Photo of Amber Johnson and Theresia Gillie

The Torch & Shield Recognition was held on Wednesday, November 6, 2019, in Kiehle Auditorium. It is an evening dedicated to honoring individuals and organizations who have provided leadership and who have aided in the development of the University of Minnesota Crookston, the Northwest Research and Outreach Center, and Extension. This year, two individuals received the prestigious award: Dr. Kari Torkelson and Theresia Gillie.

Photo of Zach Zimmer and Kari Torkelson

Hosting the evening’s event were Mary Holz-Clause, chancellor of the University of Minnesota Crookston, and Tim Menard, director of counseling services at UMN Crookston. Greetings were brought from University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel. Alongside them, UMN Crookston senior from Sebeka, Minn., Amber Johnson, majoring in communication and agricultural communication, presented Theresia Gillie with her Torch and Shield award. Zach Zimmer, also a UMN Crookston senior from Cottage Grove, Minn.,  majoring in information technology management, presented Dr. Kari Torkelson with her Torch and Shield Award.

Scholarship recipient, Christopher Lang, senior from Kenyon, Minn., majoring in software engineering, spoke about his journey at UMN Crookston and recent internship at NASA. A musical selection by a women's ensemble accompanied by associate professor George French  and a video by the visual communication class rounded out the evening.

Furthermore, the exhibition“Roots of the Red River Valley: photographs from the 1937 sugar beet harvest,” brought together by UMN Crookston staff Ken Mendez, Megan Beck Peterson, and student Lauren Wallace, was featured during the evening. 

Torch & Shield Recipient Biographies

Dr. Kari Torkelson

Dr. Kari Torkelson 1991, an optometrist in Grand Forks, N.D., has a long and special relationship with University of Minnesota Crookston. While attending UMN Crookston,  she played basketball and volleyball – her basketball team (1989-90) was inducted into the UMC Hall of Fame in 2008. She also participated in choir and campus ministry and was a residential advisor during her years at on campus. 

She transferred to North Dakota State University, Fargo N.D., to complete her bachelor’s degree, and then to Indiana University, Bloomington, to earn her Doctorate of Optometry. She returned to the Crookston area and reconnected with the University of Minnesota Crookston, serving on the Teambacker Board, All-College Advisory Committee, the Alumni Association board, and the Athletic Hall of Fame committee. 

In 2001, Torkelson was named an Outstanding Alumni at the University of Minnesota Crookston, and in 2011, she was awarded the prestigious University of Minnesota Alumni Association Service Award. 

In addition to her strong presence on campus, Torkelson is equally committed to her community and the world by serving on the boards of the North Dakota School for the Blind Foundation and Habitat for Humanity in Grand Forks. Her efforts have been recognized by the St. Hilaire Lions Club with the Minnesota Lions Eye Bank Helen Keller Sight Award for her volunteer work with mission trips to Tanzania, Jamaica and Ecuador to using her skills as an eye doctor to address the needs of people. She is currently an optometrist at Lifetime Vision Center in Grand Forks.

Theresia Gillie

Theresia Gillie, a successful business owner in Hallock, Minn., sets the bar for women in agriculture. A graduate earning her associate degree in accounting from the University of Minnesota Crookston 1983 and Class II graduate of Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership Program (MARL), she serves as and Kittson County commissioner and is the state director of the Minnesota Wheat and Soybean Associations.

She has held many positions with the Soybean Growers Association in addition to president, including vice president, state director, secretary, chair of industry affairs, chair of advocacy, chair of membership and co-chair of corporate relations. She also served as treasurer of the Kittson County Fair Board, Kittson County Soybean Growers and Kittson County Farm Bureau. 

The death of Gillie’s husband, Keith, in 2017, has served as a driving force the work she does in her community. She has rallied for farmers and rural Americans in Washington, D.C., by helping elected officials with a farm disaster bill and going before an ag panel to acquire funding for mental health services in rural areas. 

Although Gillie holds seats on multiple boards and committees, perhaps the most important one is the seat of her combine, farming 950 acres in northwest Minnesota on the Gillie Grain farm. She and two neighbors act as a cooperative, sharing labor and equipment to farm their respective acreage. 

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 

About UMN

The University of Minnesota System, with campuses in Crookston, Duluth, Morris, Rochester, and the Twin Cities, is driven by a singular vision of excellence. We are proud of our land-grant mission of world-class education, groundbreaking research, and community-engaged outreach, and we are unified in our drive to serve Minnesota. Learn more at

Story Contact: Shawn Smith