Placek, Ruzek named 2021 distinguished honorees by alumni group
Published 5:53 pm Tuesday, September 21, 2021
Will be honored during AHS Homecoming
A duo of alums from Austin High School’s Class of 1964 will be honored next week as part of the annual Homecoming festivities.
Terry Placek and Michael Ruzek are the 2021 Distinguished Alumni as selected by the Austin High School Alumni & Friends Association. Placek and Ruzek will be part of a reception and dinner on Thursday, Sept. 30, along with taking in Austin High School’s Homecoming festivities on Friday, Oct. 1, including the afternoon parade through downtown and the Packers football game.
Placek, of Arlington, Virginia, served for more than 40 years as a civilian in the U.S. Army, including as a chief of the comptroller proponency office and director of budgeting for the U.S. Army. These roles as financial manager and comptroller involved resource management, accounting, auditing, cost and management analysis, data processing and industrial engineering.
Ruzek, of Austin, has an extensive list of community service in his hometown, including the creation of three nonprofit organizations: Spruce Up Austin (1990) to beautify public property in the City of Austin with an emphasis on planting trees; Austin High School Alumni & Friends Association (1994) to make connections with AHS alumni and students; and the Austin Area Foundation (2003) to create a community foundation that provides various benefits to the Austin area.
The public is invited to the Sept. 30 reception and 6 p.m. dinner in honor of Placek and Ruzek at the Hormel Historic Home in Austin. Dinner tickets are $30 per person and need to be reserved by this Friday, Sept. 24, by calling the Alumni & Friends Association chair Jeni Lindberg at 507-433-4557 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
A school assembly is set for Sept. 30 at Austin High’s Knowlton Auditorium, where Placek and Ruzek will speak.
Alumni Association board members opted not to award Distinguished Alumni honors in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Placek, who retired 10 years ago, was one of nine women in her class of 208 students at the Industrial College of Armed Forces. In her civilian career with the military, Placek created, implemented and evaluated career-management policies and programs that affected more than 20,700 civilian and military financial management professionals.
She initiated the “Training with Industry” program that involved four Fortune 100 companies for insight into private sector operations and methods.
The U.S. Department of the Army honored Placek with its Meritorious Civilian Service Award in recognition of programs generated to develop leaders throughout the Army comptroller community that includes 11,000 civilians and 3,000 soldiers. She also has an honorary degree from Syracuse University and an Achievement Award for Education from North Dakota State University.
Among her advice for Austin High students, Placek emphasizes seeking opportunities and not being fearful of challenges.
“Don’t be afraid to fail,” Placek said. “Learn from your failures and disappointments.”
She added that students should seek a mentor and ask for help along the way and then become a mentor and share their knowledge and expertise with others.
Ruzek, a retired insurance agent, has helped accomplish a lot through the nonprofits he has formed in Austin. In Spruce Up Austin’s three decades, it has provided projects with an estimated value to the community of $555,000 with nearly 2,800 trees and spruce planted.
Through the Austin High School Alumni & Friends Association, Ruzek led the “Floor on the Wall” project and the Eberhardt Endowment Fund for poetry, among others.
As for the Austin Area Foundation, Ruzek has led that nonprofit since 2003 to have just under $2 million in assets under management while distributing more than $250,000 to nonprofit organizations that serve Austin.
Ruzek, a 1989 inductee to Austin High’s Athletic Hall of Fame, also has volunteered in numerous other ways, including with establishing the Mower County Veterans Memorial in downtown Austin.
He encourages students not to put too much emphasis on the academic labels of high potential, average potential and low potential. Grade point average is only one of many factors that will determine if you can do big things, he said.
“The courage it takes to start something new, the creativity to overcome obstacles, the drive it takes to keep at it, and the influence of success used wisely are things that you will not learn in a classroom,” Ruzek said.