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On October 24, 2019, the Alworth Scholarship celebrated their 70th Anniversary of launching over 5,100 students and providing $52 million in STEM scholarships since 1949. In attendance were teachers, counselors from our service area, as well as several scholarship alumni. Lunch and a speaking program were provided. The Alworth Fund also took this opportunity to present lifetime achievement awards to three Alworth recipients in recognition of their numerous “benefits to humanity.” Awarded were June Hendrickson, Dr. William Jacott and Alve Erickson. See newspaper link below for more information on these amazing people
KEYNOTE SPEAKER, Jim Sponnick
Board of Directors
Eric Norberg, President
President, Allete Clean Energy, Retired
Tom Renier, Vice President
President, Northland Foundation, Retired
Lonnie Swartz, Treasurer
Executive Vice President
National Bank of Commerce
Pat Altrichter, Scholarship Chair
School Administrator & Teacher, Retired
Fort Ripley, MN
Retired School Superintendent
Tower, MN 55790
Manager of Communications, MN Power-ALLETE, Retired
Thomsen Training & Consulting, Inc.
Wells Fargo Advisors
Grand Rapids, MN
Patty Salo Downs
Jim Sponnick: Fly me to the moon and beyond
A lot of kids get nicknames in grade school that reflect their appearance, such as Red or Slim. Not many are as lucky as Jim Sponnick to get a nickname that predicts their future, though.
“Being a child of the 60s and 70s and having the last name Sponnick, I grew up being called Sputnik,” says Jim, referring to the first artificial Earth satellite, which was launched by the Soviet Union in 1957. “I often thought about that nickname years later, when we worked in close collaboration with the best rocket scientists and propulsion experts from Russia.”
We’re willing to bet none of those clever kids who called him Sputnik grew up to lead programs that launched spacecraft to the moon, the sun and beyond. And they certainly didn’t receive the Distinguished Public Service Medal in 2012, the highest recognition of a non-government employee awarded to those “whose distinguished service, ability or vision…made a profound or indelible impact to NASA mission success.”
Not bad for a kid who graduated from Duluth East in 1978 and is the answer to the question, “How far can a student go with the assistance of an Alworth Scholarship?” Jim helped launch the mission that eventually reached Pluto - at 3 billion miles away, the farthest planned destination for a spacecraft from Earth. He also worked on the mission that launched the Curiosity rover to the surface of Mars.
“My parents could not afford to send me to college, so college was paid for by the Alworth, plus working, getting a couple smaller scholarships from UND and some student loans,” says Jim, who graduated from the University of North Dakota’s electrical engineering program in 1982.
He'd always been fascinated by the space program, an interest cemented at age 9 by the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing. He credits helpful mentors at college and in his first years at work to his rise up in the space technology field.
And rise he did, becoming one of our nation’s most accomplished space engineers, with 184 missions to his credit during his 33 years in the field. Along the way, he got to meet such heavyweights of space exploration as John Glenn, Buzz Aldrin, Ken Mattingly, Sally Ride and others.
It wasn’t all highlights, though. His first job was with General Dynamics, working on guidance systems that would help launch satellites in space from the space shuttle, the first reusable space vehicle. It was an “Earth shattering” day when the shuttle Challenger blew up shortly after launch on Jan. 28, 1986. Certain aspects of the shuttle program were soon curtailed, including NASA having second thoughts about sending humans into space to launch satellites.
But Jim rode through the rough patch and into a golden age for rocket launches. In the 1990s, Lockheed Martin acquired the space business from General Dynamics, and the Atlas program was moved from San Diego to Denver.
Throughout the 1990s, Jim held several engineering and project management positions for the Atlas programs with responsibilities for the continuing evolution of the airborne systems and launch site ground support systems.
From 1998 through 2003, he was the director of technical management and chief system engineer for Atlas program. He was selected as the Atlas program vice president in 2003 and Jim retired in 2015 as vice president of the Atlas and Delta rocket programs for United Launch Alliance.
“I spent the first couple years after I retired spending time with my grandkids,” he says. “I’m also doing some volunteer work and built my dream workshop, primarily for woodworking, but also for working on cars and motorcycles.”
He's not quite ready to ride a motorcycle off into the sunset, though.
“I have also been doing consulting work advising aerospace companies that are developing new and exciting systems, including one young company coming up on their first rocket launch soon.”
It’s a happy coincidence that the 70th anniversary of the Alworth Scholarship is during the same year as the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing.
“The Apollo 11 moon landing and Neil Armstrong were huge inspirations for me. I watched several of the 50th anniversary documentaries with family members and did the best I could to explain the significance of what happened to my young grandkids. My sincere hope is that the space program will again generate these sorts of inspirations for our nation’s youth.”
The Alworth Report 70th Anniversary Edition Newsletter
IN THE NEWS
Hometown Focus, “Alworth Fund presents three Lifetime Achievement Awards,” November 28, 2019: https://www.hometownfocus.us/articles/alworth-fund-presents-three-lifetime-achievement-awards/
Duluth News Tribune, “’Accomplished’ Alworth Scholarship recipients to gather in Duluth,” October 22, 2019: https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/news/4734238-Accomplished-Alworth-Scholarship-recipients-to-gather-in-Duluth
Duluth News Tribune, “Alworth scholarship creates 'ripple effect' across communities, and space,”, October 24, 2019: https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/news/education/4737065-Alworth-scholarship-creates-ripple-effect-across-communities-and-space
PBS, Almanac North, Interview, October 25, 2019: https://www.wdse.org/shows/almanac/watch/almanac-north-oct-25-2019
Jim Sponnick: https://youtu.be/IvZ1E_Pxdp4
Alexander Schmies: https://youtu.be/B1tOQkNHeEY
Gabriella Lott: https://youtu.be/7CTbV6U6hF0
Who Believed in You?
Executive Director: Patty Salo Downs
Executive Director: Patty Salo Downs: https://youtu.be/lldMZjeMU9s