Distinguished Vikings issue challenge to students

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Friday, May 21, 2010
— Four men with distinguished careers were inducted into Parker High School's first group of Distinguished Vikings on Thursday.

One is a surgeon and trauma physician serving his country in the Middle East.

One was general manager of the Minnesota Twins baseball team for 13 years.

One was a cabinet secretary for President George W. Bush.

One had a long career in the military but now is in charge of Apple Computer's Project Dolphin, which, according to news reports, is a massive, $1 billion data center to be built in Virginia.

The men were presented as role models to students assembled in the Parker auditorium and watching live online. Their accomplishments spoke for themselves.

The honorees challenged students to achieve but also to serve others.

"You can't just click your feet and make your dream or a vision come true," said Don Meister, the former Air Force colonel, engineer and Apple executive. "If you are willing to put forth a lot of dedicated effort and a lot of time, I firmly believe that anything can be accomplished. … and I would make that a challenge to all the students here today and in the future: Decide what you want to do, say you want to do it, but put forth the effort it takes to make that come to fruition."

Steven Preston, the former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, told students that it's not the professional accomplishments that make a difference.

"People make a difference because of what they are today and what it leads them to do everyday, through their jobs or otherwise," Preston said.

So, students today can make a difference by volunteering in the community or just being a friend to someone who needs one, Preston said.

Terry Ryan, general manager of the Minnesota Twins, said he was humbled to be on the stage. He urged students to avoid the mistakes he made. He said he might have been a big-league pitcher if he had not been such a prima donna, had done the work in the off-season and hadn't focused on things that kept him from his dream.

The day the Twins released him was the most devastating day of his life, Ryan said, and he vowed that day never to let it happen again. It was that devastation that probably helped him succeed later in life, he said.

Deb Somerville, a Janesville teacher, accepted the award on behalf of her brother, Col. James King, the Air Force surgeon who is serving in Qatar.

King's video acceptance speech followed themes the other honorees touched on—that service to others can be the most fulfilling part of a life.

Parker plans to continue with annual ceremonies to honor other distinguished graduates.

Biographies of Parker graduates reveal they have pursued lives of achievement

Here are some of the accomplishments of the 2010 Distinguished Viking honorees, according to information submitted by the school.

James A. King, Class of 1975

At Parker—King was valedictorian of his class, editor of the Odin student newspaper, student council treasurer and National Honor Society president. He lettered in track and cross country.

Higher education—King attended UW-Whitewater before entering the US Air Force Reserve in 1979. He graduated in 1983 from the University of Wisconsin Medical School. The American Board of Surgery certified him in 1988. After completing an emergency medicine residency in 1995, he attained American Board of Emergency Medicine certification and was named a fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

Military—King entered active duty in the Air Force in 1988, serving as chief of hospital services, 47th Flying Training Wing Hospital and later as deputy chief of the medical staff, 59th Medical Wing. Other assignments included a tour as chief of Aeromedical Evacuation Branch, Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and three squadron commands. King participated on a humanitarian mission to South America and on medical teams augmenting the White House Medical Unit on presidential trips abroad.

King, now a colonel, is chairman of the San Antonio Military Medical Center Department of Emergency Medicine. Three of King's four deployments were in support of the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He participated in more than 27 combat and combat support missions, transporting critically injured patients.

King received numerous military decorations, including the Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal and Aerial Achievement Medal.

Community—King is a Habitat for Humanity volunteer.


Donald Meister, Class of 1968

At Parker—King served as student council president and participated in math club. He also competed in basketball, baseball and cross-country.

Higher education—Meister attended UW-Madison for one year before being selected for the US Air Force Academy. He graduated from the academy with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering. Meister later earned master's degrees in facilities management from the USAF Institute of Technology and engineering science from Trinity University.

Military service—Meister entered the Air Force as a second lieutenant and served for 26 years, retiring as a colonel. His last assignment was as major command civil engineer. He was responsible for training and equipping more than 5,000 personnel in more than 50 locations.

At work—In 1999 Meister joined the Orange County Public Schools as the chief facilities officer. He was responsible for the operation, maintenance and renovation of 137 schools. He planned and designed the construction of 25 schools.

Meister joined Apple Computer in 2001 as director of facility management. He is now manager of Project Dolphin, Apple's data-center project.

Community—Meister has raised money for special needs children in California, helped organize and build a children's playground in Hawaii and participated in the Make-a-Wish program in Arizona. In Orlando, Fla., his current residence, he supports the Edgewood Children's Ranch and the Second Harvest Food Bank.


Steven C. Preston, Class of 1978

At Parker—Preston was valedictorian of his class. He served as president of student congress, competed as a varsity wrestler and participated in Washington Seminar. He was also Parker's drum major, played saxophone in jazz ensemble and was active in FFA.

Higher education—Preston graduated with highest distinction from Northwestern University, received an MBA from the University of Chicago and studied in Germany.

At work—Preston worked in business and finance for more than 20 years, as chief financial officer for ServiceMaster, treasurer of First Data Corp. and as an investment banker at Lehman Brothers.

Public service—President George W. Bush appointed Preston to serve as administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration in 2006. In that post, Preston reformed federal disaster assistance programs to accelerate support for victims of Hurricane Katrina and future disasters.

As the housing and financial crisis was growing in 2008, Preston was appointed to serve as the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, where he strengthened consumer protection regulations, improved mortgage assistance programs and advanced the rebuilding of housing in New Orleans.

While in Washington, Preston maintained his ties to Parker by serving as a contact for Washington Seminar students.

Preston was named President and CEO of Oakleaf Waste Management in 2009.

Community—Preston serves on various boards including the Wheaton College Board of Trustees and the Board of Visitors at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University. Gov. M. Jodi Rell of Connecticut recently appointed Preston to the Connecticut Commission for Educational Achievement to address disparities in educational performance. He has been active with organizations that serve inner-city youth through education, mentoring and advocacy.


Terry Ryan, Class of 1972

At Parker—Ryan lettered in football, basketball and baseball. He served on the student council and as an officer in the Lettermen's Club.

Higher Education—Ryan enrolled at UW-Madison in 1975. He graduated with a degree in physical education.

Pro sports—The Minnesota Twins drafted Ryan after high school, and he pitched in its minor league system for four seasons. Ryan continued his career in baseball after his graduation from UW-Madison. His first job was as a Midwest scouting supervisor for the New York Mets. The Twins hired Ryan as scouting director in l986. He became president of player personnel in 1991.

Ryan was named the Twins' general manager in 1994. He was executive vice president and general manager for 13 seasons. The Twins won the American League Central Division four times under Ryan's leadership. He stepped down from his post as GM in 2007. He remains with the Twins as senior advisor.

Ryan earned the 1998 Topps Advancement Through the Game Award and two Sporting News Major League Executive of the Year Awards. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum honored him twice with the Andrew "Rube" Foster Legacy Award as American League Executive of the Year.

Community—Ryan gives speeches and conducts clinics for Minnesota amateur baseball, and he continues to support Janesville Youth Baseball. He and his wife support Families Moving Forward, St. John Newman Church, Caponi Art Park, Minnesota Medical Foundation, University of Minnesota Athletic Department, Eagan Foundation and Fraser Community Services.

Last updated: 1:47 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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