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Two people, four degrees, one big honor

Brian and Brenda Stewart came to Red Wing as individuals to build careers. They ended up building a family, too, and building reputations for excellence that inspire others.

"As proud alumni, Brian and Brenda can truly say that Minnesota State College Southeast brought them to Red Wing, and how glad they are that they have become part of the community," said Katryn Conlin, the college's communications director, in nominating them for the 2017 Outstanding Alumni of the Year award.

In 1993, Brian Stewart came here from a small town north of the Twin Cities to study electronic music technology and learn how to build guitars at Minnesota State College Southeast, then known as Red Wing/Winona Technical College. He earned an Associate of Applied Science in Electronic Music Technology in 1995 and a diploma in string instrument repair in 1996.

Brenda Zill came from Reed, Mich., to study band instrument repair in Red Wing, earning her diploma in 1998.

Although they weren't in college at the same time, they met through mutual friends, got married, and have made their home in Red Wing ever since, where they are raising two daughters.

This year, Brenda and Brian Stewart were jointly named 2017 Outstanding Alumni of the Year. The award recognizes personal accomplishment, service to the community and support of the college.

Brenda has a successful career in property management at Target; she earned her second degree from the college in supervisory management in 2014.

Brian worked for many years at Hobgoblin/Stoney End Harps. In 2015, he opened his own shop. He and Brenda now own Tree Strings in Red Wing. More than a musical instrument storefront, the business is becoming a regional destination for high quality repair work on guitars and amplifiers.

Brian's success in the field is an inspiration to the college's students, many of whom hope to start their own music businesses someday, Conlin said.

As part of the Stewarts' business and community involvement, Brenda volunteers as a Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce ambassador and serves as the president of the Red Wing Band Boosters.

"Between them Brian and Brenda have four degrees from MSC Southeast. They are constant advocates for the college's musical instrument repair programs," Conlin said.