Great Grads

Robbinsdale Area Schools Great Grads

Barry Morrow (RHS '66)
Barry attended Robbinsdale High School, graduating in 1966. He is an Acadamy Award-winning screen writer and producer. Barry won an Emmy for "Bill," the story of longtime friend Bill Sackter, and an Academy Award for "Rain Man," which starred Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. Barry wrote "Rain Main" and co-wrote the screenplay which is based upon his friendship with Kim Peek.

Q: Can you recall any Robbinsdale teachers who had a strong influence on you?

BARRY MORROW: I vividly remember that fall day in tenth grade when I felt my brain change. It was like I grew another lobe, or awakened a sleeping one. I don't know why it happened, but suddenly I became verbal. I was in Tom Kresensky's history class, and for the first time in my life I found myself raising my hand and answering questions.

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Corey Hels (CHS '87)
Corey Hels attended Meadow Lake Elementary, Hosterman Junior High, and Cooper High School, graduating in 1987. He is now a previsualization artist with DreamWorks Animation in Los Angeles.

Q: When did you first become interested in the arts?

COREY HELS: I was encouraged at first by my family. My oldest brother is a drummer and my mom is a talented wildlife painter. At Meadow Lake, I took first place in a wildlife drawing contest and won a Greenpeace patch for my jacket. I think of this corny moment as a small snowball that began rolling downhill. From that tiny validation, art became cool for me.

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Pam Scheunemann (RHS '73)
Author and longtime Golden Valley resident Pam Scheunemann has written nearly 100 books for young children. She is now a writer and production manager for Mighty Media in Minneapolis.

Q: What was your first foray into writing as a profession? Was there a "big break" moment for you?

Pam Scheunemann: It was a more gradual process, really. I got a job at a magazine and learned the business of design and typesetting, wrote a few articles and did some photography. I worked at New Homes Magazine for eight years, then worked for a couple of different publishers for the next five. At that point I switched to Mighty Media. We started out just doing a few books and it blossomed from there.

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Nick Huynh (AHS '06)
After graduating from the University of St. Thomas in May 2010 with a degree in biochemistry, Robbinsdale Armstrong High School alum Nick Huynh was accepted to the University of Minnesota Medical School—only to learn that he had won a Fulbright grant to work on an HIV vaccine at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden.

Q: What K-12 teachers had a particularly strong influence on you?

NICK HUYNH: It's funny—the teacher who had the strongest influence on me also gave me my worst grade in high school. The class was AP Physics taught by Steve White. I thought it was going to be a piece of cake, but I've never struggled so much, even in my toughest college courses. But Mr. White was always helping me with the concepts and providing valuable advice. I can honestly say that without taking Mr. White's AP Physics and mightily struggling in it, I would not have been able to do so well in my college physics courses.

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Marti Maraden (RHS '63)
Marti Maraden is a legend of the Canadian stage. Her career has included many years as a classical actor in the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, North America's largest classical repertory theatre. She has since served as Artistic Director of the National Arts Centre English Theatre in Ottawa and is now a freelance stage director.

Q: Can you describe any early theatre experiences that were especially meaningful or formative for you?

MARTI MARADEN: In my first year at Robbinsdale High, I was on crew for Pygmalion and The King and I, then played Anne Frank in my senior year—my first acting role. Some years later, I visited Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, and was deeply moved—all the more so because I had portrayed this extraordinary girl and had imagined so vividly what it must have been like to live through her harrowing last years.

Q: At what point did your future in theatre become clear? Did you consider other paths?

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Michael Goldstein (AHS '85)
Mike Goldstein was a student at Olson and Pilgrim Lane Elementary Schools and Plymouth Junior High School before attending Robbinsdale Armstrong High School, from which he graduated in 1985. He went on to earn a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's in Public Safety Administration from the College (now University) of St. Thomas. He is currently Chief of Police for the City of Plymouth.

Q: You credit several teachers in the Robbinsdale district as profound influences on you and your work. Can you name a few?

MICHAEL GOLDSTEIN: There are so many. I remember Miss Nichols and Mrs. Judy who were my Kindergarten and first grade teachers (respectively) along with Mrs. Utech who was the principal at Olson. When I first went to school, I had separation anxiety and they were great in trying to help me acclimate to school. In sixth grade, Mr. Reeves, Mr. Johnson and Mrs. Finkelsen all did great things to make school fun. In Junior High, there was Mr. Newstrom and Mrs. Delapp in Social Studies; Mr. Walerius in Math; Mr. Lenz and Mr. Homme in Science; Mrs. Anderson and Mr. Shaff in English along with Mr. McFarland for weightlifting. Each pushed me along academically and offered challenges that helped me become a better learner. Lastly, Mr. Hermerding was absolutely one of the coolest people I have had the chance to know.

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Rachel Brady (CHS '08)
Rachel Brady was a student in the International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme at Robbinsdale Cooper High School and graduated in 2008. Now a junior majoring in sociology and theatre at Concordia College in Moorhead, Rachel will spend part of the coming summer in a service program in Rwanda, then as a Nobel Peace Prize Scholar in Oslo, Norway.

Q: You have a passion for international peace and justice issues. Was the International Baccalaureate Programme at Cooper influential in developing that passion?

Rachel Brady: It definitely was. IB instilled in me an eagerness to explore and the curiosity to learn about the world from a global mindset. It challenged me to think critically. As a result, the academic transition to college was really easy, and I give IB credit for that.

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Eric Howell (AHS '89)
Filmmaker Eric Howell began making animated and action/adventure shorts with his father's 8mm camera while a fifth grader at Noble Elementary School. Shortly after graduating from Robbinsdale Armstrong High School in 1989, Eric began working in the Minneapolis film industry. His credits include work on The Mighty Ducks, Fargo, A Simple Plan, Untamed Heart, and North Country. He most recently wrote and directed Ana's Playground, a project that is winning festivals and critical acclaim around the world.

Q: How did you become interested in film?

Eric Howell: I didn't know how creative I was until my last semester of high school in my photography class. I was all signed up for Navy ROTC, then I got a camera and fell in love with shooting photos. In earlier years as a kid I had made 8mm movies with my father's camera but never considered it a possible career opportunity. After graduating from Armstrong, I got a job as a Special Effects Assistant on a feature film called Drop Dead Fred. I spent that summer rigging stunts and special effects. The motion picture business fascinated me as it was full of eccentric people with incredible skills—and all of them had their own assistants! That was the last notion I ever had of going into the Navy.

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Tom Dooher (AHS '81)
Tom Dooher and Robbinsdale Area Schools go way back. After graduating from Robbinsdale Armstrong High School ('81) and the College of St. Thomas, he taught physical education at Armstrong, Sandburg Middle School, and the Technology Learning Campus. Tom served as president of Education Minnesota, which represents over 70,000 teachers and education support professionals in the state, from 2007 to 2013. Prior to his election in 2007, Tom served as president of the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers for ten years.

Q: You've seen the Robbinsdale district from every angle, including as a student. Were there any district teachers who had a particularly strong influence on you?

TOM DOOHER: When I think back to the great experiences I had, I think of Ann Forseman, my 3rd grade teacher at Crystal Heights Elementary. She had this obvious enthusiasm for learning, and made her classroom fun and inviting. Then there was Dick Schirmacher, the choir director at Sandburg. He made it seem “cool” for boys to be involved in singing, and he expanded our world beyond our comfort zone. And there was Odney Hegrenes, my calculus teacher at Armstrong. He found a way to relate a complicated subject to 17- and 18-year olds and showed us how the subject applied in our own lives.

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Sian Ricketts (CHS '03)
After graduating from Robbinsdale Cooper High School in 2003, oboist Sian Ricketts attended the Northwestern University School of Music in Evanston, Illinois. Along the way, Sian has won numerous honors including First Place in the 2003 Schubert Club and Thursday Musical Competitions. In May 2007, Sian performed at an invitational concert at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. She is currently pursuing a Masters in Music at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Q: Can you recall any especially strong influences during your years in the Robbinsdale district?

Sian Ricketts: Kay Miller, my third grade teacher at Sonnesyn, was especially influential in my development as a person and as a student. She's still a close family friend, and I try to see her whenever I am in Minnesota. As for academics, the classes and the quality of teaching I experienced whilst a student in the International Baccalaureate program at Cooper were on par with any classes I took at Northwestern.

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Ember Reichgott Junge (RHS '70)
Since graduating from Robbinsdale High School in 1970, Ember Reichgott Junge has pursued an active and multifaceted career in and out of the public spotlight, including 18 years in the Minnesota Senate. She credits her time in Robbinsdale Area Schools as a key ingredient to her success.

Q: Can you recall Robbinsdale teachers who had a particularly strong influence on you?

Ember Reichgott Junge: Three teachers had a profound effect on me. Dr. Harvey Hummel taught "enriched" biology at Robbinsdale High School. He instilled a deep curiosity in me, as well as the ability to ask good questions and a passion for learning. He gave me confidence that I could make a difference.

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Scott Nadeau (CHS '84)
After many years with the Brooklyn Center Police Department, Robbinsdale Cooper High School graduate Scott Nadeau ('84) was appointed Police Chief of Columbia Heights last spring. A father of two boys, Scott also teaches classes in police work and criminal justice at Metropolitan State University.

Q: You attended district schools during that demographic dip in Robbinsdale of the late 70s and early 80s. That resulted in an unusual school path for you, didn't it?

Scott Nadeau: It did, yes. After attending Lakeview Elementary, I went on to Robbinsdale Junior High for seventh grade. Then RJHS closed, so I finished eighth and ninth grades at Sandburg Middle School. I then attended Robbinsdale High School for one year before it closed, then finished at Cooper.

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Kimberly Bowman (AHS '84)
After attending Olson Elementary, Sandburg Middle School, and Armstrong High School (Class of 1984), Kim Bowman attended Saint Olaf College and completed the MBA program at the University of Saint Thomas. She is now the Director of Endowments and Planned Giving for the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Q: Music seems to have been a big part of your early experience. Can you tell us a bit about that?

KIM BOWMAN: My interest in music emerged early on. I was singing and playing guitar by age 5 or 6. Having music classes all the way through school was wonderful, because we heard about the great composers and got to try out different instruments. Many kids joined band or orchestra around 4th grade.

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Mike Houck (RHS '77)
Robbinsdale High School graduate Mike Houck ('77) made his mark on the sport of wrestling as a four-time Greco-Roman national champion and three-time World Team member. He made history in 1985 as the first American to win a gold medal at the Greco-Roman World Championships, then served as coach of the U.S. Greco-Roman National Team in the early 90s before settling in Chaska as a middle school and high school coach and teacher. We interviewed Mike about his memories of the district and his life in wrestling a few weeks before his induction into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Q: What middle school and elementary school did you attend before RHS?

MIKE HOUCK: I attended Robbinsdale Junior High, Lee Elementary, and Thorson Elementary.

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