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SMSU Alumni Association to Present 2023 Awards

Published Tuesday, October 03, 2023

2023 Alumni Award Recipients, clockwise from top left: Wayne Cook, Bruce and Linda Saugstad, Dr. Mark Wallert, Jason Mortvedt, Robert Byrnes, Rachel and Maxx Raths.
2023 Alumni Award Recipients, clockwise from top left: Wayne Cook, Bruce and Linda Saugstad, Dr. Mark Wallert, Jason Mortvedt, Robert Byrnes, Rachel and Maxx Raths.

The Southwest Minnesota State University Alumni Association presents their annual awards during Homecoming. These include the alumni achievement awards, honorary lifetime memberships, and the GOLD award for young alumni. This year, a special award for outstanding service to the University will also be presented. Honorees will be celebrated by the Alumni Association on Friday, Oct. 13 at 4:00 p.m. in the SMSU Conference Center. The award recipients will be recognized at the Homecoming parade and SMSU football game on Saturday, Oct. 14.

This year’s Alumni Achievement Award honorees include Wayne Cook ’73 from Redwood Falls, Minn.; Bruce ’89 and Linda (Seid) ‘90 Saugstad from Marshall, Minn.; and Dr. Mark Wallert ’83 from Laporte, Minn.

The Honorary Lifetime Membership Award will go to Robert Byrnes, Mayor of Marshall, Minn.  

Maxx ’13 and Rachel ’13 Raths of Marshall, Minn. will also be honored with the GOLD (Graduates of Last Decade) Award.

The John and Kathy Paxton Alumni Service Award will be given to Jason Mortvedt ’78 for his lifelong contributions and service to SMSU.

The celebration honoring the award recipients will be held 4:00-6:00 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 13 in the Conference Center Upper Ballroom.  For tickets call 507-537-6266 or visit

For complete Homecoming event information, visit 

Jump to Wayne Cook  |  Bruce & Linda Saugstad  |  Mark Wallert Bob Byrnes  |  Maxx and Rachel Raths  |  Jason Mortvedt

The SMSU Alumni Association Award recipients for 2023

Alumni Achievement Awards:

Wayne “Cookie” Cook ‘73

Wayne Cook’s love for baseball began as a young boy watching the major league game of the week on the family’s black and white television with his twin brother, Warren. Wayne became a New York Yankees fan and found a way to make baseball part of his entire life.

Wayne, or “Cookie” as he is also known, is the older of the two, by 35 minutes. The two of them did everything together.  They grew up on a farm southwest of Sleepy Eye, near Leavenworth, Minnesota. Through sixth grade, they attended a country school a mile-and-a-half from the farm. From 7th-12th grade, they went to Sleepy Eye Saint Mary's graduating in 1968.

“I went from a pretty liberal country school, where we had about 24 kids and one teacher for six grades, to a big Catholic school in town. On my first report card, I got three Ds in math, English, and conduct. The teacher said we talked too much,” said Wayne. “Can you believe that?”

"At one time, there were seventeen sets of twins. Being twins in Sleepy Eye back then wasn't even a big deal because we had the Seifert quadruplets in town too.”

Wayne and his brother had a wide range of interests. They enjoyed sports and music. They were taking concertina lessons from Stan Meidl, who knew they enjoyed baseball too. The Cook twins had to make a choice. They decided to give up concertina to play baseball for two seasons with Leavenworth.

“We were small for our age. We were six months premature. We were in incubators and we got almost every disease that came along, including whooping cough, German measles. Who knew we’d ever turn out the way we did,” he laughed.

Wayne came to Southwest because he knew it was a new college. Everyone he knew went to St. Cloud or Mankato, but he liked that Marshall was only 35 miles away. He came to SMSC (as it was known at the time) as part of the second class of students starting in Fall 1968 living in F-Hall. He spent two years at Southwest, majoring in math and history. He transferred for a time to study journalism at St. Cloud but returned to Marshall to finish his degree.

As a student, Wayne and his brother worked with Dan Johnson in the University Relations office.

“He was really something and you learned a lot from him.  I was in creative writing and history classes. I remember all the professors were good. I remember Jack Hickerson, Ted (Radzilowski) and Joe Amato in History. Glenn Mattke. There were a lot of influential people. A lot of my role models.

Wayne earned a degree in speech communications in 1973. His brother, Warren, graduated from Southwest in 1974.

"While I was still in school, I started working at the Lyon County Independent newspaper and then that merged with the Marshall Messenger and became the Marshall Independent as we know it today,” said Wayne. He also worked at newspapers in Forest City, Iowa; Northfield; and Little Falls.

Wayne was working as a journalist in Redwood Falls when he got a call from Glenn Mattke asking Wayne if he wanted to come to Southwest to be the Sports Information director. He served in that role from 1981-1987.

“I'm very thankful for Glenn. What a grand man he was. He was the first basketball coach at Southwest. That’s when I got into umpiring which I’m still doing today,” he said. Wayne’s brother, Warren started umpiring in 1980, which he did for 40 years.

In recognition of their contributions to amateur baseball in the state of Minnesota, the Cook brothers were honored with the Glenn Carlson Distinguished Service Award at the Hall of Fame banquet on Sept. 16. This is the 100th year for baseball in Minnesota, so for the twin umpires to receive the distinguished award is an honor of a lifetime.

Wayne plans to cut back after working 5,300 games in his 50-year career. His brother worked 3,700 games over his career.

After his time covering sports information at SSU (as it was known in the 1980s), Wayne returned to work in Redwood Falls as a sportswriter until 1999 when he joined the Marshall Independent staff for the next nine years.

“I was lucky to win a handful of awards, writing awards. We had three full-time writers and three pages of local sports coverage every day of the week. On the weekends, we had five full pages. In 2003, we won a big award for our work on a special publication called The Book of Champions. We covered the local school sports and wrote a story on someone for each letter of the alphabet; it was amazing.”

“I appreciated that they always let me cover SMSU baseball, because I love baseball,” said Wayne. “I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Paul Blanchard, who just retired. He made covering the games a lot of fun.”

“When you're involved in sports, the people you meet can be lifetime friends. I owe a lot to Southwest and Marshall. After my time as SID and two stints at the paper, I have a lot of fond memories in my heart from Marshall,” he said. After his time in Marshall, he went to Redwood Falls where he still lives with his wife, Margaret. He likes to tell the story of how they met. It involves baseball, of course.

This is how Wayne tells it, “Now, this is kind of surreal, they say never meet a girl at a bar. You know the song ‘Looking for love in all the wrong places?’ The country song by Johnny Lee? So, every place I looked was the wrong place. I looked at baseball games, I looked at church, I went to nightclubs. No luck. So, I decided to go to a bar. And that's where we met. She was out with two other girlfriends, and it was somebody's birthday. And lo and behold, I come into the bar and the Yankees are playing. Reggie Jackson hits three home runs that night, so I should have known it was going to be a special night, but when the game’s over with I finally went and talked to the girls. To make a long story short, I asked Margaret if I could have her phone number. And her answer was, ‘are you kidding me?’ So reluctantly, she did give it to me.”

“We were engaged for two years. And we got married. We found out we couldn't have children. So we adopted Jeff. I was a sportswriter at the time. Jeff was five years old and he liked baseball; that’s why the social worker put us together,” said Wayne. “Jeff has a son now and—believe it or not—he's into baseball too. It’s something I can enjoy with my son and my grandson. It's really keeping me young, and it's been worth every minute of it.”

“Suddenly it feels like my whole career is trying to come full circle. I started with 10-year-old ball games in Leavenworth, and now I've come all the way around to umpiring 9- and 10-year-olds again in Redwood Falls. It only took me 50 years to circle the wagon.”

Reflecting on his career in baseball and journalism, Wayne came to realize [this award] it means you did something after you graduated. Southwest recognizes that and is honoring you for your work in a chosen profession which for him was baseball and newspapers.

“Journalism isn’t the highest paying job. Neither is baseball umpiring. But I like to write. I like to ump. And to do what you like, that is the reward,” he said. “But realizing that Southwest saw it fit to recognize me, well, I'm honored.”

For Wayne, this entire year has been fun. He received the call about the service award from the MBA and soon after got the call about the alumni award.

“When you get one of those calls, it's the best thing you can ever get. I got two this year,” he said. “It’s really an honor. I’ll have my wife with me, and my brother. And somebody said we're going to throw candy at the parade. I said, ‘I hope I don't throw my arm out.’”


Bruce ’89 and Linda ’90 Saugstad

Bruce ’89 and Linda (Seid ’90) Saugstad learned about being part of a team, to encourage and support others, through their participation in collegiate athletics. They carried those lessons with them into everything they have done since then. This year they are being recognized for their service with an Alumni Achievement Award.

“We are so humbled that you'd even consider us because there are so many deserving people and so many of our classmates who could have this honor,” said Linda.

Bruce came to SMSU from Huron, South Dakota. In high school, he played football and basketball and hoped to play football in college. His twin brother, Scott, came to visit the campus so Bruce tagged along. He ended up recruiting himself by going to talk to the football coach during this visit.

“I played sports in high school and wanted to play football in college and SMSU provided that opportunity for me; additionally, SMSU offered a mathematics major that I was interested in as well,” said Bruce.

Linda grew up in Jefferson, South Dakota, just a short distance from Sioux City. She, too, played sports in high school, both volleyball and basketball. 

“I was recruited to play basketball at SMSU for Carmen DeKoster.  The opportunity to play basketball and the campus design with tunnels were two big reasons for me to pick SMSU," said Linda.

The two athletes met in the PE Gym. Linda, a sophomore individualized interdisciplinary major, was refereeing a co-ed intramural basketball game and Bruce, a junior computer science and math major, was playing in the game.

"And I asked her on a date,” said Bruce. “We went to a movie.”

Bruce came to Southwest planning to become a math teacher and a coach but changed to mathematics and computer science. He started working part-time while still in his last quarter of school, then started full-time at Schwan’s as a computer programmer in 1989.

"My education and participation in athletics at SMSU provided me a good foundation to start my career at Schwan’s,” said Bruce.

Bruce took classes from Malcolm Tobey, Ted Rowe, Joe Van Wie, who was also his advisor.

Linda studied physical education and business administration through the individualized interdisciplinary studies program. She worked with faculty to create her own sports management degree.

“My advisor, Harry Jones, worked with me to create a major that fit what I wanted to pursue for a career.  I appreciate the faculty, Harry Jones and RA Colvin allowing me to combine physical education and business into an interdisciplinary major,” said Linda. “Being in athletics, Bruce and I both grew to know RA well, in fact, RA took our engagement pictures.”

“RA was a big encourager. He would find my duffel bag and put an encouraging note in there to shoot the ball, or even just to believe in myself. RA was an influential part of our college years,” said Linda.

"For me, Joe Van Wie was always encouraging and challenging me to think bigger,” said Bruce.

“I think he saw the potential in you too," added Linda.

"Right, I applied to be a Rhode’s scholar, and I would never have done that if he hadn’t pushed me to," Bruce said. “Additionally, Linda and I are so grateful for the friendships we created while at SMSU. We met many amazing people from different parts of the country.  Friends that we still stay in contact with to this day.”

Bruce was a four-year letter winner as a defensive back for the SMSU football team from 1985-88. A 1988 first team CoSIDA Academic All-America, he was twice named an NAIA All-America Scholar-Athlete and, following his senior year, was named the Glen Galligan Award winner, which honors the top senior football student-athlete in the Northern Intercollegiate Conference. He capped off his senior year by being named the NIC Dr. William Britton Award winner, an honor that goes to the top male scholar-athlete in the conference.

On the field Bruce was a member of the 1987 Mustangs football team that qualified for the program’s first-ever playoff appearance and was a two-time honorable mention all-conference honoree. A team captain in 1988, Saugstad played in 43 games.

Bruce served in several roles during his 32-year career with the Schwan’s Company including General Manager of the company’s famous ice cream division and well as SVP of International Business. He earned his MBA from St. Cloud State in 2009. He joined SMSU as the interim Athletic Director in June 2021 until the position was filled on a permanent basis in Spring 2022. Since then, he’s held leadership roles with Grill Works, Inc. and most recently he became Chief Operating Officer for Ross E. Reitsma and Associates of Sioux Falls, SD, a branch of Northwestern Mutual Insurance.

Also a four-year letter winner, Linda was a regular contributor to the women’s basketball team during her tenure. She downplays her part as a supporting role, and appreciated the opportunity to witness and play with some incredible female athletes like Julie Thein who is in the Hall of Honor. Linda was proud to be on the court and be part of the team. She is grateful for the good friends she made then who are still friends today.

After graduating in 1990, Linda managed the Marshall Athletic Center right out of college, confident that her degree prepared her well. She worked there until she and Bruce were married and had children. Linda dedicated her time to caring for their children and volunteering with a number of organizations focused on supporting and caring for children.

For both Bruce and Linda, coming to Southwest was an easy choice. South Dakota had reciprocity with Minnesota, combined with their athletic scholarships, so they both came here without having to worry about a huge debt over their heads. The ability to have parents and grandparents attend sporting events made it very special.

"I was so blessed that I was able to play basketball. I made some good friends. I learned a lot of other life lessons as well through the challenges of competing at a collegiate level and working together to pursue a common goal.  We have used these lessons in our lives as we have raised our kids; encouraging them to work through adversity.”

"I think SMSU opened the door for us to see the vision of what education can do for you and your family and the opportunities it provides,” added Bruce.

Bruce also served several terms and in a variety of roles on the SMSU Foundation Board. He and Linda have funded a scholarship and feel fortunate to be able to give back and help support SMSU students.

“We don’t choose the recipients, but we are able to meet them and are so grateful to have some impact on their lives,” said Bruce. “Davontay Stevens was the first recipient.”

“When you have been given so much, it’s important to give back, to encourage and support others the same way we were,” added Linda. “It’s what we have learned through our faith in Jesus and during our time at Southwest State and we’ve carried that with us.”

Linda and Bruce are both active in the community through serving in church, working with Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and connecting with SMSU student-athletes through FCA and The Mustang Club.

They became certified foster care providers, a role they felt called to do when their children were grown. And, while challenging, they love being able to support children and families during tough times, whether it’s helping the family come back together or seeing the children find family through adoption.  

Bruce and Linda have been married 33 years. They have 3 adult children – Austin, Morgan, and Lexi.  They live in Marshall, Minn.


Dr. Mark Wallert ‘83

Mark Wallert ’83 went to college for 45 years. He just retired at the end of the summer term. As he came to the end of his career, he took some time to let it sink in.

“This number staggers me. I started at Southwest as a freshman in the Fall of 1978. That was 45 years ago,” he said.

Mark grew up in a small town called Danube, Minnesota, about 50 miles from Marshall on Hwy. 212. He was the first person in his family on either side to go to college. He said he went, primarily because his parents encouraged him to “not that I had some grand plan or dream.”

“I picked Southwest because, at that time, they had people in the education department who were doing outreach and they had been in our school. I had been on the campus,” Mark said. And he set his sights on Southwest Minnesota State.

“It was amazing. In fact, until I started doing this myself, I didn't realize how amazing it was. I see now that I was completely unprepared to be there,” he continued. “And I learned what they did for me. They meet you where you're at, try to help you find where you want to go, and then try to give you the tools to get there. It sounds so simple, but I'm not sure that every place does that.”

Mark picked Southwest and right away walked on the football team. A couple of players were injured, and Mark found himself starting by the third game of the year.

"By the fifth game of the year, I had my third concussion,” he laughed. “My football career was done.”

Mark spent the first quarter* in the standard courses for undeclared majors. To register for winter quarter, he found himself assigned to advisor, Dr. Laren Barker. He was a biology professor and advisor, who also advised undeclared students.  Mark liked science in high school. And with guidance from Dr. Barker, he kept Mark accountable and helped him get on the right path.

“After two quarters of Dr. Barker listening to me tell him ‘I'm a better student than my grades show.’ Dr. Barker finally said, ‘I hope you enjoyed that because that is the last time you get to give that speech. You either show me you are a good student or be done.’”

Mark took that to heart. He stopped playing football about the same time and was still floundering. So Mark sought out his former football coach, Lew Shaver, to get his advice.

“Lew laughed and said, ‘Mark, do you work as hard at school as you did at football?’ I thought that's laughable. I would never do that,” Mark continued. “Lew’s advice? All he said is ‘just do that.’”

Starting the next fall, Mark was on the Dean's list every quarter until he graduated.

“There were a lot of ups and downs along the way, but, like I said, they helped me find where I was then and helped me pick a path,” said Mark. “I went from being a washed-up football player to a biology and chemistry double major. I finished in four years and two quarters.”

Mark felt lucky to have found a group of friends who formed a study group and got through things together. They lived in the science labs from sun-up to sun-down. He also appreciated the on-going connection with Lew Shaver.

“My interaction with Coach Shaver was through my short stint with football. And because he was the type of person who remembers everybody forever, he asked how you were every time you saw him,” he recalled with a laugh. “The next big interaction we had was two or three years later, I was in that group of idiots who rolled that keg. We did a fundraiser for the wheelchair basketball team so they could go to the nationals.”

Mark was accepted to the master's program at the U of M, Iowa, Colorado, but applied on a whim and was offered a scholarship for a full ride in the PhD program at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia.

“When I started there was no good reason anyone would have expected me to go on and get a PhD, but thanks to Dr. Barker, I ended up with a full scholarship, so it's one of the stories you can tell your students and they see you don't always have to start as a superstar. You can work your way to being good at things,” said Mark. Mark took many classes with Ed Carberry and Robert Elias in the chemistry program, but Dr. Barker he credits with keeping him on track.  

I'm not a brainchild by any means, but I'm reasonably bright and I can work very hard and I just fell in love with it. I tell my students that I fell in love with college. I fell in love with learning and literally the longest I've been away is six months. I graduated from Southwest in February, got married on August 6 and moved to Georgia four days later.

"My parents were proud. But the thing I regret most is that I didn’t come back to walk in commencement. I finished classes in February and didn’t go back. My mom got to see me get her PhD and she was still mad that I didn't walk at Southwest in the 1983 commencement.”

Spending six years at Emory was a real learning experience. It took Mark a couple of years to find a mentor, but once he did, he picked up where Dr. Barker left off, motivating him every day.

“Dr. Otto Froehlich was from Germany. He was just an absolutely brilliant person. Very nice, very kind. He just wanted you to be at work before he was and leave after he did. So that usually meant 7:00 in the morning ‘til about 7:00 at night. That's where I really learned to be a scientist.”

After earning his PhD in Physiology, Mark studied as a post-doctoral fellow at the Mayo Clinic. After a year, he decided to apply for a teaching job at Minnesota State University Moorhead where he taught for 25 years in the Biosciences Department.

“My youngest was graduating high school, my long-term research partner at Moorhead had moved to a different school. In 2015, I got a call that there's a job opening in Bemidji. And at that point it was a perfect time in life to make a move. We were looking at retiring in this part of the world anyway.”

“I've been here for eight years. I love teaching. I love doing research. I've run a research lab the entire time. I'm a cancer researcher, have multiple publications and research grants. I've had over 230 undergraduates do research in my lab. Over 25 high school students and six graduate students working over the summer. That is the highlight of what I do professionally.”

He’s been awarded seven National Science Foundation (NSF) grants, four National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants, six grants from other agencies totaling over $3.5 million. During his teaching career, the Wallert Cancer Research Team focused on investigating the regulation of tumor development and metastasis in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and ovarian cancer.

“I’ve been doing this research since the mid-1980s. It revolves around a certain protein. It's a membrane protein that regulates pH in the cytoplasm of cells. When I started studying. It was literally nothing more than just that. It was a way to regulate acid inside cells. If there's too much acid, the cells don't work well,” he explained as plainly as he would to any Biology 1400 Cellular Principles class.

“It evolved over time as we realized that protein is hyperactivated in cancer. It drives several of the features we call the hallmarks of cancer. The excessive growth of cells, cells moving, metastasis invasion, this protein helps drive several of those hallmarks. And so literally over the years it went from ‘how does this protein work’ to ‘how is this protein regulated’ and finally, ‘what role does this protein play in different diseases?’”

In addition to his research work, Mark was the Northwest Regional Director for the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Student Chapters Steering Committee where he helped organize the Undergraduate Research in the Molecular Sciences annual meeting held in Moorhead, Minnesota for the past 11 years. In 2005, Mark was recognized as the Council for Advancement and Support of Education / Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Minnesota College Professor of the Year.

“I've been incredibly fortunate. Finding the right mentors along the way and where I ended up, a lot of good things have happened. And most importantly, my love for this level of education came from Southwest. I guess I learned more than just science from Dr. Barker,” Mark said. “I'm certain I wouldn’t have been on the same path if it wasn't for him.”

“We’ve spent the summer getting ready for retirement. So much was happening, then I get a call from Southwest. It really got me thinking about my career and how I made it here,” He said, “And an award like this is nothing I would have ever expected.”

Mark and his wife Nona live outside Laporte, Minnesota. They have two grown children, Laurel and Samuel. He retired at the beginning of August.

*Southwest was on the quarter system until 1994.


Honorary Lifetime Membership:

Robert Byrnes

SMSU celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1992, the same year Bob Byrnes was first elected mayor of Marshall. Over the 31 years since then, Byrnes has been steadfast in cultivating the relationship the City of Marshall maintains with SMSU.

It is his leadership that has provided a basis for each new president to build on. In appreciation for Bob Byrnes’ service to SMSU, he is being awarded the Honorary Lifetime Membership to the SMSU Alumni Association this year.

The Alumni Association takes nominations for people who are not alumni of Southwest but who have made significant contributions and have been part of the SMSU community.

“It’s been a huge part of my work with the City of Marshall to be involved with the University. There have been a number of outstanding leaders at SMSU. One of the common threads between all of them was their commitment to SMSU as an institution and as an important part of the region," said Byrnes. “As mayor, it's critical to have a good relationship. SMSU is such an important part of the of the city and the region.”

Byrnes explained he has worked closely with every SMSU president on partnerships because as different as each was, they knew the success of one depended on the other.

“Now Doug Sweetland was a really a master of being involved in the community and getting to know the community. Part of Sweetland’s administration was Randy Abbott, Jim Babcock, and others who realized how important it was for SMSU to be in this region. They wanted to be in this community and wanted SMSU to be part of the community.”

Over the years, Byrnes has worked with long-term and interim leadership at SMSU. Of course, David Danahar comes to mind because of his 10-year tenure with the University. Danahar and Byrnes were able to connect through dealing with adversity. A few months into Bob’s first term as mayor, Marshall experienced historic flooding on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and the Fourth of July. The floods of 1993 set the agenda for the City’s immediate needs, which involved planning and strong infrastructure.

Likewise, David Danahar’s first year saw the destructive fire in January 2002. Byrnes leadership style and calm demeanor were an important influence on Danahar as a new president. Seeing opportunity in adversity, Byrnes used the experience to champion the diversion channel project. Danahar helped SMSU rise from the ashes to trigger a decade of construction and improvement projects, the likes of which had not been seen at SMSU since the early ‘70s.

"I recall the day of that fire, President Danahar and I were standing on the steps of the Bellows Academic building and looking at the smoke. Little did we know that fire would be so devastating and uncontrolled only about half an hour later," said Byrnes. “Looking back, what seemed like a tragedy, and it was a tragedy, but it was a great opportunity for us to really envision how we were going to move into the future. That really sparked a time of a lot of construction.”

While SMSU was building a new Student Center, the Regional Event Center, and renovating the Library, the City of Marshall was making improvements too. Byrnes championed the construction of a new YMCA facility in 2002, and pushed for local option sales tax in 2013 that funded construction of the Red Baron Arena and Expo. He spearheaded the construction of the Marshall-Lyon County Library, led discussions on where to locate a new city hall, helped establish the 9/11 Memorial Park, and supported the bicycle trails in and around Marshall.

He and his counterparts at the University are like-minded in their approach, that the improvements in the community and the University that would serve to attract and retain students are the same ones that attract and retain businesses, families, and a talented workforce.

“Many SMSU graduates choose to stay in Marshall and the community benefits from that educated workforce. People who go to school at SMSU appreciate the city and they care about this region,” said Byrnes. “We wouldn’t be where we are without SMSU, and I think the same is true for SMSU.”

Byrnes has been involved with education his entire professional career. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Platteville for degrees in both animal science and agricultural economics, graduating in 1979.

“I was recruited to work with the University of Minnesota Extension. There were three openings, I just chose Marshall,” Byrnes said. “It worked out well because I met my wife here. I started out coordinating the 4H Program and visited area schools. I met Brenda on one of my school visits. She was a teacher.”

Byrnes was born and raised in Waukon, Iowa where he attended Waukon High School. Bob retired following a 40-year career with the University of Minnesota where he served as State-Wide Director of Operations for the University of Minnesota Extension. Byrnes became involved in public service early on when he was elected to serve as a city council member for 6 years (1986 to 1992). He was elected mayor in November 1992 and is currently serving his 10th term.

Byrnes is involved in several community organizations. He is on the Board of Directors for the Southwest Regional Development Commission; past Chairman of the Board of Directors of Prairieland Economic Development Corporation; Chair of the MnDOT Area Transportation Partnership; Vice Chair of the Highway 23 Coalition Board and Board Member of Habitat for Humanity of Redwood River.

He was recently recognized by the Minnesota League of Cities. He was given the 2023 C.C. Ludwig Award for elected city officials. These awards honor individuals who have consistently done outstanding work to improve the quality of their own cities as well as cities throughout the state. Other awards Byrnes has received are the Outstanding Elected Official Award by the Minnesota Association of Emergency Managers; Purcell Pinnacle Award for Outstanding Humanitarian; and the University of Minnesota Community Service Award.

“It’s been my honor to work with the leadership at SMSU, including President Kumara Jayasuriya and Connie Gores who came before him. The interim presidents and the ones like Treadway and Ford in the early years I was on the city council. They have all made an impact on the university and the city.”

“Now that I understand what this award means, it is very humbling. SMSU has been a big part of my life and my work as mayor,” said Byrnes. “It is an honor to become a member of the SMSU Alumni Association.”

Bob and his wife Brenda live in Marshall. They have two adult children, Bridget and Brian, and three granddaughters, Quinn, Kennedy, and Laine.


Graduates of the Last Decade (GOLD) Award:

Maxx ’13 and Rachel ’13 Raths

Maxx and Rachel Raths see the connections that have helped pave the way for them. Connecting with each other, with faculty, and with important people in their lives, all began at Southwest. The couple is receiving the GOLD Award, which recognizes graduates of the last decade for the impact they’ve made early in their careers and the support they give to SMSU.

When asked about their reaction to the award, Maxx said, “When SMSU first reached out about speaking with us, my first thought was, are we in trouble?”

“I was excited to hear that we got to receive it together. That makes it even more special,” said Rachel.

Rachel grew up in Marshall and chose Southwest so she could save money and live at home while earning some electives, then look at transferring later on.

“I thought I had a plan, but God's plans are always better,” said Rachel. She fell in love with SMSU, and meeting Maxx ended up playing a big part too.

The two met during freshman year. Rachel had friends in the same dorm where Maxx lived. The first time Maxx saw Rachel, he said to his friend, “I don't know who that is, but I have the strangest feeling she's going to be my wife someday.” His friends said to him, “Well, you better go figure out what her name is.”

Rachel majored in environmental science and biology with Dr. Emily Deaver as her advisor. She graduated in 2013. She went on to earn a master’s degree in microbiology from SDSU in 2019.

“I loved having Dr. Deaver [as an advisor]. She was incredible. And she was so good at finding opportunities for us outside of the classroom,” said Rachel.

She worked as a part-time microbiologist at Schwan’s during her junior and senior year before taking an internship with Ralco that changed the course of her career.

Rachel still gets to work closely with the internship programs at Ralco, in particular, the microbiology internships that Ralco has been partnering with Dr. Tony Greenfield on at SMSU for over a decade now.  “The internship program is always a really great way to give back to students in a way that people gave to me 10 years ago,” said Rachel. Rachel started as a research scientist and now she is the Director of Regulatory and Quality Affairs and feels blessed to have been at Ralco now for 10 years.

Maxx grew up in Minnesota, moving around a bit, but considers White Bear Lake as his hometown. He applied to SMSU as a back-up plan to joining the Marine Corps.

“I found out that I had scoliosis as I was going through the recruitment process. I was rejected and decided I'm going to college,” said Maxx. SMSU was his new plan. He graduated with a degree in Marketing in 2013.

He was a Justice Administration major originally but took courses with Denise Gochenouer and Mark Fokken and realized how much he loved marketing and communications. He also worked at Ralco for a few years before launching a small media company publishing a print magazine and a podcast. He worked with a technology and cryptocurrency hedge fund start-up in Sioux Falls for two years before delving into entrepreneurial projects and marketing consulting.

“Then felt like God was calling me to do something different. I signed on with a ministry based out of Minneapolis full-time as their director of marketing and have been there since January.”

Maxx has stayed connected to SMSU serving on the board for the Center of Innovation Entrepreneurship and visiting classes.

“When I talk to students, I always highlight the importance of a liberal arts education. You learn how to take ideas and form them into thoughts and concepts, and if you can learn how to write and learn how to speak those ideas, you really can be unstoppable in whatever path you choose,” said Maxx. “The diverse experience in things like a speech class or a history class at a college level might be different from your major, but it's really valuable regardless of where you're going for a career.”

The two credit their connections to church for helping shape them. They both had mentors in college who taught them about working in the community and to start mentoring others. Maxx is an elder in their church and is involved with the missions committee. Maxx and Rachel led youth group for a number of years. They both see it as a way of pouring out what they’ve been given. Now that they have small children, they’ve connected with other young couples and lead a Bible study at their home.

 “We have a deep love for Marshall, the people and the community. We both want to find ways to support business and individuals however we can.”

Maxx and Rachel both reflected on how many people have made a big difference for them at SMSU. Maxx mentioned the positive impact SMSU staff members like Stacy Frost, Tyler Bowen and Mike Van Drehle who gave a bunch of kids in Ocean Boulevard the awesome responsibility to launch the very first living and learning community called Mustang Traditions. They took the task of creating new traditions very seriously and were prominent figures at all athletic events as the student fan group “Mustang Maniacs.” Rachel was grateful that the Oceans Boulevard crew adopted her as an honorary Mustang Maniac, not only so she could experience the joys of campus life, but also because that is where she met Maxx.

Faculty also made a difference. For Maxx, he recognized the guidance he received from faculty like Denise Gochenouer, Mark Fokken, and Rick Herder as being extremely important. Rachel appreciated the influence Emily Deaver, Betsy Desy, Tony Greenfield, and Tom Dilley had on her and her passion for science. She appreciated that Dr. Dilley, as a geology professor, could even make the subject of rocks exciting because he is so passionate about it.

"I think, for both Maxx and I, we don’t take lightly the impact that those around us have made on us. We could just go on and on about the awesome people in the community and mentors in our lives through college, early in our marriage and now as parents of young children,” said Rachel. “I think that's one of the reasons why Marshall is such a great community is because of those who are later in their career journey or later in their life and family life are willing to put time and energy into investing in the younger generation. That's one thing that we've both benefited from and hopefully we can do that as we continue to grow in our family and our careers.”

The ten years since graduating have been exciting for them individually and as a couple. They remain focused on what they have yet to do. Being recognized for their achievements was an unexpected honor.

“We definitely don’t feel qualified or like it should have been us, but I can say we feel so blessed that it is both of us getting recognized together,” said Maxx.

Maxx and Rachel live in Marshall and have three children: Elam 7, Emilia 2, and Wylder born in September.


The John and Kathy Paxton Alumni Service Award:

Jason Mortvedt ‘78

Jason “Captain Mort” Mortvedt ‘78 lives and breathes brown and gold. So much so that not even a global pandemic could keep him from connecting with this Mustang Family.  

It started with his core group: Jason, Craig Porter, Dave Sanderson and Jane Klinkner Soukup, who had gone to Disney World together the year before. They planned an outdoor picnic because of the Covid-19 shutdown. They are all retired and were looking for something to do to get out of the house.  

“We all really trust each other so we planned this picnic. It was so much fun we decided to keep doing it on a monthly basis. Now word gets out and they’ve really turned into something special,” said Jason. The SMSC/SSU/SMSU Family Picnics started in May of 2020 and have continued from May to September each summer and they’ve grown to as many as 30 people.  

Their monthly picnics are held at 7-Mile Creek County Park located south of St. Peter, which is about an hour from the Twin Cities and an hour from Blue Earth, where Jason lives now. These picnics are open for any SMSC/SSU/SMSU Alumnus to come and reconnect with other Mustang Alumni.

Jason grew up in Frost, Minnesota and graduated high school with a class of 18 in the spring of 1973. Southwest was just a few years old. Jason’s band director, Brad Brandt, had just attended a music conference in Marshall and recommended it.  

“He told me it might be a good fit because he knew I didn't want to go to Mankato or Winona, where everyone else went to college. I went out to Marshall and it was all new back then. I thought, yeah, this is great,” said Jason. “Then in the spring of ‘76, I became an RA in Manchester Hall and that's when things really started to click for me and really got involved with Southwest.” 

“Being an RA was an art. You have to like people and you have to be ready for just about anything; you had to be able to roll with it,” he explained. “Being an RA really launched me. It was in my wheelhouse. I just loved it. It was a lot of fun, just getting people together and having a good time. Dale Ladig was the director of Residential Life at Commons East.  He was a great mentor and gave great direction."

“I did a lot of things in my last 2-1/2 years. Kathy Allen had me chair the Superstars competition in the fall of '76. I also was the one that started the homecoming king and queen coronation that same year,” Jason said. “It was fun way to get people excited about the Fall Festival, that’s what we called Homecoming in the ‘70s.” 

As a Physical Education major, Jason also worked in the rehabilitative services department with Dan Snobl. He helped Lew Shaver with the wheelchair basketball team. He did PA announcing and play-by-play for the Pinto basketball games on KSSU TV. He also did the Dale Honeck show to have reaction to the action of Golden Mustang basketball.  He also hosted a radio show on KSSU. His on-air name was 'Captain Mort,' a name people call him to this day. 

“I was really involved when I was back in college. It was a great time and I just enjoyed it,” he said.  In the spring of '78, thanks to Bob Kraus' nomination, Jason was awarded “Who’s Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities.”

"I was the interim wheelchair basketball coach in ‘79-’80 when Lew took a sabbatical. They asked me to coach the wheelchair basketball team. That's when I figured out that I'm a better basketball official than a coach. But it was a good experience and I got to know all the kids on the team,” said Jason. “I also got to know Dale Honeck. He was good to mentor me and some other guys in basketball officiating. Dale would sit down and go over reel-to-reel tape of games we officiated, and then Dale would critique us on how we did. Jeff Mordhorst and I would officiate some JV college basketball games and get some great experiences officiating.” 

“Bringing in Dale Honeck was a great move. He brought kids from North Carolina and around Minnesota to play for the Mustangs. He had a tremendous team that brought the Marshall folks back on campus. The gym was packed with basketball fans who wanted to watch a great team play," Jason continued. "It was an exciting time, the Mustangs were fun to watch, and it was great for building relationships between Southwest and the surrounding communities. Dale really started something special."

“Being a student was a wonderful experience. I wish I could go back to those years. But staying connected to my SMSU friends means everything,” he said. “I have so much pride for SMSU. I want to tell everyone about it. It’s such a special place. But I tell people if they’re coming to Marshall to see a bunch of glitter and gold, it’s not what you’ll find. The gold is in the people you will encounter there. That’s what keeps me coming back.” 

Over the years, Jason has been involved in several entrepreneurial projects including a beef jerky venture and a bottled water company. He said he’s always looking at things differently. He helped organize the alumni picnics and saw it as an opportunity to get people connected so he suggested they keep doing them, and it’s been over five years. He also helped launch an alternative to the University Gala, which used to be held during Homecoming. Just like he did as an RA, he continues to get people together, to connect, to enjoy their shared experiences and love for SMSU. 

“It started as something for the SMSC/SSU/SMSU Alumni who aren’t into getting dressed up. Those of us who like cheap beer and free popcorn,” laughed Jason. “Chuck Larsen and I started the Poor Man’s Gala and it just stuck. We still do it every year. The 18th Poor Man’s Gala will be this year. We get together at Fuzzy’s on Friday night to kick off Homecoming weekend. I do have to mention that the Poor Man’s Gala is a non-sanctioned SMSC/SSU/ SMSU event."

In addition to organizing social events for alumni, Jason has served two six-year terms on the alumni board with perfect attendance.

"My first six years on the Alumni Board we didn’t have a full time alumni director. Bill Turgeon in University Relations was our part-time director. He did a great job with what time he could dedicate to the position. My second six-year term we had a full-time Alumni Director who was Tyler Bowen. The alumni body had grown to a level where we really needed a full-time director. Tyler did an outstanding job during his tenure. He made a proposal to the board for a new award in honor of John and Kathy Paxton. It was to be called 'The John and Kathy Paxton Alumni Service Award.' To the board, this made sense and we easily passed this proposal," Jason said. "John Hintz introduced me to John and Kathy in the spring of 1976 and they became lifelong friends. I watched over the years as they were awarded about every award that a person could receive at Southwest. They were the elite alumnus of Southwest. When Stacy Frost called me and said I was going to receive the John and Kathy Service award, it was overwhelming to say the least. I was very honored and humbled to receive this award."

Jason and his faithful group of friends from SMSC (as it was called in the 1970s) also make it back to Marshall for every single Homecoming. Jason has missed two Homecoming weekends since graduating. Chuck Larsen, another member of their core group, has been back for all of them. They almost skipped the stripped-down Homecoming in 2020 since many events were cancelled. But there was a parade and some distanced, outside activities, so they all came back to keep Chuck’s perfect attendance record intact. 

“I officiated high school sports for 21 years and that was fun. I officiated football, basketball, volleyball, and baseball. During this time I also mentored other officials during their officiating careers. I missed a Homecoming when I was scheduled to cover two football games in one weekend and just couldn't get out of it," said Jason. "That's one of my absentees and the other one when my dad was very sick. Other than that, I've been faithful.” 

Both his parents have passed away, so the people Jason meets up with every year at Homecoming and every month at the alumni picnics are his family. 

“We're starting to enter into the twilight years of our lives. Every homecoming that we can get back to is a big deal,” Jason said. “I have my Mustang Family and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.” 

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For tickets to the awards celebration or to learn more about the awards and how to nominate a deserving individual, visit

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