PR-B valedictorians, salutatorian look back on their time here

Pine River-Backus salutatorian Anna Felthous gives part of her shared speech with valedictorians Hannah Nordlund (left) and Emma Barchus (right). Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

Following are profiles of the co-valedictorians and salutatorian of the Pine River-Backus High School class of 2020.

Emma Barchus

Co-valedictorian Emma Barchus was a transplant to the Pine River-Backus School District, though at a very young age. Her family lived in Oak River until she was 5, followed by Hastings until fourth grade, after which her family moved to Backus.

“I live with my parents and two sisters. It was really different living in Hastings and then here,” Barchus said. “Down there you're in the suburbs, so I spent a lot of time playing with the neighbor kids and running around all over. Here, we spent a lot more time as a family and out on the lake doing quality time together.”

Barchus is the oldest child in her family. As with most good Minnesota families, the Barchus family takes advantage of the nearby lakes, enjoying tubing and swimming, though they play a lot of four square and Doodle Dice.


In school, Barchus played volleyball, basketball and softball, but when she isn't in a competitive mood, she likes reading historical fiction and science fiction. She also works during part of the year at Woman Lake Lodge in Longville and the Salty Dog in Backus.

Looking back, she's going to miss how close her small class was.

“I really enjoyed knowing everybody,” Barchus said. “Our grade was so close-knit. Coming from Hastings there were four different elementary schools and I didn't even know all the kids in my elementary school in my grade. Coming here and having only 50 kids was like a blessing to be able to know everybody and have a relationship with everyone.”

Like the school, the community is also close, and that's one thing Barchus thinks she will miss.

“I'll really miss the support of the community,” she said. "Because just like all the events, there's always people that are from the community that you think would be there that are always there and always supportive. They would email the teachers and come to stuff. It was good to know they cared about you.”

Barchus will attend school at the University of Alabama in the aerospace engineering program. She hopes to learn to make airplanes more sustainable, faster and more efficient.

She was proud to be a co-valedictorian.

“It's a really big honor,” Barchus said. “And I'm really excited because I've always worked really hard in school. And it's just fun that I get to share it with somebody too.”


Hannah Nordlund

Co-valedictorian Hannah Nordlund is a lifetime Pine River-Backus resident. She grew up part time in Backus and part time in Pine River with her parents, an older sister and a younger sister.

“We like to travel,” Nordlund said. “Every year we go somewhere for vacation. My dad and my sister and I like to go camping, fishing and hiking together.”

Nordlund is artistic and loves visual arts, like painting.

“Also drawing and photography,” she said. “I like to do that. I plan on taking photography classes in college and I really like to study French as well in my own time. I really love languages.”

Nordlund had a part in organizing Relay for Life and she used to be in sports. In addition to school, she paints houses and garages. She always felt PR-B had a supportive atmosphere.

“I think my favorite part was just the atmosphere,” Nordlund said. “The teachers were super nice and helpful and everyone really wanted you to succeed. I really like that about peers. I think our staff is just so amazing. And the students there do really help each other and I really admire that.”

It's no surprise then what she will miss most.


“The thing I'll miss the most is just seeing my classmates,” Nordlund said. "I just really had fun with my class. I've been with them for 12 years of my life and I will miss that for sure. There's one specific teacher I will miss most, and that's my French teacher. She really showed me where I wanted to go in my life and what direction I wanted to take and lead it.”

When Nordlund attends classes at the University of Minnesota Duluth, she will pursue a degree in French studies with the goal of becoming a French teacher, though she recognizes her plans could change along the way. She worked hard to be considered for valedictorian.

“It feels great,” Nordlund said. “I worked hard for this by making sure I got my grades up and everything. It's kind of sad that we're doing graduation this way, but it is what it is. I'm really actually happy that my hard work has paid off. “

Anna Felthous

Salutatorian Anna Felthous is yet another PR-B lifer, splitting her time between Pine River and Backus with her older sister with whom she had a mixed relationship.

“Growing up we used to go tubing a lot, ice skating and that kind of stuff. When she was high school age we really didn't get along,” Felthous said. “She's four years older than me so in high school she basically hated me. Then after she graduated we became really close.”

Felthous grew up on a lake, so she and her friends spent a lot of time in the water, swimming and tubing, but also going out to shop or eat.

“My mom and I, our favorite is probably shopping and then my dad and I like to go out to eat,” Felthous said.


Felthous may be a familiar face to anyone who watched PR-B basketball up until her 10 th grade year. More recently she was in both volleyball and golf her senior year. She's also been part of National Honor Society, Relay for Life and in the past she was on the student council. Felthous works with Barchus for part of the year.

“In the winters I work at Mount Ski Gull and in the summer I wait at the Salty Dog,” she said.

Also like Barchus, Felthous always noticed how the local community gets involved in athletics, even if they don't have kids on the team.

“Being in a smaller school you really get to know everyone,” Felthous said. “And being a part of sports, you really have a family with a lot of community members that didn't have any kids in the sport, yet they were always at our games. They would never miss a home game or away game.”

Felthous has gotten to know her teachers in her time at the school, perhaps not surprising since her mother works with the district.

“I'm going to miss the teachers the most,” Felthous said. “I feel like the way things ended I never got to say goodbye to any of them. The last day of our actual school year, which we didn't know was the last day, I was gone for spring break, so I missed that day. I just miss being able to say goodbye to all our teachers, even the ones that weren't necessarily my teachers this year but in the past. For instance, Lisa Toft, who was one of my coaches and she was my teacher around ninth grade year. She made the most impact on me. I know I could go to her for literally anything.”

Felthous will decide whether she prefers a degree in finance or marketing while attending North Dakota State University in Fargo.

Felthous spent her junior and senior years taking mostly college classes to finish her Associate in Arts degree. Given the added challenge of high level classes, she was happy to be able to be selected as salutatorian for the class of 2020.


Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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