Gerald Rufer was born on a farm southwest of Fergus Falls in 1915 and graduated from Fergus Falls High School in 1932. He worked to pay for his own education at the University of Minnesota, completing law school there and then joining a Minneapolis law firm until he was drafted into the Army in 1940. He waded ashore in the first wave on Normandy Beach on D-Day on June 6, 1944, where he was hit by enemy mortar fire. After having surgery in England, he recovered and spent the duration of the war advancing with the Allies, finally serving as military governor for a province in Czechoslovakia. He was awarded the Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for superior leadership, and was discharged in 1945 as a major. He chose to return to Fergus Falls but, with no law jobs available, he started his own firm with his wife, Louise, as the secretary. In 1947 he joined the firm which became Dell, Rosengren and Rufer. He retired after over 40 years from what is now known as Pemberton Law, having grown the firm from three to 14 lawyers. During his career he served as city attorney, president of the State Board of Law Examiners and tried hundreds of cases before juries. Helping clients was always his first concern, and many colleagues considered him the most outstanding trial lawyer in the state. In his spare time, he was an instrument-rated and multi-engine-rated pilot. He was an inventor, fisherman, hunter, welder, electrician, plumber, surveyor, draftsman, water skier, tennis player, father and grandfather. He volunteered at his church, teaching Sunday School, attending the national General Conference and serving on the National Board of Pensions. In the community, he served on numerous business and non-profit boards, and he chaired the West Otter Tail County Fair Board. Rufer died in Fergus Falls in 2001.
Maria (Bigwood) Schellpfeffer (’99) was born and raised in Fergus Falls, where she spent many high school nights watching the stars in the clear, dark skies and dreaming of working in the space industry. She attended the University of Minnesota, where she joined the swim team and fell for her husband-to-be, Nic, while spending countless hours studying over coffee at Baker’s Square and running a microgravity experiment on the Vomit Comet. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering in 2004, she flew to sunny California to begin a career with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She joined the mission planning and sequencing team on the Mars Global Surveyor project and started night classes at the University of Southern California, eventually earning her master’s degree in Astronautical Engineering. After the Mars Global Surveyor project, she continued as a sequencer on the Mars Phoenix Lander project, leading the cruise phase development and operations and working a “Mars time” schedule once the lander was on the surface. In 2009, she joined the Juno project as the team lead for mission planning and sequencing of the space probe designed to orbit Jupiter. She continued in that role throughout the excitement of development, the birth of her first daughter Ellia, launch, the birth of her second daughter, Aeryn, Earth fly-by, Jupiter arrival and the start of science operations. She was awarded the NASA Public Achievement Medal in 2017 for her work on Juno. She and her family moved back to Minnesota in 2018 to be closer to family and friends, and she’s been lucky enough to continue to work for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory from home, most recently as a mission operations system engineer on the Pysche project. Outside of work, she enjoys cooking, spending time with her family, practicing yoga and learning new tricks on aerial skills.
While at Fergus Falls High School, Peter Campion (’98) competed in football and was also a State Champion and All-American wrestler. He went on to be a student-athlete competing in football at North Dakota State University (NDSU). Peter was presented with the Langer Award as the nation’s top NCAA Division II lineman. He was drafted into the National Football League by the Carolina Panthers and also played for the Saint Louis Rams, Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders. After his professional football career ended, Peter returned to NDSU, completed an undergraduate and master’s degree, and began a career serving in academia. His work is centered on equity, diversity and inclusion. Peter is charged with creating a lasting ripple effect building hope, strength, and confidence in the marginalized and underrepresented in higher education. He is driven to be an expert around the topics of employee engagement, disability, exercise science and the development of faculty members serving in academe. Peter will complete a doctoral degree from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities in May of 2020.
Coach Tom Uvaas started his Otter career thanks to a call from the founder of Otter Swimming – David Lindig. This journey began in the fall of 1972 and continued until 2019, except for two breaks – leaves in 1974-75 and 1987-89 – to further his education. For 44 years, his heart and soul have been blessed in the fields of education and coaching. Uvaas credits his wonderful wife, Kathy, “truly my rock and my faith in God!” for his ability to sustain his journey. Uvaas will certainly be remembered for the many teams he coached to excellence, especially the 2011 Otter Boys Team that won the Minnesota State A Swimming and Diving Championship. Although it was great to win a state title, Uvaas is just as proud of all the small victories of every individual on every team he has ever coached. During his coaching career, his boys and girls teams have recorded 19 Section Championships, 21 State Championships, and personal awards of State Class A Male Swim Coach of the Year in 2007-08 and 2010-11. In the classroom teaching 7th and 8th grade social studies, Uvaas tried to encourage excellence in learning and says he was blessed with great kids. During his teaching career, Uvaas received two local awards: Fergus Falls Chamber Co-Teacher of the Year in 1997 and ISD #544 Teacher of the Year in 2005, going on to become a finalist in the MN State Teacher of the Year competition. He credits these awards to the great support from his colleagues. To him, these awards are more about the students and the Fergus Falls School District. Uvaas retired from teaching in 2007. Uvaas has always believed that it is “all about the journey!” His hope is that he made a difference in each individual’s journey in life.
Duane Larson is a native of Fergus Falls, having graduated from Fergus Falls High School in 1945. Larson entered the music program in September 1937 at the age of 10 with Luther Onerheim as his first music and band instructor. During his school years, he was a member of the Junior and Senior High School bands. Larson also played in the Junior and Senior High School orchestras, pep band, marching band and the Dinner Ensemble, a small chamber group of students who played for various civic functions. From 1938-1940, Larson participated in the summer band camp at Fair Hills Resort. He was first chair flute for the combined bands when the camp closed in 1940 due to the start of WWII. During his high school years, Larson was fortunate to take lessons from Donald Berglund, later director of the St. Olaf Orchestra, William Pfeiffer, from the Cincinnati Conservatory, and Al Hapke, a retired musician from Chicago who would occasionally play with the Chicago Symphony. After graduation, Larson enlisted in the Army Air Force and spent two years in the service. He returned to Fergus Falls in 1947 and accepted a job at Fergus Falls National Bank, which he expected to be temporary employment. Forty-five years later, he retired from the bank and two years later he found part-time employment with West Central Initiative, where he has been for almost 25 years. Upon returning to Fergus Falls in 1947, Frank Hedlund called to inform him he was forming the Fergus Falls Civic Orchestra and asked if Larson would be interested in playing in the group. He became a charter member of the orchestra and played for over 50 seasons. Larson presently plays with the Heart of the Lakes Community Band, the M-State College and Community Band and the Fergus Falls Civic Orchestra. He has also appeared as a guest soloist with the Silver Winds Flute Choir of Hopkins. He is currently a member of the National Flute Association and the Upper Midwest Flute Association.