A distinguished group of 10 alumni and former teachers in the Neenah Joint School District have been honored as inaugural members of the District’s Hall of Fame.
Those honored include alumni George Edwin Bergstrom, Dr. Theresa Cheng, Laura (Coenen) Ryan, Ole Jorgensen, James Keating, John Keating, Wayne Kreklow and John Whitlinger. Former teachers and coaches Joe Braun and Ron Einerson complete the inaugural class.
A nomination period was conducted from Sept. 1 through Nov. 30 and the group was selected by a committee of 15 individuals that included former and current employees and alumni. The class will be honored at an induction banquet on Oct. 3, 2015 at 11:30 a.m. at Bridgewood Resort in Neenah as part of the District’s homecoming festivities. Tickets for the banquet will be available to the general public and more information will be announced this summer.
The Hall of Fame will induct five new members each year and nominations for the 2016 class will be accepted through Nov. 30, 2015 on the District website. Those individuals nominated this past year who were not selected do not need to be re-nominated and will be eligible for future selection. Individuals must be graduated for 20 years or retired for five years to be eligible.
“This first class of Hall of Fame inductees represents a wide variety of backgrounds and some of the best to walk the halls of Neenah schools over the past 125 years,” said Superintendent Dr. Mary Pfeiffer. “We are so excited to be able to recognize our outstanding alumni and former employees in such a significant way.
“There are so many worthy candidates that made this a daunting task,” Pfeiffer added. “However, I am proud of the committee’s work and look forward to recognizing many more deserving individuals in the future.”
Bergstrom, an 1892 graduate, was the Chief Architect for the Pentagon Building in 1941. A graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University, he was one of the prominent figures in the rapid expansion of Southern California in the early 1900’s. Bergstrom served as Chairman of the Advisory Board of the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture and was President of the Municipal Housing Commission for seven years. Bergstrom died in California in 1955 at the age of 79.
Braun, who taught math and science from 1946-74, began the Neenah High School baseball program and Neenah’s summer youth baseball program. He is a member of the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame and was a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Braun played collegiately at UW-River Falls and also coached football at Neenah. He was described by former students as being “tough” and “compassionate.” Braun lived in Neenah until his death in 2013 at the age of 101.
Cheng, a 1979 graduate, worked as a neurosurgeon at Mercy Medical Center in Oshkosh. A graduate of the Medical College of Wisconsin, she donated $2.5 million to her former employer to create an endowment for Medical Excellence and Compassion to improve the hospital’s neurosurgery program and create a medical mission outreach program for needy individuals in and out of the local area. The gift was the largest in the hospital’s history. She resides in Oshkosh.
Coenen, a 1981 graduate, was a three-time Olympian as a goalie in Team Handball. She starred collegiately at the University of Minnesota and was the Big Ten’s first women’s basketball Player of the Year in 1983. Coenen was the first Minnesota player to have her number retired by the school and was a first-team All-American in 1985. She ranks second in Neenah basketball history in career scoring with 1,036 points and helped the Rockets to a WIAA state runner-up finish in 1981 as a two-time Fox Valley Association Player of the Year. Coenen lives in Manitou Springs, Colo. and is an events manager for USA Cycling.
Einerson, who taught social studies and coached boys basketball in Neenah from 1968-93, still ranks seventh in state history in career victories with his 556-235 career record. He led the Rockets to WIAA state titles in 1975 and 1978 and four state runner-up finishes. Einerson guided the Rockets to the state tournament 10 times and won 12 Fox Valley Association championships. He played collegiately at UW-Platteville and served in the U.S. Army for 17 months in Korea. Einerson was president of the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association and is in organization’s Hall of Fame. The fieldhouse at Neenah High School has been named in his honor. He still resides in Neenah and regularly attends high school events.
Jorgensen, a 1922 graduate, taught physical education and coached in Neenah for 43 years until his retirement in 1969. Jorgensen was a state high jump champion in high school and also played football and basketball. Jorgensen coached basketball, football and track at Neenah and started the golf and cross country programs as athletic director. He coached the basketball team to 10 state tournament appearances, including the 1930 WIAA state title while posting a 509-258 record in 39 seasons. Jorgensen was president of the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association and is a member of the organization’s Hall of Fame. He also is on the UW-La Crosse Wall of Fame and the gymnasium at Shattuck Middle School has been named in his honor. He never missed a basketball game or any of his over 3,000 practices as a coach. Jorgensen lived in Neenah and attended school events until his death in 1988 at the age of 84.
James Keating, a 1925 graduate, was a leader at the Neenah Foundry and active in numerous community organizations. While in school, he was captain of the 1925 basketball team that placed fifth at state and also played football. He was president of the District’s Vocational and Adult Education School for 25 years and served as president of the National Foundry Association and president of the National Castings Council. Keating held leadership positions with the Boys and Girls Brigade, Bergstrom-Mahler Museum and Foundry Educational Foundation. He donated the land for Keating Park in the Town of Neenah and his foundation has awarded over $30,000 in scholarships. Keating lived in Neenah until his death in 1991 at the age of 84.
John Keating, a 1926 graduate, was the first Neenah person to receive an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and later served as a Brigadier General in the U.S. Army. During World War II, he was the Chief Allied negotiator for the safe passage of 12,000 aged and in-firmed French civilians trapped in the Lorient and St Nazaire pockets by the retreating German army. He also negotiated and executed the plan of surrender of 50,000 German military and the freedom for 186,000 French civilians. This action represented the last Nazi stronghold in France. Keating was a Regimental Commander in Korea and later served as Deputy Chief of Staff for Military Operations. Following a 30-year career, he continued service to his country as a military consultant until his death in 1970 at the age of 61.
Kreklow, a 1975 graduate, led Neenah to the 1975 WIAA state basketball title while scoring 499 points that season and 926 for his career. He was the state Player of the Year and went on to star at Drake University and win an NBA title with the Boston Celtics. Kreklow was selected to the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame as a player and also led the Rockets to the state tournament in 1974. He played volleyball in high school and has been head coach of the women’s volleyball team at the University of Missouri since 2000, leading the Tigers to 10 NCAA tournament appearances. He coached Columbia College to NAIA national titles and undefeated seasons in 1998 and 1999. At Missouri, he earned 2013 Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year honors when the team finished 35-1. He resides in Columbia, Mo.
Whitlinger, a 1972 graduate, was the first person to win four WIAA state individual singles tennis championships and won 109 consecutive matches for the Rockets. A member of Neenah’s “first family” of tennis, he attended Stanford University and won both the NCAA singles and doubles titles in 1974 while leading the Cardinal to the national team title. Whitlinger was inducted into the Stanford Hall of Fame and Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame. He played six years professionally, achieving individual rankings in the top 50 for singles and top 40 for doubles. Whitlinger was the head men’s tennis coach at Stanford for 10 seasons, compiling a 160-85 record and nine NCAA tournament appearances. He was also the associate head coach at Stanford for 18 seasons and part of nine national championship teams. Whitlinger retired in 2014 and lives in Appleton.