4 Albert Lea alumni receive recognition

Published 9:27 pm Monday, September 18, 2017

The Education Foundation of Albert Lea on Thursday named four Albert Lea High School graduates Distinguished Alumni during a ceremony at Wedgewood Cove Golf Club.

Jack Brill, who graduated in 1955; Anne Kepple, who graduated in 1975; Mary Johnson, a 1978 graduate; and Brad Arends, a 1977 graduate, were recognized during the event.

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Jack Brill

Brill, who moved to Albert Lea as a child in 1940, was inducted by his brother, Jim Brill, who said he was “thrilled” his brother was named a distinguished alumnus. Jim Brill presented an overview of his brother’s life growing up in Albert Lea and his career at Ecolab Inc.

Jack Brill

Jack Brill attended the University of Minnesota, graduating in 1961 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in chemical engineering. He later earned a Master of Science degree in chemical engineering, joining what is now Ecolab in 1962 as a research engineer, where he played a major role in expanding the building to a premier research facility.

Brill, who died in 2003, was involved in developing, modifying and patenting products such as Finish, Jet Dry and Free n’ Soft. He later became vice president of research and development at Ecolab’s research center in Eagan.

Brill was active in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and served as chairman of the Twin Cities section from 1969-73. He also served on project 

committees and as chairman of the board of trustees at First Presbyterian Church of South St. Paul.

Brill’s wife, Karen (Hillstrom) Brill, endowed the Jack Brill Engineering Scholarship Fund with the Education Foundation of Albert Lea. The fund provides an annual $5,000 freshman scholarship for an Albert Lea High School graduate who is studying engineering at a Minnesota college.

Anne Kepple

Kepple, senior consultant with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, said she was “honored” and humbled” to be named a distinguished alumna. Kepple, a nutritionist, has focused on addressing hunger and promoting food security during her career. After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Science degree in nutrition and dietetics and conducting a one-year dietetic internship in California, Kepple joined the Peace Corps. After that, she worked at an international nutrition project in Washington, D.C., and earned a master’s degree and a doctorate from Cornell University, conducting research on the influence of ideology on policies aimed at addressing hunger in the U.S. and the utilization of research-based information by decision makers.

Anne Kepple

Kepple met her husband, Marcelo Borba, at Cornell, and the couple moved to Latin America in 1993. Kepple became a collaborating researcher — later a post-doctoral fellow — at State University of Campinas in Brazil.

Kepple was hired by the Brazilian Ministry of Social Development and Fight Against Hunger in 2010 to analyze the relevance and utilization of food security program evaluation studies and to identify opportunities to improve the research-policy link. She has also worked for the Food and Agriculture Office in Brazil and the organization’s regional office for Latin America and the Caribbean on issues relating to food and nutrition security monitoring.

Kepple became part of the Voices of the Hungry Project in the Food and Agriculture Organization Statistics Division, contributing to the development of the Food Insecurity Experience Scale.

Kepple spoke highly of the public education she received in Albert Lea, and her family has made annual trips to the community.

Brad Arends

Arends, CEO and part owner of intellicents Inc., recognized the efforts his co-workers make at the firm he leads, as well as family members for how they have helped him throughout his life. He presented his top 10 tips to be successful in life. 

Bradley Arends

Arends, who moved to Albert Lea with his family in 1967, earned his degree in business administration with a minor in political science from Augustana University and a law degree from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1984. In his last semester there, he interned for then-Sen. Dave Durenberger, who was the chairman of the Health Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee.

After finishing law school, Arends joined his father, Al Arends, at what was then Arends Associates. He thanked his father for having him start out at a low employment position at the company, making him work for the position he later attained.

Under the guidance of Brad Arends, the firm partnered with three regional firms in the early 1990s to form Alliance Benefit Group — a company that today has 17 offices around the United States. Alliance Benefit Group Financial Services Corp. became intellicents Dec. 1. The name change came after Alerus Financial purchased the employee benefit administration and record keeping of Alliance Benefit Group North Central States in 2015.

Mary Harrison Johnson

Born in 1959 with a severe cleft palate, Johnson — who had surgery to repair the condition when she was about 1 years old — was able to speak, hear and talk when she started kindergarten.

Johnson graduated with a registered nurse designation from Lutheran Deaconess School of Nursing in 1983, despite a counselor recommending she pursue a vocational education.

Mary Harrison Johnson

After beginning her nursing career at Naeve Hospital in Albert Lea, Johnson and her husband, Joel, moved to Minneapolis in 1985. She joined the staff at Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota in 1989, where she today works as a surgical pediatric nurse.

A leader in the surgical unit, Johnson is committed to Children’s Surgical International, a humanitarian organization that provides free surgical services to underprivileged children worldwide. She is a volunteer, traveling to underdeveloped countries to surgically help children with facial deformities and orthopedic, urologic, plastic and ear, nose and throat surgeries.

Johnson joined the Children’s Surgical International Board of Directors in 2009, where she helps plan and fundraise mission trips.

The recognition ceremony capped off a night that was dedicated to local education.

Albert Lea Gifted and Talented Director Gayle Brownlow and fourth-grade teacher Mark Nechanicky were awarded teacher grants, and an update into the Albert Lea Greater Education project was presented earlier in the evening.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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