Gabriel Brisbois at the NWSA Reunion
Gabriel Brisbois at the 2022 NWSA Reunion

Have you ever hitchhiked to get from one place to another? Northwest School of Agriculture alum Gabriel Brisbois 1954 knows it all too well as he used to hitchhike from school to home if he wanted to visit his family on the weekend. Brisbois grew up in Mahnomen County south of Lengby, Minn., on a small farm. He went to country school before attending school in Mahnomen when his cousin, Louis, who lived on Roy Lake east of Mahnomen, mentioned he was going to attend the “Crookston AC” and wondered if Brisbois was interested. Brisbois recalls asking, “Where’s that?” and talked to his parents about possibly attending.

“Back then, when I was going to school in Mahnomen, I had to walk a mile and a half to the bus and then walk a mile and a half back home every school day which was not fun, especially in the wintertime,” Brisbois explained. “My folks were “sold” on the fact that the school year in Crookston wouldn’t start until a month after the regular school year and out a month before so I could be home to help with work. They wrote a letter and sent in the admission papers, the entrance fee and materials, and said ‘you’re in’.”


Gabriel Brisbois part of Advanced Choir
Gabriel Brisbois sang in Advanced Choir

“I came to the AC as a sophomore and Louis was my roommate,” he added. “We tried not to cause too much trouble, but maybe we did a little.”

On the weekends, if Brisbois wanted to go home to see his family, he’d go to the road and “stick out his thumb” and hitchhike to Mahnomen to his aunt and uncle’s house. From there he would get a ride from the mailman or walk home and surprise his parents as they didn’t have a phone. When he wanted to get back to school, his dad would give him a ride to Highway 2 by Lengby and he’d hitchhike back to Crookston.

“It was an adventure,” Brisbois shared. “I met a lot of different people; a lot of nice people would pick me up. Sometimes I could only get a ride to Erskine and then I’d have to stick my thumb out again to get to Crookston. Most times I’d just spend my weekends in Crookston though.”

Gabriel Brisbois included in the A-Squad Football Team
Gabriel Brisbois participated in Football

While attending the NWSA, Brisbois was involved in choir (mixed and advanced), pep band, Newman Club, and football.

“I went out for football, but didn’t play one minute,” Brisbois admitted. “It was a good experience because all the kids were so good to each other. They were from up into Canada and over to Peoria, Illinois, and a lot of them were farm kids from the area.”

“I went to every practice, went on every football trip, and never played one minute,” he added with a chuckle. “When I got to Fosston High School, after transferring, I played every game and every minute as a senior. I remember (NWSA) coach Lysaker had never talked to me while I was at the AC, but when I was in Fosston and went to tackle the AC quarterback Bruce Kramer, Lysaker yelled out, ‘get that Brisbois’, and I took that as a compliment.”

Gabriel Brisbois with a group of NWSA students
Gabriel Brisbois in a group photo during his sophomore year

After Brisbois’ sophomore and junior years, a road was installed past his family’s home and Brisbois’ parents decided he should come back and ride the bus to Fosston High School for his senior year.

“The AC in Crookston was a terrific school, also academically, and it was a great place to be,” said Brisbois. “I really

 enjoyed it and would not have developed the way I did if I hadn’t gone there.”

“The only drawback was there were fewer girls than boys,” he added jokingly.

Gabriel Brisbois with the Newman Club
Gabriel Brisbois participated in the Newman Club

After graduating high school, Brisbois said a priest in the area convinced him to attend Saint John’s College (University) about 15 miles south of St. Cloud, Minn. He recalls there were no dorm rooms available so he and four other gentlemen had to stay at Saint Ben’s, which was a “girls’ college” at the time. They lived in the same house together for two years, cooking their own meals, and became close just like a family. Brisbois then made his way to Bemidji College (Bemidji State University) to attend during the winter quarters when he wasn’t working construction in the summer.

“I ended up running out of classes to take and had to go to the council to ask what I had left to get a four-year degree,” he recollected. “The council said I had about a full year left, but I’d have to go spring, fall, and winter quarters. Then they said I didn’t take physical education at Saint John’s and they didn’t accept ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) for phy ed, so I’d have to attend an additional quarter of a year.”

“I decided to think on it and called the college in Mayville (N.D.) and they said they would accept my ROTC credits as physical education and would not have to attend an extra quarter, so I got my four-year degree there in history, English, and education as I was going to be a teacher,” Brisbois added.

Gabriel Brisbois in the school band
Gabriel Brisbois played in the pep band

In the meantime, Brisbois met MaryAnn (Klinkhammer) from Beaulieu, Minn., and they were  married the summer of 1960, seven days after she graduated high school. The lovebirds, who joked they were not pregnant when they got married, made their way to Mayville so Brisbois could finish his degree. He was quickly recruited to teach at a school near the Iron Range, in Aurora, Minn., and the Brisbois’ stayed there seven years, adding three children to the mix - two boys and a girl.

Following an unfortunate disagreement with the Aurora superintendent, the Brisbois’ made their way to Hibbing, Minn., where he taught for 25 blissful years. In 1971, Brisbois took a leave of absence from teaching at Hibbing Junior High and went to work at the state capital in St. Paul, Minn., for Lieutenant Governor Rudy Perpich where Brisbois was his executive secretary for over a year. During the time he was away, MaryAnn took care of the kids including hauling their boys’ hockey goalie pads to and from games and practice. The next fall, Brisbois resigned from his government position and went back to teaching in Hibbing.

Gabriel Brisbois with NWSA Students
Gabriel in a group photo during his junior year

After retiring, the Brisbois’ came back to the place where Gabriel grew up south of Lengby and they remodeled the home where they are now. In their retirement years, following MaryAnn’s time at Bemidji State University with the office of conferences, the Brisbois’ were responsible for the installation of the Mahnomen County Historical Museum and Gabriel has been a member of the Northwest School of Agriculture Alumni Association board.

“Just going back to the ‘AC’ and being a part of the board is a lot like having deja vu,” Brisbois shared. “I really enjoy being on the board and attending the annual reunions.”

The Brisbois’ children are also doing well, with their oldest son being a federal judge in Duluth, Minn., their middle son has a doctorate and works as a chemistry professor at McAllister College in St. Paul, Minn., and their daughter as senior vice president for the Anytime Fitness corporation and recently retiring.


Written for the December 2023 Torchlight e-Newsletter