NB High School Alumni Association presents Lifetime Achievement Awards to Thor Bergstralh, John Holum and Galen Britz
Thor Bergstralh helped build the rocket that captured the first images of the curvature of planet earth.
As a chemist and college professor, John Holum made his mark in many areas, such as authoring a book that tied the sciences to Creation.
Galen Britz was a respected visionary within the 3M Company, and his leadership helped generate more than $1 million for education efforts in Africa.
In all of their accomplishments, these men can say they got their start at North Branch schools.
The North Branch High School Alumni Association recognized Bergstralh, Holum and Britz as recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Awards during a special presentation Wednesday, May 21, at the Chisago County Senior Center in downtown North Branch. The honor means they have been named to the Lifetime Achievement Hall of Fame.
“Reading about these gentlemen … gave me goose bumps,” said event announcer Dan Forschler, association member and 1964 graduate of North Branch High. “The purpose of this award is to recognize these people for achievements of their lifetime and dedication to lifelong learning. We hope it inspires today’s students and leads to opportunities for them by honoring these folks.”
Forschler shed some light on Bergstralh and his unique accomplishments in life. He shared the following at last week’s program.
Bergstralh graduated as valedictorian from North Branch High School during the Great Depression in 1932. The second oldest of six children, he helped his father run a blacksmith shop east of North Branch, north on Hemingway Avenue. He went to work for the Civilian Conservation Corp., and in 1936, he was selected for a highly competitive scholarship sponsored by Carlton College in Northfield, Minnesota. He graduated with a degree in physics four years later.
Following graduation, Bergstralh accepted an assistant teaching job at the University of Minnesota, where he worked on his master’s in nuclear physics. Weapons development had become a national priority at the time — with the United States entering World War II in December 1941 — and so nuclear physics professors and graduate students including Bergstralh became involved in the development of the atomic bomb, otherwise known as the Manhattan Project.
Bergstralh joined the Navy in 1944 and attended Radar School at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was assigned to the school’s Radiation and Naval Research laboratories, where he worked on radar and guided missiles until 1956. This led to a number of exciting developments, and Bergstralh served as a critical member of research and development teams.
When the United States got a hold of V-2 rocket technology, following Germany’s surrender from the war, it became the basis for developing inter-continental ballistic missiles for both defense and space exploration. While Bergstralh used balloon instrumentation for upper atmospheric research at the Naval Research Laboratory, the rocket technology allowed research up to 125 miles above the earth’s surface.
The North Branch alumnus then became an administrator for a research team charged with designing and integrating the experiments and technology into rockets. In 1947, his team installed camera equipment into a V-2 rocket that became the first to take pictures of earth from space, and it quickly became a crucial tool for meteorologists.
“If that doesn’t give you goose bumps, I don’t know what will,” Forschler said to those in attendance.
In 1951-52, Bergstralh was involved in nuclear reactor research, which resulted in the development of nuclear propulsion in submarines and nuclear generation of electricity. A few years later, he began work on nuclear reactors and space physics with Aeronutronics Co., a division of Ford Motor Company. There, he was involved with developing the Moon Ranger Hard Lander, along with the physics of landing, photographic scanning and transmitting data back to earth.
He worked at Aerospace Corp. in San Bernardino, California, from 1963 to 1972, and then he became manager of the guidance and controls for missile research including the development of Navistar navigation satellites and the protection of satellites from intense solar flare.
“Without question, his contributions within research teams continues to have worldwide significance,” Forschler said.
Bergstralh passed away in 1995, so accepting the award was his son, Jay Bergstralh, who pursued his own career in science and engineering and now works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA.
Forschler shared the following about Holum.
Holum graduated valedictorian from North Branch High School in 1946. He attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, where he graduated summa cum laude in chemistry in 1950. Four years later, he graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Chemistry with a Ph.D. in organic chemistry.
He served as a chemist for the Eastman Kodak Company until he was called into the U.S. Army in 1955. After basic training, he served in the U.S. Army Chemical Corps in Edgewood, Maryland, where he also was an adjunct professor for the University of Maryland.
It was at Pacific Lutheran College in Parkland, Washington, where Holum, as a professor, began work on his first of many textbooks on chemistry. In 1959, he returned to Augsburg College and became professor of chemistry until his retirement in 1993.
Holum’s published list of written and delivered papers, reference works and textbooks related to chemistry span from 1958-2000. He gave talks in chemistry to the American Chemical Society from 1965 to 1992.
“Equally fascinating and impressive is the fact that over a 50-year period, John delivered numerous messages and talks outside of the field of chemistry related to and influenced by his deep Christian beliefs,” Forschler said. “Type in John’s name in an Internet search, and you’ll find page after page after page (about his works).”
Forschler said Willard Moline, class salutatorian and 1946 graduate of North Branch High, noted Holum had quite a contribution to society through Holum’s book, “Test Tubes to Testaments: Thoughts of Youth on Science and the Christian Faith,” which drew a connection between the sciences and Creation.
Graduating as salutatorian from North Branch High School in 1957, Britz enjoyed success in both music and sports. He was the first North Branch golfer to quality for the State High School Golf Championship.
Forschler shared the following.
Dr. Galen Britz enjoyed a career at the 3M Company with jobs ranging from process and product development to division quality manager.
Keith Weber, a 3M vice president, called Britz “the guiding inspiration and driving force in moving all product lines to a significantly higher quality and customer service level. Galen was a very respected quality visionary within 3M.”
Britz chaired 3M’s Quality Managers Council and received several awards, including the company’s Lifetime Quality Achievement Award, which is given to one individual once a year. He was active in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and the American Society for Quality.
In addition to the values he learned at home, Britz was positively influenced through his leadership and activities at North Branch’s Trinity Lutheran Church and Boy Scout Troop 141. He received the church’s Boy Scout Pro Deo et Patria Award in 1953 and became the first to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout from Troop 141 in 1955.
Britz’s passion for helping others also is demonstrated by his commitment to the Friends of Africa Education, an organization that believes every child should have an opportunity to receive an education. Reuel Nygaard, who serves on the Friends of Africa Education Board, calls him “a man of high integrity, exhibiting outstanding leadership skills and is truly dedicated to the mission of the Friends of Africa Education.”
Another from the organization said “because of Britz’s leadership and direction, more than $1 million has been raised for classrooms, education facilities and tuition support in the Tanzania and Kenya regions of Africa.”
The Lifetime Achievement Hall of Fame recognizes North Branch High School alumni who have distinguished themselves by their achievement in their field of work or study, significant contributions in service to community and society as a whole, and their personal excellence and dedication to lifelong learning.
By honoring these positive role models, the association hopes to inspire current students of the value education and citizenship and the possibilities of which they may lead.
The plaques will be permanently displayed at the North Branch High School Lifetime Achievement Hall of Fame at North Branch High School.
The 2014 selection committee included Dan Forschler, Class of 1964; Mike Nelson, Class of 1965; Steve Blomquist, Class of 1965 and Max Malmquist, Class of 1958.