Northwest School of Agriculture classmates and friends gathered to reminisce, reconnect and celebrate during their 2022 reunion held June 24 on the University of Minnesota Crookston campus. A highlight of the event was the recognition of this year’s Top Aggies - Eloise Wold Sobtzak (Class of 1957), Keith Miller (Class of 1958) and Gary Pedersen (Class of 1964.)

The reunion was celebrated at multiple locations across the beautifully landscaped campus including an Aggie Huddle at the Wellness Center, refreshments in the Northern Lights Lounge, Top Aggie Luncheon and Annual Meeting in Bede Ballroom, group photo outside the Sargeant Student Center, class meetings for graduates from the 1940s-1960s in the Minnesota Room, Prairie Room, Alseth NWSA Boardroom, International Lounge, Eagles Nest and classrooms in Dowell Hall, and a Happy Hour Social at the Peterson Gazebo on the Campus Mall.

During the Top Aggie Luncheon, this year’s honorees had the chance to share about their experiences while at the NWSA and how that has carried with them through their lives.

Eloise (Wold) Sobtzak – Class of 1957

While at the NWSA, Sobtzak was the 1957 Snow Ball queen, cheerleader, member of the National Honor Society, won the most improved piano student award and graduated in the top ten of her class.

Sobtzak said her time at the school “totally prepared me for life in college, dorm life, and independent study habits” and that she was “never homesick.”

Following graduation from the NWSA, Eloise (Wold) Sobtzak went on to receive her bachelor of science degree in elementary education from Bemidji State College (Bemidji State University.) She taught children for 30 years in Duluth, Minn., Fargo, N.D., Barnesville, Minn., and the children of U.S. service members in Germany before retiring in 2000. Additionally, Sobtzak helped teach preschool for children of migrant farm workers through Tri-Valley Opportunity Council. Throughout her career, Sobtzak has been president of Madison School PTA in Fargo, the secretary of the Barnesville Education Association and was eventually selected as director of the preschool program which she worked until the 1990s when the program closed in Barnesville.

She resides in Barnesville with her husband, Dennis, and they have been married for 59 years. The pair have five adult children – Renee, Page, Kelly, Lane and Jim.

Keith Miller – Class of 1958

Miller said the classes he took while at the NWSA “offered training in many of the trades” and that he gained practical skills in school that he used his entire life and at the fire department. “Those skills proved invaluable.”

After graduating from the NWSA, Miller served as a radio man on a U.S. destroyer war ship in the Vietnam War followed by 32 years as a paramedic and engineer for the Los Angeles County Fire Department. During his career as a firefighter, Miller fought numerous brush fires, took on destruction during the L.A. riots and traveled to New York to work at Ground Zero following 9/11 where first responders attended memorials during the day and dug through rubble at night. He also helped launch the county’s paramedic program and was named Palmdale City Firefighter of the Year.

Miller resides in Leona Valley, Calif. and has two sons, Mark and Mike. Mark has followed in his father’s footsteps serving as a Los Angeles firefighter and paramedic. Sadly, Keith’s wife, Sandy, passed away in 2020.

Gary Pedersen – Class of 1964

Pedersen said the value of his education from the NWSA led him to get his master’s degree rather than just a bachelor’s degree and, throughout his career, he would often think about a few of his teachers – Ralph Titus, Lynn Tharaldson and Conrad Kvamme. “They all gave me the incentive to reach higher.”

Following graduation from the NWSA, Pedersen served in the U.S. Navy Reserve from 1968-1974 and was on active duty from 1968-1970. He obtained a bachelor of science degree from North Dakota State University in business economics in 1972 and a master of science degree in economics in 1973. Pedersen worked as a loan officer in Luverne, Minn. and Cloquet, Minn. before putting in 43+ years at Dacotah Paper Co. in Fargo, N.D. During his time at Dacotah Paper, he worked as a human resources manager, credit manager and safety manager, and has served as vice president, secretary and treasurer on the board of directors. Pedersen is a senior certified professional through the Society of Human Resources Management and the HR Certification Institute, and is a certified business associate through the National Association of Credit Management. He was honored with the Melvin Jones Award from the Fargo Gateway Lions Club in 1971.

Pedersen and his wife, Jan, have been married for 46 years and, in 2016, they moved back to his childhood home in Grandin, N.D. where they have a 55-acre ranch. They have two adult children, Nicholas and Jodie, and five grandchildren.

NWSA Top Aggie Award

The Top Aggie Award is the highest honor given to the Northwest School of Agriculture alumni by the alumni association. This award recognizes alumni who have displayed exemplary commitment and service to community, church, education, family, or in their professional field. The first Top Aggie Award was presented in 1970 to Herschel Lysaker and, since then, 75 total Top Aggies have been added to the list of honorees.

History of the NWSA

The Northwest School of Agriculture was established in 1905 following a legislature appropriation for a regional, residential agricultural high school. In 1906, the NWSA officially opened with 31 students registered for its three-year course that provided training in the many aspects of agriculture as well as training in the skills necessary to run a home. The school year began in October and ended in March to accommodate both spring planting and the fall harvest. As the need for residential agricultural high schools diminished, the University of Minnesota Bureau of Field Studies recommended the phase-out of the NWSA with the possibility of launching a college-level technical institute in its stead. In 1965, the University of Minnesota Technical Institute, a two-year, associate degree granting institution, was established and opened its doors in the fall of 1966 to 185 students. The final NWSA class graduated in spring 1968 in the 60th commencement ceremony. In all, 5,433 students graduated from the NWSA.

About UMN Crookston

One of five campuses in the University of Minnesota system, the University of Minnesota Crookston cultivates curiosity by engaging students in hands-on learning connecting theory to practice. As the experienced leader in delivering education online, the Crookston campus offers a distinctive learning environment providing personal attention and mentorship to develop leaders, lifelong learners, and engaged citizens. Visit Crookston at