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4 enter BHS Distinguished Achievement Hall of Fame

Brainerd High School Hall of Fame Induction and Celebration Dinner honoring Brian Nystrom, Class of 1977; Dr. LJ Nickisch, Class of 1974; Branelle Cibuzar Rodriguez, Class of 2000; and Col. Ronald L. Albers, Class of 1965.1 / 2
Brainerd High School Hall of Fame Induction and Celebration Dinner honoring Brian Nystrom, Class of 1977; Dr. LJ Nickisch, Class of 1974; Branelle Cibuzar Rodriguez, Class of 2000; and Col. Ronald L. Albers, Class of 1965.2 / 2

NISSWA - What do an Air Force pilot, a theoretical physicist, a health care professional and a NASA engineer have in common?

They represent the careers of the 2015 inductees into the Brainerd High School Distinguished Achievement Hall of Fame, which now boasts 58 men and women who have been selected for the honor.

This year's class - Col. Ronald L. Albers, Dr. LJ Nickisch, Brian Nystrom and Branelle Cibuzar Rodriguez - was feted Friday evening at Grand View Lodge.

"This evening is one of these times when we really have to honor the history of this school district and what better way to honor it than to recognize the people who have gone through previously and who are being inducted this evening," said Brainerd Superintendent Bob Gross. "We all need role models and these people serve just as tremendous role models for students coming through our school right now."

Albers, who graduated from Washington High School in 1965, has more than 6,900 hours of flight time with the United States Air Force. His travels have taken him to Thailand, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and France, just to name a few.

"I'm incredibly humbled by this," said Albers after being introduced.

Albers' 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.

Albers said his greatest successes were not achieved during his military career but after retirement, specifically singling out the accomplishments of family members, especially his wife. Albers and his wife Rebecca live in Gahanna, Ohio and are parents to grown sons, Michael and Oliver.

"If Rebecca had graduated from BHS I would not accept this award. She deserves it more than I do. The stuff she has done is incredible," Albers said.

Nickisch, a 1974 graduate, a theoretical physicist 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 recalled as a junior, he and his best friend hatched a plan to take off a semester of school and travel around the country on a Greyhound Bus. He said his dad was against it, but would go along if the school district agreed. Nickisch and his friend worked with their teachers to develop courses they could do on the road and Gross liked the idea.

"We had the time of our lives, it really was a great education for us," Nickisch said. "I had a lot of really good teachers growing up in the Brainerd school system."

Nickisch is 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.

Nystrom, a 1977 BHS graduate, said there were others just as worthy for the hall of fame honor he was receiving.

"When I received the phone call that I was selected for this induction, I was speechless and stunned. As my wife knows, it requires a lot to render me speechless. That said, I'm very humbled and honored by this recognition," Nystrom said. "Being selected for this great honor makes me want to try even harder and engage more robustly in the task before me. I promise to do my best."

Recalling his time at Brainerd High School, Nystrom said his teachers encouraged him and challenged him to be his best.

"Brainerd Senior High School was a place of fond memories," Nystrom said. "It was a warm and encouraging place that gave a lot of latitude to students to think and be creative. I'm proud to say that was my school."

Following more than two decades in the mental health field, in 1991, Nystrom founded Nystrom and Associates, Ltd., as well as several other mental health related divisions, with over 700 employees and clinical interns.

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

Cibuzar Rodriguez, a 2000 Brainerd High School graduate, has worked for NASA for 10 years. In that time she has 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.

"One of the things my parents taught me very early on was to do what you love," Cibuzar Rodriguez said. "I'm very thankful to have that opportunity."

Cibuzar Rodriguez said education was extremely important in her household. She said one of the things Brainerd schools taught her was perseverance - that life is not easy and often throws challenges in your way.

"To have us all go through the Brainerd public school system, and having the backing of our parents, supporting that 100 percent, speaks loudly for how wonderful that school system is," she said. "They encouraged us, and they supported us and they pushed us. Not just my parents by my teachers, my coaches."

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.

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 www.bpsf.org for more information.

MATT ERICKSON, editor, can be reached at 855-5857 or matt.erickson@brainerddispatch.com

For more photos go to goo.gl/TZGbMU

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