Three were inducted in the Brainerd High School Distinguished Achievement Hall of Fame Friday, including a man who while not a graduate spent more than 30 years as an educator and administrator in the district.
Bob Gross, recently retired as interim superintendent, was inducted as the first Brainerd High School Above and Beyond award winner.
"I have big shoes to fill," said Superintendent Laine Larson of Gross' career accomplishments.
The Brainerd High School Distinguished Achievement Hall of Fame ceremony was at Grand View Lodge in Nisswa. Also inducted were 1997 graduate Anthony Griffin and 1978 graduate Keith R. Keller.
--- --- ---
KLICK! Photo Gallery - Distinguished Service Awards - 47 photos
Photos from the Distinguished Service Awards banquet at the NP Event Space in Brainerd.
--- --- ---
Gross, a North Dakota native, started his career in education at Wauburn High School near Detroit Lakes. Within two years, at the age of 23, he became principal of the school. In 1968, after four years at Wauburn, Gross came to Brainerd to serve as assistant principal at the new Brainerd Senior High School. He was named assistant superintendent of Brainerd Public Schools in 1974 and superintendent in 1981, a position he would hold for 18 years.
Gross said he was a bit intimidated to be honored by the hall of fame. He said staying humble was important, and gave the credit for accomplishing that to his wife of 50 years, Judy, and to his colleagues and mentors.
"They showed me the value of honesty, loyalty, integrity, ... good humor, good professionalism," Gross said. "This has all been so critical and it's all the people that have enriched my life personally and professionally. People who made be look far better than I ever had a right to look. Taught me to share credit, take responsibility, people who taught me to pick yourself up after you make mistakes."
Gross said he could think of thousands of others who should be on the stage receiving the award, Brainerd alumni who have distinguished themselves.
"I feel so honored to have done so much of my work in this incredible school district, that values diversity, character and excellence," Gross said. "Thank you all for being part of my journey and thank you for thinking that I am worthy of this award."
Griffin, currently a software engineer in California, was described as an academic prodigy in his introduction at Friday's ceremony. He not only graduated with the highest grade point average in Brainerd High School history, he also scored a perfect 1,600 on his SATs, one of few people to accomplish the feat.
Griffin attended the California Institute of Technology, earning degrees in engineering and applied science. He now works as a senior engineer with Apple.
In his induction speech, Griffin thanked the people who mentored him in Brainerd, many of whom were in attendance at Friday's ceremony.
"It's really a great honor to be here. Thank you so much for recognizing whatever it is I have done," Griffin said. "So many people have helped me along the way. I want to say thank you to those who helped me to get where I am to this day. I don't know what else to say. It's an incredible honor. This is a group I can't quite believe I'm being inducted into. Thank you."
Keller also graduated as class valedictorian, and received a degree in aerospace engineering and mechanics from the University of Minnesota and a master's in aerospace engineering and aeronautics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He joined the Air Force in 1986 and worked in numerous departments-the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, Office of Space and Technology and the Defense Intelligence Agency, to name a few. He was in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, during the terrorist attack on the building and the event propelled him to go overseas to fight terrorism. Keller retired from the Air Force in 2013 as a lieutenant colonel and now works for NATO.
Being inducted into the Brainerd High School Distinguished Achievement Hall of Fame was an honor, Keller said, and he enjoyed the opportunity to visit with high school students. He told the students they could do anything they wanted if they gave it their all and did their best. He also invoked what he called Midwestern values-integrity, honesty, service before self, hard work, education and ethics.
"These are the things I was taught and was given here in Minnesota," Keller said. "Brainerd Public Schools, in my view ... this is about the finest educational institution in this country. I say that because I've seen what it's like in other countries and other places. To have that kind of dedication, in other places in the world, you would need to go to a private school. Students here have an absolutely unique opportunity."
The Brainerd High School Distinguished Achievement Hall of Fame was established in 1999 to honor graduates of Brainerd High School for distinguished achievements and careers. The Hall of Fame is sponsored by the Brainerd Public Schools Foundation, Brainerd Noon Rotary Club and the Brainerd Dispatch.