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News and Events

2017 Distinguished Alumni
Posted 10/24/2018 11:14AM

2017 Distinguished Alumni Honorees


From top row, l to r: Dino Taronis, John Swanson, Ed Grivna, Jeff Savelkoul; From bottom row, l to r: Heather Peabody, Emily Anderson, Lisa Boxwell; Not pictured is Ken Gilbertson, PhD, in his place is sister Karen Onken, who accepted the award on his behalf

Fridley Public Schools 2017 Distinguished Alumni honorees (along with their career and community service accomplishments), and Circle of Excellence Award recipient (the cast of "A Company of Wayward Saints") are listed below:


EMILY ANDERSON | Class of 2000From a young age, Emily Anderson was destined for great things. The Fridley High School Valedictorian of the Class of 2000 was not only a high achieving student, but very involved in activities as well.  

While at Fridley, Emily was president of student council and was a member of the National and Hispanic Honor Societies. She was also captain of both basketball and soccer teams, in addition to playing golf. Her favorite high school memories were made on the basketball court, and with many dedicated hours spent there, deep friendships with her teammates were formed.

Because of her positive scholastic experience and gratitude to the dedicated staff, Emily became a teacher. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Social Studies Education and Master’s in Educational Leadership from Bethel University. Emily now teaches at Blaine High School and has become an award-winning teacher of economics. Among her numerous awards throughout her career, Emily was honored in 2014 with the Economic Educator Excellence Award from the Minnesota Council on Economic Education and was also a Top Ten Finalist for Minnesota Teacher of the Year. In the same year, Emily was also awarded the 3M Economic Educator of Excellence Award.

Emily is continuously involved in writing and improving curriculum and has introduced a hybrid economics course that focuses her students on being college and career ready. Following suit of her own teachers at Fridley, she is hoping to be more than a teacher and to help students develop a growth mindset. She loves to show students that she cares about them and loves to help them discover that they

Along with her husband, Chad, and four children – Cooper, Riley, Gracie and Paisley – Emily lives in St. Francis, MN. She is the head coach of Moms on the Run - a comprehensive fitness program for women - and has coached Blaine High School students in soccer, skiing, economics challenge and debate. She is also a Home for our Troops Charity Team member and works with the Blaine High School National Honor Society. Most poignant, perhaps, was her involvement with Sarah’s Scholarship, an annual award to a deserving Fridley senior in honor of her cherished friend and classmate, Sarah Evers, who passed away in 2002 from osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer.

Emily challenges today’s Fridley students to do something every day to make their brains grow. Get out of comfort zones and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Limits are only perceived. Consistent effort leads to success.


LISA BOXWELL | Class of 1977Lisa Boxwell graduated with honors from Fridley High School in 1977. She took part in concert choir and band, and was a captain of the cheerleading squad. It was her efforts on the field, however, that gained the most recognition.

During her time at Fridley, Lisa was All-Conference in track and field and All-Conference in cross country. While at Fridley, she was such a tremendous competitor, as well as scholar, that she was presented with the Athena Award her senior year.

Lisa began her post-secondary career at Golden Valley Lutheran College, where she immediately set track records in 100-meter hurdles, 300 meters, 400-meter relay and 800-meter medley relay. In 1978, she was named All-American in Track and Field. From there, she established herself as an athlete of distinction at the University of Minnesota, setting more records in 60-meter hurdles, 100-meter hurdles, 800-medley relay and 880 relay. The University named her Athlete of the Year in Track and Field for 1981.

Lisa graduated from the University of Minnesota with a double major in Physical Education and Business.  She used this experience as she began working for the Golden Gophers as an assistant coach in recruitment, developing and implementing training programs for Division I hurdlers and high jumpers.  

Lisa began a journey in athletics in 1994 with Anoka Ramsey Community College, where she has served as Director of Health and Wellness Center, Athletic Coordinator, Academic Advisor, Athletic Director and in the Academic Support Center.

Lisa has given back to the communities she's served, including such activities as coaching hurdlers, taking part in the baseball booster club at Coon Rapids High School, coaching youth flag football in Fridley and coaching T-ball in Coon Rapids.

In 1991, Lisa was inducted into the University of Minnesota's All Decade Team for Track and Field. Fridley Public Schools later welcomed her to its inaugural Athletic Hall of Fame in 2016.

Reflecting back on her Fridley years, Lisa acknowledges that Fridley’s teachers encouraged her to work hard, dream big and never give up.  They provided advice that helped her achieve her goals at the collegiate level and develop the skills she still applies in life today.

Lisa has three sons: Tony, Brett and Alex, and two grandsons Calvin and Wesley.  All three of her sons followed their mother in becoming tremendous athletes. She is engaged to Charlie Fiedler.  

Her advice to Fridley students is to stay positive!  Take a deep breath, keep moving forward and don’t look back.  Everything is working out for the highest good.  Embrace and trust the process.



DR. KEN GILBERTSON, PhD | Class of 1972While a student at Fridley High School, Dr. Ken Gilbertson was an active athlete, participating in football, swimming and track. It was his work in Brian Ingvalson’s horticulture class, however, that received a good amount of Ken’s interest. Learning about plant life and the environment led Gilbertson to embark on a path of teaching others about and working to protect the natural places on the planet.


In addition to Dr. Gilbertson’s participation in sports and horticulture club, he was a Boy Scout who worked his way up to the top, achieving the rank of Eagle Scout in December 1969.  Earlier in August 1969, he witnessed a child fall off a dock into 6-foot deep water on Lake One in Ely.  Jumping to the rescue, Gilbertson saved the youngster from drowning and was awarded the Honor Medal from the Boy Scouts of America for his heroism.

Dr. Gilbertson attended the University of Minnesota, Duluth (UMD), where he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Biology in 1978, and followed with a Master’s of Education in 1984.  Because the Outdoor Education program wasn’t yet designed, Gilbertson created both the undergraduate degree in Environmental and Outdoor Education and Master of Education with a Concentration in Outdoor Education.  In addition, he is the founder of the UMD Outdoor Program, a non-academic outdoor education program. They are all now considered some of the leading programs of their kind in the nation.  He also developed the first emergency care curriculum leading to an Emergency Medical Technician.  Gilbertson earned his PhD in Outdoor Education with a Clinical Counseling emphasis from Ohio State University in 1990. Dr. Gilbertson has worked with Vietnam veterans with PTSD in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) and has also been an Outward Bound Instructor, a Wilderness Canoe guide, and a Wilderness Ranger with the United States Forest Services (USFS) in the BWCAW.

Today, Dr. Gilbertson is still at his Alma Mater, the UMD, where he is a professor and Department Head in the Department of Applied Human Sciences. His contributions have led to a host of awards, including the 2014 University of Minnesota President’s Award for Outstanding Service.  The book he co-authored,
Outdoor Education: Methods and Strategies, is considered by many to be a standard resource on the topic of teaching about the environment.  He has published numerous articles and is an international guest speaker.

Besides his wilderness adventures, Dr. Gilbertson has literally traveled around the world.  He created a consortium of outdoor educators in the United States, Finland, Turkey, and New Zealand who work together on research and teaching practices.  He has also created partnerships with state and national parks to promote environmental literacy.

Dr. Gilbertson has been married to Katie Kyyhkynen over 35 years.  In his spare time, Ken enjoys horseback riding and continued wilderness expeditions - having traveled all over North America on wilderness trips.  He has also competed in at least 7 Birkebeiner-Kortelopet ski races in Hayward, Wisconsin and in several marathon ski races in Finland and Sweden.


Dr. Gilbertson encourages today’s Fridley students to live their dreams.  Whatever it is they want to do, be patient and go for it.  And always remember to be kind along the way.



ED GRIVNA | Class of 1974Ed Grivna has a penchant for combining science, the arts and the gift of volunteering, all of which began as a student in Fridley Public Schools.

Music was a major portion of Ed’s activities at FHS, as he was involved in marching band, pep band, jazz band and pit orchestra.  A meaningful moment came in the summer of 1973 when Mr. Grivna received a new (though used) trumpet for his senior year and he was able to finally play his first trumpet parts. But his scientific mind was stimulated, too, with the amateur radio club.  Mr. Grivna built his first crystal set radio while in grade school.  In high school, he received his novice license to operate an amateur radio and now holds an advanced class license. He also participated in German Club and National Honor Society.

Upon graduation, Ed enrolled at the DeVry Institute in Chicago, where he graduated with an electrical engineering degree in 1977. Coming home to Minnesota, he joined Control Data Corporation, working in its disc drive subsidiary.  In November of 1989, he joined forces with Cypress Semiconductor, where he is currently a fellow and senior electrical engineer in the programmable systems division.  Very impressively, Ed currently holds 58 United States patents, as well as patents in Brazil, China, South Korea and Europe.

Ed married Sieglinde Nelson, a 1978 graduate of Spring Lake Park High School, in 1982.  Together, they raised three daughters: Margaret, Mara and Meridith, and have three grandchildren.

The Grivna’s daughters all attended Champlin Park High School in the Anoka Hennepin District, where they were all involved with music as well, so Ed spent a lot of time at the school watching their performances.  He noted there were needs in the music department he could take care of. It began with rebuilding a set of chimes.  Then he designed and built a pair of gong stands. Eventually, he was repairing and replacing any assortment of instruments and equipment, including updated stage lighting and sound reinforcement.  Due to a generous donation from Ed and Sieglinde, Champlin Park was the first school in the district to offer a world drumming class.  Their generosity has spread throughout the district, and even beyond to Blaine, St. Louis Park, Anoka, Andover and Cambridge school districts. Over 200 musical instruments have been donated by the Grivna family.

Mr. Grivna says he appreciates that Fridley gave him a place to focus on math, science and electronics, as well as music.  The combination of concrete sciences and creative arts allowed him to do well in engineering in college and later in the industry.

His advice to today’s students is to not be too focused on one area of interest.  Get a well-rounded education, especially including creative arts.  His ability to go beyond what he has learned and think outside the box, creating something new, is highly valued in the workplace.


HEATHER PEABODY | Class of 1995Heather Peabody was born to be on stage.  When her teacher Ms. Malmberg gave her fifth grade class an assignment to perform an original, five-minute skit about colonial days, Peabody jumped right in.  Not only did she write a skit, she cast the entire class in it, designed set pieces, provided costumes and wrote a show that lasted much longer than five minutes.  When Malmberg asked after twenty minutes if the “wonderful” play was almost over, Heather replied they were almost to intermission.  Ms. Malmberg arranged to have the entire school see Heather’s play.

So began a rich and colorful life as a performer.  Heather would go on to act in many productions at Fridley High School, including
Phantom of the Opera, Fame, Beauty and the Beast, Bye Bye Birdie and The Wiz.  She also participated in choir, band and cheerleading.

In 1999, Heather relocated to New York to attend the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.  She then enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Theater in 2004.  While in college, she was an American College Theatre Festival nominee for her role in
Nuncrackers and was invited to compete at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

Returning home, Heather has performed on the main stage at Chanhassen Dinner Theaters, where she starred as Tracy Turnblad in
Hairspray. She has also appeared in an episode of Law and Order, has be featured in numerous commercials, and even had the opportunity to read for the role of Molly in the CBS show Mike and Molly.

In 2014, Ms. Peabody founded the comedy company The Peabody Players.  The group is focused on improving the quality of life through laughter and connection.  During the past year, the ensemble has donated performances to the Wright County Crisis Nursery Fundraiser, Family Youth Community Connection Fundraiser and partnered with the Bounce Back Project.  They also create team-building workshops that focus on innovation and collaboration, trust and vulnerability and, most importantly, connection and play.  The Peabody Players were nominated by the I-94 Chamber of Commerce for the 2017 Innovation Award.  Heather also teaches and volunteers at Lundstrum Performing Arts in North Minneapolis, an organization that serves hundreds of students from diverse backgrounds.

When asked her advice to today’s Fridley students, she had five points: Follow your passion, live courageously, don’t compare your journey to those of others, pay attention in school and don’t stop playing!

Heather has been married to husband Christopher for ten years.  They are the proud parents of 8 year old daughter Kate.  


JEFF SAVELKOUL | Class of 1965Jeff Savelkoul grew up in Fridley Public Schools. While at Fridley High School, he played football and hockey and built mini bikes in metal shop class.  

He graduated from Fridley High School in 1965 and enrolled in college prior to enlisting in the Marines less than a year later. By this time, the United States was involved in the Vietnam War. Jeff trained as a radio and telegraph operator and was assigned top secret crypto clearance based on the typing skills he learned in high school.

Mr. Savelkoul was deployed to Vietnam in January of 1967 where he served as a radio operator for an eight-man reconnaissance team called “Team Striker.”  It was on a recon mission in hostile territory where, on June 30, 1967, Team Striker’s helicopter was shot down and erupted into flames.  Four members of his squad escaped, but only two survived.

Jeff suffered burns over 65% of his body and was given a 10% chance of survival.  He spent three months in a burn unit in Texas before being transferred home to Minnesota, where he would spend 13 months in a recovery unit.  He was given medical retirement from the Marines as Lance Corporal.

Jeff married Karen Bjorngjeld (
pronounced B-yorn-geld), who he met on the high school football field the first day of ninth grade. He became an electrician for the next 34 years, including over 16 years as owner of a company.

Over the years, Mr. Savelkoul became a licensed pilot and flies his own, private Cesna.  He coached youth hockey for six years, and chaired Linwood Township’s Parks Commission.  In 1990, he was appointed to the Anoka County Veterans Board, of which he is the current Board Chair.  Jeff belongs to nine veterans’ organizations and has held office at the VFW for 37 years.  He is the president and secretary of the Alpha Recon Association, the national Vietnam organization.

On August 19, 2004, Jeff was awarded the Bronze Star by Governor Tim Pawlenty.  It now rests next to the Bronze Star belonging to his father, a World War II veteran.

In February of 2013, Savelkoul received a phone call informing him that the remains of five Team Striker members, missing for over 46 years, had been recovered and identified.  In June of that year, he flew to Hawaii to personally escort the remains of his friend, fellow Marine and team member, Merl Allen, home to Bayfield, Wisconsin and lay him to rest.

Jeff now lives in East Bethel, but also enjoys time at his cabin on Lake Mille Lacs and winters on the Gulf Coast.  He is the proud father of three sons: Chris, Mike and Andy, and has two grandchildren: Joshua and Samantha.  He devotes his time to American Heroes Outdoors TV and Wounded Warriors Guide Service, with the aim of getting young and old veterans together in the outdoors to share and heal from the physical and emotional wounds of war.

His advice to current students is to remember that what you are learning in school, along with your relationships with teachers and classmates, will shape the rest of your life.  Don’t forget to have fun.


JOHN SWANSON | Class of 1975One Fridley grad has exemplified strong characteristics with the amount of time and work he has put in to benefit Fridley Public Schools’ students.

John Swanson was a fervent athlete in the district, especially in basketball and football.  He was particularly drawn to the guidance of coaches Bob O’Neill and Steven George.  He also participated in baseball and track, making him a true year-round athlete and competitor.

His intensity from the playing field didn’t stop after graduation in 1975.  John became a youth coach while studying at the University of Minnesota.  John took over the administration of the younger age leagues and of 7
th and 8th grade football when enrollment numbers were in decline, even while working on his bachelor’s degree in business administration.  After graduating from the U in 1979, Mr. Swanson enrolled in the University’s School of Law, where he earned his Juris Doctorate in 1983, again coaching youth teams along the way.

John became an assistant city attorney for the City of Minneapolis, where he served from 1983 until 1985 when he went into private practice as an attorney and management consultant.  He currently represents a variety of small and medium-sized businesses as general counsel on a variety of legal and business related issues.  He also represents others on labor relations and collective bargaining issues through the Management Association, Inc.

For 40 years, Mr. Swanson has been a volunteer coach, director and mentor to Fridley youth.  He has coached over 600 football games and 1,600 basketball games, many times coaching the children of players he previously coached.  He has been the volunteer football coach for Fridley Youth Sports Association since 1976, and the Director of Fridley Youth Football since 1983.  He served as assistant basketball coach at Fridley High School from 1985 to 2012, and has been an assistant football coach for the Tigers since 2000.  John is dedicated to serving the community he grew up in and still resides in today.

He is the proud father of two daughters: Annie and Kelly, both of whom are Fridley grads.  He says the accelerated and advanced classes he was able to take at Fridley Public Schools prepared him very well academically for college.
 John advises current students to not be afraid to follow their dreams, but recognize that doing so requires passion, focus, discipline and sacrifice.

Mr. Swanson was inducted into the City of Fridley’s Community Hall of Fame in 2015.

DINO TARONIS | Class of 1996After graduation from Fridley High School, Gino Taronis headed straight to Las Vegas and the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) Performing Arts Center.  He began as a stagehand and worked his way up the ladder, working as a stage manager and lighting designer.  Along the way, he had the fortune of working with such noted celebrities as Mandy Patinkin, Rosemary Clooney, Savion Glover, Gregory Hines, Siegfried and Roy, and many other local and national artists.  Earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Design and Technology from UNLV, he worked on over 50 theater and dance productions in a myriad of tech roles.  In 2009, he added a Master’s in Education from Walden University and began teaching high school.

Mr. Taronis has taken all he learned from his time in Fridley High School’s auditorium and coupled it with priceless experience on the road and in one of the entertainment meccas to create an unparalleled learning experience.  While at Fridley, Dino participated in theater, band, drum line, Key Club, Knowledge Bowl, choir, Student Council, AV Office, Horticulture Club, Future Business Leaders of America, and Distributive Education Clubs of America.  He was especially fond of portraying Richie Valens in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story in 1993.  

In 2006, Mr. Taronis headed to Gainesville, Georgia where, for three years, he taught theater and technical theater classes at East Hall High School.  He was also technical director for the fine arts department, delivering lighting, and sound, set and prop design for every event that took place at the theater.

He returned to Las Vegas in 2009 and since June of that year, has been with the Clark County School District of Las Vegas, teaching theatre, playwriting, technical theatre, fine arts, computer applications, improv and film studies.  He also serves as the technical director for the Nevada Thespians Adult State Board.

From his experience as a teacher, he offers three pieces of sage advice to the Fridley students: 1) Take advantage of every opportunity you have and don’t be afraid of who you are; 2) Don’t get addicted to social media; and 3) High school is the only time in your life that allows you to try as many things and activities as you want without having to really worry about things not going right.




From l to r: Lisa Nee (Class of 1977), Director Gary Zehnder and Gregory Frankenfield (Class of 1977)


Fridley’s one-act play troupe consisted of sixteen very talented and imaginative actors and crew members, who depicted a traveling company of Commedia dell’arte players in 16th century Italy. As was the tradition at that time,  the company performed its improvised comedy with minimal scenery along the streets of the Italian villages & towns, wearing masks and colorful costumes to portray their stock characters.

Staging the play proved to be a very challenging but rewarding task for Fridley’s troupe...  The full-length play had to be cut to 35 minutes or less to qualify.  Rather than using any scenery at all, the actors used only a trunk and select props to convey their comedy. Stock characters, such as Harlequin (the leader), Scapino (the rascal), Tristano & Isabella (the lovers), needed to be portrayed as authentically as possible for the period.  The improvised comedy also needed to have a certain amount of clarity in the midst of chaos.

Rising to meet each of these challenges throughout the rehearsals and regional competition,  Fridley’s troupe saved its best performance for last.  The cast and crew found a way at state to make a strong emotional connection with the audience, as the troupe depicted a company of wayward performers, who were weary and fractured as a group.   There was emotional tension in the theatre as Fridley High School showed this company evolving from its outsized egos and petty squabbles into a company of performers who really cared about each other. The meaning they were trying to convey was apparent to everybody.

For their creativity, perseverance, and achievement, as the first Fridley High School group ever to win the state’s highest drama award,  all members of the 1977 One-Act Troupe richly deserve The Circle of Excellence Award.


Greg Frankenfield
David Havlovic
Tresa Sauer (Teresa Jahnke)
Lisa (Lund) Laudenslager
Kelly McGaughey
Lisa Nee
Rachel Nee-Hall
Cindy (Truehl) Croker
Raymond Kent Truehl

David Anderson
Maria Alm (Ann Haines)
Paul Haines
Ann Myers
Gwen Ostlund
Birgit Schjold
Margaret Foss, Student Director
Gary Zehnder, Director


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