The University of Minnesota Crookston held its annual Alumni Awards Ceremony on October 20, 2023 in the Sargeant Student Center’s Bede Ballroom and honored five individuals during Homecoming Week. Three former student athletes were inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame including Lisa (Rongen) Duckstad 1985, Randy Lee 2001, and Frederick “RJ” Rollins 2007. Two alumni, Tashi Wongdi Gurung (Lowa) 2013 and Amy (Loomer) Longtin 1999, were presented with the Abbey [Promise] Award and Outstanding Alumni Award, respectively.
Tashi Wongdi Gurung (Lowa) 2013 - Abbey [Promise] Award
Interim Director of Advancement and Alumni Relations Kevin Thompson presented Gurung with the Abbey [Promise] Award and provided background of Gurung’s involvements both as a student and in his adult life. Gurung came from Nepal to the U of M Crookston and engaged as a student ambassador and advisor, president of the international student association, editor of the Golden Eagle Weekly publication, recipient of the Scholarly Excellence in Equity and Diversity (SEED) Award, leader and participant in humanitarian projects “A Day Without Shoes” and “Clean Water for Everyone”, and more. Following graduation with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, Gurung attended the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Policy where he received a master’s degree in science, technology, and environmental policy and recently earned a doctorate in environmental social science/complex adaptive systems from Arizona State University. He is currently a research analyst for EdPlus Data Catalytics and Action Lab. Outside work and education, Gurung has raised substantial funds that have positively impacted the lives of thousands by delivering urgently needed relief supplies and pledged to assist others during earthquakes, floods, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The most valuable lessons that I learned (during) my time in Crookston has been inside the classroom, but most importantly, that coupled with what I learned from interacting with people and from the community,” Gurung added. “Whether that’s cleaning the ditch and the highway, or serving soup in the kitchen, or dancing and singing to Nepali songs to share our culture to the lovely people in the senior assisted home. It’s my time in Crookston that really instilled the value of community, that taught me the power of community.”
Gurung shared a short story with event guests saying, in 2011, three students, one from Kenya, one from Fosston (Minn.), and one from the Himalayas in Nepal, met for the first time in a biology class. They became friends over the course of time and shared more than assignments and coursework; they shared their ambitions and their career goals. After they graduated from U of M Crookston, they continued to support each other while they pursued their career goals. Years later, the student from Kenya is a medical doctor, the student from Fosston is a chiropractic doctor, and Gurung is a doctor of philosophy.
Amy (Loomer) Longtin 1999 - Outstanding Alumni Award
The Outstanding Alumni Award was presented to Longtin by retired associate professor Jerry Knutson, who taught biology on the Crookston campus for 35 years. Knutson said Longtin is an individual who embodies spirit, excellence, dedication, and community engagement, and has distinguished herself by becoming a real success story both in her personal journey and in her professional life. While at the U of M Crookston, Longtin was an honor student and athlete in both volleyball and basketball. She was named MVP of the Golden Eagles women’s basketball team in 1999 and made the 1999 All-Conference basketball team. Following graduation, Longtin went on to attend the University of Mary where she received a master’s in business management. She is currently the IT director for Fargo (N.D.) Park District and founder and CEO of Tech4Kids, a nonprofit organization that provides software and technology to support a remote academic learning environment for kids to succeed through donations of repurposed laptops, iPads, and MacBooks. Longtin has received numerous awards and recognitions including Mrs. North Dakota America 2020, Leading Ladies Honoree 2021, and YWCA Women of the Year in Technology 2023.
“Her journey from UMC student athlete to distinguished IT director, CEO of a nonprofit organization, and community leader are truly inspiring,” Knutson shared.
Longtin said she was flabbergasted about receiving the Outstanding Alumni Award. She told the story about how she came to U of M Crookston as she and her family were weighing options on schools that were interested in recruiting her for basketball. Longtin said former coach Brenda Krogstad came to watch her play and said Crookston was interested in recruiting her for both basketball and volleyball.
“This was one of the first colleges that was ever connected nationwide with wired technologies, that was amazing and I got my education from the IT aspect of it,” Longtin explained. “While I was here I worked three jobs and would go to my classes and practice.”
She also lifted up the experiences she had when she was named Mrs. North Dakota 2020 and, when the COVID-19 pandemic started, she took it upon herself to start Tech4Kids so kids could succeed in a remote environment.
“Today, Tech4Kids has proudly donated 267 laptops to area children in need; this is what fills my cup,” she added.
Lisa (Rongen) Duckstad 1985 - Athletic Hall of Fame
Fellow Athletic Hall of Fame inductee Sherry (Staff) Nelson 1986 presented Duckstad with her award stating she played basketball with Duckstad both in high school and at the U of M Crookston. Nelson said Duckstad was a very intense player and great leader, and always had three important people in the stands watching her play - Duckstad’s mom and dad, Chuck and Laverne Rongen, and daughter, Jessica.
Duckstad was an All-Conference selection for Minnesota Crookston during the 1983-84 and 1984-85 seasons and helped her squad to a 7-4 conference record as a freshman in 1983-84. She averaged 16.9 points per game in her career and secured 196 rebounds during the 1984-85 season. After graduation, Duckstad went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in textiles and clothing, with a minor in mass communication from North Dakota State University. She works for Motorola Solutions as the senior account manager where she is responsible for sales, strategic account planning, and overall relationship management in North Dakota and northern Minnesota. Duckstad has been involved with the American Cancer Association DetermiNATION, was formerly the Thrivent Youth Director for West Polk County, and is a graduate of Leadership Crookston. She has worked with the Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce and has been involved with the American Cancer Society, Crookston Youth Basketball Association, and Fertile Youth Basketball Association.
During her acceptance speech, Duckstad thanked Nelson for being by her side for many milestones in her life and the University for laying the foundation for her to be able to continue her education that would launch her into a successful sales career. She also thanked and recognized her high school basketball coaches who were present with her at the event.
“I knew I wanted to play college basketball and my story was a little different when I signed up at UMC,” she added. “I was a package deal with a basketball in one hand and a baby on my hip. I’m sure this wasn’t the norm, but, by the grace of God, and the support from my family, friends, teammates, and coaches I was able to keep playing basketball.”
Duckstad also made mention of her family, particularly her father, Chuck, who is a former recipient of the University of Minnesota Crookston Torch & Shield award, the University’s highest honor, for his leadership and development. She said 70 years ago, her uncle, Maynard Helgaas, attended the Northwest School of Agriculture and played basketball for “the great” Herschel Lysaker in 1953.
Randy Lee 2001 - Athletic Hall of Fame
Randy Lee was presented with his award by friend, Brandon Hutton, who mentioned Lee’s hard work on the football field and leadership in the workplace. Lee is the all-time leader in interceptions in the history of the Minnesota Crookston football program with 18 and set the single-season record with eight in 1998. He ranked in the top five with three interceptions in a season in 1997. Lee is a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame with the 1997 Football Team helping them to their first-ever NAIA National Tournament appearance, and a second-place finish in the NDCAC. Lee was an All-NSIC First Team pick in 1999, making him the program’s first-ever All-NSIC First Team selection. He was a three-year defensive starter, three-time first team All-Conference defensive back, and an honorable mention All-American returner. He was a member of the Dean’s List, Special Teams Player of the Year, Most Valuable Defensive Player, a team captain, and three-time All-Academic Team recipient. Lee went on to play semi-pro football where he was named Rookie of the Year.
Lee graduated in 2001 with a bachelor of science degree in business from U of M Crookston. He is a construction manager in the BioEnergy industry, working for Ascension Contracting Co., where he constructs and manages renewable energy facilities. Lee built and led a first-of-its-kind, emission-friendly gathering facility for BP in the Permian Basin, which garnered attention in the Wall Street Journal.
Lee said he came to Crookston in the middle of winter after visiting several schools and, the moment he arrived, U of M Crookston was “it” for him - “family, day one.”
“I have friends today that I met here, we were the best five friends; we talked every day, those friends are forever,” Lee shared. “Everybody here was welcoming at every level.”
Frederick “RJ” Rollins 2007 - Athletic Hall of Fame
Former head football coach Shannon Stassen 1990 introduced Rollins and presented the award to Rollins’ mother, Denise, at the event. Rollins was unable to attend in person due to work as a firefighter and paramedic training commitments. Stassen said he had the honor to coach Rollins and considers him a friend and one of his greatest inspirations.
“Grit, determination, and the will to prepare to win, these are words that describe RJ Rollins,” said Stassen. “Some other words to describe him: tremendous athlete, obviously, natural born leader, and a great teammate. I could go on and on, but you get the picture. RJ was and is a special, special talent, and continues to be to this day.”
Rollins set school and NSIC records in single-game rushing (384), attempts (52), single-game touchdowns (5), and season rushing (1,549). He is 13th all-time in NSIC history in rushing yards per game (97.4) and holds the NSIC record for rushing game average of 202.9 yards per game in 2004. Rollins led the NSIC in scoring, rushing, and all-purpose yards, while finishing fourth in punting in 2004 and led the NSIC in rushing and all-purpose yards in 2005. Rollins was a 2004 Honorable Mention All-American selection and earned selection to the All-NSIC team in 2004 and 2005. Rollins was a two-time National Player of the Week, and received multiple NSIC Player of the Week accolades including being recognized as a preseason All-American.
Rollins received his bachelor of science degree in 2007 from the University of Minnesota Crookston majoring in business and went on to play for the Omaha Beef of the United Indoor Football Association for 10 seasons. He was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2006 and became the team’s all-time leading rusher.
“I was extremely grateful and full of gratitude when I got the email letting me know I was going to be inducted into this year’s Hall of Fame class,” said Rollins in a recorded video message played at the ceremony. “Getting this award definitely isn’t something I did alone. I’d like to thank all my friends and family who supported me throughout my years in Crookston. I want to thank my teammates.”
“I especially want to thank the guys who came down to school with me,” he added. “I was just a kid from Alaska who wanted to play football with his friends.”
Rollins said the one thing he can take away from Crookston which helped him in life, which helped him be a father, which helped him be a better man, is the motto our football team used, “those who stay will be champions”. At first he thought it was just about football, but as he got older, and replayed it in his mind, Rollins says it’s a mindset for life. Don’t give up on what you love, work hard, be consistent, and at the end of the day you’re going to be a champion.
View photos of the 2023 Alumni Awards Ceremony and Homecoming Week here http://z.umn.edu/homecoming-2023-photos