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Branching Out



What does it look like to grow from the same set of roots, same trunk, nourished by the same principles and values—to then branch out into the community to spread that goodness everywhere you go? Ask the Johnson family, a set of four inspiring siblings who were raised in the Marshall family and have gone on to create thriving lives and positive change in the world around them.

Oftentimes, our deepest core values begin in the home, modeled to us by the family members that share our space. In this household, DeeDee and Philip intentionally, and unintentionally, fed into the types of people their children would become by consistently demonstrating and encouraging a strong sense of principles. While the four siblings each grew into their own set of family values in adulthood, there were two principles that were resolutely foundational in their lives: hard work and kindness. 

“Growing up, our parents were both extremely hard working and instilled the value of putting 100% into everything you do. No matter the personal or professional endeavor, they always demonstrated putting in the extra effort to go above and beyond,” explained Ashley Langenbrunner ’02. A strong work ethic, attention to detail, giving more than expecting to receive, and striving for the best one could possibly contribute were exemplified in their parents’ words and actions, but the additional caveat was to do so with joy and compassion, coming from a place of being willing and able to help others. “We were taught to keep a smile on our faces each and every day. Many of my teachers commented on my constant smile throughout my schooling days both in and out of Marshall,” shares Alex Johnson ’11. His older sister Andee Robb ’99 adds, “You never know what someone has gone through in their past, and the future is not always guaranteed.” That idea of considering others, especially with kindness, is echoed over and over like rings inside of a tree in the words the siblings warmly expressed.

Around the foundation of core family values, children build an additional set of driving principles through their experiences and interactions in school, a place where they spend a large portion of their developing lives. The siblings all came up through Marshall’s educational structure, graduating individually from the school over the course of twelve years, and were each able to see that the emphasis on being part of a community, supporting each other, and nurturing relationships were a memorable foothold in their development. From graduation, each sibling took their strong foundation and branched out to pursue contributive and purposeful lives.


Andee is a Senior Vice President and leads the Program Management practice for Retail Corporate Services at Jones Lang LaSalle. She serves as a strategic advisor to domestic and international retailers who are growing through mergers, acquisitions, or downsizing due to economic or operational constraints. Some of her current and past clients include Regis Corporation, T-Mobile, Walgreens, Nike, and Google. 

Andee also passionately serves as a Safer Beauty Advocate for Beautycounter cosmetics, where she educates consumers on ingredient safety and environmental toxins in the beauty, personal care, and home environment industries. After witnessing the difference in ingredient regulations between the United States versus Canada and the European Union, she began to advocate for the value of human health and safety. Earlier this year, she represented the State of Minnesota in Washington, D.C. for Beautycounter’s national lobbying day, meeting with members of Congress and their staff to educate them on key pieces of safety legislation currently up for review.

“Marshall is where I learned how to be an advocate for underrepresented communities and to become a steward of the earth. Volunteer Outreach was my favorite class because it gave me an opportunity to have a social mission in my community, and I learned to reach into populations that are different from my own to create positive change.” 

She continues, “Because of Julie Ball and Terry Falsani, creative writing and public speaking came naturally, which led me to study journalism at the University of Minnesota. It wasn’t until ALS struck our family and took the life of our mother, DeeDee Johnson in 2010, that I began to use my voice publicly with a mission to help others.” Andee volunteered with the ALS Association, organized the Twin Cities Walk to Defeat ALS, and launched an online support group for young adults living with family members suffering from ALS. 

“The desire to leave my community a better place than how I found it was ingrained in me at a very young age.” With her own daughters now at the age she was when she began at Marshall, she is inspired to model some of the core values she learned at the school and at home, including the value of servant leadership and the gift of freedom to make mistakes. “They’ve heard me quote Maya Angelou hundreds of times, ‘Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.’ With just a little help, I believe we all can do better.”

"Be kinder than necessary every day." - DeeDee Johnson



Ashley currently serves as the Chief of Staff to IBM’s Enterprise Performance Management Senior Leader overseeing IBM’s strategic transformation of integrated data across its global operations. After graduating from Marshall, she attended the College of Saint Benedict for a BA in both Economics and French, and later completed an MBA through Augsburg College.

A sense of family, closeness, personal connection, servant leadership, relationship-building, and authentic kindness pervades Ashley’s experience of a childhood at Marshall, as well as the current gifts and talents she brings to her personal life and professional career. Her words are intricately woven with appreciation for her own family, and an emphasis on mutual support and encouragement. “Our family has always had a ‘tree of life’ hanging in our childhood home, something I did not appreciate until being an adult and parent myself; this concept of the tree is applicable to families and communities like Marshall, starting at the base foundation, and understanding how each part is vital to the tree’s growth.” She remembers a sense of closeness with small classes that shaped her desire to go to a smaller liberal arts college, and a foundation of exciting extras that contributed to her growth, including: a variety of required classes that created a well-rounded education, foundational add-ons like “Web Walks,” and multi-day overnight trips into the Minnesota wilderness. She was challenged to think “outside of the box,” finding alternative and creative approaches to solving problems in class, which pushed her to always value creativity in her career. 

Now, her appreciation for academics trickles into her own children, planting seeds for a joy and appreciation of learning at an early age. She is inspired to show her three daughters everything that women can achieve—and balance—with hard work and determination, prioritizing growth and development through challenge in both personal and professional pursuits. Her personal growth these days still comes from that central tree of community, from surrounding herself with people who allow her to utilize her strengths while also requiring her to work on areas needing refinement. “My husband, family, friends, employer, and community challenge me daily to be the best person I can be so that I can raise my daughters to be strong, kind, hard-working, and successful youth and adults. No matter what, everyone needs a good home base of supportive family and friends who challenge them to keep growing and developing throughout life.”


Austin is serving as a Women’s Reproductive Health Fellow at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill after completing his OB/GYN residency. He plans to complete an additional fellowship in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility with the goal of specializing in fertility preservation and family planning for oncology and LGBTQI patients. 

His AP Biology course at Marshall helped set him on this path: “I will never forget how excited my class was to learn from Ms. Hermes, even when it came to learning complex biology. We saw someone who truly had a passion for the material she was teaching. I believe this is what made me so excited to pursue an education in the biological sciences and ultimately a career in medicine.” He utilizes the values of dedication and strong work ethic to get through challenging days and difficult patient situations, while the sense of community and support that he gained from both Marshall and his family is something he strives to create for both his patients and work colleagues. 

Finally, he brings in the foundational trunk of kindness and compassion. “I’ve had the opportunity to hear the needs of patients and to witness the struggles they face. In a time when women’s health has never been more of a priority as we battle racially-biased maternal mortality rates, limitations on reproductive freedoms, and barriers to comprehensive health care for all individuals, the needs of my patients and their families inspire me to be a better physician and individual in this world. I believe this was a core theme of my education and experience at Marshall—to think of oneself as part of a community, of a bigger world, and to use your education, talents, and passions to make the community you are part of a better and more just place.”


Alex is a Lead Designer with Target Corporation’s New Store Team in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He designs for a variety of locations across the United States, ranging from dense urban cores to dispersed suburban markets. Before Target, and immediately after graduating from the University of Minnesota’s College of Design in 2015, he moved to New York City to be a part of H&M’s Store Planning Team where he spent nearly three years designing stores in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Colombia. In his current position, he is focused on working with new locations to bring goods and services into places where they may not be present already, partnering with the specific communities to ensure that Target is helping, supporting, engaging, informing, and providing for that population’s unique needs. 

He also owns a company, which he started while a student at Marshall, called The Development Tracker. This is a non-biased news and media resource that focuses on real estate development within the communities of Duluth, Minneapolis, and St. Paul, connecting the people of the community with developers, real estate companies, city officials, and more to help ensure that the design and development of projects will satisfy the needs of those who live there.

His pride in both outlets stems from the foundational values of kindness, support, and community that were touted both at home and school. “My involvement early on through Marshall community service projects single-handedly inspired me to try and support the community in whatever way I can, in valuing contribution and becoming a global citizen. I value the days I spent volunteering, whether at CHUM, Animal Allies, or Solvay Hospice House, the latter of which is the most important volunteering experience I have ever completed in my life as my mother spent her final days there during my senior year at Marshall. This firm foundation taught me to see that there are individuals who are less fortunate than I and there are ways to help and contribute to a better life for all.”



The Johnson siblings are happy to speak wth students and young professionals who are seeking advice on life after Marshall:





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