PILLAGER -- Four Pillager High School alumni will be inducted into the Pillager Hall of Fame during a banquet at 6 p.m. Sept. 28, in the high school commons.
This year’s inductees are Tom Kavanaugh, Ken LaPorte, Rudie Sandberg and Dorothy (Berndt) Williams.
Tickets for the upcoming banquet are available from the school office or calling 218-746-2105. The community is welcome to attend the banquet to honor these inductees.
Tom Kavanaugh, class of 1984
Tom Kavanaugh began in the hospitality business when his parents purchased a small resort on Sylvan Lake. Kavanaugh’s Sylvan Lake Resort, as it came to be known, is celebrating 50 years of operation this season, and Kavanaugh has been there for every one of those years. Starting as a 4-year-old director of public relations, he grew up interested in many things around him and had a love of meeting people. He learned about cooking, flavors and developed a true passion for the kitchen from his mother, Mae.
Kavanaugh is a 1984 graduate of PHS. During his school years, he was involved in basketball, track, theater, choir, yearbook and newspaper. While still in high school he took on a significant role in the restaurant and gave up playing football to be more available to work in the family business. To keep working, he chose to live at home and attend Central Lakes College, where he also performed in multiple theater productions and played tennis.
Kavanaugh’s culinary path has led to many other endeavors, including competing and judging in over 150 culinary competitions (which included Top 10 finishes in the World Food Championships, World Paella Challenge, The Seafood Olympics, The Taste of Elegance and many Iron Chef and barbecue competitions) as well as teaching more than 250 culinary classes. Kavanaugh also appeared in his own cooking show, “Market Fresh Cooking with Tom Kavanaugh.” In 1999 he was chosen as one of 25 American chefs to create food for the commencement exercises at the United States Naval Academy.
After closing the restaurant in 2005, Kavanaugh took on more resort duties and became more involved in numerous business associations throughout Minnesota. He currently serves as chairman of the Board of Directors of Hospitality Minnesota, is a past president of the Minnesota Resort and Campground Association and served as an officer on the Hospitality Minnesota Education Foundation Board. He has also served on the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce and the Governor’s Council on Tourism Committee. In 2014, Kavanaugh was named Minnesota Resort Operator of the Year by the Minnesota Resort and Campground Association, and in 2016 the Kavanaugh family was inducted into the Resort Hall of Fame.
Through Hospitality Minnesota Kavanaugh became involved in the National Restaurant Association Pro-Start program, a high school culinary certification curriculum. Over the last 12 years he has helped increase Pro-Start programs in Minnesota from 18 schools to more than 70. Kavanaugh has also worked with the Brainerd chamber in developing a grant to help start programs in eight additional area schools, including Pillager. After eight years as the lead judge for Minnesota’s Pro-Start state competition, Kavanaugh stepped down to coach the Pillager culinary team. In three years the team went from 15th place to third place in the state competition.
Kavanaugh has also worked with the University of Minnesota Extension Service helping local growers and area chefs to aid in the farm to table movement in the lakes area.
He has a true passion for Pillager School, and in addition to the Pro-Start program he has also dedicated time to other school functions over the years, including setting up the first elementary girls basketball program, coaching girls basketball in some capacity for 14 years, assisting in track and boys basketball, directing both a one-act play and Pillager’s only theater in the round production, and being involved with fundraising for the Booster Club and the Pillager Dollars for Scholars and Education Foundations, in which he has coordinated and led 10 fundraising dinners.
Kavanaugh is married to Jennifer (class of 1982) and has two daughters, Kelley (class of 2006) and Heather (class of 2008), who is a teacher at Pillager; and sons-in law Cole (class of 2006) and Zack (class of 2008) as well as grandson Liam and granddaughters Amelia, Charlotte and Elizabeth.
Ken LaPorte, class of 1969
Ken LaPorte is a second generation Pillager graduate with two generations following him, showing his deep commitment to the Pillager community. After growing up on a local farm and watching his dad serve as a supervisor in the Cass County Soil and Water Conservation District for 20 years, it is no wonder LaPorte took a similar path.
After a brief time with Northwest Paper Co. and Burlington Northern Railroad, LaPorte quickly found his way to serving with the Cass County Highway Department for 13 years. That led to 17 years working in the field of his real passion, field inspection for the planning and zoning and environmental services departments for Cass County. He has also served on the Cass County Soil and Water Conservation Board since 2006.
LaPorte continues to enjoy his work with the SWCD and has been elected to represent Cass County as the North Central Area 8 supervisor on the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts board.
LaPorte has devoted his life working directly with the public to increase conservation practices and protection of our natural resources. His passion has been conservation work with farmers, landowners and local units of government including cost-sharing for shoreline buffers, rain gardens and reducing surface water runoff on roadways.
“I have enjoyed being involved in my local community,” LaPorte stated in a news release. “I grew up on a dairy farm and continue to be a ‘farm boy’ at heart. Farming was where I first learned to be a good steward of the land, and the SWCD’s priority of soil health in Minnesota has afforded me the opportunity to take that passion even deeper and allowed me to educate myself on the many technical and scientific aspects of the topic.”
For more than 50 years, LaPorte and his father’s work with natural resources has set a standard for the future that will allow the next generations to enjoy the abundance of clean drinking water and pristine lakes and rivers, the release stated.
In his spare time, LaPorte enjoys antique cars and trucks, his hobby farm and singing at his church.
Rudie Sandberg, class of 1941
Rudie Sandberg, inducted posthumously, spent most of his growing years in his father’s service station learning and doing any and all things mechanical. He graduated from Pillager High School in 1941, and when war broke out, severe allergies meant he could not enlist in military service. He went to Duluth to work in the shipyards, where he developed expertise in welding, often using mirrors to see the intricate pieces on which he worked. That skill served him well for years as the resident “fixer” of all things that needed welding in Pillager.
In 1946, Sandberg, his father Oscar and brother Myron built a shop on Daisy Avenue, which still stands today. It was the Sandberg Motor Co., offering repair and rebuilding of trucks, cars, tractors and heavy machinery. It was a full-service machine shop with the most up-to-date equipment.
Sandberg always needed new challenges, which was obvious in the many vocations he chose. He became a Standard Oil bulk agent with a distributorship including Pillager and the surrounding area. This later became Sandberg Oil Co., delivering home heating oils and offering furnace repair. He repaired furnaces anytime day or night. The phone ringing in the middle of a dark, winter night meant he would be headed out to rescue someone from the cold -- often for little or no charge.
Next, Sandberg took on the role of school bus contractor for the Pillager Schools for many years, and subsequently took over his father’s school bus routes, which provided historical context for current bus routes and contractors.
In addition to bus contracting, he also did general contracting for almost anything. Pillager lore says Sandberg could and would do anything, especially if someone told him it hadn’t been done before or couldn’t be done. The stories of his house-moving adventures, including bringing at least three current Pillager houses (two of them large two-story farmhouses) over the ice on the Crow Wing River, are legendary.
Sandberg’s real passion was helping the people of Pillager. That commitment and dedication led to him being involved in establishing the fire department, serving many terms on the town council, being mayor a few times and also serving as the town policeman. He was always ready to help if someone had a problem -- with a car, a tricky furnace, a hay baler, a tractor -- and the more unusual the problem, the higher his interest, the release stated.
Helping a stranger who showed up in Pillager was as natural to Sandberg as helping his neighbor. It was just what he did. It wasn’t uncommon for him to stop a job he was doing to solve a problem for a worried traveler and then send them on their way, asking only that they help someone else when they could.
In 1986-87, Pillager did not have a place for him to have coffee. He funded the necessary materials and convinced a few of his friends to help build a restaurant. He then persuaded a friend to run it with no benefit to him. The café is now open again, and he would be happy.
Dorothy (Berndt) Williams, class of 1959
Dorothy (Berndt) Williams is a true Pillager girl who was involved in many things, but always found the time to help other people. After high school graduation in 1959, she attended St. Cloud State University for a year before going to work at Cambridge State School and Hospital and Brainerd State School and Hospital as a psychiatric technician at each location.
In January 1966, Williams joined the U.S. Army and had a one-year assignment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, as a neuropsychiatric specialist. Next was an assignment to 2nd General Hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. There she met her husband, Dannie Williams, also serving in the military, and was married in November 1967. Their oldest son was born in Germany before returning to the U.S. for Dannie’s new Army assignment as a recruiter in Little Falls.
In 1973, when the Minnesota Army National Guard opened its doors to women, Williams was one of the first of six women to be sworn in by Gov. Wendell Anderson in St. Paul. The first year at summer camp at Camp Ripley there were three women and about 24,000 men. That drew the attention of the TV reporters from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, who followed every move of the new female recruits at Camp Ripley.
Williams served at Camp Ripley for about eight years, attaining the rank of staff sergeant and was selected as Soldier of the Year one of those years. She worked as a stock control and accounting specialist, which was a part of the supply section.
Another assignment change for Dannie took them to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, in 1980, where Williams immediately joined the Texas Army National Guard. She was assigned the job of supervising the orderly room and later was transferred to the S-1 Section as the personal sergeant. She was promoted to sergeant first class, the rank at which she retired after completing 20 years of service.
In addition to Williams’ military service, she and Dannie were foster parents for 23 children over a 14-year period, adopting one of the foster babies. She served for many years in her church playing the piano, singing, teaching Sunday School and serving as church clerk.
Her family includes two biological sons, a daughter by adoption, 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. They have put retirement on hold while they raise two grandchildren, one in college and a seventh-grader in the Gifted and Talented Program.
In her spare time Williams helps her husband manage three rental homes, and they recently flipped a fourth. She enjoys spending time with her children and church community.
Williams has always had a soft spot in her heart for the less fortunate. From her youth through these retirement years she has served others with a genuine love and care that sets her apart as a true Pillager Hall of Famer, the release stated.