Northwest High School recognized three of its alumni as “distinguished” Friday morning.
At a ceremony in the Northwest High School auditorium, Allison Meier Madrigal, Sharon Placke and Joan (Wieczorek) Ruskamp were recognized as the 2020 distinguished alumni recipients.
Each woman received an award and a plaque displayed in the hallway of the high school.
Gian Baxter-Collins, executive director of the Northwest Education Foundation, said that in order to be recognized as distinguished alumni, candidates must be nominated and must have graduated from Northwest High School at least 20 years ago.
“As we celebrate Northwest High School’s homecoming, we also celebrate alumni that have achieved reaching their dreams and purpose, and have worked hard to impact many people’s lives in a positive way,” she said. “It is a great day to honor three Northwest distinguished alumni.”
Placke, a 1982 graduate, is the business manager for Northwest Public Schools, overseeing different areas of the education process with a focus on finance, human resources and wellness. In 2006, she was instrumental in forming the district with the merger of Northwest High School — a Class VI high school — with four Class I elementary schools — Chapman, Cedar Hollow, 1-R and St. Libory.
In addition to her role as Northwest’s business manager, Placke also was one of the original members of the Northwest Education Foundation.
Former Northwest Superintendent Matt Fisher introduced Placke at Friday’s ceremony. He said she is someone who “lives the Viking spirit every single day” and has worked hard to ensure students have the best educational experience possible.
“Sharon’s dedication to students and staff, and doing what is best for the Northwest district, is unwavering,” Fisher said. “She is willing to butt heads with anyone who fails to make the interests of the Northwest students a priority. She bends over backwards to make sure that staff and students have everything they need to be successful.”
Placke said that as Northwest’s business manager, she always sat in the audience to watch others be named distinguished alumni, but never imagined she would be named one of the recipients.
“It is truly an honor to be recognized for the work I have done here at Northwest,” she said. “But anything you do in life is never done alone. There are always people who are there to help you. I have had much support over the last several years here at Northwest.
“For me, the distinguished alumni award means so much more. It not only recognizes the work that I have done at Northwest, but what all of us have done as administrators and staff members to make Northwest one of the premier school districts in the state.”
Ruskamp, a 1978 Northwest graduate, has worked in the day-to-day operation of her family’s 4,000-head cattle feeding and grain feeding operation in Dodge and shares the story of beef production with consumers and hosts numerous farm tours for people from all over the world.
She has taken her passion for agriculture national through elected and volunteer positions with organizations such as Common Ground and the Cattleman’s Beef Board. Her previous awards include the Livestock Industry Appreciation Award, FarmHer Hall of Fame Award and Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture Alumni Achievement Award.
Linda Mader-Green said she nominated Ruskamp as she is “the perfect example” of someone who worked to achieve her dream, even though it didn’t match up with her childhood experiences. She said that as a high school student, Ruskamp had no agricultural background, but she had a passion for animals and dreamed of being on a farm.
Ruskamp said her time at Northwest High School brought many challenges as she struggled with low self-confidence, uncertainty about who she was and “felt lost with no sense of direction.”
“You could say I went through the motions of going through school,” she said. “Some of the choices I made were more about survival than helping me thrive. As I approached my senior year, I really had no clue what I wanted to do after high school. I just wanted to make it through high school.”
Ruskamp said the “turning point” came when her agriculture teacher gave her some direction. She said he saw her interest in animals and biology and suggested she become a veterinarian.
“He gave me a suggestion I had not thought of,” Ruskamp said. “But being a veterinarian would mean eight years of college, a lot of expenses and I wasn’t really sure how I would manage that. But he mentioned this technical school (NCTA) in a small town in Nebraska I hadn’t even heard of (Curtis). But I looked into it, I applied and got accepted.”
Ruskamp said her college experience was a positive one, but once she neared graduation, she faced questions similar to those she faced in high school.
She said: “What do I do next? What job should I take? Where do I want to live? What veterinary clinic do I want to work for? My first choice did not have an opening at the time. So I chose a clinic similar to it in Fremont.”
Ruskamp said she and her husband found a way to make their farm profitable, but that the stresses of working daily around cattle started to get to her.
“I lost the joy in what I was doing and my ‘north star’ seemed to have gone dark,” she said. “That light shined again when I had the opportunity to serve as a spokesperson for the beef industry. My love for cattle and those experiences working on our farm enabled me to share stories that were authentic and transparent. I found that serving and sharing that story I believed in gave me new joy and new passion.”
Allison Meier Madrigal
Meier Madrigal, a 1998 Northwest graduate, spent 10 years working in “corporate America” before resigning to launch Vitality Solutions, a first of its kind in vitro fertilization insurance product that financially reimburses those for whom IVF does not result in live birth.
She also is the founder and president of Rescue America, a national anti-trafficking organization. Through its 24/7 rescue hotline, the organization has responded to more than 1,500 calls and rescued more than 500 sex trafficking victims.
“I knew that I was supposed to be doing something different with my life, so it all started by taking one step and answering what I felt I was supposed to be doing,” Meier Madrigal said of starting Rescue America.
She said she was proud to be named a distinguished Northwest High School alumni.
“It is a pleasure and honor to be here today to receive the 2020 distinguished alumni award,” Meier Madrigal said.
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