Two special people from the Minnehaha Academy community were recently recognized for their positive impact and dedication to the School. Don DuBois and Karen Percich both received awards from the Minnesota Independent School Forum (MISF) at their 10th annual Private and Independent Education Awards ceremony. This celebration recognizes the excellence found in Minnesota’s private and independent school community.
Don DuBois, Building Supervisor, was nominated by Mark Norlander, Upper School French teacher, and won MISF’s “Behind the Scenes” award for his heroic effort to help others in the aftermath of the school’s explosion. Karen Percich, current parent, was nominated by Jason Wenschlag, Upper School Principal, for her leadership during the search and start up of the new school’s facility in Mendota Heights. She received the “Community Champion Award.”
We are so fortunate to have such exceptional people in our MA community – they are both so deserving of these awards – congratulations!
Read on to learn why Don and Karen received this special recognition.
Don Dubois “Behind the Scenes” awardee, nominated by Mark Norlander:
On August 2 Minnehaha Academy exploded. The heroic actions of Don DuBois that day expose him as someone of extraordinary courage and selflessness.
But Don is someone worthy of the Behind the Scenes Award without taking into account what he did on August 2. Don is a maintenance worker at Minnehaha who makes the Energizer Bunny look like a slouch. He has one speed – full. Bump into him anytime, and you will see beads of sweat on his face. When teachers need something repaired, Don is on it immediately. “I’ll get to it when I can…” is a sentence you will never hear from Don.
But on August 2, we discovered that Don is much more than a hard worker.
That morning Don heard a loud hissing sound. He ran to where workers were repairing the gas line. Those workers were running out of the building and Don soon saw why: A massive gas leak. Don’s exit door to safety was just feet away. But he chose instead to warn people. He ran upstairs, yelling into his walkie-talkie, “Get out! Gas leak!” He ran into an office area, screaming. Ten seconds later the explosion happened as Don lay on top of a pregnant employee, protecting her and her baby from falling debris.
Two Minnehaha employees were killed and several were injured, some critically. The losses would have been higher if not for the brave decision and actions of Don DuBois.
After the explosion, Don continued his selfless acts to help the Minnehaha community heal. He asked teachers and staff what items they most missed. He then entered the heavily damaged buildings multiple times, to retrieve whatever he could.
What people say after the explosion:
- The access hallway to my classroom was obliterated. Don took a ladder and went through a window to get in to salvage curriculum materials. He saved me hundreds of hours’ worth of time that would have been spent replicating what I'd lost. I'm extremely grateful!
- After the explosion Don looked out for our Spanish-speaking custodians, to be sure they got help from Spanish-speaking grief counselors.
- I’m one of many, many teachers grateful for Don’s self-sacrifice, courage, countless rescue missions, and a positive, trusting outlook in the face of tragedy.
- I have watched Don deliver treasured items to those people. Files, books, dusty artifacts, pictures. Simultaneous joy and tears greeted Don each time! He did not have to risk going into the damaged areas of North Campus, but he did. He knew how much these little items meant. He knew that having things from our old spaces would make this transition just a little better. Don uses these acts of kindness to help heal the wounds of August 2.
- Don has helped the wife of John Carlson, who was killed, with upkeep and repair of her home on weekends and evenings.
- No task is too big for Don. He is selfless and, as much as he hates this label, a true HERO.
Don DuBois is a humble servant and hero to everyone at our school, and is worthy of the Behind the Scenes Award.
Karen Percich, “Community Champion” awardee, nominated by Jason Wenschlag:
Karen Percich, a parent of two upper school students, was one of many people who reached out after our school's explosion. While my inbox was flooded with offers to help, Karen's initial email stood out because of her previous volunteering and professional background; I was intrigued! We met, and wow, bringing her on as my volunteer "project manager" turned out to be the smartest decision I made during the journey to open a new school in 35 days.
Karen worked closely with me from the moment we started touring potential school sites on August 7th, all the way until we opened the doors to our temporary site on September 5th. She worked seven days a week and was available to me day and night. Her initial responsibility was to track the logistics of moving one campus to another, with a key focus on furniture and outfitting school spaces. Her work turned out to be much more, including gathering input from all teachers; identifying furniture to move from the old campus; creating spreadsheets to track ordering of materials; working with other volunteer coordinators to help with the furniture deliveries; working closely with our vendors and design team; attending most design, construction, and transition team meetings; communicating directly with many MA faculty and staff; coordinating multiple furniture moving dates, with many volunteers and over 1,000 pieces of furniture to be moved; and so many other functions and decision-making processes related to our recovery.
Karen turned out to be not only an invaluable volunteer, but an incredible leader and giver of hope and joy. She and her husband, Tom (who taught me that when Karen is leading the charge, I should just smile and wave:), gave so much time and attention to our school, but did so with a smile, laughter, grit, and such intelligence and common sense. When I was feeling tired, overwhelmed, or like I had to focus on other things, like planning the start of a school year, Karen told me to go home early or close my door and work, and she kept moving like she was paid to do so. It reached the point where I almost felt guilty because I was able to do something for myself and Karen was at school wrapping up details with furniture movers. She was definitely a gift to me and our school, and helped me maintain focus, energy, and sanity so I could attend to all other matters. We ended up being a great team!
In summary, I have worked with many volunteers in my 21-year career. I have also worked alongside consultants who charge a lot and seem to do very little. Karen Percich is an incredible talent, but more importantly, a gracious, generous, hard working person who cares about Minnehaha Academy and gave everything she had to ensure a successful transition to our temporary school site. Most impressively, she did everything with no expectation of anything in return, and was a hero behind the scenes in what turned out to be a miraculous recovery and 35-day journey of opening a new school.
Don and Karen’s families were able to celebrate with them, along with other award nominees, at the University of St. Thomas on April 29, 2018. MISF’s goal is to connect and strengthen Minnesota’s independent schools through exceptional training, resources, and advocacy.
To read more or watch videos from the event: