Three individuals will be honored for a lifetime of distinction after graduating from Stillwater Area High School. This year’s inductees include former White House chief of staff, a pioneering female photographer and a local media personality. They will join more than 80 others who have been named Distinguished Alumni since the award was first given in 1987.
This year’s class of Distinguished Alumni includes: Marilyn (Lynn) Abercrombie, class of 1948; Denis McDonough, class of 1988; and Lee Valsvik, class of 1978.
The three will be honored at a dinner at 5:30 p.m. Friday, June 2, and also the next day during the commencement ceremony for seniors graduating from Stillwater Area High School at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul. The June 2 dinner at Lake Elmo Inn Event Center is open to the public and is sponsored by the high school and The Partnership Plan, a local education nonprofit that raises funds to enhance and enrich the education of students in Stillwater Area Public Schools. Tickets are available for $35 at partnershipplan.org/distinguished-alumni.
Marilyn “Lynn” (Bruette) Abercrombie, Class of 1948
Lynn Abercrombie traveled the world capturing rare images of exotic locations as a freelance photographer for the National Geographic magazine. Her career spanned more than three decades, with assignments to all seven continents. As a female photographer in a male-dominated profession, she served as an example of success for aspiring women, according to her nomination. She traveled with her husband, award-winning photographer Thomas Abercrombie, to many isolated and forbidding places which had never been seen by Americans. In a time before the internet and globalization, Abercrombie gave the nebulous idea of “foreign” faces feelings and identities in the minds of National Geographic subscribers, according to her nomination. As a complement to Thomas, Lynn’s freelance contributions to the National Geographic provided a feminine side to the story. Women and children felt more at ease being photographed by Lynn, and she was allowed to visit places often off-limits to men. Abercrombie also preserved and expanded her family’s legacy by editing and publishing the book, “Travelling the World for National Geographic,” which her husband wrote about their assignments. She graduated from Macalester College in 1952 with a degree in journalism.
Denis McDonough, Class of 1988
As White House chief of staff for President Barack Obama, Denis McDonough held a position commonly known as the second-most powerful job in America. McDonough led the White House for the president’s entire second term — first as deputy national security adviser and then as chief of staff — and played a definitive role in shaping U.S. national security policy. From managing Russian aggression to new challenges in Asia, to terrorism and cybersecurity threats, McDonough understood the global factors that impact modern organizations and helped audiences identify the risks and opportunities that lay ahead, according to his nomination. Upon McDonough’s appointment to chief of staff in 2013, President Obama said, “Were it not for him, we wouldn’t be as effective a White House,” adding that he relied on McDonough’s intellect, judgment and advice. Prior to becoming one of the president’s closest advisers, McDonough worked as an aide to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and served as a senior foreign policy advisory. He graduated from Saint John’s University with a B.A. summa cum laude in history and Spanish, traveled extensively throughout Latin America and taught high school in Belize. He graduated from Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. Even during his time in the White House, McDonough was a proud Pony alumnus and credited his education and involvement in high school activities for his success, according to his nomination.
Lee Valsvik, Class of 1978
Lee Valsvik began her radio and television career in the 1980s, and grew to become one of the best-known media personalities in the Twin Cities metro area. Hers was an accidental career choice. She originally went to Bemidji State University to study pre-med, but became interested in radio broadcasting after seeing a job opening at a local radio station. In her career she worked five of the metro’s largest radio stations and became a regular on television, making weekly appearances on KARE 11’s Saturday morning news program. During the late 80s and early 90s, the KDWB Morning Show that she co-hosted with Steve Cochran made 101.3 FM the top contemporary hit radio station in the Twin Cities. When not hosting her own radio show or appearing on television spots, Lee continually gives back to the community as a talented emcee for community fundraising events, according to her nomination, always stimulating an engaged audience to support community growth. She also serves on the Stillwater Foundation Board, and has worked to spearhead a youth-driven philanthropy program. She is a proud Pony alum and promotes the district through many of her public appearances, according to her nomination — she’s even been known to wear her own letter jacket at Pony Homecoming games.