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2012 Recipients



She has been part of three Grammy awards and 21 classical albums. She has worked with some of the finest musicians in the world. She has played with Amy Grant, Vince Gill, Michael W. Smith and Matchbox Twenty.

Yet Kirsten Houglum Mitchell’s talent is the gift that keeps on giving, in the form of a mentor and coach to musicians between ages 6 and 65.

The 1992 Fargo South High graduate has been section first violin with the Nashville Symphony since 1997. Fellow musicians, like Nashville’s JD Dohnal, say her ability to play is equaled only by her ability to teach.

“Although Kirsten has performed, recorded and toured with many big-name, international artists, she is the most humble person I know,” says Dohnal, who has his own band and publishing company. “That’s a very rare trait to find in the music business. Kirsten is a true gem.”

Louis Toth turned to Kirsten for violin instruction as a beginner. It happened to be when he turned 65 and retired. Over time, he says the two made their way from great simplicity to great complexity. He has learned to play several Bach pieces, among others.

“We revere and recognize those who enrich our lives, especially our teachers. They help us reach our goals,” Toth says. “Kirsten Mitchell is one of the most memorable people I’ve met.”

Kirsten received a bachelor of music in violin performance from DePaul University in 1996, making the dean’s list three times in the process. She was a faculty member at the Austin Peay State University Community School for the Arts from 1999 to 2004.

One of her high school teachers, retired band director Edward Huttlin, calls Kirsten one of the finest musicians to graduate from South.

“In every situation, Kirsten proved to be an exceptional musician,” he says.



There are two words that stick out on Jim Johnson’s resume: community involvement.

The professional accomplishments for the 1973 Fargo South High graduate are a given. As brokerage director and vice president of business development for a Minneapolis-based financial group, he is the keynote presenter at numerous industry conferences. He is a certified instructor in 27 states.

But Jim doesn’t stop working in his non-working hours.

He has held positions on the boards of Coalition for Disabled Persons of North Dakota, Churches United for the Homeless, Pine to Prairie Girl Scout Council and North Dakota Southeast Education Cooperative. He has served on committees of numerous other organizations.

And then there’s the Fargo Board of Education. Jim has served on the school board for 10 years, including several stints as president of the group. He was the driving force behind a new middle school model and pushed for an update of the district’s strategic plan.

“At the risk of overusing a phrase, I believe Jim is one of the most passionate individuals regarding education and the Fargo School District that I know,” says Richard Steen, a fellow school board member. “He goes above and beyond what is expected in this position.”

Maggie Mitzel, a 2011 Fargo South Hall of Fame inductee and retired principal, cites instances when Jim led the transition for Carl Ben Eielson School and organized meetings to deal with a space shortage at Kennedy Elementary School.

“Throughout the years I have found Jim to be a strong advocate for teachers, students and parents,” Mitzel says. “He is a strong leader who welcomes input, encourages involvement, and acts on convictions.”

Says former district superintendent Rick Buresh, “Mr. Johnson is a fine example of business and personal success made possible through the formative experiences available at Fargo South High School.”



Friends and fellow entertainers believe Paul Pappas could be an esteemed music professor at any university, or write musical scores for any number of symphonies. He wrote an original composition at Fargo South High titled "Black on Blue." His 1983 classmates simply called it "The Pappas."

But Paul was born to perform.

For the past 15 years he has been a headline entertainer and concert pianist for numerous cruise lines. When he's on land, he's a highly sought-after performer at numerous venues and private parties. He has played with Harry Connick Jr. and opened for Sandy Duncan.

He has recorded five different albums of piano music.

"When you see him perform today, he simply owns the stage," says Kevin Moe, a high school classmate. "His performances are a dazzling display of musical energy and genius, and inject incredible life into his audiences."

In addition to his performance skills, Paul also is a wonderful arranger who has written charts for many entertainers, says Jim Coston, who has worked with Paul for 20 years.

“In an industry full of inflated egos, and self-centered individuals, he is one of the most grounded people I know,” Coston says.

Paul graduated from Lawrence University with honors and two degrees in music theory and composition, and mathematics. He received his master’s degree in music theory from Michigan in 1990.

His talents as an entertainer can be enjoyed on, where he shows not only his musical prowess but his comedic flair as well.

"You know I was so fortunate when I was growing up because I come from a musical family," he tells the audience in one clip on the website. "My mom plays piano, my sister plays piano, I play piano, my dad plays poker ... and that's how we lost the piano."



Michael Radniecki taught vocal music and directed choral groups and musical productions at Fargo South for 32 years. When he directed his final performance of the school’s show choir, hundreds of former students returned from around the country.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker marked the occasion with a rare proclamation. It was Mike and Mary Radniecki Day.

“Mike loved teaching and truly loved his work with the students,” Mary says. “As his wife, I will say it like this: Mike was so proud of ‘his kids.’”

Many of “his kids” participated in honor festivals, solo and ensemble contests, and all-state choir concerts. The show choir, known as Pizzazz, won numerous awards in national competitions under his guidance.

And the man “his kids” called “Rad” was known to get the most out of his students.

“With his vote of confidence, this teacher showed me that the tools I needed to excel were already inside of me,” says Kristean Konrad, a 1982 South graduate. “I just needed that same confidence in myself to let them shine through.”

Brian Hayer, another 1982 grad, sang for Mike as a member of concert choir and Pizzazz. Mike would later direct Hayer’s son, Rudy.

“Rad has been a life-long positive influence on hundreds of kids he directed throughout his 30-plus years at South High,” Brian Hayer says. “He pushed us all to be the best we could be, taught us hard work pays off, believed in us, had confidence in us and loved us as his own.”

Mike has received numerous invitations to class reunions, weddings, socials with Pizzazz alumni and Facebook friend invitations from former students.

“For me the greatest thing Rad taught me was the appreciation of music,” says South grad Brett Reierson. “It is something that follows me each and every day.”



It is impossible to gauge Robert Rohla’s impact on students, parents and teachers in his more than 35-year stint with Fargo Public Schools, but cohorts describe him as a lifelong learner who listened, responded and provided guidance.

The 1971 Fargo South graduate began his education career in 1975 as a sixth-grade teacher at Longfellow Elementary School. He taught there for more than 20 years. He went on to become principal at Horace Mann and Centennial schools, before concluding his career where he started, as principal of Longfellow.

“His work as an elementary teacher and elementary principal is a true expression of a deep personal love of teaching, learning, and education in general,” says Nancy Jordheim, assistant superintendent of Fargo Public Schools. “During his time with Fargo schools, he gently encouraged and challenged students and their families, colleagues, and administration.”

Bob was tapped for many curriculum study committees and development teams, both for Fargo Public Schools and the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction. He taught an elementary assessment course at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

Gelaine Orvik, retired Fargo South English teacher, said Bob showed Hall of Fame qualities in high school, where he was an honor student and excelled in music and journalism.

“His leadership and communication skills were incomparable,” Orvik says.

As an educator, staff members who worked with Bob regarded him as “a principal that all respected and honored,” Orvik says.

Bob retired from Fargo Public Schools in 2011, but he continues to impact education by teaching a class and supervising student teachers at Valley City State University.

“Bob Rohla is an example of the best that graduate from Fargo South High School,” says Maggie Mitzel, a retired Fargo elementary school principal. “He has touched the lives of young and old throughout the 40-plus years that I have known him.”