Education Foundation announces Distinguished Alumni recipients

Published 8:20 pm Friday, August 24, 2018

The Education Foundation of Albert Lea and Albert Lea Area Schools announced its recipients of the 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award, according to a press release. The foundation will be “Celebrating 18 years of Success in 2018” with all who attend this year’s banquet.

Recipients of this year’s awards will be recognized at the Education Foundation’s Pathways to Success Celebration Sept. 13 at Wedgewood Cove in Albert Lea. They are Florence (Hansen) Adair, class of 1926 (awarded posthumously); Lowell W. Barr, class of 1951; Steve Loken, class of 1968; and John Berthelsen, class of 1972.

Friends, family, community members and interested persons are welcome to make a reservation to attend the event to share the celebration and the foundation’s commitment to the community’s children.

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New this year will be an additional celebration announced in the spring newsletter to honor Albert Lea teachers who lit the way for their students’ future success. Nominations were received and honorees will be announced soon.

This year, the public forum will be devoted to honoring these teachers. There will be a panel discussing what makes an exceptional teacher. It will be from 4:30 to 5:45 p.m. at Wedgewood Cove. No reservation is needed to attend the forum.

The banquet evening will begin with a social gathering with a cash bar at 6 p.m., followed by dinner and program at 6:30 p.m. Reservations may be made by going to the foundation website at, filling out the response form and mailing it and a check for $40 per adult or $11 per child age 12 and younger to the Education Foundation of Albert Lea, P.O. Box 828, Albert Lea, MN 56007.

Questions should be directed to Lilah Aas, president of the foundation board of directors, at the foundation email address The following morning, Sept. 14, the three living 2018 Distinguished Alumni will lead an open discussion with members of the senior class in an assembly at Albert Lea High School.

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. Nomination forms are available on the foundation’s website.

This year’s Distinguished Alumni include the following:

Florence (Hansen) Adair, class of 1926, awarded posthumously: Adair was the eighth child of immigrant parents who settled in Albert Lea. After graduating from ALHS and business school in Des Moines, she returned to Albert Lea and worked as a secretary at American Gas Co.

When her son was born with Down syndrome, Adair’s work and passion changed to one of advocacy for all children with special needs. She was an officer in the founding chapter of the Minnesota Association for Retarded Children and originated a chapter of the organization in Albert Lea. Her passion and advocacy resulted in the first classes for what was called, in the language of the time, the  “trainable retarded” in public school. Adair continued to work outside the home throughout her life while she and her husband also cared for their son at home.

Lowell W. Barr, class of 1951: Barr grew up on Lakeview Boulevard and participated in band, choir and orchestra before beginning his lifelong focus on medical science.

After his degree in medicine, he was an intern and resident in Chicago in pediatrics. He also did a pediatrics fellowship at Mayo Clinic. Since 1962, he has served the children and families of Albert Lea as a clinic pediatrician. Generations of children and families were served and reassured by Barr during his 55-year career. When he wasn’t serving families or serving in medical leadership positions in Albert Lea, he was serving in mission to people in other states and countries. Both Barr and his wife, Joanne, have been longtime Rotarians, serving in many ways through that organization, as well.

Steve Loken, class of 1968: Loken grew up on a farm near Hartland, where he attended grade school. At ALHS he was active in sports, debate and choir. After completing his biology degree at the University of Montana, he worked as a hydrologist for the U.S. Forest Service. It was while remodeling houses he developed his passion for conserving energy, which has evolved into many leadership roles to teach and spread the knowledge about how to conserve energy in building and construction industries. He founded a nonprofit, The Center for Resource-Efficient Technology, and has worked across the U.S. and abroad to teach others about Green Building construction. One of his special awards was the Energy Efficiency Champion Award from the Montana Sierra Club.

John Berthelsen, class of 1972: Growing up in Albert Lea, Berthelsen was a working student, already focusing on the printing industry. He was a national first-place award winner in the U.S. Skill Olympics as a member of Vocational Industrial Clubs of America in high school. After high school he continued his focus on the printing industry, and in seven years was hired as general manager of a printing company outside Madison, Wisconsin. There he continued to work, advance and lead his company and his industry until his retirement in 2014. During the course of that career, he stayed ahead of the printing industry curve, instituting many leading edge techniques as the printing industry evolved. During his career he founded the Printing Industry Alliance in 2002 and received many other national awards.

Look for full biographical details of this year’s Distinguished Alumni in a future Albert Lea Tribune. Details about the forum and the Distinguished Educators will also be announced soon.