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Brainerd Public Schools: Blackburn, Clough, Thesing earn Hall of Fame spots

What does it mean to be a Brainerd Warrior? "To me a warrior is a person who is proud, brave and fearless," Brainerd School District Superintendent Laine Larson said to a crowd Wednesday, May 22, at Forestview Middle School. "They are courageous ...

Tom Blackburn (left), son of Hall of Fame inductee the late Quintus Blackburn, shares a laugh with the other two 2019 inductees Kevin Thesing and Steve Clough after the ceremony. The men were honored during the Brainerd High School Distinguished Achievement Hall of Fame Wednesday, May 22, at Forestview Middle School in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Tom Blackburn (left), son of Hall of Fame inductee the late Quintus Blackburn, shares a laugh with the other two 2019 inductees Kevin Thesing and Steve Clough after the ceremony. The men were honored during the Brainerd High School Distinguished Achievement Hall of Fame Wednesday, May 22, at Forestview Middle School in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

What does it mean to be a Brainerd Warrior?

"To me a warrior is a person who is proud, brave and fearless," Brainerd School District Superintendent Laine Larson said to a crowd Wednesday, May 22, at Forestview Middle School. "They are courageous and skilled. They're an energetic participant in any activity. They never quit, they never give up, and they continue to trudge their way forward. A warrior is fearless, strong and disciplined. A warrior is a leader."

For 20 years, the Brainerd High School Distinguished Achievement Hall of Fame honors graduates who have embodied that warrior essence. The most recent inductees, Quintus Blackburn, Steve Clough and Kevin Thesing did so through exploration, business ventures, philanthropy and overall character, as attested to by family and friends during a ceremony Wednesday evening.

"Recipients of the Distinguished Hall of Fame serve as role models for our students," Assistant Superintendent Heidi Hahn said, "by inspiring and motivating Brainerd High School to excel in everything they do while fostering outstanding citizenship, fairness, honor, pride and respect for themselves, their classmates, their school and the communities where they are placed."

Quintus A. Blackburn

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A 1917 Brainerd graduate, Quintus Blackburn was inducted posthumously and honored for his Antarctic exploration with famed Admiral Richard Byrd.

Blackburn grew up in Brainerd and was a football player at Washington High School. He was honored on the front page of the Brainerd Dispatch in 1917 for, not only graduating second in his class, but for doing so in only three years.

After high school he attended the University of Washington and later graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in geology.

"Brave" and "fearless," as Larson used to describe warriors, can certainly be attached to the rest of Blackburn's life.

After college he joined Admiral Byrd's first two expeditions to Antarctica in the 1920s and '30s.

During the second trip, he made history when he traveled to within 210 miles of the South Pole and discovered and photographed part of a fossilized tree, proving Antarctica was once home to forests. His team discovered Mount Howe, whose rock outcroppings are the southernmost piece of land in the world.

They climbed and named many peaks in the Queen Maud Mountains and the Transantarctic Mountain Range, and a 10,745 flat-topped mountain in the Queen Maud range bears the name Mount Blackburn.

"Undoubtedly making him the only Brainerd High School graduate with an Antarctic mountain named after him," said Terry McCollough, Hall of Fame committee member, Wednesday to an audience erupting in applause.

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In between expeditions, Blackburn married Jessie O'Keefe in 1933. They had two sons, Thomas and Robert, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Blackburn died Feb. 9, 1981, in Boise, Idaho.

Tom Blackburn and his son, Quin Blackburn, attended Wednesday's ceremony, with Tom accepting his father's award.

Tom Blackburn began his remarks Wednesday by reading a letter addressed to his father from none other than Admiral Byrd, congratulating Blackburn on receiving the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal for his Antarctic exploration.

"You gave many months of your life toward making our expeditions successful," the letter read. "I want you to know that my gratitude to you is as firm as ever."

Byrd closed the letter by promising Blackburn "a warm welcome and the hand of friendship" if they ever meet up in the future.

As a former aerospace engineer who encountered various ethical dilemmas during his career, Tom Blackburn attributes his strong moral compass to his father.

"I retired from a 52-year career with a clean conscience, so I think that he was an excellent influence on me," he said, noting his dad's induction into the Brainerd High School Hall of Fame will be neat to pass on to future generations in the family.

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Quintus Blackburn's motto, his son said, was "figure out the right thing to do and do it," which Tom Blackburn offered as advice to high school students transitioning into adulthood.

"Take the time to figure out the right thing to do, and do it," he said.

Steve Clough

A 1976 graduate, Steve Clough was honored for his business entrepreneurship, namely Just for Kix, a Baxter-based dance company he founded and co-owns with his wife, Cindy.

Clough joins his wife, a 2007 inductee, in the hall of fame, making the Cloughs the first married couple to both receive the honor.

"I am truly honored to be part of this prestigious group," Clough said, acknowledging his special honor to be inducted with Blackburn and Thesing.

Clough grew up in Brainerd and attended school at St. Andrew's Catholic School, Harrison Elementary, Washington Junior High and Brainerd High School.

Shortly after graduating in 1976, the Cloughs began Just For Kix, a full-service dance company that grew to include 220 youth programs in 14 states. Just For Kix dancers have performed half-time shows for the Holiday Bowl, Freedom Bowl, Citrus Bowl, Orange Bowl and Outback Bowl.

After seeing their first business venture boom, Clough and his family started the Teehive screenprinting and embroidery company in 2009.

Clough stands behind the financial aspects of Just For Kix, a company all three of his children-Joel, Jerad and Alexandra-also work for. He also has four grandchildren.

Clough attributes much of his business success to the strong work ethic instilled in him by his father.

"We had a father that believed in work ethic and hard work, and he always said, 'If you're going to do a job, do it right,'" Clough said. "And I think we have lived our business career in that manner."

All that hard work earned the Cloughs the 2006 State of Minnesota SBA Entrepreneur of the Year Award. In 2016, Just For Kix won the Brainerd Lakes Chamber Business Excellence Award.

"It has been such a joy to be able to grow up in Brainerd, to go to school in Brainerd and to start our careers and to start our business and be successful in our community," Clough said. "Brainerd is our home, and Brainerd is always going to be our home."

Kevin Thesing

A 1974 Brainerd graduate, Kevin Thesing earned accolades Wednesday for his various volunteer and philanthropic endeavors in the community.

Thesing, now the co-owner and general manager of Lakes Printing in Brainerd, attended Edison Elementary, Riverside Elementary, Washington Junior High and Brainerd High School.

He attributes his love of music and reading and continued passion for the National FFA Organization to his time in the Brainerd School District.

After getting his feet wet in the printing industry after high school, Thesing founded Lakes Printing in 1988 with partners Clem Maust, Paul Gropper, Denny Rothsetein and Dode Pohlkamp. Today, Pohlkamp remains his partner in both business and life, as they have five children and nine grandchildren.

In 1990, Thesing was one of the founders of the Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza and estimated he logged about 2,000 volunteer hours helping to get the first contest up and running.

After his days in high school FFA, he remains a big supporter of the organization and serves as a board member of the Brainerd FFA Alumni Association. He was inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Thesing is or has been involved in leadership roles in roughly 25 organizations in the Brainerd lakes area, including the Brainerd Rotary Club, Brainerd Jaycees, Brainerd Lakes Chamber, Brainerd Sports Boosters, United Way of Crow Wing County, Brainerd Public Schools Foundation, The Center, Brainerd Community Action, Brainerd Lakes Area Kids Voting, Brainerd Area Junior Achievement and Brainerd Slow-Pitch Softball Association.

"He has spent a lifetime in a leadership position doing good for the Brainerd lakes area," Hall of Fame committee member Ruthie Gmeinder said as she introduced Thesing Wednesday.

He has numerous awards to his name as well, including the 1999 Brainerd Citizen of the Year Award and the 2012 Brainerd Community Foundation Award in Philanthropy, an honor Gmeinder said she was glad to bestow upon him.

Thesing noted, however, the awards and the Hall of Fame induction are not about him.

"It's about the people in my life, and because of that, it's an honor to be up here tonight to accept this award," he said, acknowledging the huge impact his children, their spouses, his grandchildren, siblings, extended family and friends have had on his and Pohlkamp's life.

"This award is for all of you," Thesing said. "The impact that you have in our lives with how you lead your lives has helped to shape who we are and what we do."

Blackburn, Clough and Thesing join 66 other Brainerd graduates honored in the Distinguished Achievement Hall of Fame.

For more photos, go to https://bit.ly/2Qjs0yh .

Tom Blackburn, next to Brainerd Public School's Superintendent Laine Larson, accepts a plaque on behalf of his late father Quintus Blackburn, an Antarctic explorer, whose image is featured on the screen Wednesday, May 22, at Forestview Middle School. Quintus Blackburn was one of three men inducted into the Brainerd High School Distinguished Achievement Hall of Fame. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Tom Blackburn, next to Brainerd Public School's Superintendent Laine Larson, accepts a plaque on behalf of his late father Quintus Blackburn, an Antarctic explorer, whose image is featured on the screen Wednesday, May 22, at Forestview Middle School. Quintus Blackburn was one of three men inducted into the Brainerd High School Distinguished Achievement Hall of Fame. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Related Topics: BRAINERD HIGH SCHOOL
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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