Distinguished Albert Lea alumni to be recognized

Published 12:55 am Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Education Foundation of Albert Lea and Albert Lea Area Schools have announced their recipients of the 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award.  The foundation will be “Celebrating 17 years of Success in 2017” at this year’s banquet Sept. 14 at Wedgewood Cove in Albert Lea. 

Recipients include Jack Brill, class of 1955 (posthumously awarded); Anne W. Kepple, Ph.D., class of 1975; Brad K. Arends, J.D., class of 1977; and Mary Harrison Johnson, class of 1978. All friends, family and community members are invited and encouraged to make a reservation to attend this celebration and to share in the foundation’s commitment to the community’s children. 

Distinguished Alumni awards are given annually to graduates of Albert Lea High School who have achieved success in the area of business and economic achievement or humanitarian and public service achievement. In addition, awards may be given posthumously to candidates in either of the categories. The public is encouraged to nominate graduates of ALHS. Nomination forms are available on the foundation’s website.

Email newsletter signup

The following is information about two of the four Distinguished Alumni to be recognized:

Anne W. Kepple

Anne W. Kepple was born and raised in Albert Lea and graduated from ALHS in 1975. As a nutritionist, her career has focused on addressing the problem of hunger and promoting food security. Currently she is a senior consultant with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), based in Rome.

Anne Kepple

She describes her professional path as circuitous and serendipitous. After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Science in nutrition and dietetics in 1981, and doing a one-year dietetic internship in California, she joined the Peace Corps. The experience of working as a health and nutrition educator in a rural village in the Dominican Republic gave her new insights into the dubious role of the U.S. government in developing countries.

Upon her return, she worked for two years in an international nutrition project in Washington, D.C., and then decided to pursue a graduate degree at Cornell University to study hunger and food security issues in the U.S. — a decision motivated by a desire to address the growing problem of hunger in her own country and to hold her own government accountable for its actions affecting food insecurity inside as well as outside its borders.

She earned a masters and doctorate in community nutrition at Cornell University and conducted 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.

While in graduate school at Cornell, Kepple witnessed the seeds being planted for a new approach to measuring the extent of hunger in the population based on questions asked directly to people in surveys, such as “Due to a lack of money, have you worried about running out of food, eaten a less healthy diet, skipped meals, gone a whole day without eating?” This approach eventually formed the basis for the U.S. Household Food Security Survey Module, used to monitor food security in the U.S. population since 1995.

Despite her best-laid plans to address hunger in her own country, Kepple met her Brazilian husband, Marcelo Borba, at Cornell and moved with him back to Latin America in 1993. The election of a president in Brazil in 2003 who declared ending hunger to be his administration’s top priority fueled a demand for research-based information on hunger and food insecurity in Brazil.

Thus Kepple began working as a collaborating researcher, and later a post-doctoral fellow at the State University of Campinas. In 2010 she was hired by the Brazilian Ministry of Social Development and Fight Against Hunger 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 FAO in Brazil and FAO´s regional office for Latin America and the Caribbean on issues related to food and nutrition security monitoring.

Coincidentally, the research group that Kepple joined at the State University of Campinas in 2004 was working on adapting the same U.S. Household Food Security Measure Kepple had been exposed to at Cornell for use in Brazil. There it became an important tool used by the government to monitor the food security of the population. The same tool was later adapted for use on a regional level in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In another serendipitous turn of events, Kepple was working remotely from Brazil for FAO headquarters in Rome, translating a manual for the Latin American and Caribbean Food Security Scale, when FAO decided to develop a global version of this survey tool for measuring hunger in the world. As a result of being in the right place at the right time, she became part of the Voices of the Hungry project in the FAO Statistics Division, contributing to the development of the Food Insecurity Experience Scale. The objective of the project is to promote the use of this tool by all countries to monitor food security within the framework of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Kepple and her husband have two children, Tomas and Leo, both born in Brazil and both currently engineering students (computer engineering and civil engineering, respectively) at federal universities in Brazil. Albert Lea is close to their hearts, as they have made annual sojourns to visit family in Albert Lea.

Kepple values the excellent public education she experienced at ALHS and being in school with children from all social backgrounds, because she has since seen how limiting the access to high quality education only to those who have the means can exacerbate inequalities and impoverish ideas in societies. She is grateful for teachers at ALHS who encouraged critical thinking and debate, and “taking the road less traveled by,” as it has made all the difference. Having incredible family and friends in Albert Lea has made all the difference, as well, she said.

Jack Brill

Jack Brill’s achievements in both business and economic activities, as well as in humanitarian and public service are at the core of his being named a distinguished alumnus of ALHS.

Jack Brill

Brill was born in Minneapolis and moved to Albert Lea in 1940 with his parents Larry and Mary Brill and younger brother, Jim. After attending Ramsey Elementary and graduating from ALHS in 1955 as salutatorian of his class, Brill enrolled in the University of Minnesota.

Initially pursuing a premed degree, Brill later changed his major to chemical engineering and he graduated with a Bachelor of Art in chemical engineering in 1961. Following graduation Brill chose to take additional course work and earned a Master of Science degree in chemical engineering.

In 1962 Brill joined Economics Laboratory (which later became EcoLab) in Mendota Heights as a research engineer. He became instrumental in expanding the building to become a state-of-the-art research facility.

As a research engineer, Brill was involved in the development, modification and patenting of several products that have become household names and products, such as Finish, Jet Dry and Free n’ Soft.

Brill’s research contributions led him to become vice president of research and development at EcoLab’s research center in Eagan. In this capacity, he was responsible for global spending for all EcoLab’s manufacturing facilities as well as all research and development activities.

Brill traveled to U.S. plants, as well as those in Puerto Rico, Belgium, England, Germany and Italy to negotiate with vendors, equipment manufacturers and potential acquisitions. Executives described Brill as very smart, well educated and a good communicator.

During his career, Brill was active in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AlChE) and served as chairperson of the Twin Cities section from 1969-73. He was also involved in leadership positions in his church, First Presbyterian Church in South St. Paul, where he served not only on the stewardship, capital planning, pastoral search, remodeling, endowment and centennial building project committees, but also as chairman of the board of trustees there.

Brill passed away in 2003, and later his wife, Karen (Hillstrom) Brill, endowed the Jack Brill Engineering Scholarship Fund with the Education Foundation in Albert Lea. The scholarship provides a $5,000 annual freshman scholarship for an ALHS student studying engineering at the University of Minnesota.