The Winona Daily News partnered with the Winona Community Foundation in 2021 to establish a new fund, the Above and Beyond Scholarship Fund, to provide annual scholarships to Winona-area high school seniors who have overcome obstacles or provided exemplary service to others.

“We’re proud of our ongoing determination to recognize local high school students who inspire and motivate all who know their stories of strength and perseverance,” said Paul Pehler, president of River Valley Media Group and director of local sales and marketing. “Partnering with the Winona Community Foundation allows for people living and working in the various school districts to take the Above & Beyond program to the next level, both in longevity and resources.”

WNB Financial is also supporting the Above and Beyond Scholarship program with a challenge contribution of $10,000. This contribution will help fund some of this year’s scholarship recipients and will also contribute to future scholarships given through this fund. In announcing this gift, WNB Financial hopes to inspire others to contribute to the scholarship fund.

Read more about the 2022 Above and Beyond Students:

Ellen Olson

When Ellen was just 13 years old, she lost her father in a tragic tractor accident. Two years later, she and her mom moved from Ettrick, WI to Winona, and Olson enrolled at Winona Senior High.

Although Olson was experiencing a challenging loss and change, she responded by getting involved at school. She is an active member of the WSHS Tech Nest, which is a student group that helps other students with technical support and other school projects. During her junior year, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Olson was instrumental in bringing sports and school happenings to the greater community in a safe and accessible way by live-streaming athletic events, school board meetings, graduations and plays. She is also active in the WSHS Student Council, Knowledge Bowl and served as a team manager for the football and hockey teams. She also had the outdoors. That was one benefit of moving to Winona.

“Looking back, all of the confusing emotions and unknowns that I went through … I’ve come out semi-OK, as of right now,” Ellen said. “I learned not only how strong I am, but how strong people are, and what they can endure and still get up every day and live a life. Even if they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Ellen Olson is the Winona Senior High School Above and Beyond honoree in the Class of 2022.

Alex and James Arneson

For Alex and James, their lives have been full of change since they were young. Living in Decorah, Iowa, the boys spent their K-8 education at North Winneshiek Public School in Iowa. After they finished eighth grade, Alex and James split their time between North Winneshiek and Mabel-Canton, and when North Winneshiek closed, the boys had to adjust to being full-time students at Mabel-Canton.

But change wasn’t done with the Arneson family. On Feb. 5, 2018, both Alex and James were involved in a car crash that resulted in the tragic death of their sisters Avery and Aiden. Alex spent time in the hospital with injuries that resulted from the crash.

The accident affected every aspect of not only Alex’ and James’ lives, but their whole close-knit family. However, with all the pain that came out of the tragedy, a light shone in the darkness: the support of the community. This was something that head football and baseball coach Karl Urbaniak got to see firsthand, coaching both Alex and James in both sports.

“Almost every school that we played against asked about the Arnesons in the years after, and how are the boys doing, which ones are the Arneson boys, and you’d point them out,” Urbaniak said. “There was an unbelievable feeling of love, really in all of southeastern Minnesota and northeastern Iowa. It was unbelievable.”

The boys also love helping out their community. Some of the things they’ve done include maintaining a community garden at North Winneshiek, helping out with various Mabel-Canton renovation projects and cleaning ditches with the football team.

Alex and James are this year’s Above and Beyond honorees from Mabel-Canton Schools.


Winona Community Foundation

The Winona Daily News is a daily newspaper serving Winona, Minnesota and the surrounding area. Founded in 1855, it is the second oldest continually running newspaper in the state.

Above and Beyond is an annual series that spotlights graduating high school seniors who have overcome significant odds and challenges to succeed.

At WNB Financial, their commitment to the community goes beyond taking care of your banking needs. As a community bank, they understand the importance of giving back, building strength and vitality in the communities they serve.

Financial education is the key to financially independent adults. WNB Financial has developed partnerships with area schools to further the students’ financial educations.

The Winona Community Foundation houses individual scholarship funds established for various purposes ranging from pre-school tuition assistance to scholarships for employees and their children of an area business. The application for each of these scholarships are administered separately from the Foundation.

Sajida Mirzada

Mirzada’s dreams for her future took shape during her childhood in Afghanistan, where she grew up in a small village with her family, which includes five brothers and one sister.  In 2015, the Taliban attacked her home area. Her rights were taken away, as classes like English and biology soon stopped at her all-female school, and the curriculum was replaced with only Islamic books.

Eventually, her school was shut down and she, along with other women and girls, were forced to stay at home. “I’m not going to accept it,” Mirzada recalls thinking during this time. “(The Taliban is) not going to stop my dreams.” She learned English and other topics using her brothers’ books.

Eventually, Mirzada wanted more than staying in her home all of the time. She ended up moving to a city with one of her brothers, where she was able to resume her English studies. She soon learned about Cotter Schools through one of her brothers’ friends. After connecting with the school, she received a scholarship in 2019 that enabled her to finally move to the United States and live in the Cotter dorms as she studied there. Now, she plans to attend college in the area to continue on her path to becoming a doctor.

Mirzada is determined to accomplish her goals, and she won’t let the Taliban stop her from becoming a doctor, even as they threaten her and her family’s safety and success in life.

Sajida Mirzada is this year’s Above and Beyond honorees from Cotter Schools.

Zoey Slaby

When Zoey was just under a year old, she was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nervous system that most commonly affects children under the age of 5. While she has been cancer-free for the past 15 years, the battle with cancer has led to a number of residual conditions, complications and side effects that linger to this day. Now, Zoey wants to be a doctor.

The senior at Cochrane-Fountain City High School carries a 4.0 GPA, volunteers in many of the school’s activities and teams and even adds a part-time job on top of it all.

As she was wrapping up her high school education and was deciding where she wanted to go to college, she had to take more into account than the average prospective student does; not only the strength of the academics or social life, but also making sure there were grocery stores and restaurants that could serve the diet she needs, adequate gym facilities to get the amount of exercise she needs to stay healthy and also a hospital system that can provide the medical attention she will surely require throughout her four years. Slaby is planning to head to Madison this fall where she will enroll in the University of Wisconsin’s pre-med program.

“So many people made such a difference in my life, I want to try to make a difference in others,” Slaby said.

Zoey Slaby was selected as C-FC’s recipient of the Winona Daily News’ Above and Beyond scholarship program.

Inyka Johnson

For a long time, change was something Rushford-Peterson senior Inyka Johnson was accustomed to. But once she got to Rushford-Peterson Schools, she found support, stability and, most importantly, a home.

“I went through a hard time there getting bullied and just trying to find my way to fit in because it was a new school,” Johnson said. “When I was younger, I moved around a lot so going to a new school, it always gives me anxiety because I feel like I’m not gonna fit in right away and stuff like that.”

She has discovered, however, that her anxiety can be used as a powerful motivational tool. “Anxiety is the thing that kind of pushes me though, for school and for work because I’m an anxious person and I think about if I don’t go for it, nothing’s going to get done,” she said.

That motivation has been especially helpful during the last eight months as her mom works as a travel nurse, leaving Johnson as the head of the house. However, she is grateful for her grandma, who lives across the street and is very close with the whole family. Johnson also spoke to how much she’s grown during the time her mom has been away and how she’s learned more about independence and family.

“Her heart is truly to help others, and you can see that it’s a completely genuine reaching out to others in from what I can see. And she’s doing it for the right reasons,” Jenny Helgemoe, school counselor, said, “It’s not to pad her resume. It’s truly just because she enjoys helping people.”

Inyka Johnson is this year’s Above and Beyond winner from Rushford-Peterson Schools.

Abigail Kanz

Abigail’s mother passed away when she was 9 years old. Her mother struggled with drug addition since Abigail was born. Due to this early loss, Abigail has had to face major life moments of her life without her mother by her side.

“When I was younger, I didn’t realize that my life was different from other kids. My mom always made us feel like we didn’t struggle. I’m sure we did, but I personally as a child didn’t feel that,” she said.

She was unaware of her mother’s battle with addiction until her mother entered into treatment. Abigail lived with her grandparents at this time. From her grandmother, who worked in the mental health field, Abigail learned about how addiction was a disease that her mother needed their support to battle. She also learned how important it was to stay on a healthy path herself.  Her mother sadly passed in an opioid overdose when Abigail was in fourth grade.

“I guess my mom’s death hit me the most in ninth and 10th grade, so years later, because I didn’t understand why God would take her away from me,” Abigail said, as she added that she always saw her mom as her mother, not an addict. She described her mom as having been, in her eyes, the “best mom, nicest lady, purest heart.”

Erin Spencer, a teacher at Lewiston-Altura who has known Abigail for years, states, “That is who Abby is, she befriends those that need a friend, helps others feel wanted. She is also an example of a person who can work incredibly hard in order to achieve their goals,” she said.

Abigail was selected as this year’s Lewiston-Altura Above and Beyond winner.

Althea Kappauf

When Kappauf was young, her birth mother battled a drug addiction, which had a huge affect on Kappauf. Her mother also had an abusive partner. At 5 years old, she was adopted.

“The one word that I think of when I think of Althea is resilient,” Crystal Sobotta, her guidance counselor, said. “I just remember knowing getting to know her when she was much younger and some of the stories she shared about her childhood and struggles of just being kind of abandoned by her birth parents and the drug use that got in the way and then being adopted and still having some challenges along the way. She has taken a difficult situation and looked beyond that to focus on her goals and work towards those using the support of others around her and just her own strength to keep going and rise above those challenges.”

As for her future, Kappauf intends to pursue a career as a social worker or a therapist. She plans on attending either Winona State University or University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Kappauf states, “The main reason I want to be a social worker is so that I can help kids that go through the exact same thing as me realize they’re not alone in that like people understand what they’re going through.”

Kappaug is this year’s Houston Above and Beyond winner.

Brandon Russ

Ross was given an individualized education program while in second grade to help him improve his reading and writing. Now, he’s a student with a 3.8 grade-point average and on the verge of fulfilling a wrestling scholarship at St. Cloud State University.

“School hasn’t always been easy for me,” said Ross, who has wrestled in two MSHSL Class A state finals and won the 120-pound championship as a junior. “I have put in a lot of time and effort to get good grades and to be on the National Honor Society just like the effort I’ve put into wrestling.”

“Say he is going to study for a test and knows he wants to get an ‘A’,” Brandon’s mom, Tina, said. “Other kids in the class may study for an hour, he might be up at night studying three or four hours.” He figured out the best way to do what he had to do was to assert himself within the established structure of offered assistance. By asking for more help, he received more help and seeing its benefits made him comfortable with the situation in front of his classmates.

Brandon plans on pursuing a future in environmental science or land surveying to play into his love of the outdoors. Brandon enjoys hunting, fishing and the outdoors in general, which sparked an interest in those fields.

Brandon is Caledonia’s nomination for the Above & Beyond Scholarship Program