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Distinguished Alumni

Alumni that deserve recognition

The Distinguished Alumni Award is presented annually by the UW-Eau Claire – Barron County Foundation to outstanding alumni who reflect the ideals of UW quality and have established an exceptional reputation in their careers and communities.

The UW-Eau Claire – Barron County Foundation is soliciting nominations from the public for the Distinguished Alumni Award. The criteria and selection process has been determined by the Friends of the University Committee of the UW-Eau Claire – Barron County Foundation. The nomination form should be submitted by April 1. When nominating someone via the nomination form, complete all required sections to the best of your ability. If you are uncertain of certain information, just indicate that in the narrative. IF YOU WOULD RATHER EMAIL a narrative to nominate a worthy alum, please include as much detail as possible and send your email to, subject: Distinguished Alum Nomination. You will be contacted if follow-up information is needed. 

2019: Knute Brekke

Class of 1983
Salinas, California

Rice Lake, WI—Knute Brekke of Salinas, California was named UW-Eau Claire — Barron County’s 2019 Distinguished Alumnus at the May 21 commencement ceremony in the campus’ Fine Arts Theatre. In his acceptance speech, Brekke highlighted the importance the campus’ international diversity played in his life and career trajectory.

A 1980 RLHS graduate, Brekke attended what was then the University of Wisconsin Center — Barron County from 1980-1983 where he participated in choir and soccer, and was named WIAA Player of the Year in 1981. After completing his Associates degree at Barron County, he moved on to Santa Barbara City College where he studied Marine Diving Technology. In 2001 Brekke completed his Bachelor of Science in Geology from UW-River Falls.

Brekke works as a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) Pilot. He began his career in the off-shore oil drilling industry, and has worked as a Chief ROV Pilot for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, an oceanographic research center and sister organization of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, for the past 20 years. As an ROV pilot, he takes scientists and engineers into the oceans, making the institute’s research missions possible.

Brekke has piloted missions that have been written up in journals and magazines including Science, Nature, Smithsonian, and Air and Space, and have been featured on National Geographic, BBC’s Planet Earth, Discovery Channel, History Channel and others. In 2018, a newly-discovered species of bone-eating marine worm, Osedax knutei, was named for his contributions to its discovery.  

In his community of Salinas, California, Brekke is an active member and past president of the Monterey County Sheriff’s Mounted Search and Rescue Unit. He is a member of the Monterey County Sheriff’s Advisory Board and the Sheriff’s Posse, and was named Monterey County Sheriff’s Office Volunteer of the Year in 2006. He also serves as a board member of Northwestern Michigan College Marine Technology Advisory Committee, and as scholarship committee chair for the Charles Atwood Memorial Scholarship at Hartnell College.

2018: Terry Wiesner, Class of 1972, Drama Director

2017: Karla (Schreiber) Hulne, Class of 2002, Music Educator

2016: Mike Rogers, Class of 1975, Academic and Administrative Financial Management

2015: Kathe Nickleby, Class of 1991, High School Educator and Principal

2014: Chris Fitzgerald, Class of 1993, Law Enforcement; County Sheriff

2013: Peter Muschinske, Class of 1983, Minister

2012: Jeff Hile, Class of 1976, Artist, Art Educator, Entrepreneur

2011: Mark Gilbertson, Class of 1977, Chemical Engineer, Dept. of Energy

2010: Eric Ness, Class of 1981, Agriculture Engineer, SBA Director

2009: Karyn (Nelson) Schauf, Class of 1975, Agriculture Entrepreneur

2008: John P. Gamoke, Class of 1976, Stage and Screen Actor

2007: Lance Allan Hajdasz, Class of 1990, Sports Broadcaster

2006: Louis E. Muench Jr, Class of 1974, Master Meat Processor, Entrepreneur

The UW-Eau Claire – Barron County Foundation Board recognizes outstanding alumni of the The UW-Eau Claire – Barron County with the Distinguished Alumnus Award. The nominee’s professional, volunteer and personal achievements at the university, in the community, and in the world will be considered.

All nominations submitted to the The UW-Eau Claire – Barron County Foundation by the stated deadline will be considered. The final selection will be made by the Distinguished Alumnus Award Committee. The award will be presented to the Distinguished Alumnus at the spring commencement ceremony. If your nominee is selected, you will be asked to attend the Commencement ceremony with the nominee if at all possible. An award will be presented that evening and you and the nominee will be included in festivities.

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