Eight to join Milaca hall of fame

Membership in the Milaca High School Hall of Fame will increase to 23 when eight new members are inducted Saturday at the Milaca American Legion banquet room.

There will be a social time at 11 a.m., followed by a luncheon at 11:30 and the induction ceremony at 12:15 p.m.

Tickets for the luncheon are $15 and are available at First National Bank and the Milaca High School District Office, or by emailing Dave Leom at david.leom@milaca.k12.mn.us.

There is no charge to attend the induction ceremony, however, seating is limited.

The Class of 2013 includes graduates Dean Isaacson, Jeanette (Stromberg) DeHart, Tom Knapp, John Kuether, Ken Muller and Belle Bennett. Non-alumni inductees are Merl Soderstrom and Florence Wahl.

Kuether, Knapp, Bennett and Wahl are deceased.

Bennett and Wahl were featured in the Aug. 29 Times, while Isaacson and DeHart were featured Sept. 5. Following are profiles on Kuether, Knapp, Soderstrom and Muller.

John Kuether

John Kuether

John A. Kuether

Kuether arrived in Mille Lacs County in a boxcar in 1897 with his German immigrant parents. He became one of Milaca’s most successful entrepreneurs as well as a civic leader.

While serving in the Army during World War I, he was assigned to the Motor Transport Corp., where he gained mechanical knowledge of the expanding automotive age. That led him to his first job in Milaca as a service station attendant at the Standard Oil Station. He eventually became the owner and operator of the Mille Lacs Oil Company, beginning a 60-year association with the Pure Oil Co. He founded the Mille Lacs Transport Co. in 1941 with the purchase of his first gasoline tanker truck. He later became co-owner of one of the largest fleets of gas trucks in the state.

Kuether and Ed Olson organized the Natural LP Gas Co. in Milaca and later founded the City Gas. Co. in St. Cloud. He was elected president of the Northwest Petroleum Association and received many awards while in the petroleum industry.

Kuether served as captain of the Minnesota State Guard Co. A, 2nd Infantry Regiment of the Milaca area. Kuether was a 75-year member of the Milaca American Legion and held many posts on boards in the community, including president of the Chamber of Commerce. He was involved in many civic projects, including parks and the community festival and parade.

Tom Knapp

Tom Knapp

Tom Knapp

Trick-shot artist extraordinaire. That describes Knapp’s long career as a master exhibition shotgun performer who thrilled crowds at events across the country and in Europe, as well as TV viewers.

Knapp, a 1969 Milaca graduate, made his precision shots firing his pump-action shotgun from the hip, from behind his back and from over his head. He held many records and could hit targets as small as aspirin tablets.

Tom was featured on the History Channel program “Sharpshooters” and a highlight video of his shots has drawn more than 3 million viewers on YouTube. He was noted for his big smile and outgoing personality. Friends say he was a marksman as early as his junior high years.

Knapp’s exhibition events were sponsored by firearms and ammunition manufacturers, including Winchester Olin, Federal Cartridge and Benelli. After 25 years working for the Hennepin County Parks Department, he decided to tour full time.

Merl Soderstrom

Merl Soderstrom

Merl Soderstrom

Soderstrom, a 1957 graduate of Mora High School, taught and coached at Milaca Schools 38 years and has since worked eight years as a substitute teacher. “Sod” coached softball, baseball and basketball, and his teams won several honors. He started the softball program at Milaca in 1978 and the Milaca softball field is now named “Sod Park.”

Soderstrom was Milaca Teacher of the Year in 1970-71. His voice was heard as public address announcer at Milaca football and basketball games for 35 years.

Soderstrom was master of ceremonies for the Miss Milaca Pageant for several years and has participated in several community choirs and been a volunteer at the Milaca Food Shelf. He served as chairman of the First Baptist Church Board 15 years and was president of the organization, Baptist Men of Minnesota.

Soderstrom graduated from St. Cloud State University where he earned many honors as a football player. He was inducted into the university’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001.

In 2011 he was inducted into the Mora High School Athletic Hall of Fame.

Ken Muller

Ken Muller

Ken Muller

Muller’s family moved to a farm near Foreston when he was 4. He attended Milaca High School as a freshman and sophomore. To help support his family, he worked on a dairy farm and went to school in Glenwood City, Wis., his junior year. He graduated from Milaca in 1959.

Muller served in the Army nine years, both stateside and abroad. He served in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968. While in the Army, he received training in radio repair and electronics. He received training in the Army Calibration School and was responsible for scheduling and deployment of calibration teams to bases in Vietnam and Thailand.

He resided in Maryland 1969-2003, where he worked for electronics companies, including Bendix Corp., and Micro-Tel Corp. His product designs were used by NATO the Secret Service, the U.S. Government and military. He co-founded Com-Sol Communications Solutions in 1990 and authored many papers covering miniature microwave receiver designs.

After retirement, Muller and his wife Judy moved to Milaca. He has been active in the Milaca American Legion and the VFW. He was president of Stones Throw Golf Course and the Zion Lutheran Church Board. Muller is serving his second term on the Milaca City Council and he is on the city’s Economic Development Committee. He is chairman of the Milaca Airport Commission and has been an organizer of the annual Milaca Fly-In for several years.

The Milaca High School Hall of Fame acknowledges former students, school personnel or community members who have brought special recognition to themselves or to Milaca High School by demonstrating high qualities of character and leadership during or following their time at the school.

Plaques honoring members are on display near the entrance to the gymnasium at Milaca High School.

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