3 inducted into Brainerd Public Schools Hall of Fame
Ray Frisch, Bob Nystrom and Steffen Johnson are the 2022 inductees.
BRAINERD — With friends, family and a room of future hall of fame nominees, Ray Frisch, Steffen Johnson and Bob Nystrom were inducted into the Brainerd Public Schools Distinguished Achievement Hall of Fame Friday, Sept. 23, as part of its 2022 induction class.
Having nearly 80 members already inducted, the three men join a long line of Brainerd graduates recognized since 1999 for distinguished achievements in their fields.
The candidates were inducted into the hall of fame during a ceremony at the Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts with the ceremony led by Brainerd High School Principal Andrea Rusk.
“These distinguished Warriors teach all of us, by reason of their very existence and by continuing to serve as role models, what each of us can be, can do for others and can do in life,” Rusk said.
Nominated by Jim Ruttger, Johnson graduated from Brainerd High School in 1987 and is now a partner at Wilson Sonsini Law Firm in Washington, D.C.
“I'm deeply honored to receive this award. I'm also humbled when I think of the many others who are equally if not more deserving,” Johnson said. “I think of my fellow classmates serving the lakes area, as longtime business owners quietly working to meet the area's legal needs, or teaching the next generation in the classroom, serving in the military or those who volunteer their time to serve the community in a host of other ways. These friends would make equally worthy recipients of this award. So it's in that spirit that I accept it as just one representative of all the honorable work and service of my class, the class of 1987.”
In his law work, Johnson leads his firm’s nationwide Supreme Court and appellate practice and has argued cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. He has twice been named a “Legal Lion” by “Law360,” a legal news company, for Supreme Court and Federal Circuit Court victories.
Johnson also told those in attendance to find some true friends to come along for life's journey.
“I personally have been blessed with just extraordinary friends,” Johnson said. “They know everything about me. And I mean that. From my greatest weaknesses to my most audacious dreams, and love me through all of it. But these friends didn't just magically appear overnight. You have to invest in friendship. And over time, take little steps of transparency and vulnerability to see if they're trustworthy. If you share your struggle with your friends, and they gossip about you, get new friends. But if they prove to be reliable confidants, people who know your weaknesses, believe in your dreams, give you the honest, sometimes hard feedback you need, with grace. And when we need it, forgiveness, and sometimes we need it. Stick with them. That kind of friend is a treasure.”
In recent years, he was a runner up for American Lawyer’s Litigator of the Week honor. Several of his cases have been featured in publications like “National Law Journal,” “American Lawyer” and “Law360.”
Johnson is a founding member and current board chair of the Brainerd Lakes Rowing Club, which began in 2020 and introduces the sport of rowing to the Brainerd and Crosslake communities. He and his family spend summers at their home on Gull Lake’s Pine Beach Peninsula.
Introducing Johnson was Brainerd Public Schools archivist John Erickson.
Introducing Ray Frisch was Hara Charlier, president of Central Lakes College.
“(Ray Frisch) attended a country school for eight years, and the last two of those years were in a class of three students,” Charlier said. “School was not easy for Mr. Frisch. In the fifth grade, his teacher sent home a note recommending that he be held back for a year because he rarely spoke in class. His father resisted, telling the teacher that his son was simply very shy. Even today, 80 years later, Mr. Frisch admits that if I knew the answer, ‘I would not raise my hand to give that answer.’”
Ray Frisch is a 1950 Brainerd High School graduate who went on to earn accolades in education.
“At the start of ninth grade, country schools were closed and students were moved to Brainerd public schools,” Charlier said. “Mr. Frisch was one of 33 country boys in a classroom at Brainerd, then Washington High School … Mr. Frisch said that that particular year had a profound influence on his career and his life. It was then that he knew that he wanted to teach English.”
He taught at Ogilvie High School, where he was also librarian, director of junior and senior class plays, and competitive speech and one-act play coach. He also taught at Brainerd Junior College and Brainerd Community College (now Central Lakes College). He served as vice president and co-program chair of the Minnesota Council of Teachers of English in 1976.
“You'll have to excuse me for being the one that's up here accepting this honor on behalf of my dad, Ray,” Kari Frisch, Ray Frisch's daughter said. “Ray in typical fashion is a little too shy and a little too modest. But he does have a couple of sentiments he'd like me to share. First, he wanted me to thank the person who nominated him, whoever that was. Second, the committee who helped select him. And of course, Brainerd Public Schools present and past. He is very grateful and humbled by this honor you are bestowing on him. As someone who has lived in the area for approximately 87 of his 92 years. He is definitely Brainerd proud and would have it no other way. I'm a little biased, but I am so happy he's being recognized today.”
Ray Frisch’s honors include: Brainerd Community College Distinguished Alumni in 1988, Minnesota Community College Faculty Association Recognition Award in 1989 and Crow Wing County Senior Volunteer of the Year in 2008. He was president and co-founder of the Brainerd Community College Alumni Association and also served for 25 years on the Bethlehem Lutheran Christian Education Board.
Ray Frisch has also been active with the Brainerd Public Library, Crow Wing County Historical Society, American Red Cross, Meals on Wheels, Northeastern Minnesota Synod Board and Sons of Norway.
Nominated by former Brainerd Superintendent Laine Larson and School Board Chair Ruth Nelson, Nystrom is a 1975 Brainerd High School graduate who became a pharmacist and has remained an active member of the Brainerd lakes community.
“Much of what I want to share with you is how important the great education I received here was in my life, so this thank you goes to all of my teachers who may be out there, and to their colleagues, today’s BHS educators,” Nystrom said.
Nystrom said he decided to become a pharmacist while at BHS in 1972. During his junior year, he found himself getting a D in chemistry when his teacher, Mr. Claxton, became his mentor and showed him the path to becoming a pharmacist.
“Mr. Claxton always told me that only I could determine how successful I would be in life,” Nystrom said. “While he would be there to help me, he said it was me who had to work hard to be a pharmacist.”
Nystrom opened his pharmacy in downtown Brainerd after graduating from college and eventually set up a second location in Pine River. After 20 years in the business, he sold his business to a major pharmacy chain.
Nystrom spent 17 years on the Brainerd School Board, during which time he negotiated employee contracts, helped pass the 2018 referendum and oversaw the many subsequent building projects.
He has worked as a mentor at Central Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge and has also been active with the Brainerd Rotary Club, Minnesota Pharmacy Association, First Presbyterian Church, Lakewood Evangelical Church, Alzheimer's Association and the Brainerd Lakes Curling Club. He has also worked with his daughter, Quinn Nystrom, as an advocate for lower cost insulin for those with diabetes.
Nystrom was introduced by Ruth Nelson, chair of the Brainerd Public Schools Board of Education.