Previous Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

Kathe Nickleby

Kathe Nickleby

2015 Distinguished Award Recipient

Class of 1991
Hammond, Wisconsin 

High school teacher/administrator Kathe Nickleby of Hammond was named as the recipient of the UW-Barron County Foundation’s 2015 Distinguished Alumni Award. 

Nickleby attended UW-Barron County from January 1989 through June 1991. While at UW-BC she served as president of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and received the National Bierkoe Distinguished Member Award for outstanding leadership. She was also selected to represent UW-BC at the Women’s Studies Consortium workshop at UW-Madison.

She then attended Hamline University on a full scholarship and earned her Bachelor of Arts degree. In 1998 she earned a Masters of Educational Leadership from Bethel University and an Educational Administrative License in 2001 from St. Mary’s University.

She began her professional career as an instructor of physics and physical science at Rice Lake High School from 1993 – 1995. She then taught chemistry and physics at Mahtomedi High School from 1995 – 2005 after which she served as Director of Engineering for Mahtomedi School District for two years. From 2005 – 2009 she served in the position of Assistant Principal at Mahtomedi High School and currently is the principal of that school. In every professional position, Nickleby received accolades and numerous awards for her teaching excellence, student mentoring, and ability to instill into her students a passion for learning.

Under her guidance, a science club earned first place awards in the Minnesota State Rube Goldberg Science Olympiad competition, the school district was recognized as the 2009 K-12 Model S.T.E. M. School by Minnesota E4 Engineering Conference,  and she secured more than $450,000 of monetary and in-kind grants for the school district in an 18 month period. While principal, Newsweek ranked Mahtomedi High School number two in the state of Minnesota and number 158 in the nation.

In volunteer community service she acted as coordinator for the Celebration of Excellence, was an engineering panelist at University of St. Thomas, was an Engineering Advisory Board Executive Committee member, and Zephry ‘M’ Club Executive Committee member.

In 1995 she was voted Rice Lake School District Teacher of the Year, in 2005 received the 3M TWEST Award, and was voted Assistant Principal of the Year in 2008 and Principal of the Year in 2012 by the Minnesota Association of Secondary Schools.

Christopher Fitzgerald

Christopher Fitzgerald

2014 Distinguished Award Recipient

Barron County Sheriff Christopher Fitzgerald was named as the recipient of the UW-Barron County Foundation’s 2014 Distinguished Alumni Award. 

Fitzgerald earned his UW-Barron County Associate Degree in 1993 then graduated from UW-Superior with a major in criminal justice. He is also a graduate of the FBI Academy and the National Sheriff’s Institute and is currently enrolled in Command College through UW-Madison.

In 2010 Fitzgerald was named “Outstanding Elected Official” in Wisconsin for Prevention and was also named “National Partner of the Year” for the Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention.  He was named “National Partner of the Year” by the Underage Drinking Education Training Center through the Department of Justice and in 2013 received the “Rising Star Achievement Award” from the Rice Lake Chamber of Commerce.

He has also given back to area communities through his extensive volunteer service by acting as president of the Boys & Girls Club of Barron County and vice-president of Benjamin House Board of Directors.  He is also actively involved with the UW-Barron County Foundation Board of Trustees, Restorative Justice Advisory Board, Leadership Barron County, Cumberland Good Ambitious People, the Barron County Domestic Abuse Coalition, and is a youth coach.

Many individuals recorded comments during the Distinguished Alumni nomination process about Fitzgerald including: 

“Chris is a big supporter of UW-BC and education in general.  Through his academic experience, he has gained valuable skills that have allowed him to achieve success in his career. He strongly believes in giving back and supporting his community through volunteering. Chris has been recognized for the work he has done in underage drinking prevention and his partnership with Safe and Stable Families Coalition. Chris has been a dependable leader in our community through his expertise, education, support, service and action.”

front profile of peter muschinske

Reverend Peter Muschinske

2013 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient

Reverend Peter Muschinske was named as the recipient of the UW-Barron County Foundation’s 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award. This annual award recognizes outstanding UW-Barron County alumni who reflect the ideals of UW quality and have established an exceptional reputation in their careers and communities.

This award was presented to Rev. Muschinske by nominator Jim Pannier, Professor Emeritus of UW-Barron County, at the UW-Barron County Commencement Ceremonies on May 22.

Muschinke, a Rice Lake High School graduate and the son of George and Mae Muschinske, earned his UW-Barron County Associate Degree in 1983 and later graduated from UW-Eau Claire with a double major in psychology and communication and theatre arts. He then graduated from Luther Theological Seminary and completed all course work toward a Doctor of Ministry from Eden Theological Seminary.

He has served as intentional interim pastor at Bethany Lutheran Church in Rice Lake since January 2013. His father served as pastor at Bethany from 1972-80.

For decades he served in several capacities of ministry. Ordained in 1992, he was a pastor at congregations in Wisconsin and California. For the last several years he served on active duty as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy, first deployed to Iraq with the Seabees out of Fort McCoy and most recently on an extended assignment with Navy Recruiting Command. He is now in the Navy Reserves.

Muschinske and his wife Katherine (Mianecki) and children Nicole, Erik and Lianna live in St. Louis, Missouri. From his base in St. Louis, he covers over a dozen states recruiting chaplain candidates from students in a master’s program and chaplains from many faith traditions.

As intentional pastor at Bethany, Muschinske is charged with guiding the congregation through the transition process before selection of a regularly called pastor.

Many individuals recorded comments during the Distinguished Alumnus nomination process about Muschinske including:

“He has unique talents and leadership abilities, providing stability in a time of need, inspiring action toward positive solutions”; “he successfully navigates diversity of opinion, personalities, and cultures, facilitating reconciliation and consensus-building”; “he helps move people toward a common vision, a brighter future, a light at the end of the tunnel”; “he would be the last person to tell you about his accomplishments.”

One person said simply, “He is the right person in the right place at the right time with the right intentions and the right motivation.”

Jeff Hile

Jeff Hile

2012 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient

Jeff Hile of Cumberland was named as the recipient of the UW-Barron County Foundation’s 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award.  This award recognizes outstanding UW-BC alumni who reflect the ideals of UW quality and have established an exceptional reputation in their careers and communities.

The award was presented to Jeff Hile by Donald H. Ruedy, UW-BC Emeritus Professor of Art, at the University of Wisconsin-Barron County Commencement Ceremonies on May 17. 

Hile completed his associate degree at UW-Barron County in 1976.  He then went on to earn his B.S. degree in art at UW-LaCrosse in 1978 and M.F.A. from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Hile is an artist, designer, art educator, theatrical director, and musician.  He owns and operates The Dancing Bird Art Studio in Cumberland; a fine arts and craft gallery which also features a music shop. The gallery provides a venue for over 100 area artists and crafts people who exhibit and sell their work.  The gallery has been featured in Spectrum West, a program broadcast by Wisconsin Public Radio that is known to generate tourist attention to Northwestern Wisconsin.

Hile was featured in the December 1, 2010 issue of the Rice Lake Chronotype in an article entitled “Worthy of Praise” which featured his skills as a mural artist, in particular for his work at three area churches where he created religious themes to decorate the altar backgrounds.  His mural paintings also grace the Shell Lake Arts Center, Cumberland Hospital and the ceiling at The Dancing Bird Art Studio.

In Los Angeles, he recently completed the advertising graphics and scenic design for “A Christmas Carol” starring Christopher Lloyd and John Goodman at the Kodiak Theatre.  Locally, Hile uses his skills in theater arts as an actor and set designer for UW-Barron County, The Red Barn Theater, The Barron Community Center, and ETC (Enrichment Through Culture) Center in Cumberland as well as The Boys and Girls Club.

As a musician, he continues to perform with The Dean’s List Big Band Orchestra, raising monies for the UW-Barron County Foundation.

As a teacher, Hile has taught art at Cumberland High School, area elementary schools, and UW-Barron County. 

Mark Gilbertson

Mark Gilbertson

2011 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient

Mark Gilbertson, a native of Rice Lake, was named as the recipient of the UW-Barron County Foundation’s 2011 Distinguished Alumni Award.  This award recognizes outstanding UW-BC alumni who reflect the ideals of UW quality and have established an exceptional reputation in their careers and communities.

The award was presented to Mark by Karl Schmid, UW-BC Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, at the University of Wisconsin-Barron County Commencement Ceremonies on May 19.  He attended UW-BC from 1975 – 1977 then graduated from the UW-Madison with a major in chemical engineering.

Mark Gilbertson is currently the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Program and Site Support with the Office of Environmental Management of the U. S. Department of Energy (DOE).  He provides the leadership and assistance to the implementation of DOE programs to cleanup radioactive waste sites resulting from nuclear weapon production and research.  He was awarded the Presidential Rank Award as a Meritorious Executive in March 2010 by DOE Secretary Steven Chu.  Dr. Chu also awarded Gilbertson the Secretary’s Appreciation Award in January 2011 for his work on the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant acquisition team.

Prior to his current position, he was the Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) for Engineering and Technology, DAS for Accelerated Cleanup, and Chief Engineer for the Environmental Management Office.  Up until 2003, Gilbertson was the Office Director of the Environmental Management Program and was awarded a “Hammer” award from the Vice President’s National Performance Review Team in 1998.  In 1999, he headed up the U.S. delegation for a joint conference of the U.S. DOE and the Russian Academy of Sciences.  Gilbertson came to the Department of Energy/Office of Environment, Safety and Health in 1988 after serving four years in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a Task Force Director and Engineer.  He had earlier spent three years in the private sector with an environmental engineering consulting firm as a Project Manager/Engineer

As a student Gilbertson had a long relationship with UW-Barron County.  As an eighth grader he competed in the UW-BC Mathematics of Pollution Contest.  Later as a UW-BC student, he was student chair of this annual math contest and President of the UW-BC Student Government Association.

The son of Gene and Pat Gilbertson of Birchwood, Mark lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife Paula, a Professional Civil Engineer with the Navy’s Environmental Restoration Program.  They have three children: Michael, 18; Christian, 15; and Sara, 12.  Gilbertson’s niece Whitley Tronstad is a 2011 UW-BC graduate and participated in the Commencement ceremonies at which Mark was honored.

Eric Ness

2010 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient

Eric Ness, a native of Cumberland, was named as the recipient of the UWBarron County Foundation’s 2010 Distinguished Alumni Award.  This award recognizes outstanding UW-BC alumni who reflect the ideals of UW quality and have established an exceptional reputation in their careers and communities.

The award was presented to Eric by 2009 Distinguished Alumna recipient Karyn Nelson Schauf at the University of Wisconsin-Barron County Commencement Ceremonies on May 20.  He attended UW-BC from 1979 – 1981 then graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Agriculture Engineering and later obtained a Master’s in Business Administration from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

Eric Ness is the Wisconsin District Director for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and leads the agency’s small business outreach effort throughout Wisconsin.  The SBA helps businesses start, build, grow and recover from disasters. Eric is responsible for the management and delivery of SBA’s financial assistance, federal contracting, and counseling programs throughout Wisconsin. He oversees both the SBA District Office in Milwaukee and Madison.  Eric is responsible for oversight of the Small Business Development Centers located on all UW-Wisconsin 4 year campuses, 8 Wisconsin Score chapters, and 4 Women’s Business Centers in Wisconsin.

Eric grew up on a family dairy farm in Cumberland and his parents encouraged him early on to take risks.  He started his own business at age 10 growing pumpkins, squash, gourds and ornamental corn, selling them from home and later from a truck in Spooner, Rice Lake, Cameron and to supermarkets.  With this legacy, Eric is honored to serve small businesses in the state, the risk takers, and job generators of the Wisconsin economy.  In Eric’s position, he has the opportunity to meet with world economic leaders from Europe, Africa, and Asia and discusses best practices here and in their country.

Just a short listing of some of Eric’s awards include: the Wisconsin U. S. Small Business Administration was named Wisconsin Federal Agency of the Year for 2010 by the Greater Madison Federal Agency Association; in 2009, he was honored by the Administrator of the SBA in Washington DC for Outstanding service as Vice Chair of the Administrator’s Field Advisory Council from 2006-2009 representing Minnesota, Wisconsin Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio to the Administrator of the SBA; in 2009 the Ness Family was awarded the Century Farm at the Wisconsin State Fair for their family farm in Cumberland Wisconsin; and in 2001, Eric was honored to receive a Certificate of Commendation for work on the Miller Park Minority Advisory Affairs Committee which resulted in over $105 million in contracts for building Miller Park going to small, women, disadvantage and minority businesses, exceeding all goals.

Reflecting on his years at UW-Barron County, Eric says he thinks of a world class education in his own backyard.  He was challenged by the professors and was able to hone his skills and build confidence.  He also appreciated the diversity of areas he could try at UW-BC.  He worked in the theater department on plays, sang in the choir, was secretary and president of the Math-Science Club, played intramural sports, and raced in a homemade boat with classmates on the Red Cedar River only to have the boat come apart within sight of the finish line.

Eric noted that UW-BC prepared him well for his educational and professional future and he is proud to be named as 2010 Distinguished Alumni by the UW-Barron County Foundation stating, “UW-BC gave me the keys to the nation and world.”

Now residing in New Berlin, Eric is married to Dr. Beverly Ness, an internist with Aurora Health Care, and their son Jared who recently completed two years at UW-Waukesha and is transferring to UW- Madison in the fall. Eric is a Deacon of the New Hope Community Church and has been a small/care group leader for many years. He is a member and learned to sail through the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center. 

Karyn Nelson Schauf

Karyn Nelson Schauf

2009 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient

Karyn Nelson Schauf of Barron was named as the recipient of the UW-Barron County Foundation 2009 Distinguished Alumni Award.  This award recognizes outstanding UW-BC alumni who reflect the ideals of UW quality and have established an exceptional reputation in their careers and communities.

The award was presented to Schauf by UW-Barron County Foundation member Joe Thrasher at the University of Wisconsin-Barron County Commencement Ceremonies on May 20.  Schauf attended UW-BC from 1973 – 1975 then transferred to UW-Eau Claire and graduated Summa Cum Laude in 1978 with a major in Elementary Education and a minor in Music.

Karyn married Robert Schauf in 1979 and in 1981 they founded Indianhead Holsteins LTD, a large purebred dairy farm with 12 employees that raises and shows purebred cattle and exports embryos to 17 nations.  Their business won the Wisconsin Export Award in 2008.  They also operate Indianhead Shavings, a livestock bedding business that distributes product to various farms throughout Northwestern Wisconsin.

As president of the Barron County Farm Bureau and member of Barron County Ag. Promoters, she advocates for agricultural and environmental issues and travels often to Madison to speak on behalf of agriculture.  Over the past 30 years, Karyn and her husband have worked with the University of Minnesota and have hosted and trained over 50 foreign agricultural college students who serve six month apprenticeships on their farm.

In the community she is the church organist, has played in the bell choir, taught Sunday school, and is active in the World Day of Prayer service.  She is a member and past president of the Barron Federated Music Club, accompanist for many middle school and high school concerts, directs Christmas plays, and volunteers with Cupboard and Closet and the Pregnancy Help Center.  She also serves on the UW-Barron County Foundation.

A short listing of Karyn’s many achievements and awards include 1977-78 Wisconsin Alice in Dairyland, 1986 Wisconsin State Outstanding Young Farmer Award, 1987 U.S. Jaycees National Outstanding Farmer Award, 1991 UW-River Falls Distinguished Agriculturist and 1991 Barron County Farm Wife of the Year, 1995 University of Minnesota Gopher Dairy Club Distinguished Service Award, and 1997 Barron County Distinguished Breeder. Karyn and Robert are the parents of four sons; two are founding members of the rock band “Catchpenny.”


John Paul Gamoke

2008 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient

Film, television, and stage actor John Paul Gamoke was named recipient of the UW-Barron County 2008 Distinguished Alumni Award. Gamoke, a UW-BC student from 1974 – 1976, began his acting career with roles in UW-BC productions and at the local Red Barn Theatre. He went on to establish a highly respected 30 year career in the performing arts.

His stage credits include performances at the Guthrie Theatre, Minnesota Festival Theatre, Children’s Theatre, Country Dinner Playhouse, the Ordway, and Chanhassen Dinner Theatre. He has also assumed roles in theatres in Kentucky, Denver, Phoenix, Fort Worth and Escondido, California at the Lawrence Welk Theatre. In 2004 he returned to the UW-BC stage to perform in the musical “State Fair” and provided theatrical learning experiences for campus students.

On television, Gamoke has worked in “A Chance of Snow,” “In the Line of Fire,” “The Comeback,” “Dennis the Menace,” the mini-series “Amerika,” “Bronx Zoo,” “Jake and the Fatman,” “Moonlighting,” “Oldest Rookie,” and “Mr. Smith.” In films he was cast in such movies as “Sweet Land,” “The Mighty Ducks,” “Untamed Heart,” “Twenty Bucks,” and “Feeling Minnesota.” In these venues he has worked with Ed Asner, Andy Griffith, Bruce Willis, Kris Kristofferson, Muriel Hemingway, and Robert Urich.

He has also performed in over 350 commercials including those for Best Buy, Northland Ford, and Dairy Queen.

He used his performing arts experiences to teach the class “Acting for the Camera” for three years at the University of Minnesota and authored the book “Great Game – Poems about Fathers and Sons and Little League.”

The plaque presented to John Paul Gamoke stated, “For commitment to enhancing educational opportunities at UW-Barron County and for exemplary achievements and contributions to communities and audiences through the performing arts.”

Lance Allen Hadasz

Lance Allan Hadasz

2007 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient

“I’m living proof that if you have a dream, you can achieve it.”

Lance Allan Hajdasz, became the second recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award. In acceptance he stated, “I want to thank you for the Distinguished Alumni Award. It truly means a great deal to me. This university gave me a lot and prepared me for what was to come.”

Lance Allan, his professional moniker, is the main sports anchor at WTMJ-TV (TODAY'S TMJ4) in Milwaukee and contributor to the Packers pre-game show on WTMJ-AM. As such he gets to meet, interview, and rub elbows with all of the players and coaches from the major sports teams throughout the state including the Badgers, Brewers, Packers, and Bucks.

Lance attended UW-BC from fall 1988 through spring 1990. While at UW-BC he was a member of Phi Theta Kappa, co-editor of the campus newspaper, and vice-president of the Student Government Association.

After attending UW-BC he continued his education at UW-Madison where he majored in broadcast journalism. He started his professional career at WJFW-TV in Rhinelander and went on to WFRV-TV in Green Bay before joining TODAY'S TMJ4 sports department. Lance noted, “In my opinion, TODAY'S TMJ4 has the best reputation around the state as far as the place to be in broadcasting.” Not only is he at the best place for sportscasting, he IS one of the best. Among his awards: 2005 Wis. Sportscaster of the Year, as selected by the Natl. Sportscasters & Sportswriters Assoc.; 2006 AP and Wis. Broadcasters Assoc. Sports Story of the Year; three-time AP Sports Story of the Year award winner; two-time Wis. Broadcasters Assoc. Sports Story of the Year award winner; two-time Milwaukee Press Club Sports Story of the Year award winner; and two-time Best Sports Special award winner.

“I am humbled by this honor. Always remember that your preparation here plus your perseverance out there will take you any place you want to go. Thank you UW-BC.”

Louis E. Muench, Jr.

Louis E. Muench, Jr.

2006 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient

Louis E. Muench, Jr., manager of Louie’s Finer Meats in Cumberland, was named as the first recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award sponsored by the UW-Barron County Foundation and UW-BC Alumni Association.

Muench is a UW-BC class of 1974 alumnus who went on to graduate from UW-River Falls. He and his four siblings along with his son Louis are all UW-BC alumni.

Louie’s Finer Meats has been family owned and operated for over 35 years. Louie, Sr. learned many trade secrets from his father, a Bavarian Wurstmacher, and in turn passed this knowledge on to his three sons: Louie Jr., Jim, and William. More than 200 state, national and international awards attest to the success of the business. In May 1995 the business was awarded two gold medals at the International Trade Fair in Frankfurt, Germany. Most recently, in 2005, they garnered 18 awards, 14 of which were won at the Wisconsin Meat Product Competition, the largest of its kind in the U.S. In 2003 Louie, Jr. was inducted into the American Association of Meat Processors Hall of Fame.

Louis also has a long-standing record of “giving back.” Louis and his wife Barbara were Cumberland Citizens of the Year and was a past Grand Marshall of Cumberland’s Rutabaga Festival. Just some of the organizations that he has generously given his time and expertise to are Cumberland Redevelopment Authority, Municipal Utilities Commission and City Planning Commission. He has received many honors from the Cumberland Jaycees and is active in church ministries and leadership at St. Anthony Parish. In March 2000 he and his wife were named Superior Diocese Family of the Year. He is also active in Kiwanis, FFA, Cumberland Area Ski Touring Association and the Cumberland Boy Scout Troop 24. In his spare time he is a substitute school bus driver and a volunteer bus driver for the elderly.

His list of accomplishments in service to his community and church is astounding; you almost have to wonder how he finds time to work!

Commenting on UW-BC, Louie stated, “UW-BC gave my college and professional career an unbelievable kick start! UW-BC is a small community, in and of itself, which allowed me to form a solid, supportive network of friends and professionals. By attending a University close to home, I was able to test the waters of adulthood in a controlled manner! The foundation I prepared for myself at UW-BC enabled me to financially and mentally prepare for my transition to UW-River Falls, where I successfully completed my degree. I look back on the time I spent at UW-BC with fond memories and still cherish the time spent there. The friendships and network that began all those years ago is still intact today.”