summer and share her passion for space with the next generation.

During the course of her collegiate career, Rodriguez was a member of the Society of Women Engineers, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and Alpha Chi Omega sorority. Rodriguez completed cooperative education tours at Dow Chemical Company in Midland, Michigan, and NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. She graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 2005.

She began her career at NASA's Johnson Space Center, immediately after graduation, in the Crew and Thermal Systems Division - Life Support and Habitability Branch as a project manager developing space flight hardware for the International Space Station (ISS). In her first few years, Rodriguez led several projects that are currently in flight on the ISS today, including the station's crew quarters where astronauts live and sleep and the urine monitoring system. Additionally, she led several research projects that looked at advanced technologies for exploration missions, such as the electrochemical disinfection system and the urine receptacle assembly. She was the lead for "Crew Systems and Outfitting for the Advanced Exploration Habitation Demonstration Unit and Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle," designing waste collection and habitation systems. More recently, Rodriguez led the team of engineers tasked with changing the philosophy for fighting fires in microgravity by developing and designing a fine water mist fire extinguisher for the ISS.

In 2010, Rodriguez received her masters in engineering, majoring in engineering management, from the University of Texas. She has also authored and published numerous technical papers on environmental control and life support systems.

During her first 10 years at NASA, Rodriguez has received numerous exemplary contribution awards. Her most significant was in 2013, when she received the NASA Agency Early Career Achievement Medal for her "significant contributions to the Space Station Program in leadership and management of life support system hardware projects."

In 2014, Rodriguez was promoted to the position of ISS Mission Evaluation Room Manager. Here, she leads teams of subsystem and technical discipline engineers to resolve real-time on-orbit anomalies. She is responsible for all phases of ISS flight including maintenance tasks, daily operations and anomaly resolution, coordinating with international partners, logistics, flight operations planning, payload facility sustaining and on-going development projects.

In 2010, Rodriguez married Scott Rodriguez and in October of 2014 they welcomed their daughter, Samantha, to the family. She continues to have a passion for NASA and space exploration and hopes to make further contributions to the U.S. Space Flight Program's goals and objectives for many years to come, perhaps even as a member of the Astronaut Corps, someday.

The Hall of Fame was established in 1999 to honor graduates of Brainerd High School for distinguished achievements and careers. Since 2001, 58 men and women have been selected to join the ranks of the Distinguished Hall of Fame, a group intended to serve as role models for future BHS graduates.

"This years inductees, like the previous Hall of Fame members, represent the many distinguished BHS graduates positioned around the globe," noted Superintendent Bob Gross. "We take great pride in welcoming these new members to the BHS Hall of Fame. Please join us at Grand View on Oct. 2 to congratulate and visit with the inductees."

The Brainerd High School Distinguished Hall of Fame is sponsored by the Brainerd Public Schools Foundation, Brainerd Noon Rotary Club, the Brainerd Dispatch and Lakes Printing.

Visit for more information on the 2015 Hall of Fame induction and celebration dinner