BHS Hall of Fame welcomes new members, honors alumni for distinguished achievements
Elsa (Hasch) Garrison, Jessica (Kramer) Ryan, Mark Ness and Elizabeth (Nolan) McGowan are 2021 inductees of the Brainerd Public Schools Distinguished Achievement Hall of Fame.
What do an international sports photographer, a tribal court chief judge, a retired National Guard pilot and a pioneer for women in the field of journalism all have in common?
They are the makeup of the 2021 inductees into the Brainerd Public Schools Distinguished Achievement Hall of Fame.
Elsa (Hasch) Garrison, Jessica (Kramer) Ryan, Mark Ness and Elizabeth “Betty” (Nolan) McGowan were recognized for their accomplishments after graduating from Brainerd High School — or Washington High School for McGowan.
“Our Hall of Fame was created to give our community the opportunity to recognize distinguished achievements and careers of BHS graduates,” Brainerd High School Principal Andrea Rusk said during the induction ceremony Thursday, Oct. 7.
“... Our Hall of Warriors literally teach students by sharing some of their unique knowledge and experience in appropriate classrooms,” Rusk continued. “These distinguished Warriors also teach all of us each and every day of their lives by reason of their very existence and by continuing to lead and to serve as role models of what all of us can be and can do in life.”
Elsa (Hasch) Garrison
If her name doesn’t ring a bell, her photos probably do. Elsa (Hasch) Garrison, BHS class of 1990, claims the title of the first female staff photographer hired by global visual media company Getty Images. She was the only female photographer on staff for the first decade of her career.
While working for her high school yearbook and newspaper, Garrison got a chance to shadow Brainerd Dispatch photographer Steve Kohls to get a feel for the world of photojournalism. She eventually started shooting regularly for the Dispatch, which propelled her into the career she has today.
Garrison studied at the University of Minnesota for a year, shooting for the student newspaper, before transferring to the University of Missouri School of Journalism for a degree in photojournalism.
After working for Getty Images for 25 years, Garrison’s portfolio boasts shots of 14 Super Bowls, 16 World Series, four Olympics, international soccer championships and countless other college and professional sporting events. Among her more well-known shots are Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna, an image that served as the signature endpiece in Time Magazine’s full obituary on the two, and U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe celebrating after the final match of the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup.
“Elsa’s photographic byline is purely Minnesota, simply Elsa,” Rusk said when introducing Garrison, noting she will be shooting the BHS Warriors football game Friday and the Minnesota Vikings game Sunday.
“This is a really great honor,” Garrison said Thursday. “I’m kind of surprised since when I roamed the halls of this high school I felt kind of invisible. So I didn’t think that anyone really noticed me anyway.”
But her talent did not go unnoticed.
“I was very fortunate in my time here at BHS that I had really great faculty and advisers that were really encouraging and really kind of opened some doors for me and gave me the opportunity to kind of find my voice,” she said.
Garrison also thanked husband John for putting up with her crazy schedule and Dispatch staffers for treating “a goofy little high school girl” as an equal and showing her what it would feel like to work in a real newsroom.
While in Brainerd, Garrison planned to teach photography classes to students and show them the ins and outs of the trade while shooting the homecoming football game.
“My time here in high school really helped me find my way,” she said. “... If I have any kind of advice to give to any of you out there listening, it’s that if you’re given opportunities, take and make the most of them. If someone opens the door for you, just run right through it and just say, ‘Thank you,’ and don’t look back. But also, if out in the real world you’re encountering roadblocks and obstacles, just find a way around them. If you know in your heart of hearts this is what you want to do … tune out the noise, ignore the haters and carry on.”
Jessica (Kramer) Ryan
The class of 1990 was well-represented Thursday, with graduate Jessica (Kramer) Ryan making her way into the Hall of Fame as well.
As the first Native American inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame, it was fitting to also be in the first class bestowed with the honor in the new Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts, so named to honor the area’s American Indian culture.
Ryan has spent 22 years as an attorney and tribal court chief judge and now serves as an advocate, mentor and role model within the Native American community.
While at Hamline University, earning her bachelor’s in women’s studies and then her law degree, Ryan was a founding member of the Native American Law Students Association and a member of several other law organizations.
Ryan clerked for Robert Blaeser, a Hennepin County District Court judge and the first Native American district judge in the metro area. She assisted Blaeser and others in creating an Indian Child Welfare Act Court to make sure cases involving Native American families were heard by those who understood their cultural ways. She also helped develop the Hennepin County Indian Child Welfare Act Guardian ad Litem panel and served on several Minnesota Supreme Court committees.
Eventually opening her own law practice, Ryan committed to working closely with Native American tribes and families and also served several tribal courts as a tribal court judge, chief judge of the Lower Sioux Community and as an associate judge of the White Earth Nation Appellate Court.
Ryan now serves on the Tribal Council of the Brothertown Indian Nation and volunteers as a Water Walker for Lake Winnebago, where her tribe is located.
“Jessica Kramer Ryan’s life has been characterized by her enormous capacity for hard work, education and action for the good of society, always leaving places she has been better than when she found them,” Rusk said in her introduction.
Brainerd holds a special place in Ryan’s heart, and she said she was grateful to receive the hall of fame honor.
In her speech Thursday, Ryan asked those listening to think about the tools they have gathered through their lives to help them on their journeys.
“Your family is your first set of teachers that’s helping instill those tools and skills in you, which are essential for each of us as we move along on our pathway of life. Then school comes along, and we have more formal sets of tools and skills,” she said. “... As we get to junior high and high school, we’re doing a lot of the analytic thinking, right? We’re reading, we’re processing what that means internally, and then we’re writing a paper or we’re talking about it. So we’re taking this knowledge that we’re gaining, we’re translating it in our minds, and then we’re putting it out on the other side. And sometimes it seems like that might not be important — whether it’s that subject matter or whatever it is. It might not seem important at the time, but it’s really a valuable lesson for each of us.”
Ryan spoke of how she uses those skills in her professional life every day — listening to clients, processing that information and relaying it to a judge.
Her time in school — and sports in Brainerd — also taught her resiliency and how to listen to feedback and use it to better herself.
“You’re going to have bosses, you’re going to have supervisors, you’re going to have job coaches who are going to be giving you advice to keep honing your skills and to be better at your job, whatever job that may be,” she said.
Through her time living and working in the Native American community, Ryan said she has learned a lot about the concept of reciprocity — doing good for someone else and getting something good back in return.
“Approach life with that view,” she told those listening Thursday. “Approach all of the goals that you have set out for yourself with that attitude and that mindset of, ‘What can I give to get toward that achievement or that goal?’ And then, ‘I will receive something in return.’ So you keep that circle going by giving and by receiving in return. So that’s my challenge to each and every one of you as you reach for your short-term, smaller goals and your longer-term goals that you have set out for yourself.”
From the Brainerd High School class of 1968 came Brig. Gen. (retired) Mark Ness, who served with the Minnesota Air National Guard for 27 years and piloted one of the last three C-130 evacuation flights out of Saigon in 1975 as the city fell at the end of the Vietnam War. Other aircraft were destroyed on the runway as Ness took off.
Ness became hooked on flying after getting his first plane ride at the age of 16 from his Sunday school teacher.
Ness studied at Brainerd Community College (now Central Lakes College) and transferred to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he graduated with honors in economics. He then joined the Air Force ROTC, graduating from undergraduate pilot training in 1973 before serving for six years on active duty with tours in Southeast Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the continental U.S.
More locally, Ness’ work at Camp Ripley resulted in an expanded airstrip for C-130s to fly in and night-vision training that contributed to the success of deployments around the world.
Ness retired from the National Guard in 2005 with 18 major military awards, including the Legion of Merit, which is given for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements and is one of the highest awards a service member can receive.
In civilian life, Ness spent time flying with Northwest Airlines as a Boeing 757 captain and fleet training instructor, and taught as an adjunct professor of leadership studies at the University of St. Thomas.
While introducing Ness Thursday, Rusk said she’ll never forget the words he shared a few years ago when speaking at the high school’s Veterans Day ceremony.
“I repeat them annually to our students to remember: The best thing that we can do for our veterans is to thank them for their service,” she said.
“What an honor this is,” Ness said upon receiving his recognition Thursday. “It seems strange — strange and difficult, really — to take in that I get any special credit for doing simply what I was living my life to do, doing my duty. I struggle to find the words to express how I feel at this moment.”
The words he did find largely paid tribute to his father, who died in February but was the single most influential person in Ness’ life.
His father’s Scandinavian heritage, coupled with a background growing up virtually on the White Earth Indian Reservation, hunting and trapping with Native American friends, played a huge role, Ness said, in shaping his own path.
Among the lessons passed down from Ness’ father to himself was a nugget of wisdom from a man on the reservation.
“If you come across a pack of wolves on your path, do not stop, and do not run. Just stay on your path, keep your own pace, a steady pace. Eyes down, heads down, and you will make it home. And my father said it worked. It worked for him numerous times,” Ness said. “... So that is how my father lived his life as an example to me — humbly, simply, steady, with direction and purpose.”
Ness also thanked God and his family — wife, sons and mom, who was a cook at BHS for many years and instilled a commitment to perseverance in her son.
And Brainerd Public Schools played a role as well.
“I give thanks to the education I received in this community, both formal and informal,” he said. “... Life is a learning process, and learning, of course, is a lifelong process. Stay in your lane and on your path and at your pace. Keep your head down, expect wolves.”
Elizabeth “Betty” (Nolan) McGowan
As a 1938 graduate of Washington High School who died in 2014, Elizabeth (Nolan) McGowan, better known as Betty, was inducted into the Hall of Fame posthumously this year.
She is the third member of her family to earn the honor, following her attorney/judge sister Eleanor Nolan, inducted in 2000, and nephew and former Congressman Rick Nolan, inducted in 2006.
McGowan edited the school newspaper while at Washington High School and fostered a passion for journalism that would shape much of her life. While attending St. Cloud Teacher’s College (now St. Cloud State University), she edited the school newspaper there as well but was told by counselors that journalism would be a difficult career for a woman.
McGowan’s daughter Meg McGowan — who accepted the award on her mother’s behalf — said her mom was always a practical person, which pointed her in the direction of teaching when she was deterred from journalism.
Teaching took Betty to Appleton, Minnesota, where fate would have her meet Martin McGowan, who ran a weekly newspaper with his father. She married Martin and began learning the trade while also raising a large family. When her husband was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives and had to spend time in St. Paul, Betty essentially took over the paper.
“It was very natural that she would take on this role,” Meg McGowan said. “It was what she wanted to do, even though she had — by that time — eight children at home. So she managed to do both jobs because she was doing the job she really wanted to do at that time.”
Betty later worked for the Blue Earth Post, and the McGowans owned and published newspapers in Winnebago and Elmore. Both husband and wife worked as correspondents for the Lake Country Echo in Pequot Lakes during their retirement.
Betty returned to school later in life and earned a master’s degree in gerontology — the study of the social, cultural, psychological, cognitive and biological aspects of aging — from St. Cloud State University at the age of 72, a full 50 years after getting her bachelor’s degree. She wrote her master’s thesis on the need for a single payer health insurance system, later becoming an advocate for seniors, focused on addressing rising health care costs.
“I really wish my mother were able to be here and to explain in her own words what motivated her, why she pursued what she did, but three of her nine children are here today to tell you how proud of her they are,” Meg McGowan said.
Betty was driven, always saying she wasn’t too old to do what she wanted to do.
“She found a way to work in her chosen profession, even though she had been discouraged from it,” Meg McGowan said. “She managed to do this balance of family life and profession, and she wasn’t too old to change her interests as she got older. So, I’m really grateful. I hope you’ve received some ideas that you might use in your life as you pursue your own career path.”
Distinguished Achievement Hall of Fame
Garrison, Ryan, Ness and McGowan join 72 other men and women who either graduated from or showed exceptional commitment to Brainerd Public Schools.
The Distinguished Achievement Hall of Fame began inducting members in 1999.
For a full list of members, visit bpsf.org/event/hof .