The Litchfield High School Hall of Fame was formed for the purpose of providing current students, staff and community members with the vision of the outstanding legacies of Litchfield High School. These inductees of this hall of fame will serve as role models for current students and offer an opportunity to celebrate the successes of those who have graduated from Litchfield High School.
This year’s four hall of fame inductees include three exceptional educators, one of whom was also an exceptional coach and athlete. Our fourth inductee was a producer and writer for television. They will be honored Nov. 8 during an open house in the high school cafeteria and later during the LHS marching band concert.
The 2019 Hall of fame class of inductees are Philip Besonen, Carole Peterson Wendt, Barbara Langseth, and Ronald Johnson.
PHILIP BESONEN, LHS 1949
Philip Besonen was an educator with a true passion for teaching, and testimonials and awards followed him throughout his career.
His daughter writes that in high school he “studied hard and was an avid reader. He went to work at a hardware store in Litchfield when he was 14, eventually saving enough money to go to college at the University of Minnesota.” At the University, he earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social studies education.
Besonen’s teaching experience began in Minnesota high schools where he taught American history, first at Brooten, then St. Louis Park, where he served as president of the Park Association of Teachers.
He continued his studies at Dartmouth College, Southern Illinois University, the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and Brigham Young in Provo, Utah, where he earned his Doctorate in Education.
In 1973, Besonen became a faculty member of the University of Arkansas where he served as associate director of the Bessie Moore Center for Economic Education. In 1979, he received the school’s first Faculty Teaching Award from the University of Arkansas College of Education. In addition, he authored curriculum-related books, including Arkansas Politics and Government andTeaching the Economics of the Food and Fiber System.
During his career at the University of Arkansas, he also did short-term teaching stints abroad in Bolivia, Greece, Saudi Arabia, and the University of Leicester in England.
Early on Besonen, was fascinated by technology and how it might aid in teaching. “Technology,” he said, “is changing so fast that I compare it to a dog track — the dogs never catch the rabbit. And I will never catch up with technology. But, if I stop running, I’ll be out of the race altogether.”
A former student of his wrote, “Dr. Besonen was the only professor I had during my graduate work who sat beside students to teach methods for incorporating technology into the curriculum.... It was because of his enthusiasm and love for learning that I am now a professor of education.”
Besonen’s Finnish heritage was important to him, and sometimes, perhaps half-jokingly, he credited the Finnish concept of Sisu — stoic toughness, strength of will — for the achievements in his life. During travels in Finland, he became aware of small cottages called mokkis, and before retirement he decided to build one in his back yard. “The feeling of serenity was the most striking thing about them,” he wrote in a story about the building of his backyard mokki. The story was published in the New York Times where it generated scores of letters from around the world from people who shared his love of solitude and nature.
In 2006, the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development was ranked fifth among all public professional schools and there were 45,000 living alumni. From that number, in the school’s centennial year, Besonen was honored as one of a chosen 100 Distinguished Alumni.
Philip Besonen passed away in 2009.
CAROLE PETERSON WENDT, LHS 1952
In her response to a question in the Hall of Fame nomination form, Carole Wendt described herself as a “Writer, TV and Theater producer, Director, and Actress.” She was indeed all of those things, much of which was realized during her career with NBC in New York.
Wendt was the salutatorian of her 1952 LHS graduating class, and her academic excellence continued through her college years. She received a Bachelor of Science degree, with distinction, from the University of Minnesota where she was also included among the Outstanding Alumni of the University of Minnesota Theater Department. Later at New York University, she completed a Master of Arts degree, again with distinction, and her masters thesis was selected for presentation at a Media Communications Conference.
The promise contained in Wendt’s academic excellence was fulfilled in her career with NBC where she was a producer and writer for the Today Show, and wrote for news persons David Brinkley, Tom Brokaw, Jane Pauley, Bryant Gumbel, and Barbara Walters. The list of her achievements while at NBC (and elsewhere) is a long one and includes the following:
• Produced and wrote several weekly two-hour Bicentennial Celebration programs, each dedicated to one state.
• Producer and writer for The Jack Paar Show.
• News writer and producer for News Four, WNBC, the flagship station of the NBC Radio Network.
• Assistant producer and presentation writer for David Wolper Productions.
• Production assistant for Monitor, an NBC Network radio program.
• Associate producer for “Watergate” a special BBC production. David Frost, producer.
• Associate producer for the Guiness Book of World Records TV special. David Frost, producer.
• Did copyright research for the United States Steel Hour, a Theater Guild Production.
• Producer and writer for The David Frost Show, for which she was awarded honors from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for contributions to the two-time Emmy Award winning program.
Since retiring from NBC, Wendt has found her way back to her family home in Litchfield where her creative enthusiasms have not ceased. She founded the Litchfield Readers Theater for which she produced, directed, and acted in seven plays. These were presented at the Litchfield Opera House, the proceeds used to renovate the building.
She has served as a panelist for the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council, campaigned for a Minnesota State Senate candidate and been a member of the Lake Ripley Improvement Association, working to clean up the lake and promote new bathing beach facilities.
Wendt has continued to write, publishing free lance articles for the Litchfield Independent Review, Senior Perspective, New Woman, and Woman’s Home Companion. As a 20-year member of the Litchfield Area Writers Group, she has contributed narrative essays for the group’s annually produced books, several of which she co-edited.
Carole Peterson Wendt shows no sign of slowing down in her contributions to Litchfield and beyond.
BARBARA LANGSETH, LHS 1967
Barbara’s Langseth’s contribution to the world around her transcends any list of accomplishments. In high school, she had an active career. She was a cheerleader and in the band. She was a pianist, organist, and soloist. But, in her senior year, she suffered a serious toboggan accident, and everything changed. The promise contained in her active high school career had, of necessity, found a new dimension.
After her accident, Barbara spent 3½ months at the University of Minnesota Hospital. She came home in April to be inducted into the National Honor Society and graduated with her class.
She attended Ridgewater College, then Southwest State University, graduating with a BS degree in English Education. She then went on to become, for 31 years, 1974 to 2005, an excellent English teacher in the Litchfield high school.
Barbara was quadriplegic. She had lost the use of her legs, but did have the use of her arms and hands, though not of her fingers. She wrote with a felt tip pen and typed with sticks attached to her hands. In the classroom, she used an overhead instead of the traditional black-white board.
Though confined to her wheelchair, Barbara learned to drive using hand controls in a Handicapable Van. She drove everywhere, including a long road trip to Florida, then up the East Coast and finally home to Litchfield.
Students respected and loved Barbara and learned a great deal more than simply subject matter from her. Without speaking a word about herself, she was an example of perseverance and determination in overcoming truly difficult life circumstances. Her grace, courage, and indeed her quiet heroism were her greatest contribution to her students and the larger community of people who knew her. Over the years her example inspired countless numbers of people.
Barbara’s longtime friend and caregiver Karin Brink has written of the importance of religion in Barbara’s life: “Her faith in the Lord sustained her through her years in the wheelchair. She ‘walked’ with the Lord for 39 years, living for and trusting in Him. She used her talents and time in service to her Lord. Through her faith in Him, the Lord gave her the strength and will to carry on. She gave Him the Glory.”
Barbara passed from us in 2006. She lives on in the memory of the great many who witnessed her difficulties and her triumph.
RONALD JOHNSON, LHS 1968
Ron Johnson’s high school band director, Keith Johnson, has written that “during his high school years Ron embodied what was known as the Triple A Award for excellence in Academics, Athletics, and the Arts.” That wide-ranging excellence has continued throughout his life, but Johnson’s energies and abilities found a special focus in the sport of wrestling. At Litchfield, he was a four-time all-conference wrestler and a three- time entrant into the state high school tournament. After high school, at Augsburg College where he was vice president his junior year, he was a four-time letter winner on a team famous for the high quality of its wrestling program. While there he was a two-time All American, twice placing third in the nation. With 104 wins, he was the first ever Augsburg wrestler to reach the 100 mark.
As a coach, Johnson’s achievements have been equally impressive: At Blaine high school, he coached two state champions and one runner-up. In 1978 and 79, he coached elite youth national Greco Roman wrestling teams that were World Festival Champions. While teaching and coaching at Central College in Pella, Iowa, he coached ten NCAA Division III All Americans. In 1984, his Central College team placed second in the nation.
• In 1978, Johnson was chosen Amateur Athletic Union coach of the year.
• In 1984, he was chosen Division III national coach of the year.
In keeping with the wide-ranging promise Keith Johnson saw in him in high school, Johnson has held many positions of responsibility in church and community. Between 1990 and 2003, he was principal of Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop, Northfield and Plymouth middle schools. In 2003, he became principal of Hutchinson high school where he sought to know the name of every student in school. They commented on how “He stood in the hallway and called us all by name.” He liked to joke a little with the students and pass along bits of wisdom such as “Don’t settle for a job where on Monday you’re looking forward to Friday” and “You will never succeed if you are afraid to fail.” Johnson’s excellence as a principal did not go unnoticed, and in 2008 the Minnesota Association of High School Principals voted him Minnesota State High School Principal of the Year.
And there was yet one more wrestling honor awaiting Ron: In 2013 he was voted into the Litchfield High School Wrestling Hall of Fame.