9 Famous Celebrities from Rochester, Minnesota

9. Tom Speer

A Minnesota native, Tom Speer was a mixed martial arts fighter. He competed from 2005 to 2013 with a record of 21-7 in his career. Raised on a dairy farm near Rochester, he grew up an all-star athlete. He lettered in football, basketball, and wrestling at Elgin Millville high school. After high school, Speer started competing in mixed martial arts competitions locally, eventually becoming a professional fighter. During his time as a professional fighter, he was nicknamed “The Fire-Haired Farmboy.”

Speer is now retired and married to Katie Kirckof. He still has a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. (source)

8. Ben Utecht

Ben Utecht played in the NFL, won a Super Bowl, and is now a singer and speaker. He graduated from Hastings Senior high school and went on to play tight end at the University of Minnesota, starting in 35 games. He signed with the Indianapolis Colts in 2004. The team won the 2006 Super Bowl, beating the Chicago Bears. Utecht earned a Super Bowl ring, also earning the best statistics in his career.

After transferring to the Cincinnati Bengals in 2009, Utecht was hit during practice and had a concussion. This injury was his fifth concussion. The Bengals released him with an injury settlement.

After his football career ended, Utecht pursued a career in music. He states he always intended to pursue a career in music after football and has loved performing since he was a teenager. Since then, he has recorded several albums including an award-nominated Christmas album. His single “You Will Always Be My Girls” was written for his wife and four daughters. The song talks about his fears of losing his memories due to his football concussions.

Utecht is also a speaker and coach with his speaking program Believe In Culture. His Christian upbringing and dedication to the arts help him inspire others. His book, Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away, is a collection of memories about his family. Utecht suffers from short-term and long-term memory loss because of his concussions.

7. Frank B. Kellog

Frank Billings Kellog was raised near Rochester with little formal education. Determined to succeed, he worked at a law office and as a handyman while he studied borrowed textbooks. Kellog came from a humble upbringing, but his energy and skills would carry him far. In 1877, he passed the bar exam and became Rochester’s city attorney.

In 1887, he took a job at his cousin’s law firm. Kellog soon became a well-respected lawyer, working for booming businesses in the late 19th century. He was friends with Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. President Theodore Roosevelt asked him to prosecute a company on behalf of the government, leading him into a successful career in the U.S. government. He became a senator and then the U.S. Secretary of State for Calvin Coolidge.

Creating a pact for countries internationally and negotiating terms earned Kellog numerous awards, among them a Nobel Prize. He retired to Minnesota and died of a stroke two years later. (source)

6. Warren Skaaren

Warren Skaaren wrote several classic movies, most of them from the 1980s. While you may not recognize his name, you will certainly recognize his work. Among his classic screenplays are Top Gun (1983), Beetlejuice (1988), and Batman (1989). He wrote the proposal to establish the Texas Film Commission, then served as its director for three years. He produced over forty films, including The Getaway and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In addition to movies, he worked on commercials and documentaries.

Though he was born in Rochester, Skaaren spent most of his life in Texas after studying at Rice University in Houston. He was a foster parent to seven children, and he and his wife helped found the Travis Country Foster Parents Association. He passed away from bone cancer in 1990.

5. Emily Sandberg Gold

Emily Sandberg Gold left Rochester at 18 years old to become a model. She was extremely successful for five years before taking a break for her health. She modeled for many international companies, including Clinique, Versace, and Vogue. Marc Jacobs even designed a bag inspired by her, which was named Emily.

Taking a break from her health after modeling resolved Gold’s mental health issues. She is incredibly open about her experience with mental health. In interviews, she has discussed the overwhelming mental toll modeling has, on top of the physical toll of maintaining her figure. She recalls her family and everybody she worked with were surprised when she took time off and didn’t know how to respond. Gold took a year for recovery.

She now emphasizes her mental health break when interviewing, stating that success can come even when a break is needed. She says a single day of meetings could wipe her out completely for several days after. Gold has said that her struggle with mental health is an important part of her story, one that she wants to share.

After modeling, Gold decided to work her way into the business world. She founded the digital marketing agency Twice Social. The agency has become very successful. Her business model is based around social media marketing, charging the client less and paying the employees more. The agency has relatively narrow profit margins, but Gold says she wants it that way. She is married to Gary Gold, a music producer. Together they have two kids.

4. Yung Gravy

Matthew Hauri is a rapper, songwriter, and producer known to the world as Yung Gravy. While earning his degree in marketing at the University of Wisconsin, Hauri began making music on SoundCloud. In 2016, he self-recorded his songs after quitting his job and focusing entirely on his career in music. In 2017, he gained popularity with his song “Mr. Clean.”

Hauri’s music is a mix between trap music and 1950s soul, with a 1980s soul influence. He continues to make music, often collaborating with artists such as Chief Keef and Y2K.

3. Major Fred Hargesheimer

Fred Hargesheimer was a veteran whose plane was shot down by a Japanese fighter over Papua New Guinea in WWII. He survived in the jungle for nearly a month, eventually being found by natives from a village in Papua New Guinea. The village hid him from the Japanese until he was rescued by the United States.

His fame comes from his philanthropy. After the war, he dedicated his time and effort to helping the people in the village that had hidden him from the Japanese. In 1960 he raised $15,000 for a school and started construction three years later. Hargesheimer and his wife lived in the village during the seventies and became very close with the villagers who had saved his life thirty years before.

In 1999, Hargesheimer was able to contact the Japanese veteran who had shot his plane down. The Japanese veteran, Mitsugu Hyakutomi, had severe Alzheimer’s, but his wife was able to answer Hargesheimer’s questions. She told him that while her husband could shoot down planes for his country, he was never able to shoot down defenseless soldiers parachuting from planes.

2. Igor Vovkovinskiy

Igor Vovkovinskiy held the record for tallest man in the United States, measuring 7 feet 8 1/3 inches tall. Born in Ukraine, Vovkovinskiy moved to Rochester with his mother in 1989 to be treated for his excessive height at the Mayo Clinic. At seven years old, he was already six feet tall.

Vovkovinskiy’s height is due to a tumor on his brain’s pituitary gland. The gland produces too much of the growth hormone, leading to excessive height.

Vovkovinskiy gathered a following after he appeared at an Obama rally. He was wearing a shirt that read “World’s Biggest Obama Supporter.” He also was featured in commercials and several movies. His Youtube channel, IgorTheUkrainian, has fifteen thousand subscribers.

After failing to find shoes in his size, Vovkovinskiy posted on Facebook a request for help. Shoe companies and followers offered their services and donated money to get him shoes. (source)

George Bell is now the tallest man in the United States at 7 feet 8 inches.

1. The Mayo Brothers

Drs. Mayo, Mayo, and Mayo co-founded Rochester’s famous Mayo Clinic. William Mayo and his two sons, William Jr., and Charles, were all successful physicians in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Their clinic in Rochester drew many people from around the country. As the clinic grew, they added doctors to their staff, expanding the skill sets available at the clinic. In 1914, the clinic was officially named the Mayo Clinic.

William and Charles were both surgeons. William specialized in the abdominal region, focusing on operations involving the stomach. Charles specialized in the brain, head, and neck surgeries. Once, when asked if he was the head doctor, William replied, “My brother is the head doctor. I’m the belly doctor.”

William and Charles helped advance medical procedures and surgical techniques in the 20th century. New ideas about germs and patient care were emerging and the brothers were eager to learn. They encouraged hand washing, wearing gloves, and sterilizing surgical instruments. They traveled all over North America and Europe to learn new techniques and started to develop their own ideas about patient care.

The brothers died within months of each other in 1939. Many people say they were very devoted to one another. Charles died of pneumonia. William died of stomach cancer, an area he specialized in during his career. (source)


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Kat McLaughlin

I'm Kat. I love animals and the outdoors. On any given weekend, you'll find me hiking or mountain biking!

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