Alumni: AHS meant a lot

Published 10:25 am Friday, September 23, 2011

Timothy Hoopman and Nancy Eitreim know one thing: They wouldn’t have gotten far in life without the they learned in Austin.

Hoopman and Eitreim are this year’s Austin High School Distinguished Alumni.

“It’s an honor to be nominated by your peers and recognized by fellow alumni,” Eitreim said, a little choked up.

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Eitreim, who graduated from Austin in 1960, obtained a University of Minnesota degree in Sociology in 1964. She went on to become a force in community service in the Seattle area during the 1960s, serving as president of the League of Women Voters there and working in public relations, among other things. She has won numerous awards for her service to Seattle residents.

Nancy Eitreim and Timothy Hoopman were honored as this years AHS Distinguished Alumni during an assembly Thursday morning in Knowlton Auditorium. - Eric Johnson/

“Serve to make the community a place where everyone can participate and reach their common goals,” Eitreim told Austin High School students Thursday morning at the Distinguished Alumni ceremony.

Eitreim explained how important service was in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when the nation faced conflicts at home and in Vietnam over the war, civil rights, free speech, women’s rights and more.

“Feelings were very high,” she told students.

She urged students to band together and make their voices heard in order to create the positive change they hoped to see.

“It is the ‘we,’ not the ‘me,’ that makes communities,” She said.

Hoopman offered similar lessons on how to succeed, although his message was a bit more roundabout. Hoopman, a 1963 AHS graduate, didn’t exactly become successful overnight.

He wasn’t very studious in school, earning low grades in reading and social studies and high grades in math and science. He eventually earned a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Minnesota in 1967, but he had to fight to get into the college since his grades weren’t up to par.

Hoopman had a little luck, however. He picked up a work internship at 3M and created a prototype power tool for a nationally-recognized senior thesis. As a result, 3M beat a path to his door once he graduated and hired him out of college.

“I kind of snuck in the backdoor of 3M, just like I snuck in the backdoor at the U of M,” he told students.

He didn’t let his innovation dry up, as he has 34 registered U.S. patents, 32 of which are with 3M. Among his accomplishments are the brightness enhancement feature on every cell phone and computer screen, something he co-created with other 3M scientists, and the retroreflective coating on street signs which revolutionized highway safety and saved thousands of lives. Hoopman eventually won the Carleton Society Award (3M’s version of the Nobel Prize) and 3M has earned more than $1 billion from Hoopman’s patents.

That doesn’t mean he didn’t have his failures, however. Hoopman encouraged students to continuously try for success and learn from each failure, as he pointed out his own failures and how he learned from them.

“Let your failures be your education and your successes be your legacy,” Hoopman said.