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O'Keefe, Cassutt are distinguished alumni

Distinguished HHS alumni Michael Cassutt, left, and Thomas O'Keefe, right1 / 2
Thomas O'Keefe was both a devoted public servant and family man. He is pictured here with his granddaughter Molly in 1988. She is the daughter of Mike and Becky O'Keefe of Hudson. Submitted photo2 / 2

Two more names will be added to the Hudson High School Wall of Fame next week when graduates Thomas O'Keefe and Michael Cassutt are named the 2010 HHS Distinguished Alumni.

The award will be made posthumously to O'Keefe, who died in 1990 of a heart attack at the age of 53. He was a member of the Class of 1955 and members of his family will be on hand to receive the award at the Wall of Fame ceremony beginning at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 22, in the HHS cafeteria.

Cassutt graduated in 1972 and went on to a successful career as a fiction and non-fiction writer and screenwriter in California . He is the son of longtime Hudson High School teacher Florian Cassutt who died earlier this year. He will attend the ceremony and will also serve as grand marshal of the HHS Homecoming Parade in downtown Hudson on Sept. 24.

Tom O'Keefe

Tom O'Keefe had a long career of service to Hudson and St. Croix County. Beginning in the 1960s, he served as superintendent of Hudson's then new wastewater treatment plant. He became the director of public works for the City of Hudson in 1970 and was St. Croix County highway commissioner until his death in 1990.

Active in St. Croix County politics throughout his career, he was elected to the county Board of Supervisors. He served as president of the Wisconsin Highway Commissioners Association and was a member of the Wisconsin National Guard, Hudson Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club and American Legion Post No. 50. He was also an active member of the Hudson Boosters who selected him as grand marshal of the club's annual parade in 1981 in recognition of his service.

But O'Keefe is also remembered for a service he quietly provided to countless anonymous people over the years as a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.

O'Keefe was active in AA for more than two decades, involved at all levels of the organization. In his obituary, the late Willis Miller, Publisher Emeritus of the Star-Observer, said that O'Keefe was known in the area as "Mr. AA" because of his activities and counseling in the program.

Miller wrote, "If someone needed help, Tom O'Keefe would respond and give his assistance. He was noted for his firm but compassionate manner."

Mike O'Keefe, one of Tom's six children, said that it wasn't until after his father's death that the family realized how many people he had touched through his AA affiliation.

"There were so many people who were strangers to us at his funeral but who had known Dad through AA and told us how much he had helped them at tough times in their lives," said Mike, who remembers his father regularly going out on "12-step calls." Tom O'Keefe was sober for close to 30 years at the time of his death.

Mike O'Keefe said his dad believed in a life of service whether in the public eye or behind the scenes. He recalled driving around the city with his father checking on manhole covers and campaigning for him with his brothers and sisters when he ran for county board.

Mike doesn't remember his father talking much about high school with the exception of his time as a football player but he would have been honored to be named a distinguished alumnus of Hudson High School.

"He wasn't much for awards but he would have appreciated being recognized in his hometown," said Mike.

The O'Keefe family includes Tom's wife Marge, sons Tom Junior, Mike, Pat and Dan and daughter Maureen O'Keefe and Colleen O'Keefe Kromer. All are expected to be on hand to accept the award for their father.

Michael Cassutt

Michael Cassutt is a long way from Hudson these days but he is looking forward to coming home as one of the 2010 HHS Distinguished Alumni.

Cassutt, 56, graduated in 1972. When asked about his high school days, he says he has always been impressed with the incredible variety of opportunities available at HHS.

"I think it was kind of a dream environment. No matter what you were interested in -- vocational education, work or college, you could get there from Hudson. Some kids went to school or got jobs close to home, others went to some pretty prestigious schools. It was a good place to start," said Cassutt.

He left Hudson to attend college at the University of Arizona in Tucson with an interest in astronomy and space travel as well as journalism. He ended up earning a television and radio journalism degree but his interest in things celestial didn't go away.

Cassutt has had a successful career as a television producer, screenwriter, author and educator. He is currently a professor at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles.

Cassutt's work in print and for broadcast is predominantly in the genres of science fiction and fantasy. His television work has included work on series like Max Headroom, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, SG-1, The Dead Zone and Farscape.

He recently learned that the film rights to a book he has co-written with the screenwriter of "Batman Begins" and "Dark Knight" has been optioned by Warner Brothers which will likely be a three-film series.

Cassutt has appeared on camera for the History Channel and BBC documentaries about disasters in space as well as specials about astronauts and test pilots. As an author, he has published more than three dozen short stories, a science fiction novel, a fantasy novel and co-edited an anthology.

In looking back, Cassutt remembers being especially interested in history and the social sciences while at HHS. He says teachers like George Bowman, John Ronning, Dick Gustafson, Gerry Heikkila and Larry Parfitt all had a lasting impact on him.

"It is funny to think of it now but back then most of them were only a few years older than I was. But they really made a difference. They were so enthusiastic about what they were teaching and were such good communicators. They really pushed us to think and learn."

Cassutt's was one of the last classes to graduate from the old high school that now serves as Willow River Elementary. It is where he met his wife, Cindy Stratton. He remembers Lee auditorium, the "little gym" and the smoking lounge for seniors out near the cinder lot. "Things were a little more lax in those days."

Cassutt said if he were to offer any advice to students at HHS these days it would be to trust their instincts. "It is a standard cliché but I'd say to listen to that inner voice. It is good to listen to others and get advice but when it comes right down to it, decide what is right for you and go after it. I've found I'm happier trying something and possibly failing than not trying at all."

Cassutt said he is grateful for the honor of being named a distinguished alumnus. "As someone who grew up there and who has always been very proud of Hudson, it is gratifying to think they are also proud of me."

Cassutt and his wife have two children, Ryan and Alexandra, and live in Los Angeles.

The Wall of Fame induction ceremony is open to the public and begins at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 22, in the HHS cafeteria. Reservations are required for the dinner that follows. For more information contact Marie at HHS at (715) 377-3800.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

(715) 808-8604