Three to be honored as Distinguished Alumni

April 17, 2017

Three individuals will be honored for a lifetime of distinction after graduating from Stillwater Area High School. 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 Distinguished Alumni will be honored at a special dinner on Friday, June 2 and also the next day during the commencement ceremony for graduating seniors of 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, the local education nonprofit that raises funds to enhance and enrich the education of students in Stillwater Area Public Schools. 

Buy your tickets to the Distinguished Alumni Dinner on June 2. If you know of a distinguished alumnus you would like to nominate for next year, an online form is available here.


Marilyn “Lynn” (Bruette) Abercrombie, Class of 1948

Lynn Abercrombie traveled the world capturing rare images of exotic locations as an accomplished freelance photographer for National Geographic. Her career spanned more than three decades, with assignments to all of the seven continents.

As a female photographer in a male-dominated profession, she served as an example of success for aspiring women. 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 . As a complement to her husband Thomas, Lynn’s freelance contributions to National Geographic provided a feminine side to the story. Women and children often felt more at ease being photographed by Lynn, and she was allowed to visit places that were off-limits to men.

Abercrombie also preserved and expanded her family’s legacy by editing and publishing the book, Traveling 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.

Prior to leading the White House for the President’s second term, McDonough served as Deputy National Security Advisor and played a definitive role in shaping U.S. national security policy. Whether managing Russian aggression, facing new challenges in Asia, or handling terrorism and cyber-security threats, McDonough understood the global factors that impact modern organizations and helped audiences identify the risks and opportunities that lie ahead.

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,” additionally noting that he relied on McDonough’s intellect, judgment, and indispensable advice.

Prior to becoming one of the President’s closest advisors, McDonough worked as an aide to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and served as a senior foreign policy advisor. He graduated summa cum laude from Saint John's University with a B.A. 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.


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 has worked for five of the metro’s largest radio stations and has become 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, 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 - she’s even been known to wear her own letter jacket at Pony Homecoming games.