Four individuals were honored for a lifetime of distinction after graduating from Stillwater Area High School, and Zach Sobiech received a special Impact Award during graduation ceremonies for the high school on June 7.
The four honored as Distinguished Alumni were: Chris Shaffer, Class of 1988; William S. “Bill” Palmer, Class of 1969; Robert W. “Bob” McGarry II, Class of 1951; and Robert “Bob” Thueson.
Sobiech, who is not yet eligible to receive a Distinguished Alumni award, will instead receive the Impact Award, to recognize the profound impact he had on his community and the world in the months leading up to his death from cancer last year. Sobiech wrote and recorded “Clouds,” as a way of saying farewell to his friends and family. It reached No. 1 on the iTunes singles chart and received more than 9.2 million hits on YouTube. The publicity about his situation led to a highly successful drive to raise funds for cancer research.
Sobiech and the four Distinguished Alumni were honored at a special dinner on Friday, June 6, and also the next day during the commencement ceremony for graduating seniors of Stillwater Area High School at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul.
Bob McGarry was a lifelong resident of the St. Croix Valley, cofounding the insurance company McGarry Kearney Agency. Now in its 113th year, it is one of the oldest continuous businesses in Stillwater. He served on the Stillwater Chamber of Commerce and was a volunteer coach for Little League football. He helped establish the Valley Athletic Association. An avid Pony athletics fan, he and another longtime resident, Dick Olsen, organized and published a history of Stillwater athletics: “Pony Tales from the Sidelines to the Stands.” Bob McGarry died in 2013.
Bill Palmer worked in life insurance, stocks and commercial real estate after graduating from the University of St. Thomas, where he was a student athlete. He later formed his own company, The Palmer Group, selling and leasing commercial properties. The success of his company allowed him to engage in generous philanthropic acts, including a $1 million donation to the University of St. Thomas and the construction of a new gymnasium for St. Croix Catholic School, Stillwater, in honor of his mother.
Chris Shaffer is a well-known Twin Cities public figure, making a name for himself in the field of meteorology. He was one of the nation’s first Certified Broadcast Meteorologists, and currently lends his expertise to WCCO-TV, radio broadcasts and flight forecasts for Aamodt’s Hot Air Balloon Company. He won the prestigious Upper Midwest Regional Emmy Award for best weather anchor and is an active member of the American Meteorological Society.
Bob Thueson was an executive at Hooley’s Super Markets in Stillwater and later cofounded Cub Foods. He has been acknowledged as a visionary change agent within the national grocery industry, helping to pioneer computerization and inventory tracking. At the time of his death in 1982, he was Chief Financial Officer of Cub Foods. A “quiet leader,” he was a selfless individual who was credited with saving the life of a near drowning victim in his youth. Later, during WWII, he saved the lives of multiple flight crews.