Brian’s fund is an award named in honor of Brian Thornsjo, who graduated from St. Louis Park High School in 1973. Brian was a very inspirational young man who had special needs. Brian faced many daily challenges and suffered many disappointments, often teased and treated poorly by his peers. But he never gave up, and always believed that one more effort, and another day, would bring success and happiness.  It is said by many who knew Brian that he always saw the best in others, wanted good things for others and simply wanted their friendship.

Although he spent most of his school years in Special Education, he worked hard in High School, eventually being mainstreamed. He went on to Vocational/Technical College and became a self-sufficient and outstanding citizen.

Sadly, Brian’s life was cut short by cancer at the age of 25. Brian’s family and friends were so inspired by and brought closer together through their experiences with Brian that they, along with Associated Bank and Personal Banker Bill Hodgson, established this award in his honor to celebrate his life and his spirit. They also wanted to recognize other amazing students who have shown the capacity to overcome great odds and inspire those around them with their tenacity and character.

The Fund gives a stipend to a deserving graduating senior who has lived through, persevered, and overcome a disability, ready to make way into the real world. The Thornsjo family works with the Counseling Office at the High School to choose the recipient of each award.

The award is not given every year – only when a candidate arises who has overcomes enormous obstacles, while displaying courage and tenacity in persevering beyond these great difficulties. Recipients of Brian’s Fund include:

Jason Lian, 2012

Claire Blackowiak, 2013.  Claire’s presentation:

Junior High had become an enormous struggle, to say the least. Coming to school became very difficult for her. Like Brian, she dealt with learning issues and peer issues, including being picked on and teased. Claire was also dealing with serious depression and she started to miss a lot of school. It is worth noting, that 1 in 5 teens deal with depression.


Her freshman year was a dramatic improvement, with a few ups and downs. She started a new program, began to do much better in school, and life got somewhat better. Unfortunately, the road got really bumpy during Claire’s sophomore year. Her persistent mental and emotional turmoil required Claire to seek support and services outside of the school district. She ended the year trying a charter school.


Claire returned to us her junior year and had a very good year. She started taking mainstream classes again, which had become a source of anxiety. The bumps and turns in the road and the emotional and mental turmoil had begun to smooth out. Claire started to become a student of her self and learned that in order to succeed, she would have to take good care of herself.


This past senior year was her best yet. She was a star this year! Her attendance was amazing, she walked most days to and from school and swam a few times a week over her lunch period. She also took challenging High school classes like Algebra and Spanish and did very well. At the community center she began volunteering twice a week caring for toddlers and babies with Early Childhood Special ed. In the classroom, she was a leader by example: She is always exceedingly kind, non- judgmental, hard-working, respectful and accepting of all. She developed a steadfast commitment to taking good care of her self and moving forward, by exercising, showing up, taking care of business and spreading joy and kindness to others.


After graduation, Claire will work a part-time job at Kidsplace with pre-schoolers this summer and then move on to T-PLUS and Hennepin Tech. next fall. She would like to study fitness and childcare at college. I am certain that her kindness, generosity and perseverance will inspire and brighten the days of many wherever she goes. Congratulations to you Claire Blackowiak, this years’ Brian’s Fund Award recipient.

Anna Newell, 2014.  Anna’s presentation:

This year’s recipient is an energetic, positive, young lady with a heart of gold. Life has given her and her family many challenges and throughout it all she has prevailed with the most positive attitude of anyone. Ask any teacher she’s had or any student she has met. She is without a doubt the most infectiously positive person around. She is a joy to work with and be around. She has volunteered to do things some students would not. She’s not only committed at school, she is very family oriented and very involved in her church. Put this all together and you’ve got a beautifully optimistic young woman who will be successful no matter what endeavor she pursues. Keeping that in mind, I’d like to introduce this years Brian’s Fund recipient, ANNA NEWELL.

Mark Thornsjo, mentor Christine Tvrdik, Anna Newell, mentor Deb Porter, and Dale Thornsjo