Inspire(d) Spring 2018

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NO. 53 Spring 2018


• Tree pest & disease diagnostics & treatment • Tree & shrub fertilization • Root & soil rejuvenation • Structural tree pruning • Shrub pruning, trimming, & rejuvenation • Tree Risk evaluation • Tree Appraisal • Tree preservation & management plans

Protect your trees from Emerald Ash Borer, Oak Wilt, Japanese beetles, & other diseases by calling Drew Stevenson at Stevenson Tree Care.


ISA Board Certified Master Arborist • 563-380-1124 •

Environmentally Sensible. You’ll Love More Miles Per Dollar! Downtown La Crosse, WI at 4th and Cameron Streets Phone: 877-4-A-HYBRID

SPRINGcontents 2018 14


what we’re loving right now






paper project: mother’s Day mini Mag!


this land is your land


infographic: super hero walks


Sum of your business: K&K gardens


community feature: westby, wisconsin


break that spring fever


150 years of luren singers


probit: eleanor & tip bagstad


...and more!



Cover graphic by Aryn Henning Nichols \ Spring 2018



Shop Dine Work Play Bank

Named among the top 1% of most extraordinary banks in the United States by The Institute for Extraordinary BankingTM.


Center Stage Series

40 CSS



The Mountaintop by Katori Hall

Saturday, March 17 7:30 p.m.

Tickets $27, $25, $15 2017–18 Center Stage Series Major Sponsors

Friday, April 6 7:30 p.m.

Tickets $28, $26, $15 Perfect for gift-giving, CSS gift certificates are available in any amount. • (563) 387-1357 Luther College Diversity Council

Luther College • Center for Faith and Life 700 College Drive • Decorah, Iowa

From the Editor


his land is your land. This land is my land.” That Woodie Guthrie song was on a loop in my brain while I was making this magazine (you’re welcome for that!). It’s a notion that weaves this whole issue together, from life across generations, to a sense of home, feelings of patriotism, and the important fact that we’ve got to take care of this land below our feet. This land is your land, this land is my land… and we are all immigrants here together. Benji Nichols put together an amazing Community Feature about Westby, Wisconsin – it’s the story of the Norwegian immigrants who settled the town, and how Westby folks are working hard – together – to connect new opportunities with old traditions. It really gets to the heart of what we all should be doing in our hometowns: Moving forward with positivity (pg. 48). We’ve got a new writer from Southeast Minnesota this issue: Maggie Sonnek (welcome, Maggie!). She tells us about the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota, and how the town and one non-profit helped to save one of the most important symbols of America – the bald eagle (pg. 14). Speaking of America, Sara Friedl-Putnam caught up with the filmmakers behind the States of America documentary project (pg. 20) – they’re highlighting one person per US state, and sharing one per month on their website, Sara also chatted with the three women featured from our corner of the world – Beth Rotto (Iowa), Kathy Christenson (Minnesota), and Xong Xiong (Wisconsin). One of the 10 Most Important Things we learned from our 10 years of making Inspire(d) Magazine (we outlined that in the Fall 2017 Inspire(d) Magazine) was that we’ve gotta take care of this earth. In honor of this, and Earth Day April 22, I put together some earth-loving ideas, plus an infographic on how to do what our family calls “Super Hero Walks” (pg. 32). There’s nothing that makes me love the earth more than plants, and they’ve got a lot of them at K&K Gardens in Hawkeye, Iowa. Keith and Kelli have been running their garden business for more than two decades – all while working fulltime jobs at their chosen professions! We loved interviewing Keith for this issue’s Sum of Your Business (pg. 41)! Kristine Jepsen fills us in on the history of the Luren Singers as they celebrate their 150th anniversary, and the details on the upcoming Sangerfest (pg. 62). What other awesome things will you find in this Inspire(d)? If you’re feeling a little Spring Fever, check out page 60 for some ideas to get out of the house this spring, and if you’re out of ideas for Mother’s Day presents, look no further than our Paper Project this issue – it’s a Mini Magazine (pg. 31)! Plus, our probit is an amazing couple from Wisconsin: Eleanor and Tip Bagstad. Happy Spring, friends! As the world comes back to life, we hope you are inspired in yours. Looking forward,

What’s it mean?

Inspire(d) Inspire(d) – pronounced in-spy-erd... you know: inspired – stands for both inspire and inspired. The idea is that person one inspires person two. That person is now inspired. Then that person inspires person three (or person one again), who is now inspired. Then the cycle continues! That’s what those arrows around the (d) are about! And our mission is, ultimately, to change the world… starting with our own community!

Who are we? Co-founders:

Aryn Henning Nichols / editor & designer Benji Nichols / writer & advertising sales (& husband, support team, dinner-maker)

We couldn’t do it without: Kristine Jepsen / contributor Sara Friedl-Putnam / contributor Maggie Sonnek / contributor Inspire(d) Magazine is published quarterly by Inspire(d) Media, LLC, 412 Oak Street, Decorah, Iowa, 52101. This issue is dated Spring 2018, issue 53, volume 11. Copyright 2018 by Inspire(d) Magazine.

support inspire(d) Although Inspire(d) is free on stands, you can have it sent to your door (or extended family!) for only $25/year. Email for a membership or visit for more info. Write inspire(d) Want to make a comment about something you read in the magazine? Email Interested in advertising? Contact Benji at or call 563-379-6315. Visit our website:

Aryn Henning Nichols 05

What We’re


a supportive community. We love entrepreneurs and going after your dreams here at Inspire(d) HQ, and we hope you’ll head over to Winneshiek Idea House this spring to support these folks doing just that. Learn more at

right now

A little list of what we think is awesome in the Drifltess Region this SPRING... Winneshiek Idea House – March 24, 2018

Decorah Public Library We’ve been loving the new special events and partnerships that the Decorah Public Library has been putting together all around town lately! Monthly special guests have been visiting the library – many family-focused, and there do Dog Tales regularlly, where kids read to specially-trained dogs in the library to increase their confidence (sometimes in fun holiday outfits)! For adults, they’re offering cool off-site events like Wreath Making with Root River Farm or DIY Bath Oils and Salts with Wildcrafted Acupuncture. Fun! We’re looking forward to more great DPL programming this spring and summer, like the Grout Museum District Kitchen Science Demonstration, and the Hanson Family Juggling and Unicycle Show! Keep up with it all at or


Be a part of the first-ever Winneshiek Idea House! This event is a local entrepreneur forum, where the community comes together to support local business-folks doing good work. It’s a supportive, community-based version of the popular TV show “Shark Tank.” Instead of facing “sharks,” entrepreneurs pitch ideas to a group of “investors” – regular community members! The event will be held Saturday, March 24, at the Decorah Elks Lodge. It kicks off at 5 pm with networking and a happy hour, then at 5:30, a brainstorming “World Café – Entrepreneur Edition” will begin. At 6:30 pm, there’s social time with delicious small plates, and 7 pm will bring “Trout Tank!” with three to five local entrepreneurs presenting ideas and their needs to the community. Event-goers may “invest” loans or gifts of money, use of space/facility, expertise, neighborliness, a variety of in-kind services, and more to support their favorite local enterprises. Think of it as crowdfunding in real time! This event is intended to be a meeting of the minds and a space for local entrepreneurs to share their ideas, goals, and needs with

Dance & Theatre



MAY 3-12, 2018





Check out the entire 2017-18 Luther Dance & Theatre season online... and mark your calendars! 06

Spring 2018 /

s s le

t f i dr


an evening with

Leo Kottke in the historic Potter Auditorium

Saturday, May 5 @ 7:30pm Advance tickets on sale now t of a projec (d)

ire p s n I

Driftless Food Guide Food, farms, markets, and fun!

Here at Inspire(d) HQ, we’re always thinking ahead to what’s next. We love making quarterly Inspire(d) Magazines, and as much as we’d love to make more, four per year is the magic number. That said – we’ve found a way to make an addition to the annual line-up! We’ll be producing a new, standalone publication this year: The Driftless Food Guide! For the past six years, we were lucky to work with Northeast Iowa Food & Farm Coalition and partners – Iowa State Extension, Luther College Sustainability, and Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness – to produce a pull out local food directory in the summer issue of Inspire(d). This year, they’re handing the print guide off to us! We’re expanding it and giving it a cool, new makeover! It’s going to have the Inspire(d) look and feel, but with a fresh, foodinspired spin. For the inaugural issue, we’ll be printing between 20,000-25,000 and it will be on stands from May through October. From Viroqua to Volney, and Decorah to Dubuque – our region is filled with amazing food producers, farmers, and restaurants. We look forward to helping you find some favorite new spots and re-visit old favorites. Keep an eye on, and if you are interested in advertising in the Driftless Food Guide, drop Benji a line, Happy eating! (Continued on next page)

Also at Chatfield Center for the Arts

Tonic Sol-fa March 24 Monroe Crossing April 7 Collective Unconscious

Tribute to the beach boys

April 21

Greg Brown May 19 Chatfield Center for the arts

405 Main St S | 507.884.7676 \ Spring 2018


Jeff Mitchell & Charlie Parr - Greyhound EP

ALL WEATHER IS GOOD WEATHER, WITH THE RIGHT GEAR! 406 West Water Street . Decorah, Iowa . 563.382.4103

In our very first issue of Inspire(d), back in 2007, we featured a chat with Charlie Parr, interviewed by Jeff Mitchell – two of our favorite Upper Midwest musicians. Jeff and Charlie have known each other for years, and play together when trails and stages cross paths, including Charlie’s latest release shows at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis. We’ve recently learned that Jeff has put together a new EP that features Charlie on all four songs. Highlights include the namesake “Greyhound”, Photo by Mikkel Beckmen with a bittersweet pine of wanderlust and love. A stunning, folk-worn cover of former Decorah troubadour, Trevor Grimm’s “Small Tractors” – which may be one of the most haunting tracks we’ve ever heard and a heck of an ode to growing up in Iowa, as well as to Trevor, who passed away in 2007. Minnesota bicycle-powered artist Ben Weaver is represented with his song “The Night is a Coal Pit”, which burns slow, and dances like an early spring campfire. “I Laid Down” is pure Jeff Mitchell, with Charlie picking up the tenor guitar and pedals galore. Keep an eye out as this amazing little collection of songs makes its way into the world sometime this spring. Check out “Jeff Mitchell” on Facebook, see cool stuff at or keep your ear to the rail at your favorite Midwest record shop.

KARST Driftless Guidepost


Spring 2018 /

At KARST Driftless Guidepost, their motto is: “While others say “Go North!” we say ‘Go Southeast!’” Southeast Minnesota, that is. We love all the projects KARST Driftless Guidepost creator Erin Dorbin has going on, and it all seems to flow from the KARST HQ. (You may remember the story in our Summer 2017 Inspire(d) about Erin and her partner, Taylor, and the Crystal Creek Artist Residency they host in their Southeast Minnesota cabin.) KARST is your “friendly Driftless Guidepost” just east of the Root River Valley Bike Trailhead on the main drag of downtown Houston, Minnesota. It’s there to help lead folks to the next fun thing in the region - special day trips, new adventures, and more! Stop in for free (and super cool) tour maps, Houston Co. and Driftless Minnesota retail, the KARST gallery, or to check out local producers and makers active in Houston County! Learn more at

Syttende Mai in the driftless! Norwegian Constitution day is a big deal here in the land of Norse immigrants, and it has been fun see new energy in local celebrations across the Driftless. Family friendly celebrations dot the map with children’s parades, grand parades, music, dancing, and, of course, food! Vesterheim in Decorah hosts a celebration on May 17 that highlights a Children’s Parade, performances by the Nordic Dancers, and special activities across the museum campus. The celebration runs from 9 am to 4 pm, with many events in the afternoon. Find the schedule and more at (Photo at left courtesy Vesterheim.) Westby, Wisconsin celebrates the 50th year of their community celebration May 19-20, 2018. The small town comes alive a displays, music, food, and community – and Evelyn Larson’s Nisse – can be found across town. They also host one of the regions largest parades. You can read more about Westby on page 48 of this issue, and find the entire Syttende Mai schedule at www. Spring Grove, Minnesota also celebrates Syttende Mai May 18-20. The Minnesota community has been honoring their NorwegianAmerican Heritage since 1973 with an annual city celebration of “art, dance, food, clothing, and congregation.” This year also marks the first annual “Mussik Fest” Saturday evening, featuring Joe Diffie and Special Guests The Avey/Grouws Band and Andy Hughes! …prop us up against the MUNI juke box…






Winneshiek County

AMAZING PARKS09 \ Spring 2018

Looking for more details about events on the calendars? Check out these great spring activities! In chronological order, each event’s number coincides with its number on the calendar! 1. March 2: Kind Country and Chicken Wire Empire play Island City Brewing Company - Winona, MN. Show starts at 9 pm. $7 presale, $10 at the door. 21+ 2. March 3: Start with a Seed Workshop, Seed Savers Exchange. Learn everything about growing a garden from seed. 11am-12pm + farm tour to follow. Register: 3. March 9-10: Bernina Sewing Academy: Fear No Fabric! Learn how to master 20 challenging fabrics. 2-Day Hands-On Course. $149 includes technique book, samples, and more!

10. March 24: Join us for Winneshiek Idea House, a live crowdfunding event with local entrepreneurs where everyone is an “investor.” Get inspired and find out more at Decorah Elk’s Lodge, 5 pm. 11. March 24: Ground-breaking a cappella makes its way to the Driftless with Tonic Sol-fa at Chatfield Center for the Arts. $20 in advance, $25 door. 7:30 pm; 12. April 6: The Alaska String Band brings songs and stories from the great North. Decorah Native Paul Zahasky and family play bluegrass and beyond. Tickets $15 at the door. Chase the Adventure, 1838 Middle Calmar Rd – rural Decorah

25W/ $25B

4. March 10: Grout Museum District “Kitchen Science”! Get your children excited about science as they watch and participate in experiments using materials found in everyday life. Decorah Public Library, 11 am.

5. March 12: Artist in Residence at Lanesboro Arts: Workshops, film screenings and discussion events with experimental filmmaker Rini Yun Keagy of Saint Paul. Through April 9 - 6. March 17: Kinderfolk on Stage: Enjoy live performances, appetizers, and cash bar at T-Bock’s Upstairs, 7 pm. Free-will donations will support Kinderhaus Preschool – ALL ARE WELCOME!

13. April 7: Bluegrass with Monroe Crossing in Chatfield at Potter Auditorium. Tickets $20 in advance, $25 door. 7:30 pm concert; 6 pm social hour with food and drink. 14. April 10: Dragonfly Books invites you to dinner at Rubaiyat with Charles Belfoure, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Architect and House of Thieves. 6pm. 563-382-4275

15. April 13-14: Mid West Music Fest in La Crosse! 50 acts and 6 stages – Funk, Americana, Bluegrass, Indie Rock. Where Music & Community Meet! Ticket info and schedules - 16. April 14: Hanson Family Juggling & Unicycle Show at Decorah Public Library! Join Mark Hanson, a two-time Guinness World Record holder, his national unicycle champion daughter, and family for stories and fun! 1pm.

7. March 17: Mid West Music Fest Presents Todd Snider! Guitar and stories like the old days. Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little… Cavalier Theater, La Crosse, 7:30pm. $25adv. Tickets @

17. April 18: Porter House Museum Lecture Series: Featuring Film Historian Michael Zahs. 7:30PM at the Lingonberry. Reception and meet & greet following at the Porter House.

8. March 23 -24 or April 6-7: Apple Grafting / Apple School, Seed Savers Exchange. Choose your 1/2 day workshop March 23, 24, April 6, or7. Register:

18. April 19-22: The 9th Annual Oneota Film Festival “Making Connections.” Films, panels, events, and activities for the whole family. For more information, visit:

9. March 24: Here & Now: Contemporary Music for Cello & Piano, featuring Craig Hultgren & Lawrence Axelrod, Porter House Museum, Decorah, 4 pm

19. April 21: The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds brought to life by Collective Unconscious at Potter Auditorium, Chatfield Center for the Arts. $30 advance, $35 door.






WOOD FIRED PIZZA. LOCAL BEER. COMMUNITY. PASTURED MEAT. GLAMPING Get started today! 2 weeks of unlimited classes for $25 10

Spring 2018 /

3012 Middle Sattre Rd, Decorah, IA .

fun stuff to do


14 Teague Alexy & Erik Berry, Ed’s, Winona, 8pm


Nordic Noir Film Night, Vesterheim, Decorah, 7pm

5 12 KDEC 11 Spring Home, Rini Yun Sport, & Garden Keagy, Show, Decorah various High School, works 10a-3pm, through 4/9, Sunflower Lanesboro pancake brunch Arts 9:30am




Greens Sugar Bush Syrup Festival, 10am-2pm


March 11: Daylight Savings begins, 2am




Over the 9 Back Fence, St. Mane, Lanesboro, 7:30pm

The Railsplitters, Ed’s, Winona, 8pm


Koselig Board Game Night, Vesterheim, 7pm


Barnetimen, Vesterheim, Decorah, 10am


* 10






Todd Snider, Cavalier Theater, La Crosse, 7:30pm

Musikk Fest Greens Sugar Bush Syrup Pre Party w/ Festival, Avey/Grouws 10am-2pm Duo + Fat Joe & Vicki Pat’s BBQ, Price, Franklin RockFilter, Spring Grove, St. Brewing, Manchester, 8pm 6pm



6 17 Kinderfolk on Stage! T-Bock’s Upstairs, 7pm

9 Here & Now Seed Savers concert Porter Songwriter Apple House, 4pm Showcase Grafting! Winneshiek Idea w/ Beth Pick a 10 House, Decorah Bombara, 1/2 day Ed’s, Winona, March 23, 24, Elks Lodge, 5pm 7pm April 6, or 7 11 Tonic Sol-fa, Chatfield CFA, 7:30pm


Mary Solberg: Water Portraits, through May 20, MMAM, Winona


“Dog Tales”, Decorah Public Library, 6:30-7:15pm



Start with a Seed Workshop, Seed Savers, 11am



16 *

Travis Mord fundraiser, Ed’s, Winona, 8pm

March 17-18: St. Patrick’s Weekend at Empty Nest, Waukon



Kind Country & Chicken Wire Empire, Island City Brewing, Winona, 9 pm



Kitchen Science, Decorah Public March 9-10: Bernina Sewing Library, 11am 3 Academy: Fear No Fabric! Red Roxy Quilt Co, Decorah



Free First Thursday, Vesterheim, Decorah


March 2-4 International Festival of Owls, Intl Owl Center, Houston, MN

MARCH 17 “Dog Tales”, Decorah • Motor Motor 5K Trail Run, Library, Motor Mill, Elkader, 8am reg/ 9am run • Ronald K. Brown Dance Co., Luther CSS, 7:30pm 6:30• Great River Maple Fest, Garnavillo, IA 8am-4pm 7:15pm • Peter Mulvey, Chatfield CFA, 7:30pm • Honeywise, Haymarket, Decorah • “Kiss Me I’m Irie” party, Trempealeau Hotel



“Prismatic Vernacular” work by James Jankowiak, through March 20, CFA, Luther


MARCH 10: • Ladies Day Out, Downtown Elkader • Fellas in the Cellar, Water Street Music Series, Courtyard & Cellar, 7pm

Koselig Cake Breaks continue Wednesdays through April 18, 3:30-4pm, Vesterheim


March MARCH 3: • Bluebird House workshop, Osborne Nature Center, 9am • Mike Munson & Mikkel Beckman, Haymarket, Decorah • Joe & Vicki Price, Trempealeau Hotel, 7-10pm




3 4

April 3-8: Mission Creek Festival, Iowa City

“Silent Sky” Opens April 5, Commonweal Theatre, Lanesboro


Dave Tamkin, Driftless Books & Music, Viroqua, 7pm


Free First 5 Thursday, Vesterheim, Decorah

13 7 Monroe Crossing, Chatfield CFA, 7:30pm







21 Fearless Women of Dirt Mtn Bike Ride & Women’s Night


Joan Shelley w/ The Other Years, Driftless Books & Music, Viroqua, 7pm

27 23 28 April 27-29: Into the Wild, Bluff Country Out with the Studio Mustard! Art Tour INHF Field Day, Heritage Valley, rural April 27-28: Mid West 22 Allamakee Co. Music Fest Winona! 26

APRIL 28: Oneota Valley • Joe Crookston, Chatfield CFA, 7:30pm Community • Decorah Time Trials Mountain Bike Race! Orchestra, • HSNEI Pooch Scooch 5K Fun Run, Russian Winn. Co. Fairgrounds, 9am Romantics, Decorah HS, Thomas Paquette: America’s River Re-Explored, Paintings 3pm from the Mississippi, opens April 20, MMAM, Winona

Oneota Coop Earth Day Celebration w/ Absolute Hoot! 5-7pm



19 15 16 20 17 17 18 19 21 Barnetimen, Michael Zahs, April 20-21: APRIL 14: Collective Good Morning • Beauty in the Simple Things, Vesterheim, Film Historian Bedlam, Ed’s, Patrick Scully Unconcscious Leaves of Grass 10am Patricia Schu reception, Lecture, Porter Winona, 9pm – Illuminated, play “Beach Lanesboro Arts, 6-8pm House, Decorah, Boys / Pet US Air St. Mane, • Connor Garvey, 7:30pm Sounds” Force Band, 7:30pm Chatfield CFA, 7:30pm Chatfield CFA Chatfield CFA, 18 April 19-22: 9th Annual Oneota Film 7pm Festival “Making Connections” Decorah


April 6-8: Women’s Weekend Out Decorah!

12 6 The Alaska String Band, Chase the Adventure, 7pm


APRIL 6: LA Theatreworks, The Mountaintop, Luther CSS, 7:30pm

APRIL 7: • Women’s Weekend Out Style Show Brunch, Hotel Winneshiek, 9am • Annie and the Bang Bang, Trempealeau Hotel, 8pm

14 10 11 13 14 12 16 April 21: Upstate Charles Over the Beer By Bikes Rubdown, Belfoure Back Fence, Hanson Family Juggling Show, author Dinner, Brigade Bake Driftless Books St. Mane, & Music, Rubaiyat, 6pm Sale! Myrick Lanesboro, Decorah Public Library, 1pm Park, La Viroqua, 7pm 7:30pm Nordic Noir Crosse, 9am Film Night, 15 April 13-14: Mid West Music Fest, La Crosse Vesterheim, 7pm


8 Family Fun Expo, Onalaska Omni Center, 11am


ArtHaus Emerging Artist Exhibition opens April 6, 7-9pm


April 7-8: Luther Dance & Theatre Senior Showcase

Happy Easter!




fun stuff to do



Luna Valley Farm after Graduation Pizza! 12-4pm


Happy Birthday Aryn!

ArtHaus Summer Children’s Gallery Show Fundraiser, 5-6pm

Luna Valley Farm Mother’s Day Pizza! 11am-3pm


Happy 13 Mother’s Day!

27 Empty Bowls Decorah, Hotel Winneshiek, 11am-2pm


The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Open May 4, Commonweal, Lanesboro

1 Farmer’s Market Opens!

2 Decorah



Free First Thursday, Vesterheim, Decorah


May 3-12: Luther Dance & Theatre Presents: Soil Turning & Marie Antoinette

Historic Forestville opens for the Season May 5




May 18-20: Spring Grove Syttende Mai



“Beauty in Simple Things”, by Patricia Schu runs through June 17, Lanesboro Arts





June 2: Driftless Discovery Trail Run, Decorah! Reg for 50k by May 30 / Other races day of reg.

MAY 27: • Memorial Sunday Funday, Picnic & Music, Empty Nest, Waukon • Joe & Vicki Price, Courtyard & Cellar, Decorah, 7-11pm


Memorial Day


Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre, Decorah Public Library, 1pm




Cajun Fest, Trempealeau Hotel

The 26 Brickhouse 2nd Annual Rock’n Blues, La Crosse, 7pm


COMING UP: June 2: Beer By Bikes Brigade Ride, La Crosse, 10am-4pm June 9: Art by the River, Guttenberg, IA June 9: World Wide Knit Day! Blue Heron Knittery for details

May 26: Happy Birthday Benji!



* 12

ArtHaus Gala – Celebrating 10 years! Elk’s Lodge, Decorah, 7:30pm

Armchair Vesterheim Greg Brown, Boogie, Syttende Mai Chatfield CFA, Celebration Driftless Books 7:30pm & Music, May 19-20: Box Store Bird Viroqua, 7pm Westby w/ Sonofmel, May 18-20: Driftless Books Preston Trout Syttende Mai Celebration & Music, 7pm Days

May 31-June 2: Sangerfest 2018, Luther College, Decorah


MAY 19: • Vesterheim Pioneer Immersion Program Open House, 4:30-6:30pm • Spring Grove Musikk Fest w/ Joe Diffie, Avey/Grouws Band, and Andy Hughes


5 25 Seed Savers Heirloom Plant Sale, 10am-4pm


Choral Arts 26 Ensemble, Leo Kottke, Chatfield CFA, Chatfield CFA, 7:30pm 7:30pm

Luna Valley Farm Open for the Season


May 5: Beer By Bikes Brigade Ride, La Crosse, 4pm

10 11 9 7 8 MAY 12: Over the • Decorah Fire Department Bucket of Color in Mississippi Back Fence Your Face Fun Run! Hot Club, Community • Concert “Summer Rain” by Zeitgeist and Driftless Variety Nirmala Rajasekar, St. Mane Lanesboro, 7:30pm Books & Show, St. • Music & Monarchs, Elkader Music, Mane, • Trempealeau Hotel Reggae Fest! Viroqua, 7pm Lanesboro, • Tromp & Chomp Trail Run, KVR, La Farge, 8am 7:30pm

Weekly Mtn Bike Rides w/ Decorah Bicycles, Wed 6pm, Sundays 5pm



your days be filled with love and light!



fun stuff to do

25W/ $25B












Inspire(d) World’s Greatest Party


Date (not included in word count): Worlds Greatest Party! 7-10 pm. Inspire(d) invites you to the greatest party ever! We’ll have amazing amounts of fun! See you there!



Questions? Email

(Direct link:

See - we told you about our amazing fictional party in less than 25 words! On the visual calendar (like the one at left), your event will be listed along with a number that corresponds. People can just scan on over to the following pages to get the details!


Simple! We get an email with all your details exactly as you’d like to see them in the listing, and then we add it to the calendar!

It works like this: 1. Go to and click on the 25W/$25B sidebar box 2. Enter your information in our online form 3. Click through to PayPal to complete the transaction

Thus we’ve implemented a simple, expandable list of events for the pages following our regular calendars. Those who are planning “fun stuff to do” get a guaranteed spot on the calendar and in that event listing by purchasing “25 Words/$25 Bucks.”

We know it’s a tough racket to put on live music, activities, and special events, so we want to give you a chance to get the word out without breaking the bank.

Calendar time is always an exciting time at Inspire(d) Headquarters. “Just how much can we fit on there this month?!?” In recent years, what we had chosen for these lovely pages had been entirely editorial and subjective. We figured, hey, you like our magazine, so you’ll probably like the fun stuff to do that we pick out from around our region. But we’re running out of space and want you, our lovely readers, friends, and fellow event planners, to be able to tell us a little more about your fun.

25 Words/$25 Bucks


Looking for more details about events on the calendars? Check out these great spring activities! In chronological order, each event’s number coincides with its number on the calendar!


20. April 22: Join the Oneota Co-op for their Earth Day Celebration from 5-7pm in Water Street Park. Including local music (Absolute Hoot), local food, & local friends! 21. April 24: Fearless Women of Dirt (FWD) Ride 5pm + Women’s Night 7-9pm, Decorah Bicycles. New info on Little Bellas Program, social time, and more! for details.

23. April 28: Into the Wild, Out with the Mustard! Join INHF at Heritage Valley on Apr. 28 for the annual garlic mustard pull. Details at


25W/ $25B

24. May 2: Weekly Mountain Bike Rides with Decorah Bicycles. Wednesday evenings 6 pm, Sundays 5 pm, first Sunday of the month 7:30 am and 5 pm. More info 25. May 5: Heirloom Plant Sale - Stop by the Seed Savers Exchange plant sale and prep for spring planting. Heirloom and historic vegetables, herbs, and flowers await! 10 am-5 pm 26. May 5: Join Chatfield Center for the Arts in welcoming acoustic guitar folk legend Leo Kottke to Southeast Minnesota. Tickets $35$45. Doors 6:30 pm (pre-show food & beverage options), show 7:30 pm. 27. May 6: Empty Bowls - Decorah fundraiser at Hotel Winneshiek from 11-2. A simple meal of soup & bread, and a bowl to take home, $20 donation. 28. May 13: Celebrate the women in your life at Luna Valley Farm. Open Mother’s Day from 11 am-3 pm. Come out and enjoy woodfired pizza and community in rural Decorah! 29. May 27: After graduation, come out to Luna Valley Farm for a relaxing afternoon of wood-fired pizza in the company of family and friends. Open Noon-4pm. Rural Decorah. 30. May 31: Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre at Decorah Public Library! Bring the family to see a delightful tale of the lovable mammoths that roamed Iowa prairies 10,000 years ago. Featuring marionettes and live music – 1 pm.

Feeling creative? Come see us! Art Supplies STEM Projects Nice Paper Coding & Electronics Bits Maker Stuff

110 Winnebago St. Decorah • 563-382-4086 •

118 Washington St. Decorah, Iowa

22. April 27-28: Mid West Music Fest in Winona 70 acts on 7 stages Funk, Americana, Bluegrass, Indie Rock. Where Music and Community Meet! Ticket info and schedules

404 West Water St, Decorah, Iowa . 563.419.4016 Mon-Fri 10am-4pm . Sat 10am-3pm . 563.419.3141


FOR EVERY BODY. Gabi Masek, Dipl.OM, L.Ac / 563-382-4312 Submit your events at \ Spring 2018



Spring 2018 /

National Eagle Center The rescue of the BALD EAGLE & the town that tells the story BY MAGGIE SONNEK . PHOTOS COURTESY NATIONAL EAGLE CENTER


t’s 5 pm on a Tuesday in the Southeastern Minnesota town of Wabasha. Main Street seems to glow in the early evening light. As Barry, the hardware store owner, locks up, he waves to Rick who’s ducking into the Silver Star for a burger. Down the block, Chelsea turns off the lights at Pure Identity Salon and heads home. The town of 2,500 can’t help but charm visitors and residents alike. But don’t let the small town feel fool you. Just off Main Street, perched on the Mississippi River, sits a glass and brick structure that tells one of the most successful comeback stories of the 20th century: the National Eagle Center. (Continued on next page)





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Each year, 83,000 visitors flock to Wabasha’s National Eagle Center (NEC) to learn how one of America’s most iconic symbols was nearly lost forever. And how one humble nonprofit — and town — played an instrumental role in their rescue. “During the height of the bald eagle’s endangerment, Wabasha was the last place in the lower 48 states to reliably see a bald eagle during the winter,” says NEC Marketing Manager Ed Hahn. The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge extends from Wabasha to Rock Island, Illinois – 261 miles. Between 1968 and 1972, there was only one active bald eagle nest along that stretch. Today, thanks to a dramatic rescue effort nationwide, there are more than 300 active nests. “It shows you how close we came to losing the bald eagle entirely,” Hahn says. “And how dramatic the recovery effort has been.” Eagles – and other birds of prey – have been fascinating humans for thousands of years. Some of the earliest civilizations relied on birds of prey when hunting. And because Wabasha sits at the confluence of the Chippewa and Mississippi Rivers, the stretch doesn’t freeze during the winter, making it a hotspot for eagles to hunt and gather. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, birders and eagle-lovers alike would gather in Wabasha during the winter months to catch sight of a bald eagle. More recently, millions of people across the world tune in to watch the majestic birds online

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through “eagle cams”. There is, of course, the camera that let’s us look in on the famous Decorah eagles, but also nest cams in Florida, Washington D.C., Michigan, and Minnesota, to name just a handful. Minnesota still has more eagles than any of the lower 48 states, likely thanks to the efforts started in Wabasha. In 1989, a group of local birders pooled their resources and started a nonprofit, Eagle Watch, to raise awareness about bald eagle endangerment. Ten years later, the National Eagle Center opened its first location in Wabasha. In 2007, the current building –15,000-square feet of awesome eagle education – opened its doors. Two floors of hands-on exhibits allow visitors to spend time experiencing what an eagle sees, hears, and eats — and check out where they live, too. Walk – or even stretch out! – in a life-size replica of a bald eagle nest. Test your grip compared to that of an eagle’s. Their staunch foot tendons and muscles snatch up prey as heavy as four pounds while they’re flying 30 miles per hour, so don’t feel bad if your strength doesn’t measure up. Upstairs, step into the Watershed Gallery, a space dedicated to showcasing paintings, photographs, and watercolors that capture the Mississippi River watershed. Learn more about the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge through pictures and videos.

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(Continued on next page) \ Spring 2018


VISIT the NATIONAL EAGLE CENTER ADMISSION FOR ADULTS IS $10, YOUTH 4-17 IS $7 AND KIDS UNDER THREE ARE FREE 50 Pembroke Ave, Wabasha, Minnesota (651) 565-4989 OPEN DAILY 10 am - 5 pm

But, what really sets the center apart are the four real, live eagle ambassadors: Angel, Columbia, Donald, and Was’aka. The eagles, three of them bald eagles and one a golden eagle, were each rescued, and deemed unable to survive in the wild. Possession of the eagles requires special permission from the government, says Hahn, and they must be used for educational purposes. They are on permanent display in an open-air exhibit at NEC. “When I first walked into the space, I said, ‘Wow! Those are amazing statues!’” says Amy Hamann, a volunteer at NEC. “It was such an incredible experience. I was hooked.” Every other Friday, Hamann, a classically-trained pianist, leaves her Minneapolis home and drives 80 miles southeast to Wabasha. There, she spends four hours handling the eagles and answering visitors’ questions. “Everyone who works or volunteers at the center is here because they love these birds,” Hamann says. “I love being a part of that. If you’re excited about something, it’s easy to pass that excitement to other people.” And one main way that excitement is cultivated is through the 45-minute live eagle programs each day. Volunteers and naturalist educators share the biology, ecology, and natural history of bald and golden eagles. The program also features an eagle feeding that’s so popular, it’s usually standing-room only. Because of that, and because of the need to find space to house a comprehensive eagle collection donated by a California real estate mogul, Preston Cook, the NEC plans to double its footprint in 2019. “Preston Cook looked at the Smithsonian and centers in California, but chose us because of our significant reach and attendance,” NEC Executive

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Director Rolf Thompson says. Cook moved to Wabasha so he can play a role in displaying his 20,000-item collection, spanning 250 years. “We connect people to the ecology and behavior of eagles. This collection will connect people to the eagle throughout American culture,” says Thompson. “The bald eagle has come to symbolize American values of freedom and independence. Second only to our flag, it’s our country’s most important symbol.” When asked why he thinks the National Eagle Center has had so much success in a little town like Wabasha, Thompson smiles. “The center is just part of the equation,” he gestures outside, first to the river, then to the charming downtown. “Wabasha sells it. It’s an idyllic small, historic town. It’s friendly. People wave. People say hi. And just like the bald eagle made a comeback, I believe, smalltown values are too.” Admission for adults is $10, youth 4-17 is $7 and kids under three are free. Visit to view program times. Maggie Sonnek is a freelance writer based in Southeastern Minnesota. She started Mill City Creative, a content marketing agency, in 2016. A mom to three little ones and wife to an elementary school principal, she loves drinking tea out of homemade mugs and exploring the Driftless region.


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Visit Wabasha, Minnesota Wabasha, the oldest city on the Upper Mississippi River, is a hotspot for year-round activities. When you plan your visit to the NEC, make sure to include these attractions too. LARK Toys, just off Highway 61 in Kellogg, five miles south of Wabasha, offers 20,000 feet of toys, food and entertainment, including a handcrafted carousel and miniature golf. Named one of the top 10 best toy stores in the world by USA Today, LARK Toys has lots to offer kids (and adults!) of all ages. Nelson Cheese Factory in Nelson, Wisconsin, just three miles from Wabasha, serves up mouth-watering sandwiches, soup, and salads. And while they don’t make cheese anymore (the founders started a tradition of doing so that lasted more than 100 years), offerings include cheese from across Wisconsin and the world. John Latsch State Park, a 15-minute drive south on Highway 61, features 1,600 acres of undeveloped bluffs. A 450-foot trail leads to the top of one of the bluffs, Mount Charity, offering a breathtaking, panoramic view of the Mississippi River Valley.

Call or check our website for extended summer hours and live owl programs



Admission Adults: $7 / Ages 4–17: $4 Ages 3 and under: Free




Coming to downtown Decorah April 2018! 301 West Water St. – Across from the Oneota Co-op! \ Spring 2018




Spring 2018 /


AM ERICA All images this page from States of America documentaries / introduction \ Spring 2018




AMERICA The States of America documentary series spotlights three inspiring women of the Driftless Region as it explores how the places where we live help shape who we are. BY SARA FRIEDL-PUTNAM



211 W. WATER ST. | DECORAH M.T.W. FR.SAT 9-5 THURS 9-7 563-382-8940


Spring 2018 /

hat is home? What is it that connects us to a place? Where are we really from? “In the United States, you might be born one place, go to school or work in another, then pack it up and move somewhere else for a thousand different reasons of choice or circumstance. You might have been born in another country,” says an introduction at, the website for the States of America project. “In an increasingly fragmented time where identity, unity, and belonging are under scrutiny, States of America asks these questions in lyrical short documentaries, featuring everyday people as distinct as the physical and cultural landscapes they call home.” It’s been a few years since Emmynominated filmmaker Brad Barber of Provo, Utah, began work on States of America, but he can still recall his favorite moment (to date!) in filming. “My wife, Susan, and I were in Decorah during Nordic Fest in 2014 filming Beth Rotto and the Foot-Notes as they performed Scandinavian music for a street dance,” he recalls. “We watched as young and old fest-goers came together, held hands, and danced side by side with each other – and then we both cried a little because we had never seen anything quite like that before in our lives.” That moving moment is captured in the Iowa episode, which features Rotto and her fiddle-playing prowess. It is just one of many memorable moments that viewers can expect from the nine episodes that have been released so far, including those shot in Iowa (Decorah), Minnesota (Winona), and Wisconsin (La Crosse). The four- to five-minute episodes can be viewed at; Brad plans to release one episode per month until all 50 are completed.



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The concept for the expansive series dates back to 2009, when Brad, an associate professor at Brigham Young University, launched the Beehive Stories project, a series of documentaries featuring one person in each of Utah’s 29 counties. That undertaking inspired another, larger idea: States of America. Often accompanied by Susan, Brad began filming sweeping landscapes, heartfelt memories, and tear-jerking moments across America a few years later. “Real life is so much more compelling than fiction,” says Brad, named one of Variety’s “10 Documakers to Watch” in 2015. “The opportunity to exalt the everyday by storytelling is both exciting and inspiring, and I cannot imagine doing anything else.” His wife Susan’s Midwest roots – she grew up in Winona – were key in choosing the subjects for the Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin episodes. Her longtime connection with Decorah resident, Kristen Underwood, from time spent studying at the Commonweal Theatre Company, led her to Beth Rotto. Having Hmong classmates in high Watch: school inspired her to suggest a leader in the Hmong community in La Crosse as the Wisconsin focus – that Go to to leader turned out to be Xong Xiong, an immigrant see the Iowa, Wisconsin, from war-torn Laos. And, as for the Minnesota subject, Minnesota, and other well, that was easy – Susan had long-known Kathy Christenson, a vibrant artist and educator who adored States of America her hometown of Winona. documentaries released so far. And while all three women display unique talents, personalities, and inspirations onscreen, they also demonstrate a shared love of the places they have each long called home. And that is exactly what the filmmaker was hoping to achieve. “My hope is that how people describe their feelings of belonging to these places will help us see each other with more compassion,” Brad says. “I hope the universal themes brought out by distinct differences will help people focus less on what divides us and more on the common connections we feel to the places we live.”

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At left: Susan and Brad take a break from filming for a quick photo. Above: Brad captures the shot perfectly. Photos courtesy States of America project

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Get tickets at J. Tupy’s & participating stores listed at: \ Spring 2018


Photos courtesy States of America project


Beth Hoven Rotto AMERICA Decorah, Iowa BY SARA FRIEDL-PUTNAM


laying this traditional folk music really connects me to generations on all sides,” Beth Hoven Rotto says in the Iowa episode of States of America. She’s a talented violinist and a fiddler in the popular Northeast Iowa string band, Foot-Notes … but that wasn’t always the case. “I was not very good,” says Beth in a candid assessment of her violin-playing skills upon graduation from Luther College in 1978. “I was definitely a better piano player.” But Beth, a Scandinavian studies major with Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish great- grandparents, had developed a love for fiddle music while frequenting the popular community dances held at the nearby Highlandville School. There, a band fronted by fiddler Bill Sherburne played Scandinavian polkas, schottisches, and quadrilles on many a Saturday night. (“A goody two-shoes evening of Saturday Night Fever at a Lake Wobegon pace” is how one Des Moines Register writer aptly described the dances in 1986.) Those dances remained a fixture for Beth as she happily settled into married life with Jon Rotto, a fellow Luther graduate who shared her love of dance and folk music. In the late 1980s, while flipping through the

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Spring 2018 /

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local paper, she spotted an Iowa Arts Council ad seeking applicants for grants to apprentice with folk artists. Yearning to learn more about Scandinavian folk music, Beth applied for a grant to spend three months fiddling alongside Sherburne, then in his eighties. She received the grant, but it took a few sessions with her mentor for things to really start clicking. “It was a pretty sketchy start – I had a hard time reading him,” she recalls with a laugh. “But then one day I brought along Jon, who plays guitar, and all of a sudden we had a little band going on. Bill would play with Jon, and I would copy him. It was really fun.” Not long after – following an evening Beth and Jon spent playing music with their friend Bill Musser (acoustic bass) and Jim Skurdall, a mandolin player who would soon relocate to Decorah – the string band Foot-Notes was born. “We started renting the Highlandville School in 1991 to keep the dance tradition going,” she says. “And we still try to do that at least once a month in the summer.” (John Goodin took over mandolin “duties” for the band after Skurdall moved to Norway a few years back.)

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Beth & John Rotto

Since their founding, the Foot-Notes have performed crowdpleasing melodies for countless wedding, anniversary, and birthday celebrations – “We play for events that matter in people’s lives,” Beth says – and have long been a fixture of Nordic Fest in Decorah each July. The band’s 2014 Nordic Fest performance, in fact, features prominently in the Iowa installment of the States of America series, as frame after frame captures Beth glancing down Water Street, watching young and old unite, laughing, cheering, and holding hands as they dance freely to the lively tunes that emanate from the masterful musicians. “I see the magic that happens when we play, and I am so grateful for my chance to watch,” says Beth. “It is special here – playing this music allows me to uphold cherished traditions as it connects me to music lovers of all ages.” And while perhaps best known for fronting the Foot-Notes, Beth has long contributed to the local community in many other ways too. Her diverse background includes five years serving as the librarian and on the garden crew for Seed Savers Exchange, from 1988 until 1993, when her daughter, Ingrid, was born. She is also one of the founders of the Oneota Community Food Co-op and today works there as a buyer for cheese and other refrigerated dairy products. “I am inspired by my job, by my community, by my family and friends, and by the natural world around me,” says Beth, a Wisconsin native. “I turned into an Iowan a long time ago and am never going to live anyplace else.”

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Xong Xiong: La Crosse, Wisconsin Photo courtesy States of America project

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Spring 2018 /



ong Xiong was just nine when she arrived in La Crosse with her Laotian parents, having left behind a war-refugee camp in Thailand that had been her home since birth. “The refugee camp was one mile in radius and harbored lots of disease,” she says. “It always felt temporary and never like home.” Today, more than 30 years later, she still recalls her first glance of the new town that would become her home: “I remember seeing all the lights in the city as we were descending toward the La Crosse airport and wondering how there could be so many people living here.” But not all those people were kind to Xong and her family, and they soon began to experience racism and discrimination – not uncommon at that time for people in the Hmong community, many of whom struggled with the language barrier. “It was really hard because I was attempting to navigate something very different than what I had known,” she says. “I was trying to learn how to relate, communicate, and socialize with people in an entirely different culture.” Yet far from breaking her, that difficult experience empowered Xong to overcome those barriers so that she, in turn, could help others to do so. She went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and is on track to complete her doctorate in education at the University of Minnesota-Duluth later this spring. “What inspired me to go into education was the huge need I saw to educate people about other communities and cultures and the issues that they struggle with,” she says. “There’s so much diversity in La Crosse, but I think people are often afraid to step out of their comfort zones to learn more about other cultures – and we all need to do more of that.” In 2013, when Xong was serving as executive director of the Hmong Mutual Assistance Association (a nonprofit that aids Southeast Asian refugees, primarily Hmong people), Brad Barber asked if she would take part in States of America. Xong agreed, and her inspiring story is told in the Wisconsin episode, the mostwatched one to-date. Much of the episode is filmed outside amid the bluffs of La Crosse, a landscape that Xong says connects her to her Hmong roots. “This part of Wisconsin feels familiar, almost spiritual, and it reminds me how much our landscape can enrich our lives.” Today, Xong works hard to share lessons like that in her role as program manager of Cia Siab, the nonprofit she helped found in 2016. Its goal is to advance Hmong culture in La Crosse, and educate people on the history, culture, and struggles of her people. The organization holds conferences and community days, and sponsors a program that regularly attracts more than 30 Hmong youth seeking a safe place where they can be themselves, express themselves, and feel supported. Supportive programming like this is critical, says Xong, explaining the Hmong is the poorest ethnic group in the state of Wisconsin, with many families living below the poverty line and many youth failing to graduate from high school. “Research shows that when kids feel strong in their cultural identity and language, they do much better in school, both academically and otherwise,” she says. “I truly feel like we are making the state of Wisconsin better by supporting Hmong youth and strengthening their connection to their own culture and their understanding of the cultures of others.”

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Est. 1961

An example of Kathy Christenson’s artwork

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Kathy Christenson Winona, Minnesota BY SARA FRIEDL-PUTNAM

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Spring 2018 /


thought, ‘I look like a little old lady!’” Kathy Christenson says with a hearty laugh, remembering the first time she watched herself in the Minnesota States of America episode. Viewers – and anyone who has ever met Kathy – will undoubtedly disagree with that self-deprecating assessment, though. With her jaunty step and impassioned storytelling, Kathy radiates energy and an inexhaustible joie de vivre. That’s exactly why Brad and Susan Barber chose her to represent the North Star State. “I knew Kathy from childhood,” says Susan, a Winona native. “I remembered how nurturing, energetic, and hilarious she was, but I also recalled how much she loved her hometown and her home state of Minnesota.” (Continued on next page)


Folk Art School

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The National Norwegian-American Museum & Heritage Center \ Spring 2018 Decorah, Iowa • • 563-382-9681

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Photo courtesy States of America project

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Spring 2018 /

Now 71, Kathy – a teacher, photographer, and artist – has lived in Winona for the vast majority of those seven decades, spending just a brief period in Chicago while her husband, David, completed his residency in family-practice medicine in the mid-1970s. “At first, I wanted to go someplace else after he finished up,” she says. “But David wanted to return to Winona, and I am so glad we did­– we are so anchored here, and I don’t know what I would be like if I had lived anywhere else.” It was in Winona that Kathy first learned to swim with her brother in the waters of her beloved Mississippi River, and it was in Winona that she earned a degree in studio art from the (now closed) College of Saint Theresa. It was also in this historic island town that she and David raised their three adult sons – Mike, Tom, and Charlie – in a home they lovingly restored over the course of three decades. “It has been a labor of love,” she says of renovating the grand home, built in 1869 by William Windom, a former United States senator. “We never even considered that we had any choice but to preserve it.” Ever the artist, Kathy selected all the colors for the home (shown briefly onscreen) and ensured that no visual detail was overlooked. Yes, that even included stripping layer upon layer of paint from all the home’s radiators to restore them to their original luster. Her yen for preservation often leads Kathy to the local Miller scrapyard, where, as shown in the documentary, she takes photos of the ever-changing contents. She views the piles not as trash but, instead, as inspiration for artistic notecards she creates. “I have been shooting there for 25 years,” she says. “It never fails to inspire me. It is a great place to pause, observe, and see old things in new ways.” But it is the water and banks of the grand Mississippi – where the documentary both begins and ends – that clearly inspire Kathy the most. “The river has been an integral part Watch: of my life, and I make a point to walk along Go to to it almost every day,” see the Iowa, Wisconsin, she says. “Its beauty Minnesota, and other is reflective of the States of America beauty of this town and this state and documentaries released so far. reminds me daily why I don’t want to live anywhere else.”

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HANDCRAFTED IN DECORAH, IOWA Last fall, we put together a list of 10 of the most important things we’ve learned in the 10 years we’ve been making Inspire(d). Number 9 was this: Like we need to take care of our house to keep it from falling apart, we need to take care of our planet to keep it from falling apart. Here are some easy ways to do a little - or a lot - to help save the earth. BY ARYN HENNING NICHOLS


aving the earth is a big job. It’s not going to happen overnight, and it’s not going to happen if only one of us does something about it. But if a bunch of us does something… who knows? What we do know here at Inspire(d) is that we won’t save the earth if we don’t do anything. And we are all about doing. When I was a kid, and on through middle school, I was in 4-H. I was always pretty shy, but somehow, I managed to talk myself into doing presentations and demonstrations in front of judges and an audience at the Allamakee County Fair in Waukon, Iowa. It was in elementary school that I did a presentation about recycling, and I won! I got to go to the Cattle Congress in Waterloo, and then again: I won! I got a “Certificate of Excellence”. It was all pretty exciting. That presentation stuck with me. I lugged a big bag of trash across the stage, then wondered aloud, “What’s in here, anyway?” I then went through the bag and discovered all the things that could actually be recycled. Back in present day, I think about this every time I throw something away. Can it be recycled? Reused? Did I even need to buy this? Reduce, reuse, recycle. It’s glorious that this 70s-era campaign was a success, and those three words are commonplace in most households. But those three Rs were certainly nothing new for our grandparents. Remember that stockpile of Cool Whip containers in your grandma’s basement? She knew what was up. In our cupboards, the containers are yogurt – Noosa and Stoneyfield – and Talenti gelato, but the idea is the same: Reuse. Let’s go through all the Rs, just for fun. Reduce: Ask yourself if you need that thing you’re going to purchase, and/or how quickly it or its packaging is going to end up in the landfill. Consider buying less packaging – like bulk purchases, or products that are simply packaged, well, simpler. Reuse: Yep, we’re looking at you, yogurt containers. We use ours for storing leftovers or freezer food, holding paint or stain for household projects, and harnessing miscellaneous markers or pens (you can decorate the outsides too). Other ideas? Cut worn-out t-shirts down for rags, put new labels over old ones on mailers and envelopes – you can even use the return envelopes in junk mail! – and use every part of each piece of paper (think grocery lists). Recycle: There are so many things that can be recycled these days. Cardboard, plastics (even many bubble wraps and plastic bags), paper, metal, and tin. Do you recycle the paper from your canned goods? You totally can! Find your local recycling center online to get details. Once you get a system in place for your recycling, it’s almost as easy as taking the trash out, and definitely worth it. Earth Day – dating back to 1970 – is on April 22 each year. In the lead up to Earth Day’s 50th anniversary in 2020, Earth Day Network ( has launched a campaign to End Plastic Pollution. Earth Day 2018 will focus on changing attitudes and behaviors about plastics, to encourage people to help stop plastics from polluting the ocean, injuring marine life, clogging up landfills, and worse. See the next few pages for more ideas to reduce, reuse, and recycle! Plus, there are fun products available locally, and things already in your household that will help you do something for the earth. And something is, without a doubt, better than nothing.

Aryn Henning Nichols always thinks there’s always a way to improve things, we’ve just got to keep innovating and trying. There’s nothing more important than making sure this planet is around for future generations, so let’s all try, okay?

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Want to make a difference?

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Reusable grocery bags are pretty common, but did you know you could also get reusable produce bags? Those little plastic bags for your lettuce or peppers are just as bad for the environment as grocery sacks.

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Reusable Coffee mugs Water bottles Grocery Bags Keep one of each in your car and/or in your backpack, purse, or bag. We love our HydroFlask

Being Green Light bulbs Ekotec

Toothbrushes with replaceable bristles! Genius! Our friend, Terry, AKA Mr. Recycling at Winneshiek County Recycling, says he hasn’t encountered a single facility that will take toothbrushes. That’s a lot of plastic in the landfill! These brushes are just a good as other brands, and create a lot less trash.


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There are a lot of little – and not so little – things you can do every day to help save the earth


First, remember to think about every thing you’re putting in the trashcan. Next, try some of these ideas:

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Below ideas are all pretty easy, once you make them a habit • Walk or bike (or skip!) instead of driving! Local Iowans, check out Walk More Connect More for some fun routes – • Save and reuse all gift bags and tissue paper that you get • Wrap presents with plain old paper, craft paper, or colored craft paper (traditional wrapping paper isn’t recyclable), or, use a hanky! • Reuse every plastic bag you get – you can even use the bag from the toilet paper, if you open it carefully enough! • Don’t use coffee stirrers orEmpower. straws. Learn, Connect, • French presses don’t use coffee filters or pods – and they make really delicious coffee! And you can compost the grounds! Consider making the switch. • Buy local. You’re supporting your neighbors, driving less, and you get a bonus if the thing you’re purchasing was produced locally! • Give or sell things online or at a local thrift or resale store. • Try vegan or vegetarian for a day – you might like how you feel, and go for more! Next are a handful of ideas that take a little more work, but are totally worth it! • Skip the take-out containers, or bring your own! • Cloth diapers – There are some great cloth diapering systems availabe these days, and it really isn’t that difficult once you get the hang of it! • Menstrual cups – They’re not as bad as you’d expect, seriously, and pretty easy to use! • Plant a tree • Get an electric or reel mower • Compost – Check our tips online at This takes some set-up, but it’s so amazing to see how much food waste you keep from going to the landfill, and pretty amazing that it will all turn back into soil one day. • Get an energy audit, and make some energy-efficient upgrades • Consider installing solar to help power your home or office (we love our little array!) Remember: It doesn’t have to be all or nothing – if you forgot your reusable grocery bag, use that plastic sack for your next Super Hero Walk! Good luck, friends!

Celebrate Earth Day in Decorah!


Jeff Scott . 563-379-1101 . 36

Spring 2018 /

Join the Oneota Co-op for their Earth Day Celebration Sunday, April 22, from 5-7 pm in Water Street Park. There will be music by local favorites, Absolute Hoot, plus local food, fun, and friends!

how to do a




don’t know about your neighborhood, but in ours, it always seems like there’s a bit more grime and litter in the spring. It’s surely caused by wind blowing bits of trash out of cans all winter long, then burying them in snow for us to uncover come spring. Luckily, spring is the perfect time to get out of the house. The sun shines, the days are a little bit longer, and that first 60-degree day feels like it’s a mid-summer 80. We like to head out for walks, but not just any walks: Superhero Walks! What’s a superhero walk, you ask? We’ll, let me tell you. One spring day, Roxie, Benji, and I went out for one of those springtime walks. It was beautiful! But then, up ahead, we spotted some trash. “Shoot,” I said. “I wish we had brought a bag!” Then, like magic, a bag blew across the street. Since it was a little chilly still, we had on gloves (hooray, it was more sanitary!), so we picked up the bag, put the trash in it, and commenced our walk. In a few short blocks, that bag was full. A funny thing happened – it made the walk even more fun, like a trash scavenger hunt. We plopped the bag full of trash into our can, and looked around with pride. Then I looked at Roxie. “You know, we were kind of like superheroes just then,” I said. She smiled a huge smile, “Yeah, totally!” And thus Superhero Walks became a thing for our family. These days, we try to be a little more prepared so we can put on our “capes” whenever needed. Turn the page for some tips on being a Superhero Clean-up Crew in your own neighborhood.

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Tip: Supervise kids closely – be careful on riverbanks or near roads. Have grown-ups handle dangerous items – like broken glass – or if the litter is too gross, don’t mess with it. Make sure kids know to ask grown-ups for advice on making this call.




tons of plastic reach our waterways every year


4. A sense of adventure!

3. Eagle eyes for spotting wayward litter.

2. Gloves – so you’re not handling germy trash with your bare hands.

1. Trash bags (two can be nice: One for trash, one for recycling). Tip: Always store a small bag in your jacket pocket so any walk can be a Superhero Walk.


Head out into your neighborhood and pick up litter – like an earth-loving super hero!


Sources: National Geographic .



Roughly how much trash is generated in the US per day

250,000 tons

#litterati . More than a million pieces of trash have been Instagrammed, and then disposed of properly. Download the Litterati app to join in on a global map that uses GPS to display where #litterati is being collected. “Geotags provide insight into problem areas, while keywords identify the most commonly found brands and products. This data will be used to work with companies and organizations to find more sustainable solutions.” –

Get Social

If you have kids, ask some questions while on your Super Hero Walk. Here are some ideas: What kind of trash did you see most often? What could be done to help with that problem? Why is it important to pick up litter? What would our neighborhood look like if everyone littered? How would that feel? What other ways can we take care of our neighborhoods, homes, or other spaces where we live?

2. Throw or recycle the litter, and look around at your cleaner neighborhood. Good job, superhero!

1. Simply watch for trash, pick it up, and put it in the appropriate bag. EASY! You can even make it a game, and the person who picks up the most trash gets a prize! Cupcakes? Brownies? A hug?


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Only 30 minutes away from Decorah, this full service community offers a variety of great dining options, unique antique, furniture & gift shops, & exciting recreational opportunities. Explore Niagara Cave, tour the Amish countryside, & pedal your way through 60 miles of paved bike trail! Harmony also offers a wide array of services businesses ready to meet your every need.

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K&K Gardens

‘Beautifying the world, one plant at a time.’



eith and Kelli Kovarik want K&K Gardens to be your happy place. And it really is hard to leave feeling anything but happy after a visit there – from the colorful plants to the snacks and beverages available on-site to the – yes – zip line (!), it truly is a destination garden center. Located in the rural community of Hawkeye, Iowa, in Fayette County, K&K Gardens opens their perennial and annual gardens, water gardens and koi ponds, trees and shrubs, grasses, and more each spring. It all started in 1995 as something just for fun for Kelli (K) and especially Keith (K). He started growing heirloom annuals and vegetables – in the basement, a storage room in the garage, plus many homemade cold frames outside – but everything Keith grew was for his family’s own use.

(Continued on next page) \ Spring 2018



But slowly, after some prodding from friends and area gardeners, he and Kelli started selling extra plants. The next year, their sale got bigger. The same thing happened the following year, and now, more than two decades later, K&K Gardens covers nearly one acre and is open daily spring through fall. At the time, Keith and Kelli both continued – and still continue – to work full-time jobs in their chosen professions. Kelli is employed by the North Fayette Valley High School as an English and Speech teacher, and Keith is an adult Probation/Parole Officer. Keith and Kelli both graduated from Luther College in 1991, and soon after, got married and made their home here in Northeast Iowa. They have two young children, Emma and Andrew, who keep them busy with their many interests and activities.




IN 2016

& 2017



We caught up with one of the Ks from K&K – Keith – to hear more about how the family business was born, and what he and Kelli have learned in the years running their gardening business. Names: Keith & Kelli Kovarik Age: 48ish Business: K&K Gardens Years in Business: 2018 is our 23rd year in operation Find them: 108 E. Wilbur St. Hawkeye, Iowa 52147



Wednesday, April 4 at 7:30pm

Elizabeth moen

Thursday, April 5 at 9:15pm

The weepies

Friday, April 6 at 7:00pm

sister wife

Friday, April 6 at 8:00pm

margaret glaspy Friday, April 6 at 9:30pm

Wye oak




(Continued on next page)


Carrie Brownstein + Roxane GayANDW PRW ES E NE + Amber Tamblyn: In Conversation W W Thursday, April 5 at 8:00pm

I’m not sure if there was ever a moment when we decided to take the “leap”. K&K Gardens was purely a hobby for the first few years. After some persuading, Kelli and I decided to offer our extra plants for sale. The first year it was a weekend sale, the second year, it doubled to two weekends, and year three resulted in several Spring Weekend Sale Events. Now, we are open every day starting late April through mid-November. Although I never decided to officially take the leap of being the boss, those job requirements followed along with the growth of the business. I often remind our employees that I don’t consider myself a boss. I firmly believe it is important to get opinions from employees when considering change, and listen to their recommendations.



1. Tell us about the “leap” moment. When/how did you decide to jump in and become your own boss?

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Saturday, April 7 at 9:15pm

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221. E. Washington St. Iowa City | | (319) 688-2653 \ Spring 2018


2. What’s the best thing about being your own boss?

4. Was there ever a hurdle where you just thought, “I can’t do this?” How did you overcome it?

Since most employees at K&K Gardens are young adults, I enjoy making work fun and rewarding. Although I am the “boss”, I enjoy teaching young adults how valuable a strong work ethic is. Along with accomplishing a difficult, or laborintensive task, comes the reward of pride and ownership. Like education, such accomplishments are earned, and cannot be taken away. I believe pride from accomplishments is essential to building strong character – a trait that seems to be sometimes missing in today’s workforce.

Hurdles? Every small, family-owned and operated business has hurdles. However, such hurdles have seemed to get more frequent, and intensify, as generational interests change. Although I enjoy hurdles, and view them as opportunities to learn and make improvements, they do make operating a business in a rural area very challenging. Mostly due to the Internet, many customers are well informed of the plants they are interested in when visiting our nursery. Although good, this online education can lead to confusion. In the past, we informed or educated customers about recommended plants when they visited our nursery. Now, we find ourselves explaining why information customers obtained via the Internet may not be totally accurate, or what localized issues such plants may have. Another hurdle would be keeping current with technology, and/or the time needed to keep current with social media.

3. How about the worst? The lack of time is probably the worst part. There never seems to be enough time to complete all the improvements, additions, and daily tasks needed to continue offering a top-notch retail garden center while also working at our chosen professions.

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5. Any mentors/role models you look to/have looked to? I was greatly influenced by a longtime K&K neighbor. What is now the K&K Gift House was once the home of a wonderful lady, and influential supporter, who allowed the continued success of K&K Gardens. Understanding growing pains associated with bursting seams, Ruth encouraged the expansion of K&K by offering up her property. This not only allowed us to expand, but most importantly, to remain at our original location. We were able to triple in size because of this opportunity. 6. What’s the one thing you wish you had known before you started? I have a true love for plants, and an even greater love for helping people improve their landscape and garden. Although I have a Social Work degree, which is definitely (Continued on next page)

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an asset when helping customers, I do sometimes wish I had a horticulture degree. Looking back, having a horticulture degree would have helped me with business decisions, especially the first few years. My plant knowledge comes from over 20 years of experience, though. Horticulture is taught in a classroom, but it can only be perfected by years of hands-on personal experience. 7. How do you manage your life/work balance?

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Spring 2018 /

How do I manage my time? Kelli would say not very well! This is a tough question. I work FT, and then manage K&K Gardens. Kelli works FT, and also keeps up with the household duties, and running two kids to their many summer activities. I have become better in recent years, but it simply takes a lot of time to operate a small business in rural Iowa.

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8. What keeps you inspired? Any quotes that keep you going? My motivation is simple. I want customers to always leave happier than when they arrived. If they aren’t smiling ear-to-ear when leaving, then we failed. Simply put, I want K&K Gardens to be everyone’s “happy place”. Whether people visit K&K to just breathe the fresh air, relax in the gardens, or purchase plants, leaving happy is the number one goal. Four inspirations: 1. My mother, Rita. We used to have a very large garden while growing up on the farm. I have vivid memories of pretty intense tomato fights with my three brothers. 2. My grandmother, Amelia, was an avid gardener until the day she died. Always interested in my gardens, and she spent many days sitting on my deck, being entertained by K&K customers, and the plants that made them happy. 3. Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello (in Charlottesville, Virginia). I have been there several times, and always enjoy the gardens, and his personal interest in nature. 4. While living in England, I traveled around and visited many castles and gardens. I was always impressed by the elaborate gardens, and how perfect they were.

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Spring 2018 /

community feature

photo courtesy History Alive Project, Inc. \ Spring 2018


westby, wisconsin photos by Benji Nichols unless noted

Old Traditions and New Opportunities in Westby, Wisconsin


Specializing in

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Spring 2018 /




t would be easy to tell the story of Westby, Wisconsin through quaint scenes of Norwegian Americana: The 50th Syttende Mai festival that will take place this May, the all-volunteer Snowflake Ski jumping Club, heading into its 95th year, or the Westby Dairy Cooperative, celebrating its 115th Anniversary – and marking Westby the “Cottage Cheese Capital of Wisconsin.” But just focusing on that would be an understatement of “Uff-da” proportions.


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monica orban

Make no mistake, from the the stabbur Westby Stabbur to Borgen’s café, Dregne’s Gifts to the Historical Society’s Thoreson House, the Norwegian theme is strong. There’s even the Nisse House of Art, two storefronts offering unique artisan wares and class space, including “Koselig”, a tea and coffee counter. Owner Monica Orban has held the outpost in downtown Westby for the past five years – an idea that came to fruition after farming in Vernon County and spending borgen’s seven years as Organic Valley’s Senior Events Coordinator. But despite the Nordic themes and deep community ties, Monica isn’t exactly an “old timer,” as they say. “Well, I’m the president of Syttende Mai…,” laughs Monica, a wide grin perched under her browline glasses. “I’m 100 percent Polish. But, the thing is, I’m only a generation away from being an immigrant.” A tight-knit Polish neighborhood in Detroit proper taught her what it meant to be a part of an immigrant community. “People are willing to learn – you have to be creative,” says Monica. The Westby community is on that creative track. Much like the town’s original Norwegian immigrant settlers, folks are taking large leaps of faith – moving forward with the conviction that they can create and re-create the small community they want to live in.

ruth & david amundson


Just down Highway 14, housed in one of the oldest standing homes in town, Ruth and David Amundson are working to tell those immigrant stories in creative “out of the box” ways through their project, “History Alive.” “When you have a small rural community, it can be very singleminded – ‘oh, I’m Norwegian, I’m German’ – but to know what happened to make a city, that’s something,” says David. Ruth picks up in a heartbeat, “We work to pique interest through active history, working through students, the community, Syttende Mai, and even with students in Gausdal [Norway].” David, a lifelong photo collector, and Ruth are both retired high school teachers. History Alive’s goal is to share the history of Westby through photos, stories, and projects – often focused towards high school or younger audiences. It’s the immigrant story of America – one that has come full circle in our recent world, playing out relevant as ever. But the story of Westby is what all of those immigrant stories can become. In the mid 1840s, after time at Koshkonong and Galena, Norwegian immigrant Even Gullord walked off a boat at Coon Slough (near Genoa, Wisconsin) onto the banks of the Mississippi. He kept walking, hiking up the valleys until he found, with conviction, what would become his new homeland, Coon Prairie. He settled alongside Driftless Native Americans on the familiar-feeling land, filled with abundance. More immigrants followed, with prompting – from Biri, Gausdal, and across the struggling nation of Norway – making the harrowing weeks long trek across the Atlantic Ocean to new opportunities. Among them was Even Gullord’s nine-yearold nephew, Ole T. Tosten, whose family would take the surname of Westby upon arriving in America. Ole would eventually have a mercantile that would warrant a Westby railroad stop. A town was born. Norwegian immigrants knew how to farm, how to milk cows, how to grow wheat and crops, eventually even tobacco. Farmsteading was incredibly difficult work, but they found success by looking out for each other, sharing the services they could provide, and through the eventual creation of cooperative agreements. Dairy cooperatives were formed, like the Westby Creamery, plus commodity ag cooperatives, including thriving tobacco croppers like M.H. Bekkedal,

20 18


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(Continued on next page) \ Spring 2018



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Decorah, Iowa


Spring 2018 /

and the Northern Wisconsin Tobacco Co-op Pool – most with direct Norwegian immigrant ties. “I’m still amazed I got elected as mayor, I’m only half Norwegian,” jokes Danny Helgerson, second term Westby Mayor. “But, you know, we have a city and county full of coops,” he continues, reflecting on the changes of rural Vernon County. Even the communication system is cooperative-based. When telephone systems began to grow mid century, many failed to reach rural areas, deemed too unpopulated to be serviced. That didn’t stop a group of Norwegians from picking up the party line though, as Vernon Communications Cooperative formed in 1950. With the same cooperative principles that had led their agricultural successes, the award-winning provider was formed to service the flowing hills and steep coulees of Vernon County. The Cooperative now serves over 7,000 customers in Western Wisconsin with cutting-edge fiber connectivity, cable, 12 community access channels, and additional computer and IT services. It has been nationally recognized as one of the top rural communications companies in the country. The cooperative model, woven into the very fabric of the region, provided a path for groups like Organic Valley, Select Sires, Vernon Communications, Premier Coop, Vernon Electric coop, Westby Co-op Credit Union, the Viroqua Food Co+op, and many more. “A lot of it has to do with heritage, from the Norwegian settlers with that mentality,” says Dr. Dave Brown of Select Sires – one of the largest AI (artificial insemination) and Bovine genetics providers in the world, which has roots in Westby. “We’re going to help each other and take care of each other…it’s not quite as cut throat. It worked really, really well for lots of small farms, and we’re evolving with it as businesses grow,” he says.

Westby Coon Prairie Lutheran But a business doesn’t actually have to be a cooperative to benefit from the model. In the early 2000s, Borgen’s Café, a Westby landmark for a century, had hit tough times. The Scandinavian café had become tired, and was eventually shuttered, much to the dismay of patrons, who for decades had stopped in for a piece of pie and cup of hot coffee. So the town got together – a group of investors formed to buy the business, make necessary repairs, and re-sell it to a community-minded owner.

“It’ll be 10 years in November,” says Blane Charles, citing the decade he and his wife, Mary, have owned Borgen’s. “It was a great way for us to get into the community. It was a win-win, it benefits the community, and it’s what we wanted to do.” Mary and Blane have never been short of things to do – the couple embodies the value that there’s no sitting back in a small town. Mary worked her way through nursing school waiting tables, and Blane started cooking in his mother’s restaurant at age 16. They also ran a dairy farm for several years, and are present on a number of community groups and projects. At Borgen’s, they’ve brought back to life a town hub that provides everything from pie and coffee to meatball dinners to banquet and catering facilities – even nightly lodging. “You have to buy into and be a part of a community to be successful,” says Blane. “It’s really awesome to see how one hand washes the other, so to speak – how we all benefit. You get people into town, and they stop for lunch, but they’re also going to stop at the gas station, or they’re going to the winery, or cheese store. We’re all in it together – and when we see that common vision, we all Artwork © Evelyn Larson benefit.” (Continued on next page)

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Michele Engh, Director of Faith Formation at Westby Coon Prairie Lutheran Church, agrees. “You work to build your community; you don’t sit and wait for your community to build you.” For years, Michele worked with CouleeCAP (the regional Community Action agency) and Vernon County on a grassroots level in economic development and grant writing, before finding her way to Coon Prairie Lutheran. But it was a statewide call for action from the Wisconsin State Associations that sparked her most recent endeavors. “From AARP to the churches, teachers unions, town associations – all of these state associations and leadership groups realized, ‘Hey, I’m working on this, you’re working on this, how do we cross these ‘silos’ and help put them together?’ How can we make this area better for our grandchildren?” Once folks from the different organizations started meeting, challenges within economic development came to the front, and immediately under that heading came childcare. “We live in a childcare desert,” says Michele, “and that prevents employers from being able to hire. So how do we address the need in Vernon County?” With small communities like Cashton, Viroqua, Viola, and Westby all several miles from each other, the physical challenges of rural communities are magnified. There is no one-size fits all answer, Michele says, so by working with various agencies, they came up with a “Shared Services” model. “There are about 25 of these that operate nationwide, much like the many cooperatives that operate in our area.”

What is Servant Leadership?

The philosophy allows a leader to serve first, and empower all of the people involved in any organization or process. Viterbo University in La Crosse, WI has developed a Master of Arts in Servant Leadership program, tapping some of our regions greatest minds in business, service, and leadership who help individuals prepare or continue to serve in our world.

The group received a $400,000 grant from the Medical College of Wisconsin, disbursed over four years, to help get the program off the ground. Their focus is on in-home childcare providers who are legally allowed only three kids at a time. That number can be raised to eight, Michele says, but the work to get there can be daunting. “So we’re creating a structure, along with the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association, to do the majority michele engh of the paperwork, training, and pooling of resources to get these providers licensed and regulated for eight kids,” Mary says. “That doubles our current capacity across the county. Providers will also receive training in early education awareness, communication, and support systems to not only help themselves, but parents of children as well… a sharing of services.” This spirit of cooperation – working from the ground up to move a community forward – is a cornerstone principle behind Servant Leadership, a timeless philosophy that’s been inspiring the Coulee Region for years. The phrase, “servant leadership,” was coined, in recent times, by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay first published in 1970. A “servant leader” is essentially a person who, first, wants to serve their community in some capacity – on the city council, as a mentor, anything that gives back. Second, they lead in their community with positivity – through a specific project, on a board, anything that helps move things forward. “Our communities change when good people get together and do good work,” says Tom Thibodeau, Director of the Master of Arts in Servant Leadership (MASL) program at Viterbo University. “This is what changes communities, this is what impacts lives, this is what creates a sense of trust.”


Photography by Brittany Todd

563-382-3657 . 108 Fifth Avenue, Decorah, Iowa . 56

Spring 2018 /

Mayor Danny Helgerson has seen firsthand the impact of everyday leaders. “I got a phone call at city hall,” say Danny, “and Lori Pedretti wanted to know if we could talk… we’d never met. So we did, and she said, ‘I’d just like to know what we can do to make this a better community?’ That’s a great conversation. We got talking about servant leadership – I was sold once I understood that you basically start with what you have that is positive and build on it. All the way through is positive.” On a chilly Driftless evening, Lori Predetti walks into The Logan mill – one of the oldest buildings standing in Westby, which now offers travelers a place to stay or gather with groups. The historic structure represents not only a unique place in history, but like Lori, a renewed sense of purpose in the community. Lori completed Viterbo’s Master of Arts in Servant Leadership program in three years, while being a full time RN, raising a toddler, and nursing her husband through a battle with brain cancer. Along the way, she started connecting with community members to bring the concepts of Servant Leadership to town. “As I started talking to people, I realized there were all these great things happening but people didn’t even know about them – nobody helping bring it all together. I just had this big ‘a-ha’ moment, where I knew I wanted to do something. I started talking with anyone who would listen – telling them what we wanted to do: Build relationships in the community, identify all the things we already have in place, acknowledge the positives, and figure out the needs,” she says. “It was important for me to get a wide audience – farmers, business owners, single moms, families, our seniors.”

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So Lori, with the help of her professor Tom Thibodeau and Michele Engh, set a series of community meetings to share the principles of Servant Leadership. “Our goal was to have conversations – what are the things that would make this area better? How do we, as a grassroots movement, find answers? Not looking from the top down, but what will fit our area and make sense from the bottom up?” says Michele, an edge of excitement in her voice. “It’s so easy to look at the community and say what’s wrong instead of what’s right – and saying what’s right is more fun. It’s exciting to be in Westby right now, because when you bring 100 people together and talk about what’s good with a community – it’s amazing what happens.” But the work of gathering community conversations is real work – make no mistake. “Everyone needs to be protected, respected, and connected to the community,” says Tom Thibodeau, “and this is the good work that Lori and Michele are helping to facilitate in the Westby community.” They hope to do six more meetings in 2018, Lori says, with the goal of supporting current initiatives, identifying what needs to meet next, and always moving the community forward. (Continued on next page)

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Spring 2018 /

In many ways, the Servant Leadership ideals were already in place amongst community members of Westby. The group that helped realize the vision of the Westby Area Performing Arts Center is a great example of that. In 2001, the Fine Arts Foundation of the Westby Area (FAFWA) was formed to figure out how to build a performance facility for the Westby community and schools. “Seventy-four percent of high school students in Westby are involved in music, and consistently do well in contests,” says Linda Dowling, FAFWA Chairwoman. “A lot of us felt it was time for them to have a performance Westby space that fit, and not just area performing a gym.” arts center But funding was a challenge. The process drew on for years, with small successes, but no momentum. In 2014, a community member challenged the foundation to get things moving. The group was reinvigorated, and a referendum passed with the agreement that Photo courtesy WAPAC FAFWA would come up with a sizeable amount of the budget – both the Sign says it all! in short and long-term views. Four years later – February 2018 – the facility celebrated its grand opening. “But that’s what I see with a small town – how people come together to help each other,” says Linda. “The timing was right, the energy was there, the commitment.” Common good, shared services, cooperative business models. This could be the description of a modern Scandinavian country, but it’s not; it’s rural Vernon County. “There’s definitely a tipping point – I don’t know if we’re there yet, but I can’t wait to see what’s next,” says Monica Orban. “When all is said and done, you can have the small town us and them, the insiders and outsiders, but when push comes to shove, people offer a hand. Time and time again, they just give. We’re celebrating Westby, we’re celebrating history, it’s like the sign says – we have these old traditions, and new opportunities – boom. That’s the formula to move forward.”

Benji Nichols is a big fan of kind people, the hills and valleys of the Driftless, communities that are working hard to make positive change, and cheese. This story is a living testament to those truths.

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Westby, Wisconsin celebrates the 50th year of their most well known community celebration, Syttende Mai, May 19-20, 2018. The small town comes alive with a troll hunt, folk art displays, food demonstrations, sporting events, great music, church services, the kiddie parade Saturday, and Grand Parade Sunday! Evelyn Larson - pictured at right – has designed the Westby Syttende Mai buttons ever since year two of the town’s celebration (the first year the button - at right - was made by the American Legion Auxillary). Evelyn is the local Nisse creator as well. Don’t miss her Nisse at Syttende Mai (plus a couple of her drawings in this story!). Find the entire 50th Westby Syttende Mai schedule at

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“Norwegian Valley” started as a 100+ acre farm near Coon Valley, WI that was donated by Dr. Alf and Carroll Gundersen to the UW La Crosse foundation in 1977. An arboretum was established on the farm in memory of Gundersen’s mother, and in 1982 the Thrune Visitor’s Center was completed. Since then, the Nature and Heritage Center has grown into a 400 acre treasure of coulee, springs, creeks, and prairie. It also holds the Bekkum Homestead – a collection of original log buildings built by first generation Norwegian Immigrants arranged in a traditional horseshoe-shaped ‘tun’ or farmstead. Various trails, shelters, and facilities are available by reservation, and the facility is supported by visitors and memberships. Plan a visit and find out more at

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Find us at the Decorah Farmers' Market from June-October. CSA Market Shares now available.

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Got a little spring fever? Get out of the house and into the Driftless this spring! Here’s some inspiration, in case you need a nudge:


Get sappy with some syrup fun in the Driftless!

Spring in the Midwest brings many magical things, and right towards the top of that list is maple syrup season! This spring is bustling with some great opportunities to get out there and enjoy the woods and fresh maple syrup. Could it get any sweeter?! • March 3-4: Maple Syrup Festival 2018, Hartman Reserve Nature Center, Cedar Falls, 7 am - 1 pm • March 10: Maple Syrup Fest, Eagle Bluff Learning Center, Lanesboro, MN, 10 am – 2 pm • March 17: Great River Maple Fest, Garnavillo, IA, 8 am – 4 pm • March 25 & 31: Green’s Sugar Bush Syrup Festival, rural Castalia, IA, 10 am – 2 pm


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April 6-8: Women’s Weekend Out in Decorah

Gather the gals for this annual weekend of fun in Decorah! There will be entertainment all over town, including in-store parties and demos, door prizes, shopping deals, and extended hours. And don’t miss the Style Show Brunch! The first 250 WWO goers get swag bags! Info at

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Spring 2018 /



May 12: Decorah Fire Department Bucket of Color in Your Face Fun Run 5K

June 2: Driftless Discovery Trail 50k/10k/5k Run DriftlessDiscoveryTrailRun/

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– leaving from Decorah Bicycles fearlesswomenofdirt Fearless Women of Dirt in Decorah will have regularly scheduled rides on Wednesdays (6-7:30 pm) and Sundays (5-7 pm) starting in May! Fearless Women of Dirt (FWD) is open to anyone of any ride experience level. There are also new-rider focused rides the first Sunday of the month: 7:30 - 9 am and 5 - 6:30 pm. They will introduce some bike handling skills and ride a trail or two based on overall group experience. All rides are No Drop, which means they will wait at intersections for everyone to catch up. If you need a rental bike, show up at Decorah Bicycles at least 10 minutes early to get set up.

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FWD Ride at 5pm + Women’s Night 7-9pm at Decorah Bicycles. Learn about the girls biking program, Little Bellas, plus fun social time, and more!

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Spring 2018 /

‘Luren’ them in with a song…for 150 years!

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The story of how a small quartet expanded - over the course of 15 decades - to a large ensemble that has brought Norwegian music - and more - to countless listeners worldwide.


n March 15, 1868, four young men, all Norwegian immigrants in the busy settlement of Decorah, gave in to a bit of homesickness and gathered to sing the songs of their youth. Soon, their parlor pastime had a name: the Luren – for a bugle-like Norwegian horn, the lure – Quartet. This year, the Luren Singers, a nowexpanded men’s ensemble dating to that first quartet, celebrates 150 years of performance. In all that time, the men of its membership have continued to bring Norwegian folk song, classical pieces in Norwegian, and even American folk songs and popular crowd-pleasers to listeners year-round. “We aim to be prepared at the drop of a hat, with something for everyone,” says director David Judisch. “Our repertoire is vast, conservatively speaking.” (Continued on next page)


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Above: the Norwegian Singers Association of America 2016 officers. Below: the Luren Singers December, 2017 - photo by Chip Peterson.


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Spring 2018 /

“Uff-da,” he might have said at the start, but Judisch is entirely of German descent, though he’s loved by the Luren fellowship just the same. Now retired as professor of voice and vocal performance at Luther College, Judisch took the podium with Luren as a favor to a colleague, thinking it would last a season. That winter turned into 43 years (and counting!), including several performing tours hosted in Norway. Luren Singers, in turn, host Norwegian touring ensembles in Decorah, including the women’s choir Cantus from Trondheim, made famous by their performance of the opening yoik folk song of the Disney movie Frozen. This spring, don’t be alarmed if the group of men you skirt on the sidewalk of Water Street burst out in Norwegian song. Or, should you spot a dapper group in formal wear drifting across the Luther College campus. Lucky you, you’ve stumbled upon Sangerfest! On even years, Luren joins nine other Norwegian-American choirs – hailing from Chicago, Madison, Minneapolis, Sioux Falls, and Rockford, Illinois – in Sangerfest, a word that means, literally, singing festival. Choirs within the Norwegian Singers Association of America rotate in hosting the three-day event – each once in a decade. In 1966, Decorah’s first year as host, the Sangerfest parade and performances around downtown drew such large crowds that, it’s rumored, Nordic Fest was born. 2018 marks Sangerfest’s return to Decorah, with guest Norwegian choir Brødrerøster performing and joining in the Sangerfest finale, a Grand Concert accompanied by an orchestra of Luther College faculty, local musicians, and students. (See sidebar for details.)

A women’s chorus – Northern Lights – has also evolved from the membership of the Luren Auxiliary, often spouses of members, and they will perform at Sangerfest 2018 as well. Members of Luren hail from several different small Driftless towns, and take civic involvement seriously, Judisch says. Should a hat get passed at a Luren concert – after they’ve raised rafters with spirituals, arrangements of favorite hymns, even barbershop and show tunes – the money is donated locally, usually to food pantries and fundraisers. Each summer, too, Luren members can be found in red aprons at their booth at the Winneshiek County Fair, serving tasty slices of homemade pie and ice cream – apple, cherry, peach… strawberry-rhubarb, if you’re lucky. Funds go toward touring expenses and scholarships for Luren’s accompanists, often Luther College students as they pursue graduate studies in music. In the end, it’s this camaraderie – the Luren family – that keeps members in their concert dress: white dinner jackets with black bow ties. To date, seven members have been lifting their voices for 40 years or more. One member, Mr. John Nelson, has been with Luren 55 years. But they’re a welcoming bunch too – new or interested singers are encouraged to sit in on a rehearsal. (Just contact a member for dates and times, listed at “We’re from all walks of life,” Judisch observes, “teachers, lawyers, tradesmen, politicians, computer programmers, all together. We sing for our children’s weddings, and we sing for members’ funerals. The credo goes: ‘If you’re too busy to sing, you’re too busy.’” There’s no requirement that members have Norwegian ancestry, either, he explains, just a passion for the music. “Look at me! My only Nordic connection is that I moved to a Norwegian-American town. And they still adopted me.”

presents Russian Romantics

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The Oneota Valley Community Orchestra is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit community orchestra, dedicated to presenting live classical music to the residents of the Oneota Valley, to promote music education, & to provide the opportunity for amateur & professional musicians to continue a lifelong study & performance of classical music.

Thanks to our sponsors: Marion E. Jerome Foundation, Inc. & The Depot Outlet.

Kristine Jepsen grew up in a country church faithful to the Norwegian singing tradition, a circumstance that means she knows by heart verses 1, 2, and 4 of most of the green hymnal. When not singing along with local bell-towers, she’s writing for literary journals and working on a memoir about farming at the dawn of the localfoods era. More at

Sangerfest 2018 Join Luren Singers and the Norwegian Singers Association of America for Sangerfest 2018 Celebrating! Our Norwegian Heritage Center for Faith & Life, Luther College, Decorah Thursday, May 31, 7 pm - Parade of Choruses Concert Each of NSAA’s 10 choirs performs, along with a Veteran’s Choir, the Northern Lights women’s chorus, and the Norwegian choir Brødrerøster. Saturday, June 2, 7 pm - Grand Concert Features approximately 250 members of NSAA men’s choirs, two professional soloists, an orchestra of Winneshiek County players, and the Brødrerøster choir from Norway.


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Eleanor & Tilford “Tip” Bagstad

Interviewed by Inspire(d)’s Benji Nichols

Eleanor and Tip Bagstad were both born on Norwegian-speaking farmsteads in the coulees of Vernon County. Eleanor recalls the farm life, tending nine acres of tobacco, playing piano, as well as playing “teacher” with her eight siblings. Tip grew up in Timber Coulee, and farmed his whole life, in addition to “two or three other jobs… always”. Tip also ski-jumped as a youngster, including a trip to the National Jr. Ski Jump Competition in the early 1950s. At age 48, Tip picked up the fiddle and started learning old time tunes by ear. Eleanor played piano most of her life, and family friend Beatrice Olson, a retired dairy farmer, also happened to be an accomplished accordion player. The trio started playing in 1982, after being invited to play at a Norskedalen Nature & Heritage Center meeting. A small article was written in the local paper, asking “Could it be, ‘The Norskedalen Trio’?” The trio went on to play all over the upper Midwest for three decades, including Westby Syttende Mai, many trips to Nordic Fest in Decorah, community dances in La Crosse, and The Yankton Old Time Fiddlers festival. The group was invited to perform at the 1998 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. and the Wisconsin Folklife Festival in Madison, Wisconsin. They contributed several tracks to the album Deep Polka: Dance Music from the Midwest, put out by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, and also produced their own albums. Tip also took up Acanthus and chip carving later in life. He was awarded a gold medal in carving at Vesterheim Museum’s National Exhibition of folk art in 2000. The couple has two daughters, Bonnie and Kimberly, who are both accomplished in regional health care fields. Eleanor and Tip’s 62 years of marriage are a testament to hard work and the courage to take on new challenges at every step of life. What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you? Tip: My dad always used to say that it isn’t always what you make in the year, it’s what you have left at the end of it. Eleanor: We were always told from home to be friendly when you meet people. Tip: It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice! What did you want to be when you grew up? What do/did you do? Eleanor: I always knew I wanted to teach. When we were little we’d all play school, and I always liked to be the teacher! After normal school, I went on to teach at five of the country schools in Vernon County, and played and taught piano too. Tip: Well, my brother and I did construction work for several years, building many tobacco sheds and such. I hauled milk in the coulee for a few years when we were first married. I later took a job leading up habitat restoration crews for the Wisconsin DNR. For 17 years, I led crews to restore trout habitat. Our crew helped create the LUNKERS structure, and several trout stream restoration ideas. I also always had cattle on the farm. If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you want with you? Well, probably food and water. Maybe our instruments! If you could eat anything every day for the rest of your life, what would it be? We like lutefisk and lefse, but not every day! We enjoy it for special occasions though. And we’ve often had good trout to eat over the years.

Do you know someone you’d love to interview for this page? Let us know!

Tell us about…Your wedding day: We were married June 2, 1956 at Coon Valley Norwegian Lutheran church. We had 600 people at the reception as we both had a lot of relatives. It was an afternoon wedding, and of course at that time there was no dance, as it wasn’t allowed – we just had a big reception in the church and then everyone went home. Your First Job: We’ve both done many things, but both of our families raised tobacco. Eleanor’s family had nine kids, and nine acres of tobacco, which is a lot of tobacco. It was a big job, growing, tending, and harvesting. And then there was the work in the tobacco houses – Bekkedal, Lorillard, King Edward – we did that for years. Your favorite memory: We’ve been fortunate to travel to Norway three times. Our daughters came along as well, and they spoke Norwegian because that’s all their grandparents spoke. And of course playing music all over the Midwest for 30 years – so many great people.

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