Plans are in place for Renee Lechner, a 2019 Kingsland graduate, to begin at United States Military Academy (USMA), better known as West Point, on July 1, 2019 – the official start of Cadet Basic Training. “I leave June 26 to spend a few days in New York with my family and then I report June 29,” says Spring Valley resident, Renee. “Basic Training is not the same as basic training for the Army. Cadet Basic Training is run by upper classmen and it is only six weeks instead of 66 days.”
Jon and Ann Lechner of rural Spring Valley are excited for their daughter’s opportunity to attend West Point. Being in the top 1% of all applicants, they financially appreciate the work Renee has done in order to be offered “a full ride” to this prestigious college where she will focus on military leadership courses and major in Life Science, which is a pre-med major. Ann remarks, “Renee is a very determined young woman and always has been. When she sees an interesting opportunity she just goes for it… pushing herself to see if she can accomplish the goal and being the best version of herself. We never cease to be amazed at her many accomplishments. West Point is the perfect fit for Renee. The structure, rigor, and challenge will push her to be even better than what she already is. There is no doubt she will do West Point, her family, her school, her community, and her country proud.”
The path to West Point began when Renee first heard the name mentioned in middle school and became immediately infatuated with the idea of attending a military academy which ranks academically with the Ivy League Schools. Though her interests growing up would span a wide spectrum, Renee seemed to have set her focus on attending West Point at an early age. Jon remarks, “Renee has never backed down from a challenge. Not only accepting the challenge, but proving how well it can be done.”
Even her hobbies of music (mainly singing and playing the flute), painting, working out, and skiing involved focused disciplines which eventually opened competitive challenges with activities she enjoyed. Renee competed and got a spot in the state honor bands for five years in a row with her flute. She credits her music instructors, Mr. Elliott Grandall (vocal) and Mr. Joshua Hogberg (band), who “encouraged me in the flute even when I couldn’t even make a sound,” muses Renee. “I appreciate their dedication to helping me grow to the player I am now. Through music, they taught me: how to be dedicated to something; practice to get to where I wanted to go; perfect something that I thought was already good; and push myself to do better. Both men are also very involved in their community and churches through music and volunteer so much of their time to music. I respect them both a great deal and hope to follow in their footsteps wherever I might end up.”
Athletics also held an important position in Renee’s growth, as she ran cross country for six years. “It was my favorite thing from high school,” states Renee. “My teammates were like family, my coaches were wonderful and amazing people. I loved practices and meets, and most of my best high school memories are from Cross Country and my teammates.” Plus, Renee has great respect for her Cross Country coach, Erin Milz, saying, “She has been my coach for four years. Besides being an incredible and encouraging coach, she is working toward her master’s, is a mother of two, and is a great teacher. I admire her ability to balance her home life with teaching and coaching. She taught me so much in Cross Country about persevering through both races and rough patches in life.”
Renee has been involved in NHS, FFA, Knowledge Bowl, drumline, robotics, one act play, spring play, student council, Key Club, trap shooting, Cross Country, dance, track, band, choir, and claims calculus as a favorite class in school. She graduates high school with an associate degree from Riverland Community College since she was able to take 60 college credits during high school and online. Renee acknowledges, “There are so many more people who have gotten me to where I am. Every Kingsland teacher and even coaches from other sports have been so incredible to me – staying late after school to help me with school work, encouraging me, opening the weight room for lifting, and being people that I can look to for advice and support. I am thankful for so many people working for the school who have all had lasting impacts on me.”
She also has great respect for Mr. Hecimovich, noting, “He is an incredible leader. He has helped me throughout high school and he is an inspiration to me. He is both the principal and superintendent of Kingsland, has a family, and still makes time to see activities and spend time with the students during lunch and passing time.”
The admiration appears to be mutual. “The pride I hold in Renee Lechner is beyond reproach. Renee is my first, and more than likely last student to attend a military academy. As a retired U.S. Army Command Sergeant Major, I salute this soldier with absolute pride and honor. My post has been properly relieved. Airborne!” James N. Hecimovich (CSM, Ret.)
It was a long process to become accepted to West Point. Renee found, “Applying was a rigorous process. I had to be medically qualified, get sponsored by the National Guard, write three essays, get recommendations from several teachers, have my activities certified, take a physical fitness test, have one of my commanders – a lieutenant colonel – write me a recommendation, and send in my ACT and SAT scores. The average GPA of a cadet is around 3.75 and the average ACT score is around a 25. For me it seemed West Point had the biggest focus on academics, second was involvement at school and third was sports and athleticism.”
Several teachers did letters of recommendations for specific subjects West Point required. Renee had Mrs. Derby, Mr. Davis, Mrs. Hendrikson, and Mr. Hansen do those. “I got additional recommendation letters from Mr. Thauwald, Mrs. Hogberg, Mr. Hogberg, and Mr. Mulholland.” says Renee. “Mr. Hecimovich was also a huge help to me in keeping me on track. Lastly, my recruiter, SFC Davis, was my largest help. He organized my physical assessment, commander recommendation, and he got me the sponsorship from the National Guard. To get that sponsorship I had to enlist my junior year and go to basic training the summer before my senior year. If I didn’t do that, I would have had to get sponsored by a senator or representative.”
In his 11th year as a recruiter, SFC Davis has been in the National Guard for 22 years and has recruited through numerous areas (Owatonna, Faribault, Austin, Willmar, and Rochester). When introduced to Renee, this seasoned recruiter was immediately impressed. SFC Davis states, “The minute I met PFC Lechner, I knew she had the potential to get a nomination to West Point through the National Guard, based off her dedication and drive to accomplish anything she sets her mind to.” So, after all the hard work SFC Davis has witnessed her doing, it is no surprise to him that Renee is beginning to say her goodbyes in Southern Minnesota as she prepares to move to the east coast for the next four years at West Point.
Having worked at Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery as a waitress for the last two years, Renee is going to miss her co-workers and the unique environment she has experienced there, saying, “I absolutely love it and my co-workers.” Yet, Renee is most excited about the challenge West Point offers her. “I will be taking a number of classes I typically wouldn’t take, plus, I am excited for the wide array of extra curricular activities, going to games, and the mandatory working out, yet I’m a little nervous about the workload and managing my schedule. I also have reservations about what the first year cadets are put through.” Yet Roger and MaryAnn Donovan have no doubt their granddaughter will excel at West Point, saying, “Renee has grown into a wonderful young lady. She has always achieved every goal that she sets. West Point is another goal of hers that will be no different. As her grandparents, we feel privileged to watch her grow.”
At the completion of her four years at West Point, Renee will graduate with a bachelor’s degree as well as be commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army.