Inspire(d) Spring 2021

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NO. 64 SPRING 2021






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SPRING 2021 contents


what we’re loving right now


Driftless Goat Company


Moving Forward infographic


strategies for moving forward


banking on a clean energy future


earth day activities


making murals come to life


Community Builders! 34

brandon larue


jeanene thicke


project: paper baskets




adventure is calling


probit: lynne kephart


...and more! 59 ON THE COVER:

Artist Mathew Havran created a massive 2+-sided mural for the new ArtHaus building on the corner of Washington and Broadway Streets in Decorah, Iowa. This photo is just a small section of the artwork. Learn more about it and the inspiration behind it on page 34. / Photo by Aryn Henning Nichols \ Spring 2021


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Nestled in the West side of Decorah, The Landing Market is a modern food hall. Our goal is to provide opportunities and support for all groups of people in Decorah through positive interaction and inclusion. This vision of warmth and community delivers a comfortable, convenient setting to relax and indulge, while also extending a welcoming opportunity to employ our friends at The Spectrum Network.


local vendors

bottle shop

211 College Drive, Decorah, Iowa

From the Editor


’m turning 40 this spring! (May 20, woot! When I turned 20, I started writing decade lists: 30 Before 30, 40 Before 40…you get the pattern. These lists have helped me accomplish goals – from learning to play chess to perfecting all the moves to the Thriller dance to swimming with manatees. The next list I’ll write is 50 Before 50. Wah?! How can this be? Time just keeps on slipping (slipping, slipping) into the future… but at the same time, it can feel like we’re stuck in a rut. Especially after the year we’ve had. Where do we go from here? What’s the next step? Sometimes choosing a path or motivating ourselves forward can feel like the most difficult task in the world. And it CAN be really hard. But there’s never a better time than now. That’s the best time for anything, really. When should I shower? Now! When should I prune that tree? When the pruners are in your hand! When should I apply for that job? How about now? If you try to wait for the perfect moment, all the moments pass you by. Moving forward starts with the next right decision. Get some tips on how to make that choice from our awesome mental health writer (and area counselor) Olivia Lynn Schnur (pg 22), and ideas for getting out of ruts in my infographic on page 20. Something else that helps? Literally getting out of the house. We put together some fun, safe options. Outdoor adventures? Read Mary Hyland’s story on page 60. Up for a road trip? Check out some of the awesome murals popping up around the Driftless, and before you go, read the backstory behind a few of them in Sara Friedl-Putnam’s story on page 34. I get huge smiles every time I read Craig Thompson’s pieces – the man just has a way with words, especially words about birds! Learn about the late spring return of hummingbirds – or hummers, as he called them – and enjoy his wife, Mary’s, accompanying artwork on page 56. What a pair! Spring = tax time as well, and thinking about finances…but have you thought of making your finances green (beyond the color of money, that is)? Learn more about the locally run greenpenny and its relationship with the Winneshiek Energy District on page 28, and mark your calendar (and our checklist) for Earth Day April 22. One thing I really love about publishing Inspire(d) is getting notes and story suggestions from readers. It always seems to result in the most inspiring tales – which was totally the case when a reader suggested we feature Driftless Goat Company. I so enjoyed hearing about the journey of Peter and Cynthia Ruen and their family as they made their way from New York to Lanesboro in this issue’s Sum of Your Business (pg. 14), and also the paths of our Community Builders Brandon LaRue of La Crescent, Minnesota (pg. 48), and Jeanene Thicke of Bangor, Wisconsin (pg. 52). We thank you for reading, and hope this issue brings you inspiration – to get outside, to enjoy the earth, or explore the region – encourages you to get creative (learn to weave a paper basket from a grocery sack!), and helps you find a way to move forward. We’ve got this. and moving! Looking


What’s it mean?

Inspire(d) Inspire(d) – pronounced in-spy-erd... you know: inspired – stands for inspire and be 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! 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, distributor, head of logistics)

We couldn’t do it without: Kristine Jepsen / contributor Sara Friedl-Putnam / contributor Sara Walters / contributor Olivia Lynn Schnur / contributor Craig Thompson / contributor Greg Kirscher / contributor Mary Hyland / contributor Mary Thompson/ illustrator Inspire(d) Magazine is published quarterly by Inspire(d) Media, LLC, 412 Oak Street, Decorah, Iowa, 52101. This issue is dated Spring 2021, issue 64 volume 14, Copyright 2021 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 $28/year. Email for a membership or visit for more info. 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

What is the driftless?

It’s a region in the Midwest – Northeast Iowa, Southeast Minnesota, Southwest Wisconsin, and a wee bit of Northwest Illinois – that was skipped by the glaciers in the last ice age, leaving the area “lacking glacial drift” – i.e. Driftless. The gist of that is we get to enjoy bluffs, valleys, coulees, and other fun geographical features that don’t typically occur in other parts of our states (the Mississippi River contributes nicely to this list as well). It’s a lovely place to live and visit, and we’re happy you’re here! 07

New Online Family Programs!

Find everything Scandinavian at Vesterheim’s Museum Store online! One-of-a-kind folk art, accessories, home décor, folk-art supplies, plus much more!

Now you and your family can enjoy online fun and educational programming in rosemaling, fiber arts, woodworking, Norwegian language and culture, and more with Vesterheim Folk Art School! Fun family kits and instructional videos allow you to do it on your own schedule! Other new and exciting Folk Art School online classes include Nordic cooking, baking, and cocktail themes! Check Support for these programs is provided by Arts Midwest. 563-382-9682

What We’re


right now

A little list of what we think is awesome in the Drifltess Region this spring... Scenic Passports + State Parks Challenge Travel Iowa has a new “Scenic Byways” app that is available to guide your explorations across some of the state’s best scenery and fun. Download the app on your phone and start exploring – and catch chances to win as you check in to various locations across the state. From The Driftless Area to Grant Wood, Covered Bridges and Glacial trails – see where the app takes you! Each month in 2021, one byway traveler will win a Byway Prize Package valued at approximately $200, which will include gift certificates for hotels, restaurants, attractions, and more! Each check-in to a location on the passport earns you one entry into the monthly sweepstakes drawing. The Iowa Scenic Byway Passport is your ticket to discovering the beauty of Iowa’s miles of scenic byways. explore. Based in Wisconsin? There’s a similar challenge launching there this spring! The Friends of Wisconsin State Parks (FWSP) has announced the Wisconsin Friends Explore Challenge to encourage people to explore the state’s parks in new and fun ways. FWSP has created a list of more than 20 challenges for people


to complete in the Wisconsin state park system, which includes state parks, forests, trails, recreation areas, etc. Challenges include fun things like camping overnight while backpacking to finding geocaches in parks to taking selfies from overlooks. Each time a challenge is completed, participants are entered into a drawing to win prizes. The Challenge will begin on Spring Equinox – March 20, and end on the Fall equinox – September 22. Visit wisconsinfriendsexplore. org for more information and to download a free logbook. Minnesota- based friends can also join the club – the Minnesota DNR’s Hiking and Passport clubs. The Hiking Club will take you to 68 trails at state parks and recreation areas throughout Minnesota. You’ll go past waterfalls, through woods and prairie, discover wildflowers, and maybe even spot wildlife. As a Passport Club member, your goal will be to visit each one of Minnesota’s state parks and recreation areas - from A to Z, Afton State Park to Zippel Bay State Park. You will get to see amazing scenery and discover something wonderful and new. Purchase club kits at dnr.state.

ArtHaus Dye Garden This summer, ArtHaus is designing and building a community natural dye garden! Located on the green behind their new building, it will be 10 feet by 36 feet, and surrounded by a gate. Various plants will be used to make natural dyes from roots, seeds, petals, and more. This dye garden will provide various opportunities for community use and course offerings, such as dying fabrics and yarn. Support from Decorah’s Seed Savers Exchange and the Depot Outlet have helped get this project started. Want to join in making this vision a reality? A brick path engraved with names of supporters of the arts will wind through this garden. With a donation of $100 or more ArtHaus will personalize a brick with your or a loved one’s name and message on the path. Help pave a way to creativity!

JUNE 18-20, 2021

YOGA. MOVEMENT. CONNECTION. Driftless Yoga Festival 411: • Attend from anywhere in the world! Connect virtually, or attend in-person in Decorah, IA. • We will move under the summer solstice, learning alongside internationally recognized yoga teachers. • All attendees – virtual or in-person – will receive sangha (community) bags supporting local Driftless businesses!

2021 line-up includes national yoga teacher and anti-racism activist, Michelle C. Johnson alongside local & regional Driftless talent!

Register at \ Spring 2021


What We’re


right now

A little list of what we think is awesome in the Drifltess Region this spring... Tim Eddy - “I Only Asked For Blue”




Tim Eddy has become known for his words and music – as well as his abilities to help bring local artists and musicians together across Western Wisconsin –something we are all missing these days! A lover of words and poetry, Tim has been writing his own for years, and has now released a book of poetry, “I Only Asked For Blue.” Conceived during the 2020 pandemic, Ramshackle Press seeks to find local texts to publish and distribute across our region. Co-founded by Parker Forsell (Ocooch Mountainn Music / Mid West Music Fest) and Eddy Nix (Driftless Books), the first publication, a collection of poems by La Crosse poet Pete Engen, was published in October of 2020, and now Tim Eddy’s “I Only Asked For Blue” is also available, online at ramshacklepress. org or select locations in Viroqua and beyond.

Childcare Possibilities for NE Iowa


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Spring 2021 /

Childcare is a critical conversation – and always has been for families – but it is receiving more attention these days, particularly in light of the current “shesession” (she + recession) that has shown a massive movement of women out of full time employment in order to juggle families, hybrid school schedules, health care needs, and so much more. Many states and counties are struggling, but trying, to find paths to close the gaps (or even acknowledge them) in quality childcare options – from grassroots community organizing work in places like Vernon County, Wisconsin, to state acknowledged efforts here in Winneshiek County, Iowa. Recently, ITC Midwest (the company that oversees our region’s physical energy transmission grid) and the Iowa Rural Development Council (IRDC) awarded a $5,000 grant to help support front end planning of a major childcare project initiated by Winneshiek County Development and Tourism. A private-public partnership is being developed to build an innovative Child Development and Discovery Center in Decorah to alleviate the shortage of childcare while supporting other childcare providers and educational partners

throughout the region. The vision is for the center to incorporate STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) and active learning spaces for children from six weeks to 12 years. The need is very real for these types of services; with a 2019 survey of households within 20 miles of Decorah showing more than 520 children in need of child care. “The lack of affordable, quality child care is constraining economic development throughout rural areas of the state and the region,” says ITC Midwest President Dusky Terry. “By working together, communities can overcome this challenge. Through the Power of Connection program in collaboration with the Iowa Rural Development Council, ITC Midwest is pleased to support the child care initiative being planned in Decorah to improve the overall quality of life and spur economic development throughout the area.” Stephanie Fromm, Executive Director of Winneshiek County Development and Tourism, is looking forward to working on this problem. “We are so excited to be supported by ITC Midwest. This grant is incredibly helpful for us to continue to make progress with this new-innovative model – addressing the childcare shortage like many other rural communities and counties,” she says. “We are also very grateful to Decorah Jobs, Inc. as many of the board members personally contributed to this early planning phase for research and design. Our team intends to leverage every contribution against state and federal grant opportunities to keep moving forward.” ITC Midwest operates nearly 6,700 circuit miles of transmission lines in Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, and Missouri, and holds utility status in Wisconsin. The Iowa Rural Development Council is a non-profit public-private partnership that seeks to empower rural communities and bring together partners to advance the interests of rural Iowa. More information about this project will be reaching the public by the middle of 2021, and those interested in making major donations may contact Stephanie Fromm, Executive Director of Winneshiek County Development and Tourism at: or 563-382-6061

“7 Yards: The Chris Norton Story” Documentary The new documentary, “7 Yards: The Chris Norton Story,” featuring Luther alumnus Chris Norton (‘14) and his wife, Emily, is available now on Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video. As a first-year student at Luther in 2010, Chris Norton was injured during a football game and paralyzed from the neck down. He was given a three percent chance of ever moving below the neck again. After years of intense physical therapy and training, in a stunning show of determination and perseverance, Chris walked across the stage at his graduation with the help of his then fiancé, Emily. The video of the feat touched the world and went viral with more than 300 million views. Soon after, Chris and Emily set an ambitious new goal to walk seven yards sideby-side down their wedding aisle, which they did in 2018.

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What We’re


right now

A little list of what we think is awesome in the Drifltess Region this spring... “7 Yards: The Chris Norton Story” features powerful interviews, emotional reenactments and real footage. “I’m beyond grateful and excited to share this with everyone. It will inspire you to overcome, to never give up and to have faith,” says Chris. Since graduating, Chris has dedicated his life to empowering others to overcome their obstacles. After getting married, Chris and Emily moved to Florida and have fostered 17 children. In 2019, Chris and Emily co-authored the book “The Seven Longest Yards,” detailing their love story. Chris started the Chris Norton Foundation, a non-profit that helps people with spinal cord and neuromuscular disabilities access necessary therapy equipment and reach their recovery goal and in the summer of 2019, Chris started a Wheelchair Camp in southern Minnesota through the foundation. He aims to empower kids in wheelchairs to focus on their strengths and abilities through various sports and recreational activities. As a public speaker, Chris was named the “2018 Hottest Event Keynote Speaker” by ITA Group. Learn more about the Chris Norton Foundation at

Gone But Not Forgotten




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Lanesboro Arts presents “Gone But Not Forgotten: Remembering Those Lost to Police Brutality.“ The national juried exhibition, featuring 26 quilts curated by Carolyn Mazloomi, is part of Textile Center and Women of Color Quilters Network’s “We Are the Story” initiative. The exhibition runs through April 1. Always free and open to the public, Lanesboro Arts gallery hours are ThursdaySaturday, 10 am to 5 pm. The Gone But Not Forgotten showcase honors those whose lives were violently ended due to police negligence and brutality, and critiques the targeting and criminalization of Black Quilt titled “Charleena” by Clara Nartely people throughout history. The “We Are the Story” initiative features group and solo exhibitions that build upon symbols of liberation, resistance, and empowerment, offering a visually compelling account of the breadth of experiences and

struggles that comprise Black history in an honest and critical way. Women of Color Quilters Network (WCQN) was founded in 1985 by Carolyn Mazloomi, a historian, author, lecturer, artist, and trained aerospace engineer (to name just a few). WCQN is a non-profit national organization whose mission is to educate, preserve, exhibit, promote, and document quilts made by African Americans. WCQN showcases the work of its members through traveling exhibitions that tour museums throughout the United States, including the Smithsonian, and has exhibited quilts in Japan, England, South African, Italy, and Australia. Textile Center is unique as America’s national center for fiber art, with a mission to honor textile traditions, promote excellence and innovation, and inspire widespread participation in fiber arts. For more information, visit:,,, and, or call 507-467-2446.

Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts aims to inspire, educate, and nurture students of all ages through high quality dance classes, music lessons, art workshops, theatre camps and more. Located in Winona, the Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts (MCA) is a nonprofit community arts school and affiliate of Saint Mary’s University. It also offers classes for caregivers in partnership with Elder Network, badge workshops for local girl scouts, an adaptive dance class for Home & Community Options (HCO) clients, and more. But MCA’s impact does not stop at Winona city boundaries. Through the rise of virtual programming, MCA is able to provide arts opportunities to residents throughout Minnesota, including rural areas that would

otherwise not have the opportunity to participate in arts experiences. Since April 2020, MCA has partnered with the Caledonia Public Library and Mainspring of Caledonia Journaliing and doodling to offer arts classes and clubs are two of programming many offerings from MCA. / Photo courtesy MCA designed for Houston County residents, and has served over 5,000 (almost double the number of Caledonia residents) people of all ages through virtual and selfpaced art opportunities – programs such as Playful Postcards and the creation of a community quilt which, in addition to fostering art skills and creativity, aim at helping community members connect during these isolating times. Additional programming has or will include Musical & Crafting Storytime, River of Rocks Caledonia (rock painting), doodling, acting workshops, painting, and more! For more information about MCA and it’s partners, such as Caledonia Public Library, Minnesota 4-H, and Mainspring of Caledonia, visit: or call 507-453-5500.

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Two-year-old Flake, an Alpine goat, checks out the view. Driftless Goat Company currently has 50 goats in total. / Photo courtesy Barbara Garbisch Schramm





peter ruen of

ife can be ridiculously unpredictable. In August of 2013, Peter and Cynthia Ruen and their two young kids drove cross-country from Jackson Heights, Queens, to Yellowstone National Park. “It was our first and last family vacation road trip,” Peter says. “We stayed for seven days and saw everything, it was amazing.” On the drive back to New York, they decided to stop in Lanesboro, Minnesota, to visit Peter’s extended family. Raised in Milwaukee, Peter spent summers in Lanesboro working with his relatives on family farms – the same area where his father, Edward, had grown up. “We got a hayride with the kids and I wanted to open the pasture gates for my uncle as I had done as a child,” Peter says. “So I jumped out of the wagon onto the gravel road below, but could not get up.” His heel bone had fractured into five pieces, the fragments displacing cartilage in his ankle. They were told that he would not walk for up to six months, and would likely have some immobility for the rest of his life. 14

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At the time, Cynthia had a growing small business to run, and Peter was a Local One IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) Stagehand. Working 40-hour shifts climbing 100-foot scaffolds in Central Park for a living receded into the past as his current condition became more and more the new normal. So after a nod from his family, they stayed in Lanesboro on the farm. “We built a home, roughed out new jobs, and our children became country kids, sort of,” he says, It wasn’t long before they started digging in even deeper. In 2017, they partnered up with with neighbors Jim and Debbie Rand and started Driftless Goat Company, providing goat grazing for weed control, reduced fire hazard, maintaining landscapes, and clearing sites for construction. Perhaps you’ve seen the goats somewhere in your community, happily munching on vegetation throughout a fenced-off strip of land. Sometimes even right in town! It’s an entertaining and environmentally friendly way to tackle invasive plants – and a great alternative to mowing, cutting, or manually removing weeds, or using chemical sprays.

Vintage, Handmade, & Fair Trade



Goats moving forward / Photo courtesy Driftless Goat Company

107 Coffee St. East, Lanesboro MN. 507.380.1677


3012 Middle Sattre Rd, Decorah, IA . Cynthia and Peter Ruen / Photo courtesy Barbara Garbisch Schramm

The Ruens and the Rands share a commitment to responsible and creative land management. In addition to the obvious benefits, goats also break up soil, aerate and fertilize the ground, and cut down on new seed broadcasting by 90 percent (with their digestive enzymes!). The latter is a special skill of ruminants, a set of planteating animals with four-compartment stomachs that, well…chew their cud. “Ruminant animals are essential to the health of the soil in our community,” Peter says. “While the focus can drift to what the goats are consuming above ground, we must continue to shine a light on the infinite benefits they leave to soil health. That is why all livestock grazing has the potential to heal our lands for the next generation.” Over the years, Driftless Goat Company has gone from four goats to 50, and each year, the client base grows as well. “We are building empirical evidence of success that drives return business and spreads our name around,” Peter says. Now, more goat renting companies are joining the field, and Peter says the more the merrier. “We need them to grow,” he continues. “We are proud to be the first entrance for many in our area to this alternative.” Goat grazing is naturally a socially distant job, so Covid-19 hasn’t affected Driftless Goat Company’s business too much, and the Ruens maintain their full time jobs throughout the year as well. Cynthia is a teacher at the Lanesboro Public School Daycare Center, and Peter is a local farmhand at Duschee Hills Dairy LLC, spending most days milking cows and driving tractors. “So happy,” Peter says. “I would jump again.” Turn the page to read Peter’s Sum of Your Business interview!

Organic before organic was cool!

Famil y Owned & Operated Pete Gengler, fourth generation Sno Pac President Frozen Organic Fruits & Vegetables. Caledonia, MN. \ Spring 2021


The Basics: Name: Cynthia and Peter Ruen Age: Mid-40s Business: The Driftless Goat Company LLC, co-founded with Jim and Debbie Rand Years in Business: 4 Business address: P.O. Box 309 Lanesboro, MN Website: Sum of Your Business answers by Peter Ruen 1. Tell us about the “leap” moment. When/how did you decide to jump in and become your own boss? After a few years working with our neighbors, Jim and Debbie Rand, on parsnip and thistle reduction in native prairie and woodland by hand and chemical application, we were presented with a business decision: Did we want to partner up and start a goat rental company? The Rands had been in touch with The Ruen family – Cynthia, who grew up in Madrid (Spain, not Iowa), Peter (far right), and a few landscape companies that were quoting up their kids, Pablo and Cyan – feeding baby goats / Photo courtesy Barbara Garbisch Schramm to $1500 an acre to clear and spray buckthorn, but goats were recommended as an alternative. At the business, to remain captive to that labor arrangement. As the hours time no other business that rented goats was very interested in the turned into days and weeks and years. As the goat number doubled Lanesboro area. My (Peter’s) family has farmed around Decorah and and tripled. More hooves to trim, more hay and water. We had to let in Fillmore County since the 1850s, and we wanted to be a part of go of our past, give over our life to these animals. We have put their that tradition. We had already decided to buy a few goats to add welfare above our own in terms of rest and daily routine. That can to the cats, dog, and chickens we were tending. So we got to start mean a sleepless night during labor or giving up travel and vacations our own operation, focusing on local landowners, farmers, and to achieve the 24-hour, 365-day-a-year job that livestock offer the small towns. Cynthia has been an entrepreneur for years and had farmer. run her own businesses in the past. I was happy to jump in as “the labor” with her and our neighbors, to not only help us manage our 5. What’s the one thing you wish you had known before you own land, but put forward a service to the local community. started? What Buckthorn was. As we grew in demand, I was thrust into 2. What’s the best thing about being your own boss? conversations about many plants. Buckthorn came up more than Not looking at the clock. Entrepreneurs work for free. most. I get better every year at botany. 3. How about the worst? Brownie, aged four, is a Boer goat. 6. How do you manage your life/work No downside. I wish everyone could balance? experience the freedom. There is no line. That is a modern We could say there is an outsized pressure concept. We live by the sunrise. The change of of running the company and carrying the seasons. As farmers it is not for us to backslash responsibility, etc. However, after decades of the two. Farming is a nondual way of life. Think working in multi-level and interdisciplinary of the animals first, then yourself. It’s the only employment structures, “the pressure” way. What is work? doesn’t prove to be any more as a boss than an employee. If anything “the boss” achieves a level 7. Do you have a favorite goat? Do the other of personal independence that relieves certain goats know?! stresses in a way an employee is often not allowed. Brownie is the first goat we bought four As a boss, my personality may be incorporated years ago. He leads the herd spiritually. And we into the business, which is in contrast to the added love him. Another goat, Missy… I consider her pressure on an employee to assimilate to a boss’s the best goat and Mother of the Herd for her personality. It has been wonderful to be on both personality and incredible children, including a sides of the fence. Or to put it in agricultural terms, current Billy Goat, Yin, that sires many kids. to have a gate. 4. Was there ever a hurdle where you just thought, “I can’t do this?” How did you overcome it? Yes, it was before we let go of equating our time to a dollar figure. As wage earners for most of our lives, we are very good at pricing ourselves. It can become dangerous, when building a 16

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8. Where’s the weirdest (or most interesting) place you’ve been asked to bring your goats for clearing? We got to work next to the Lanesboro Dam last year. I fenced down some vertical bluffs and the roar of water and mist was thrilling to be near. It is always fun to work in town and bring the goats in. People get a kick out of watching them and being near livestock. We all are learning together; every job is exciting.

9. Any mentors/role models Zoe was one of Driftless Goat Company’s first goats; love, wonder, and devotion as you look to/have looked to? she’s about five. She had this baby girl, May, born a way to farm and live. Nick Many. May 2020, and she is expecting more babies soon! and I are the same age, and / Photo courtesy Driftless Goat Company David and Marti Grey at The were country and city mouse James A. Thompson Bed and growing up, castrating pigs, Breakfast in Lanesboro –our cleaning manure, picking first client who broke local plums, etc. ordinance, hired our goats, and Mitch Gilbert is a local then changed the law, along with forester who has educated the city council, allowing us to our company through operate legally. I trust my clients. the years and aided in Jim and Debbie Rand founded discovering the goats benefit the company with us four years to our community’s land ago. They taught us how to start management tool kit. a business and turn a dream into Our Parents and extended reality. That “Market Research” family, friends, and local is a lot of fun. community have invested in Dr. Travis Kingsley of Caledonia us financially, emotionally, and Veterinary Clinic was the first to physically. We thank you all. visit our farm when we had four goats. He set us on a true path to 10. What keeps you herd health that we have strived inspired? Any quotes that to live up to. keep you going? Dr. John Rein, Dr. Sarah Otto, My mother, Katie Ruen, said Dr. Phil Sadler, and the staff of that the way to succeed in life is by allowing change and adapting Harmony Veterinary clinic have nurtured the goats and goat farmers to it. Hold on to your dreams, ethics, and morals. Allow different from the beginning. Saving many, many lives. opinions in. Work hard and share with others. The Goat Company My uncle, Donald Ruen, and cousin, Nick Ruen, brought us our allows all of that to exist. We will continue to grow, learn, and first shelter and hay bale to house and feed Brownie and CoCo. They change with those around us. Grateful for our opportunity to love. guided our hands as we practiced animal husbandry. They taught

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Moving Forward



the spring, we move the clock forward. It’s a love/hate thing for me. I love the light later in the day; I hate losing any of my time (even though it’s just borrowed from the fall). I do love the idea of a reset, though. Of the clocks, and of, well…life. It’s an opportunity to take a step back and give our lives a wider look. I love these reminders that are essentially built into our calendars, especially in the spring, when things are moving and growing again. Bulbs shoot small green spikes up from the earth, stretching for the sun and reaching for a new day. Let’s be like those guys! Especially if you’re feeling stuck in a rut. Stretch and reach for the next step! Let’s move forward! And here’s a cool thing about forward momentum: it doesn’t have to be big. “Progress is progress” is a frequent mantra of mine. Each day that we wake up and try to do our best, is a day well spent. Also remember taking time for yourself is productive work. You’ve got to “sharpen your axe” every now and again. In fact, it was Abe Lincoln’s productivity secret; sharper tools get the job done more efficiently. He said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Shifting perspective on this – and other things that might regularly bog you down – can literally change your life… so make this a priority. Over the next several pages, we share ideas for moving forward in life, on a project, from a bad situation, or just to the next day. We hope you find renewal this spring, and the energy to keep moving forward. XO - Aryn

Read on “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” - Martin Luther King Jr

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Sometimes the best way to move forward is to take a step back & look at your situation. Where do you want to be? How can you get there? Make a plan & map out options & next steps.

Take a step back


Moving Forward

Each day when you wake up, ask yourself, “What can I look forward to today?”

How can you move forward without looking forward?

Change your perspective The future hasn’t happened yet. Choose hope and optimism – worry never helped anyone.

Be mindful Be patient Manage expectations

Do YOUR best – stop comparing yourself to others.

Progress is progress! Any forward action counts, no matter how small.

y d a e t s & W SLO

Reach out for help if you need it

re weso me!


– remembering you have people in your life cheering you on is a great way to renew your energy.

Tell someone you’re grateful for them

Remember to take breaks – it will pay off with better, more efficient work in the end.

Sharpen your Axe

Be willing to start over, and don’t wait for the “perfect moment”.

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Moving Forward Where do we go from here? Northeast Iowa-based mental health counselor, Olivia Lynn Schnur, spent two years in Australia – 2017-2019 – working with Aboriginals in the Wiradjuri territory. The time was filled with many lessons. One of the biggest? Stay true to your values, and the path forward is easier to see. Read on for tips on how to take action & accomplish goals.


Spring 2021 /

Illustrations by rassco / Shutterstock



Aboriginal Australian culture, the kangaroo is a symbol of strength and determination. Due to their large tails, they can only hop in one direction – thus, they are always moving forward. The Aboriginal Australian Wiradjuri people have had to continually move forward as well, overcoming many obstacles – territory invasion by white settlers, violence, the institutionalization of their people – in order to sustain their culture, families, and customs. Many Aboriginal Australians were killed, displaced, or forced to assimilate, and as a result, language, customs, and ways of life were lost. Nevertheless, the Wiradjuri people have worked to regain and sustain their families and culture. The people I worked with during my time in Australia showed resilience and resourcefulness, always willing to tackle what’s next and embrace change. This speaks to the importance of their values – family, determination, and community – and we can all learn from that example. Spring, as the world renews, is a great time to embrace change, create new goals, and explore our personal values and inner resilience. Let’s follow in the spirit of the kangaroo; let’s move forward. Here are some ways to get started:

Embrace Change Change is inevitable. Resisting it can make life feel like it’s out of control. Alternatively, embracing change can make it feel more like an adventure. Like so many things, our reaction determines our relationship. To better embrace change, try practicing mindful acceptance of the present moment. This can be as simple as a Mindful Minute: one minute of present-moment bliss. Set a timer, close your eyes, and repeat a positive mantra, such as “I am present” or “I am strong” – or anything that brings you peace. Living fully in the present moment helps us gauge our reactions and responses. We have so much more control than we think. \ Spring 2021


Practice Walking Meditation

To begin, write a list of important values. Jot them down without thinking too much about each one. Allow this to be an intuitive experience. Next, notice which values are similar and list them together. Whatever seems to fit together is fine. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Lastly, circle the most important value(s) in each list. Then, write them down in order of importance from 1-15. The top five values will likely be the most influential when making decisions. See page 27 for a Values List worksheet. With our values in mind, we can begin to notice which areas of our lives are most aligned. Likewise, we notice which areas don’t line up. From this space of knowing, we can begin to live in accordance with our values.

Want to take it a (literal) step further? Walking meditation is another fun way to practice mindfulness. To begin, count your steps as you inhale. Then, count your steps as you exhale. As you continue walking, try to take an equal number of steps with each inhale and exhale. To increase resilience, extend the exhale one second longer than the inhale. To get the most out of this experience, walk somewhere quiet where you can notice your breath, and walk slowly. You might be surprised how quickly this exercise changes your mood. By learning to shift focus from the incessant chatter of our minds and choosing to focus on breath and body, our relationship with the present moment changes. With practice, we are not filled with sorrows of the past or anxieties about the future. We are simply present with everything that is happening around us.

Visualize a Plan for the Future

Honor Personal Values While change is inevitable, some things do remain constant, such as our values in life. They create our moral compass, guiding us through uncertainty. Values are generally shaped by parents, friends, and lived experiences. Each individual has their own set of values, yet many of us are unaware of their subtle forces. Building awareness around these values can allow us to make measured decisions about the future. To do this, try keeping a Values List, and re-evaluate it from time to time.

But awareness alone does not lead to action. Next, we can start making informed choices for the future. Visualization is key. For example, when athletes train for competitive events, many visualize themselves actually crossing the finish line. In order to believe that you can accomplish your goals, you must first imagine them as real possibilities. When a vision for the future is clear, it is easy to visualize your desires. But visualization becomes tricky when we’re faced with two equally viable or attractive decisions. I, personally, had this situation when I faced the decision to move to Australia or remain at my first professional counseling job. I utilized the following strategy to help make my decision.

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Spring 2021 /

Making decisions is easier when your personal values are clear

NOW Practice Visualization To try this activity, lie down or sit in a comfortable position. Choose one of the options and allow yourself to fully imagine that decision coming to fruition. Notice your bodily reactions, emotions, and sensations related to the visualization. Repeat with each alternative choice. When I visualized myself moving to Australia, the first sensation that arose was fear. However, beneath my fear was a tremendous amount of excitement. Once I tapped into that excitement and realized moving overseas was a possibility for me, my vision for the future started to become a reality. Our mind does not know the difference between imagination and reality. This is why it is incredibly useful to visualize the future we want to create. On the flip side, when we rehearse negative experiences, harmful beliefs about ourselves, or fears about the future, we are simply reinforcing our own anxiety.

Create a Vision Board A vision board can also help in visualizing the future. It’s similar to a collage. Start by cutting out images or words from magazines, books, or newspapers. Once again, this should be an intuitive experience. These images or words represent the goals you hope to achieve. Get creative with the process and allow your visions to take shape. Hang the finished product somewhere it will be visible. This board will serve as a physical representation and reminder of your goals.

Future-Focused Journaling Another way to create this same effect is by journaling. Aim to write like you are telling a story. Instead of writing something like, “I want to be successful,” write out specifics in the present tense. For example, “I am a successful business owner.” Write down details like where you live, how many hours you work, who you connect with on a daily basis, and the general feeling you have about life. Get specific and allow yourself to dream.

List all your accomplishments & remind yourself: You’re doing a great job!

Seek Guidance Last but not least, this stage of change may require the guidance of a therapist, coach, or mentor. Sometimes, we need an outside observer to assist in refining our ideas. It can be especially helpful when feeling blocked, indecisive, or fearful.

Be Realistic When Setting Goals Setbacks are part of the process. We have been adjusting to this new normal for almost a year now. What originally felt like a complete life adjustment has now become just… life. While we certainly hope this new normal is not here to stay, we can move forward with newfound hope and a clear vision for the future. When we face roadblocks, like the kangaroo, we simply keep moving forward. And even when we must change course, we know our values will serve as a compass to set us in the right direction.

Reflect Upon Resilience and Accomplishments



NMLS #488721


Spring 2021 /

We have already cultivated so much more resilience than we know. Oftentimes, life can become so hectic we forget how much we have already overcome and achieved. Making a list of everything you have accomplished is one way to reflect upon your resilience and adaptability to change. These can be both big and small accomplishments. Maybe this year you learned to work remotely. Perhaps, you found new ways to stay connected to loved ones. One thing is for certain: Any forward momentum is an act of resilience! And when we’re moving forward, we can take anything life throws at us. Olivia Lynn Schnur is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) in the State of Iowa. She is also a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT-200). In both her practices she specializes in helping people overcome trauma and anxiety. She also focuses on wellness to assist with life transitions, identity concerns, performance-based issues and stress management. You can find out more at

How to Make a

values List


top 15 values


First, write a list of your important values. Jot them down without thinking too much about each one. Allow this to be an intuitive experience.

Here are some examples of values, to get the ball rolling: Security Creativity Freedom Honesty Community Family Intelligence Leadership Determination Authenticity Open-mindedness Adventure Safety Love Friendship Routine Performance Athletics

2 3

Faith Independence Productivity Solitude Culture Unity Variety Wealth Influence Learning Health Peace Spirituality Loyalty Beauty Nature Professionalism Power Altruism Respect Communication Order

Jot here:

Next, notice which of your values are similar and list them together. Whatever seems to fit together is fine. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Feel free to use another piece of paper if needed. Lastly, circle the most important value(s) in each list. Then, write them down in order of importance from 1-15. The top five values will likely be the most influential when you’re making decisions.

Worksheet design by Inspire(d) Media

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15.

Keep this list handy as your reference point when making plans for the future. Make decisions that feel in line with your values, and you should always be heading in the right direction! \ Spring 2021


Business Financing Specialist, Mike Ludeking, with his children and solar powered home just outside of Decorah. / Photo courtesy greenpenny

banking on a clean energy future BY KRISTINE JEPSEN


nergy, in simple terms, is the currency of life. As long as the sun has bathed the leaves of plants and our upturned faces, life has been enriched by how we manage energy, whether it’s firing through our muscles, or fueling the way forward. Energy also circulates silently and seamlessly (most of the time) as electricity, as basic to our modern lifestyle as the Internet, itself powered by servers around the world, whirring with electricity. We can’t do without energy, and with this need comes opportunity, new ways to make renewable energy local and accessible to everyone. That’s the goal of two complementary Driftless-born institutions: Winneshiek Energy District, serving Winneshiek County, Iowa, since 2010, and greenpenny, a virtual bank launched by Decorah Bank & Trust in 2020 to finance renewable energy projects. 28

Spring 2021 /

“It’s green meets green,” Winneshiek Energy District founder Andy Johnson explains. In other words, “green” renewable energy with a softer carbon footprint – wind, solar, and geothermal – makes “green” economic sense, whether systems go up in your residential yard or on the roof of your machinery shed. Seeded by local, kitchen-table conversations about climate change and modeled on the Natural Resource Conservation Districts in each county, the Winneshiek Energy District (WED) is a non-profit that helps homeowners and businesses become more energy efficient. WED also helps educate communities on renewable energy technologies and their impact on our climate, and advocates for fair and equitable energy policy at the local, state, and national level. In its first decade, WED has helped more than 1,300 homes, farms, and businesses save more than $1.7 million through energy efficiency, and facilitated the investment of nearly $20 million in privately owned renewable energy systems in Winneshiek County alone, resulting in more than $31 million in utility savings. These renewable energy installations,


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in turn, helped create or retain more than 250 local jobs among contractors, materials suppliers, technical assistance professionals, and more. Then, beginning in 2018, the energy district model began to expand to other Iowa counties (nine and counting!), giving rise to a statewide coalition, the Clean Energy Districts of Iowa (CEDI). For more, see But whether you champion renewable energy for its climate stewardship, its economic upside, or both, investment takes money. “How is capital flowing into renewable energy?” asks Jason MacDuff, vice president at greenpenny, powered by Decorah Bank & Trust. “That’s the question we set out to answer. Greenpenny is designed to help residents and businesses finance renewable energy systems, not as a side note or a ‘division’ of other lending. It’s what we do, exclusively.” The idea for greenpenny, a virtual bank with friendly hometown service, started circulating in 2019, just as Decorah Bank & Trust completed its own renewable energy installations. (There’s an array over its parking lot in downtown Decorah, and a charging station for electric vehicles, for instance). Over several years, Decorah Bank had been ratcheting its energy consumption down to carbon neutrality, through efficiency and the purchase of Oneota Tag carbon offsets from the Energy District (see sidebar on page 32 for how they work). “The Energy District has been helping us track and reduce our energy consumption, as well as produce our own energy,” says Ben Grimstad, Decorah Bank president. If a bank could do it, he and greenpenny collaborators reasoned, there had to be a way to make energy lending accessible to the local community. To date, greenpenny offers checking, savings accounts, and CDs, the deposits from which go entirely toward local lending for residential and business solar energy systems. To get started, a customer gets a bid for the size solar system they need, through a local solar contractor or by working with technical services from Winneshiek Energy District. Once a customer is approved for lending and begins a project, they become eligible for a federal tax credit of 26 percent the value of the project (recently reinstated through 2022), and an Iowa tax credit of 13 percent (currently half the federal rate) once the system is operational. (Note: there is a two-year wait-list to take the residential tax credit.)

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While visiting Antarctica, Jason MacDuff (now greenpenny VP) and his companions observed Adélie penguins and ventured with scientists onto sea ice. “It was the first seasonal ice found in the region in many years that was thick enough to stand on,” Jason says. (As the planet warms, the Antarctic sea has a shorter window to freeze around the continent each year.) “This has implications for not only cooling the planet, but also for animal life that depends on the sea ice, such as leopard seals and penguins.” These Adélie penguins shown are arriving at their breeding grounds in early spring (November) after completing a migration that takes them away from the Antarctic continent for the dark, cold winter months. Upon arrival, they call out for their mates. In December, the warmest month in Antarctica (about −2 °C or 28 °F), the parents take turns incubating their egg; one goes to feed and the other stays to keep the nest warm. In March, the adults and their young return to the sea to feed. The Adélie penguin lives on sea ice, but needs the ice-free land to breed. With a reduction in sea ice, populations of the species have dropped by 65% over the past 25 years. / Photo courtesy Jason MacDuff






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Clean Energy continued

“Our goal is to keep lending rates competitive,” Jason explains, “so that you’re essentially trading your monthly electric bill for a solar loan payment.” To help customers cash-flow their new solar investment, greenpenny defers payment until the customer receives their federal tax credit. “Then, when your project is paid off, you have no utility bills for the life of your system.” (Most solar panels come with a 20+ year warranty.) Universal accessibility is key to greenpenny’s mission, Jason says. “If we’re going to make this work, we welcome everybody, whether you believe the science or like the politics of climate change or not. If energy savings and efficiency align with your Scan to watch a video about personal or business goals, greenpenny there is good reason to and how it’s working to explore solar.” FINANCE A Jason’s own dedication SUSTAINABLE to renewable energy comes from an encounter with…. TOMORROW Antarctic penguins and other climate “canaries” in the Galapagos, Peru, Chili, and Argentina. A Cresco, Iowa, native (where the City buys power from a local solar field), Jason had worked in finance on the West Coast for decades but knew his calling wasn’t to climb the ladder in a big national bank. “I ended up selling everything and traveling for two years to South America and beyond. Seeing the Amazonian rainforest and listening to scientists tell you what they study about climate change and seeing the effects first-hand, changed how I saw myself. I realized any one person (me) could make that ‘difference,’ and I set out to put my professional skills to different use.” Today Jason and his greenpenny colleagues work from their virtual “storefront,”, fielding questions and helping customers complete successful projects. “Being a ‘virtual’ bank, with all of us working remotely, doesn’t keep us from providing the same service you’d expect anytime you call up your lender.” A real person answers the phone, and true to greenpenny’s roots, it’s someone you probably already know – a neighbor, a professional colleague, a trail buddy. Looking forward, Jason envisions a day when greenpenny could expand to manage mutual funds of green investments and advance from solar to higher-capital renewables like wind power. “We want to support the broader energy ecosystem of installers, auditors, and more, in addition to a community of individuals who have invested in local energy. The world is solar-powered,” he concludes, “and now banking can be, too.” Kristine Jepsen is a freelance writer, farm owner, and counselor for Iowa’s SBDC. She’s also a solar geek, having just installed solar arrays on her homestead in rural Allamakee County. Now that she has a bead on her household’s daily energy consumption (and the amount offset by the solar), she realizes her mom’s nagging that she “turn off that light?!” was in fact warranted. More at

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Oneota Tags: A Driftless carbon offset program Who: Available from Winneshiek Energy District What: Carefully tracked carbon emissions reductions that result from greater energy efficiency in local homes and businesses are available for purchase by individuals or businesses that wish to offset their carbon footprint. As a basis, 1 metric ton CO2 equivalent = 1 Oneota Tag = $30 How: Purchasers work with WED to calculate how much carbon emissions to offset. For more, see WED’s sixpart series on offsets at carbon-offsets/



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Earth Day hooray! We couldn’t let Earth Day – April 22 – go by without saying hooray! But honestly, every day is a good day to celebrate and take care of the earth. Want to do something a little special on Earth Day this year (or on any day this year)? Try some of these fun activities with your family or by yourself!

Buy local

You’re supporting your neighbors, driving less, and it’s a bonus if the item you’re purchasing was even produced locally!

Use a human-powered means of getting around for a day

Go on a Superhero Walk

Walk or bike or skateboard or roller skate instead of driving!

Grab a bag and some gloves, and get out in your neighborhood or favorite park to pick up trash! There’s always a lot littered around in the spring, finally revealed by the melted snow. See “How to Do a Super Hero Walk” at for more tips!

Use less plastic

Try reusable silicone bags (we love ours), Bees Wrap instead of plastic wrap, or reusable grocery bags! Always bring your own water bottle in the car, and pack a to-go coffee mug while you’re at it.

Recite the Three ‘R’s:

Reduce – Try buying less stuff Reuse – Can that container be reused? That bag? Be creative! Reuse everything possible. Recycle – Ask yourself “Can it be recycled?” every time you’re going to throw something away.

Paper Power

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)! Use all sides of scrap paper for lists, projects, etc.

Plant a Tree!

Consider your purchases

Try Vegan or Vegetarian for a day

Is the packaging minimal? Will it last? Do you really need it? If you can, try to save up for quality rather than cheaper options that wind up in the landfill shortly after purchase.

Go on a second-hand shopping spree!

Happy Earth Day!

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Back row: Marcia Madrigal, Jayme Folkedahl, Ron Juve, Mike Kelly, Gina Smith Front row: Janice Numedahl, Keegan Steinlage, Jeanne Gullekson \ Spring 2021




come to life



Spring 2021 /

Once-monochromatic buildings now sport bold splashes of color in the Driftless. Meet four talented area artists who have created murals – in the towns of Decorah, Dubuque, and Elkader, Iowa – for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of all.


reativity takes courage,” acclaimed French artist Henri Matisse once said. And when that creativity takes the form of a public mural, accessible (and unmissable) by all, the courage is undeniable. Thankfully for folks in the Driftless, local artists possess courage in spades. We checked out the Iowa towns of Decorah, Dubuque, and Elkader, where those local artists – in concert with various groups aiming to promote area artists, engage the community, and create tourism – have been hard at work turning muted building walls into large, colorful, and engaging works of art. As spring advances, these murals provide a big (literally) reason to venture out and explore the Driftless. Road trip, anyone? Learn more about the behind-the-scenes from four talented local muralists. Each answered questions about their lives, works, and inspiration. Their murals are as varied as the artists themselves. From flowers to wild animals to portraits to swimmers. But they are all – without a doubt – amazing works of art, and totally worth the visit. Read on to learn more!

Mat Havran’s mural, also pictured on the cover of this Inspire(d), is at the ArtHaus building on the corner of Broadway and Washington in Decorah. It covers two entire sides of the corrugated metal building, and a bit of a third. Some of the founders and artists of ArtHaus are also represented in the mural in the form of the owl wings (Lea Lovelace), the crow (Kristen Underwood), and the painted ceramic unicorn (Eric Petersen & Jenni Brant). / Photos by Aryn Henning Nichols \ Spring 2021


Decorah, iowa

Mural art is nothing new for art-loving Decorah. Local artist Carl Homstad, for example, has shared his talents with the town through several murals, most recently, in 2013, a block-long depiction of the annual Nordic Fest parade at the corner of State and Water streets downtown. Even more recently, other murals have joined the mix, by Jennifer Fisher Jones at the Decorah municipal pool and Mathew Havran on the ArtHaus building on Broadway Street. Both artists took part in ArtHaus’ fall 2020 New Voices in Public Art program, Mat as an instructor and Jennifer as a participant. (Ketaki Poyekar, profiled later in this article, instructed as well.) The program, says ArtHaus director Shannon Dallenbach Durbin, was held via Zoom (hello, pandemic) – with some hands-on private painting sessions – and funded with a grant by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and matches from several downtown Decorah businesses and building owners. “The artists learned about tools and supplies, surface, contracts, and proposals,” says Shannon. “And they all submitted proposals to businesses in Decorah that were interested in murals.” Yes, you read that right: Keep your eyes peeled for fresh paint (and murals!) in Decorah in 2021! In the meantime, learn more about Mat and Jennifer, and the stories behind their murals:

Mathew Havran: ArtHaus Mural 107 West Broadway St, Decorah, IA

Decorah’s Mat Havran is a self-taught artist specializing in drawing, painting, and chalkboard art. He loved drawing as a kid, but fell in love with painting in college. It wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, however, that his painting embraced large-scale muraling. Interested in more of his artwork? Visit his Facebook page, “Artist Mathew Havran.”

Artist Mat Havran / Photo courtesy Shannon DAllenbach Durbin

What story/stories does the ArtHaus mural tell? The scenes, figures, and objects have symbolism tied to ArtHaus, art, and Decorah, with the ribbon winding through and tying it all together. It all starts at the backside of the building with a child (my son was the model) holding one end of the ribbon. Some famous historical art figures [depicted in the mural] include Frida Kahlo, Bob Ross, and Byron (the “farmer” from Grant Wood’s famous painting, American Gothic). Some of the founders and artists of ArtHaus are also represented in the mural in the form of the owl wings, the

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Spring 2021 /

crow, and the painted ceramic unicorn. Of course, there are also many tie-ins with art and things you can find inside ArtHaus itself, like the paint, the sewing thread, various art utensils, woodworking tools, stained glass, ceramics, and a pottery wheel. I also wanted to represent some of Decorah in a subtle way. The waterfall and water scene were inspired by the various springs and the Upper Iowa River. The “flower arch” blends traditional rosemaling with “realistic” flowers. There is a lot of symbolism and meaning packed into this mural. What do you think/hope murals add to the communities in which they are painted? I feel like murals really make art accessible to the public. They allow people to be inspired and entertained. Murals bring visions to life, and help people to see things in a different way. Having art be so visible in communities gives people the opportunity to come together and talk about it. Kids will see it and realize that their own potential has no bounds and hopefully begin to imagine their own creations being displayed someday. The expression of art sparks curiosity, conversation, and community. What inspires you to paint (murals and other works)? What really inspired me to be an artist growing up was my grandmother (who was an oil painter), Bob Ross, and Walt Disney. Nowadays my artwork is typically inspired mainly from dreams as well as the occasional random shower or driving thoughts.

Jennifer Fisher Jones: Decorah Municipal Swimming Pool murals

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Jennifer Fisher Jones, an Iowa native, has a degree in studio art from Macalester College and a K-12 teaching certification in art from the University of Iowa. She has designed and taught school art programs and summer art camps, served as an art consultant in galleries in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., and recently opened Mystic Sundog studio at 207 Washington Street in Decorah (mystic-sundog. com). An avid swimmer, Jennifer designed and created a series of four large murals at the town’s historic municipal Artist Jennifer Fisher Jones / Photo courtesy Silver Moon Photography bathhouse and pool in 2016 and 2018. What are the challenges and what are the rewards of painting murals versus working on smaller “canvases”? One could say that creating large-scale artworks is my default setting, so painting murals is a good fit for me. I like working on a

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Jennifer Fisher Jones’s mural at the Decorah Municipal Swimming Pool went up in 2016. Jennifer found inspiration in community members who frequent the pool – from lifeguards to a regular aguasizer group, “the bobbers.” / Photo courtesy Brian Jones

Each artist we talked to approached the process of mural creation similarly: 1. Start with sketches, inspiration photos, and concept drawings, considering the location and surroundings 2. Go through the proper channels for approval (city councils, planning and zoning, or other organizations that might require input).

smaller scale too, but I find mural work is particularly freeing – and there is the added bonus of never having an issue of figuring out where to store the huge canvases! Exterior mural work can be both wonderful and challenging. One day you have that glorious 70-degree day with partly cloudy skies, and another you might contend with extreme wind, a pop-up thunderstorm, extreme temperatures, or little biting bugs. That said, I love being outside, and the continual change makes every hour of “wall time” unique and never dull. How did your pool murals evolve, and what story/stories do they tell? In 2016, I was enthusiastically, and somewhat obsessively, exploring underwater subject matter in my paintings. When I noticed the Decorah pool’s guard room was in need of painting, I started dreaming and eventually contacted Andy Nimrod, director of Decorah Parks and Recreation, about the possibility of partnering up to get this job done. The interior plan morphed into an exterior plan, and I was given the green light from the Decorah Parks and Recreation Board of Directors, the [Winneshiek County] Historical Society, and, 38

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of course, Andy, to design and create the first of a series of murals on the pool house. The first mural, painted on a panel, resides in the lifeguard house and depicts multiple legs hanging over the side of the pool deck as seen from a person underwater. The second mural, painted on the “garage,” depicts three males and two females of varied ages frolicking in the water; my aim was to convey buoyancy, fluidity, efficiency, and joyful flow. Since the safety of our swimming depends upon the watchful eye of our fabulous lifeguards, I thought they should be the subject matter for the third mural. The fourth and most recent mural features “the bobbers,” a local aquasize group and community icon. Again, I was able to schedule a photo shoot during their workout and loosely depict a few community members in the mural. This wraparound mural adds great dimension to the facade and gives

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3. Prepare the surfaces – sanding or wall repair, test paints for durability, etc. 4. Gathering necessary tools or equipment for working on this scale, such as paint sprayers, scaffolding, lifts, projectors. 5. Seal mural for extra protection and longevity.

tribute to a group of ladies who are beyond diligent in their exercise regime and support of our marvelous pool. What inspires you to paint, murals or otherwise? I love everything about public art, and it is so exciting to see communities extending opportunities for artists to enhance local structures in a meaningful and interactive way. I have been amazed and humbled with how many people have approached me over the past few years to tell me how much they enjoy the murals at the pool. I have to be honest, as a working artist, I have occasionally questioned, “What is the point of all of this?” But with public art it all comes into focus for me. Public art is accessible, undemanding, unifying, joyful, inspiring, and, ultimately, for the greater good. In short, life is what inspires me. I pay close attention to the world around me and strive to express visually what I have the fortune to bump into. Continued on next page \ Spring 2021


This page: New York artist Gaia created the mural “Ada Hayden,” located at 233 Main St. Dubuque. Opposite: “Owl’s Moon,” by artist Werc, is located at 1504 Central Ave. Dubuque, IA. / Photos by Sara Friedl-Putnam. Learn more about the Dubuque, Iowa, murals at


Dubuque, Iowa

This historic river town has long drawn people seeking outdoor adventures, be it on the Mississippi River, in the town’s parks, or on its paved trails. Today, those adventures also include finding (and enjoying) the nearly 40 murals that have popped up in Dubuque since 2016 courtesy of Voices Productions, a volunteer nonprofit that has worked closely with artists to enliven the town’s cultural landscape through a series of murals. And enliven it they have. Even on the drabbest of days, colorful, dramatic landscapes bring energy to the downtown – be it in the form of a huge, bright-orange octopus snaring a ship on Central Avenue, a duly outfitted fox riding a galloping, multicolored horse on Locust Street, or a steely-eyed Ruth Bader Ginsburg peering out from Jackson Street. Continued on next page


Top left: The mural, “R.B.G.” – located at 1208 Jackson St. Dubuque – was created by Florida-based artist Luis Valle / Photo by Sara Friedl-Putnam. Top right: “Irakulia,” a mural by Dubuque-based artist Andonia Giannakouros (interview at right), is found at 373 Bluff St. Dubuque. Bottom: Georgia-based Corban Lundborg’s mural, “Persistence,” can be found at 698 White St. Dubuque.


Dubuque continued: “Murals change the way people think about a space or neighborhood, and art, in general, brings life and a story to the mundane, “says Corban Lundborg, a Midwest native who has painted two murals (one titled Persistence and one untitled) on White Street. “I was recently explaining to a friend that when people brag about a city, they don’t brag about the corporations there – they show off the art districts, museums, galleries, and mom ‘n’ pop stores.” From that perspective, Dubuque has plenty to show off. Over the past five years, the bricks and mortar of dozens of buildings have been transformed into an unmissable, truly breathtaking outdoor gallery showcasing the works of talented artists from around the country – including Dubuque native Andonia Giannakouros, whom we chatted with here:

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Andonia Giannakouros: Irakulia 373 Bluff St, Dubuque, IA

A representational painter, Andonia Giannakouros (giannaka. com) focuses her art on the human figure, making use of repetition to symbolize disruption and vibration, and to mimic images from her childhood. Born in Dubuque, where she studied studio art at Clarke University, Andonia currently lives in her hometown after calling Memphis home for six years. Irakulia, is her first and – she says – only mural. “I communicate through images,” she says, “and it’s always my hope that my act of making inspires others to make. What do you find influences your art, including this mural? I’m highly influenced by my surroundings – my work often features friends and family as models, and I’m much more productive in warm weather and during seasons with longer periods of light. I feel more creative after meeting new people or traveling to new places. Significant events and experiences in my life remain in my memory as an image most often, rather than a set of narrative details. This mural was highly influenced by 2016 and 2017 politics. What are the challenges and rewards of painting murals in public spaces? The biggest challenge is scaling the work; the biggest reward is the support from the community. This project was my first and only mural. I was fortunate to have the support of the local business Industrial Precision Services, which donated a lift for two days, and the help and support of several patrons of Monks [coffee shop] who ran over to help me struggle against the wind to place the 10foot stencil in place. I didn’t have access to a projector, so I used a homemade paper stencil for the bottom two-thirds and painted the top third freehand from a few measured reference points. I wouldn’t recommend either method. Continued on next page

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Top: “The Fate of Santa Clara” mural was created by Midwest-based artist Miles R. Turner. It is located at 1460 Central Ave. Dubuque, IA. Bottom: Another mural by artist Werc, “Another Odd Fellow” can be found at 302 Locust St. Dubuque, IA / Photos by Sara Friedl-Putnam.


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What do you hope people take from viewing your Irakulia mural? I thought a lot about who would see the mural the most. There are a number of residences whose windows look out onto the wall; people sitting on the back patio at Monks can see it too. I wanted to make something that wasn’t overpowering and complex. I tried to make something that was simple with a limited color palette that would give the feeling of strength and perseverance.

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What inspires you to paint, in general? I like to create work for specific spaces, considering how viewers will interact with the art and what kind of mood or thoughts I can convey. I like to put figures against flat backgrounds with hard edges or adjacent to busy patterns to create the impression of collage. I also like to repeat images in different media in the same piece.

Elkader, iowa

This quaint Northeast Iowa river community has long embraced the arts, holding the highly anticipated Art in the Park festival each year and housing a number of arts-related businesses throughout town. And art lovers can thank the “Art in the Alley” project sponsored and curated by Main Street Elkader for the murals that now decorate downtown, including Stay Wild by Ketaki Poyekar. The goal of the project, phase one of which was completed in 2019, is to showcase bold, unique, and family-oriented art that reflects this dynamic, healthy, and art-friendly community. And, thanks to an ongoing commitment to “Art in the Alley,” more colorful murals were created in 2020, with no end in sight. “It is an ongoing project,” says Kate Lower, director of Main Street Elkader. “We are continuing to plan, raise money, and add art to our alley as a part of this project.” Here Ketaki shares more about her alley mural, created in 2019.

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Ketaki Poyekar: Stay Wild 201 W. Main St, Elkader, IA

Elkader-based artist Ketaki Poyekar, also known as K8Ki, grew up in Mumbai, India, knowing she wanted to pursue a career as a designer. She holds degrees from the Sir. J.J. School of Applied Art and the Academy of Art University. Currently, she runs a small design and development studio, Studio K8Ki (studiok8ki. com), in Elkader with her husband, helping small businesses and startups. If you had one word (or maybe two) to describe your artwork, what would it be? Lively and colorful. Can you talk about how your life experience informs your artwork? As an immigrant, staying curious and continuing to explore have opened up many avenues in my professional career and personal life. Continued on next page

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Ketaki continued: Embracing my individuality and uniqueness has given me the opportunity to stand out in the crowd. I hope people who meet me or come across my work get an impression of boldness and staying true to oneself from it. What do you hope people take from viewing your mural? I really hope they are inspired to be curious (like the big cats!) and stay wild... to not get too bogged down by traditions and customs but make their own way in this world... and to explore their own uniqueness and add it to the world around them. 46

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How do murals function versus smaller “canvases”? Because they are public places, murals should resonate with passersby and invite people to interact with them by, for example, taking photos. Canvases reside in a smaller, confined space and are sought rather than found. What do you think murals add to the communities in which they are painted? Murals add character, connection, color, and perspective to communities – and not only today or next year as murals can be around for decades, drawing eyes and shaping the culture.

Elkader artist Ketaki Poyekar, also known as K8Ki, aptly describes her work as lively and colorful. Her mural can be found at 201 W. Main St. Elkader, IA

Archaeologists have discovered frescoes that date all the way back to 3,200 BCE, so publicart investments like murals are very much long-term investments in the community.

In the mood for more murals? These are just the tip of the, er...wall! Check out other Driftless towns with murals - like Viroqua and La Crosse, WI, or Rochester and Winona, MN. Keep your eyes open for pops of color and tour the region in a whole new way!

Whether in Decorah, Dubuque, Elkader, or beyond, there are no opening or closing times to enjoy mural art and no entry fees involved. Mural art truly is art for all. The bottom line? Time spent admiring the Driftless Area’s robust collection of colorful, vibrant, and, yes, courageous, outdoor murals is time well spent. Sara Friedl-Putnam may not have much artistic talent — a fact to which anyone who has played Pictionary with her can attest! — but she has an abundance of admiration and respect for any artist who can create an impactful mural. That includes all those spotlighted in this article and countless others as well. \ Spring 2021


Brandon LaRue (right) with Eriah Hayes, showcasing the virtual training program, No Athlete Left Behind, that they developed during the COVID pandemic. / Photo courtesy Brandon LaRue



Brandon LaRue La Crescent, MN BY SARA WALTERS


n small towns across the Driftless, sports mark the calendar – and the passing of time – as much as Sunday at Grandma’s or the weekly paycheck. Friday nights are for football, Saturdays are for basketball or wrestling tournaments, and weekdays are dotted with multitudes of practice. This is the lifeblood of these communities. There will always be kids, there will always be youth sports, and there will always be a pickup game to join. But everything changed in 2020 when a global pandemic hit. Suddenly, facilities and schools were closed and games were cancelled. Kids up and down the Mississippi were left with giant holes in their weekly schedules. Brandon LaRue, owner and operator of Well Built Humans, witnessed this shift in his own community of La Crescent, Minnesota. As a health and fitness professional, he started to worry. What were young athletes supposed to do to channel their energy and continue their training during the pandemic?

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“We saw a need for these kids ­– training, health, inspiration, football. In La Crescent, the high school football program had been interaction,” says Brandon. So he joined forces with Eriah Hayes, on hiatus for a couple years due to low participation. That, paired former NHL player and owner of FIVE7 gym, and created “No Athlete with other schools having limited seasons, resulted in an idea Left Behind,” a virtual training and development program for young for a flag football league in fall of 2020. “Football holds a special athletes. “This generation is tech savvy,” Brandon says, “So we place in our hearts,” says Brandon, of himself and Eriah. “We saw thought a virtual training curriculum would be a great way to really an opportunity to get a football in the hands of kids who maybe pour into kids and add value to their lives.” would’ve never played tackle football.” With Eriah and a group of They went for it, and the results were impressive. Athletes local volunteers, Brandon pulled together a league of around 180 from all over the country signed up to join Eriah and Brandon for kids across 18 teams, split between a high school division and a workouts and nutrition education, but also for things like leadership 14 and under division. Kids from other Minnesota communities development and habit-building. They asked their athletes to do like Rushford, Spring Grove, Caledonia, and Winona joined, as well things like make their beds, prepare meals for their families, and as many from La Crosse. It was a consolation for a lot of athletes do their own laundry. “One who had been training for years in their good habit leads to another football teams, but were now facing good habit. Pretty soon the possibility of no season. “I couldn’t you’ve got something good imagine being in that situation. I would’ve going on,” says Brandon. been heartbroken. So we were providing No Athlete Left Behind an outlet for them to compete,” Brandon also featured appearances says. by professional athletes, Brandon is a competitor himself, and coaches, and health and hopes for gains in the athletic programs in fitness professionals, among La Crescent, but he also believes wholeothers. “We exposed them heartedly in building healthier young to leadership, faith, and people in general. He was happy to hear mindset. These are all great that the community may have enough areas that I wish someone participation for a high school football would’ve talked to me team for next season, but ultimately, about when I was 15 or he was just happy to see kids “getting 16,” Brandon says. outside, having fun, moving their bodies.” Participation was solid “I want kids to play as many sports as and the athletes worked they can, as long as they can,” he says. hard. The program held “I don’t want them to specialize. I want strong for many weeks as them to have fun and make memories, students balanced distance but also have structure that keeps them learning and postponed out of trouble. I want them to give it their athletic seasons. As the best, because if you truly give your best, Brandon LaRue recently wrote the book Special Strength: Lessons pandemic shifted later there’s no regrets.” from Livia, highlighting his daughter, Livia, who was born with a rare form of epilepsy. Brandon and Livia look forward to promoting the that year, so did Brandon’s He also knows it can be hard for many book this summer. / Photo courtesy Brandon LaRue approach to promoting in small towns, where a few stars shine. health and wellness to the “I would encourage kids to not quit. younger members of his Find a way to contribute to your team, community. He temporarily tabled No Athlete Left Behind so its because that’s the way that life works. You’ve gotta find a way to participants could dedicate themselves to their slowly-resuming contribute. That’s how you advance in life and that’s how you find sports seasons. fulfillment,” says Brandon. A former high school and college athlete But one season that didn’t plan to resume in any capacity was Continued on next page


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himself, Brandon knows the benefits of being part of a team. “I don’t think there’s a better teacher about life, about teamwork, about responsibility and personal growth than sports.” So pandemic or not, Brandon continues to work with young athletes and encourage them to find new ways to build their skills and stay active. He knows that someday, when this is all over, the work they do will contribute to the community as a whole. “Sports in any community create culture. It creates pride. That’s special. That’s a really cool, tight-knit thing to be part of.” Going forward, Brandon is excited to work with athletes again at FIVE7 and possibly host another flag football league for summer 2021. He’s also still working away on his other ventures related to his business, Well Built Humans, which offers kettlebells, supplements, and fitness programs. And beyond work, he and his wife are raising three kids to follow the same principles put forth in No Athlete Left Behind – leadership, faith, and mindset. Brandon even wrote a book recently, Special Strength: Lessons from Livia, highlighting his daughter, Livia, who was born with a rare form of epilepsy. Brandon and Livia love sharing their book with the community and beyond. “Livia’s very social, she likes being out and about, and she loves when people interact with her,” Brandon says. Because of her condition – best described as an electrolyte dysfunction with motor control – Livia does not run and jump and talk like the athletes in Brandon’s programs. Inspired by her ability to persevere through many challenges, Brandon shares Livia’s wisdom through the pages of Special Strength, but also through time spent with friends and neighbors. He explains that oftentimes, people have never met

anyone like Livia. “It can be a bit awkward for people who haven’t had that experience, but it’s always a positive experience. It helps them understand her special strengths,” he adds. He’s applying what he’s learned from Livia to the pandemic and his work in the community, by approaching adversity as preparation for greatness. “You have to be looking for a new solution, a new angle,” he says. “If you’re looking for a reason to succeed, you’ll find an excuse to win.” Sara Walters is a freelance writer and mom based in Brandon’s community of La Crescent.

Building community is one of the most important things we can do on this planet. Connecting with others helps us connect with our humanity, and realize we’re all in this together. A community is defined as a unified body of individuals. You can build community in a neighborhood, city, region, state, nation... world, at any level. It doesn’t have to be big to have a big impact.

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Jeanene Thicke poses in fall near the Bangor, Wisconsin, headquarters for Children’s Vision International. / Photo by Greg Kirscher



Jeanene Thicke Bangor, WI BY GREG KIRSCHER


hen Jeanene Thicke strode across the Bangor High School stage for the last time in 1983, she suspected life would change. As it turned out, it wouldn’t be just hers; hundreds of others would find hope through her non-profit, Children’s Vision International Inc., headquartered at an old schoolhouse just outside of Bangor, Wisconsin. But before stepping onto the global stage, Jeanene needed some know-how and a little reassurance. Both came when she enrolled the following fall in the two-year, Christ for the Nations College in Dallas, Texas. “Mom (Freda) Lindsay, the founder, taught us we were ‘world changers,’” Jeanene recalls. So after graduating in 1985, Jeanene set out to do the impossible, beginning with a one-way ticket to Bogota, Columbia. Finding lodging with a missionary family from Australia, Jeanene looked for ways to apply her newly minted motto: “Help as many as you can and try to make a difference.” It didn’t take long. Bogota teems with thousands of homeless, and harbors some of the poorest of the world’s poor. “Being from Bangor, I had never even seen street kids before,” Jeanene says. Some of those kids lived in what missionaries dubbed, “Tin-shack Village,” a warren of shanties with dirt floors and tin roofs. This vision, as well as the kids’ faces, stuck in her mind.


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Kids like Karen, now entering university, who was malnourished before coming to Children’s Vision at age six. “We’re tired of eating grass,” Jeanene recalls Karen telling her mother. Or Miguel, once taught by Columbian rebels to plant “apples with the long tails,” guerrilla-speak for bombs. He’s now a final-semester architectural student. Or Gisela, the first baby at Children’s Vision. Now 27 years old, she’s the owner of a small bakery and has a child of her own. And of course Jeanene’s own son, Henry. Adopted at 24 hours old by her and husband Richard, Henry is just months away from completing his medical degree. Jeanene vividly recalls the moment when her vision became Children’s Vision. A horrifying outcome of so many people living so close together in such destitute conditions was the number of abandoned babies. On a crowded street in Bogota, Jeanene discovered baby Gisela, abandoned in a trash container, her fingers gnawed by rats. “I called my mother and said, ‘What do I do?’” Jeanene’s mother, Ann, who now co-ordinates volunteers and donations at Children’s Vision’s Bangor location, replied, “Just do whatever it takes.”

That “whatever,” had been swirling through Jeanene’s dreams for a while. Dreams that included several children’s homes and a medical center. Jeanene took in the baby, but she also shared her dream with Coulee Region churches. Although it took some time, eventually volunteers skilled in renovation work responded, booking flights to Bogota. By 1994, Children’s Vision opened its first facility, the Genesis Children’s Home. A Growing Need Within a few months of opening, the number of abandoned babies outstripped available space in the Genesis home. Jeanene’s workload skyrocketed. “The children were all under the age of four,” Jeanene says. “At one time I had 15 babies in the nursery, and they all arrived very sick.” She often felt overwhelmed, and with good reason. She had no washer, dryer, or disposable diapers. “Life was hard and beautiful, rescuing those who needed it most,” she says. But she knew help would continue to come. “Believing in the next miracle is always part of what we’ve done.” A year later, it arrived, in the form of volunteers who doggedly worked to finish a second home. After that came a school, more homes, and a medical facility. A recent volunteer, Jenny The Bangor, WI, headquarters – and Alameida of Jeanene’s mother Ann (left) – help things run Onalaska, was smoothly for the non-profit’s work in one of a dozen Bogota, Columbia. / Photo by Greg Kirscher from the Coulee Region whose trip was cut short, barely making it home after COVID-19 hit. The Bogota airport closed just three days behind them. “It was still an amazing experience,” Jenny says. “I’ve been to third world countries before, but I was amazed at how happy the kids were, and well-taken care of.” Jenny and her team plastered and painted rooms in what will soon be the fifth children’s home, but they still carved out time to interact with the kids. “The kids are so loving,” she says. “Their lives are completely different than what they would have been otherwise. It’s definitely in my heart to go back again.” The COVID Effect When school was in regular session, Children’s Vision staff prepared over 600 meals a day for students. “When COVID hit, everything changed,” says Jeanene. Schools and businesses suddenly shuttered. “The children were required to go back to difficult situations and live with their legal

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returned to the Coulee guardians. We had to Region for a whirlwind come up with a plan,” four-week fundraising explains Jeanene. tour that netted just Aware that the over $30,000. Yet, the kids lived without way Jeanene sees it, technology, teachers the latest crisis is just went “old school,” another chance for and pumped out over God to work. 75,000 pages of printed “Children’s Vision has lessons, homework, been a miracle since and Bible studies for we started,” she grins. their students. And “We’ve seen 27 years they distributed badly of miracles.” needed food. More than 100,000 pounds of it. For more Since spring 2020, information Children’s Vision has about Children’s distributed over 48,000 Vision, visit bags of groceries, including 1000 chickens or call Jeanene and her husband, Richard, greet a group of Children’s Vision kids. Founded in 1993, the and 400 cans of baby 608-792-951 Children’s Vision headquarters in Bogota centers around multiple Children’s Homes, a school, formula. And when and a medical facility. / Photo courtesy Children’s Vision COVID-19 shut down air travel, cutting off her source of volunteer builders, Jeanene hired local construction crews Greg Kirscher has been a corporate photographer in Chicago, a freelance journalist, a pastor in New England, and a custodian. He is to continue work on their fifth children’s home. retired and lives with his wife Sue in La Crosse. He currently edits a That fall, when supplies dwindled and donations sagged, Jeanene missions newsletter for his church and occasionally contributes to the wangled a humanitarian flight through the U.S. embassy and Tribune.

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Paper Basket!

Got a bunch of paper grocery sacks sitting around at home? Here’s a fun way to reuse them – weave a basket! Perfect for May Day, Easter, or, really… anything at all!

step-by-step instructions at


Paper Project!


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the razor’s edge life of the



Local bird enthusiast Craig Thompson gives us all the details on the spring return of hummingbirds – and how to attract them to your home!


h, the life of hummingbirds. Days spent dancing among flowers and sipping sweet nectar while shimmering in nature’s finest duds. And let’s not forget winters spent in tropical climes, far south of the snow line. What’s not to like? At first blush, it appears our little friends have a cushy existence. Close examination reveals life on a razor’s edge for the bee of the bird world. There are more than 350 species of bejeweled hummers in the Western Hemisphere. Many have names as dazzling as their plumage – Purple-throated Sunangel, Fiery Topaz, Sparkling Violetear. Most are mountain dwellers, inhabiting the biologically rich Andes of northern South America. Fifteen species occur regularly in the United States. One, the hardy Ruby-throated Hummingbird, calls the Driftless Area home. If you’re a hummer, flowers matter. They provide the carbohydrate-laden nectar (nature’s original energy drink) needed to power a high-octane lifestyle. A hummer may visit hundreds of flowers a day to meet its energy needs. So precious are nectar-laden flowers, hummers will vigorously defend them from other hummers. If flowers are in short supply, they supplement their diet with small flying insects like aphids, fruit flies, and gnats, on occasion snitched from spider webs. And the hum? Those tiny wings beat furiously, typically 60 to 80 times per second, generating an electrical transformer-like noise as they rocket past your head. Specialized shoulder joints allow them to change the pitch of their wings, enabling hovering and even backwards flight, the only birds able to reverse forward motion in a split second. Both specializations allow effective access to even the most difficult to reach flowers. As you might expect, these diminutive dynamos build Lilliputian (i.e. teeny tiny) nests. Constructed of plant fibers bound with flexible spider silk, the nests are carefully camouflaged with lichen gleaned from nearby trees. Just large enough to hold two navy-beaned sized eggs, hummer nests gently expand as baby hummers grow.

Continued on next page


Keep a notebook to track the dates you see hummers - and other birds - in your backyard each year. It’s fun to record different birds’ habits! \ Spring 2021


A hummingbird feeder placed near a tree or shrub can be the icing on the cake, enticing our little friends to set up shop, providing hours of spring and summer fun, watching busy hummer antics. By August, as day-length wanes, hummers quietly head south while flowers are still in good supply. They travel between 20 and 30 miles per day. Some will winter in Florida, while most head to Central America. Their hemispheric journey may include a harrowing 500-mile, nonstop flight across the Gulf of Mexico, a Herculean effort for these mighty mites. Come spring, the cycle begins anew. This year, while exploring outdoors, keep an eye peeled for these tiny Driftless meteors. Consider inviting them to your yard by growing beautiful, nectar-rich native plants. Then sit back and enjoy the show offered during our brief, but spectacular hummer summer.

Craig and Mary Thompson live in the Driftless blufflands north of La Crosse with two mischievous dogs and a yard full of cool birds, including several high-energy hummers.

Hummer Feeder Basics: • Mix four cups of boiling water to one cup of granulated white sugar. Commercial mixes often include red dye and preservatives. Neither are good for hummers.

“Mama Hummer” pastel by Mary Thompson

The annual arrival of hummers around May 1st heralds the onset of warmer days. Males get down to business immediately, establishing territories and attracting females. They prefer sunny, flower-rich habitats along woodland edges or within forest openings. A well-landscaped backyard, brimming with native vegetation, can also host a hummer family. Cover provided by trees and shrubs is critically important. And don’t worry about pruning those dead twigs. They serve as convenient perches for vigilant hummers. Garden favorites like Virginia bluebell, cardinal flower, blue lobelia, and bergamot sport colorful flowers that produce copious nectar needed to power a high-energy existence.

• Place the feeders at least six feet off the ground in a partly sunny location near trees or shrubs. Avoid full sun. It will cause sugar water to spoil quickly. • Change the sugar water every two to three days. • Wash feeders with hot water and dish soap at least once per week, more frequently during hot weather. Rinse thoroughly after washing. • Put feeders out no later than May 1st and leave them out until mid-October. Most hummers depart by midSeptember, but there are always a few that depart late. Feeding late migrating hummers will not encourage them to stay.




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Adventure is calling! No matter the weather or time of year, there is fun to be had outdoors! Fresh air – especially fresh, spring air – does wonders for your body and mind. In an adventure rut? Turn the page for tons of inspiration for local outings near you.

South Pine Creek Wildlife Management Area, 1.5 miles southeast of Sattre in Winneshiek County, is a beautiful spot for fishing and exploring / Photo by Lauren Kraus \ Spring 2021


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“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” Henry David Thoreau


re you tired of being cooped up indoors? Late winter into early spring can seem interminable. But each day, the light stays a little longer, and the world continues to shift toward spring and new life. And guess what? You don’t have to wait for spring to officially “get here” to get outdoors – there’s fun to be had right now! Get reacquainted with the great outdoors this time of year (then continue through summer, fall, winter, and so on) with some of these great ideas.

Connect with Conservation & Nature Centers!

Here in Northeast Iowa, we are happy to have great, active county conservation staff, plus multiple county public areas perfect for a fun outdoor adventure. Learning about these offerings can be a great starting point. Maybe make it a challenge to visit all the Nature Centers near you - many have outdoor options, additional programing and educational opportunities. Note: Itís a good idea to check for COVID precautions and/or closures before visiting centers. Allamakee County: The Driftless Area Education Center, located on the banks of the Mississippi River at 1944 Columbus Road, Lansing, Iowa, is well-worth a road trip. The 10,000-square-foot center, newly opened in 2018, includes interpretive exhibits of cultural, recreational, natural and historical significance. Visit for information about programming for outdoor activities such as: birding workshops, full moon hikes, backwater paddling trips, and flint knapping (look it up - it’s neat!). To stay up-to-date, like Allamakee County Conservation on Facebook or 563-538-0403. Clayton County: Located five miles south of Elkader, Iowa, on Hwy. 13, Osbourne Nature Center features a native wildlife exhibit, walking trails, open shelters, welcome center, and a gift shop. Various activities are offered as well: monarch release party, National Public Lands Day, Pony Hollow 15k Trail Run, Nature’s STEAM camp, Motor Mill (a destination itself) 5k/10k trail run/walk Learn more at or 563-245-1516

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Fayette County: Gilbertson Park and Nature Center just east of Elgin, Iowa, offers camping (including an Equestrian camping area) along the Turkey River and the Nature Center is a quick walk along a paved trail.



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Amazing Algerian & American Food The trails at Lake Meyer outside of Calmar, Iowa, are full of wildflowers in the spring / Photo courtesy Winneshiek County Conservation

At the Nature Center, you can play on a certified outdoor playscape, paddle (and fish) on the four-acre pond, or head indoors to view natural displays of Iowa’s native animals including an active honey bee hive. Various outdoor activities are offered throughout the year. Check or fayettecountyconservation for more information, or call 563-4265740. Winneshiek County: Housed at Lake Meyer outside of Calmar, Iowa, Winneshiek County Conservation is offering a variety of virtual opportunities this spring, like Spring Break Day Camp (At Home), complete with STEM activities, arts and crafts project, and outdoor challenges and explorations. Plus make sure to visit Lake Meyer for spring wildflowers blooming, bird migrations along the trails, and the first spring fishing outings! Learn more at Howard County: Prairie’s Edge Nature Center outside of Cresco, Iowa, offers visitors a chance to learn about natural resources, the environment, and learn about different species of plants and animals. The Prairie Springs Recreational Trail passes near the Nature Center to make it even more inviting, and Vernon Springs Ladder Dam, Iowa’s first rock arch rapids project, is just across the road. Learn more at

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Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center has lots of cool offerings. Check it out at / Photo courtesy Eagle Bluff

Historic Bluff Country

North of us, Southeast Minnesota is often called Historic Bluff Country. It is lovely part of the Driftless, full of fun hiking, biking, and other fun outdoor opportunities.

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Historic Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park, located just outside Preston, Minnesota, features a rugged wooded landscape with blue ribbon trout streams, 17 miles of hiking trails and 15 miles of horseback trails, campgrounds, picnicking, and abundant plant and animal life. In late spring or early summer, see if you can take a tour at Mystery Cave or Historic Forestville (check the Minnesota DNR website for up-to-date hours and availability). Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center, located at 28097 Goodview Drive outside of Lanesboro, Minnesota, is a year-round environmental learning center offering awesome educational programs, outdoor adventures, and hands-on learning experiences. Founded in 1978, it’s got a long-standing history of great programming through the years. Learn more at or call 507-467-2437. Okay, is it still a little cold? Check the COVID guidelines on some Southeast Minnesota indoor fun that will get you inspired for your next outdoor adventure. International Owl Center, Houston, MN – National Eagle Center, Wabasha, MN– Minnesota Marine Art Museum, Winona, MN –

Coulee Region is Cool!

Another great area of the Driftless to explore is the Coulee Region of Western Wisconsin. The name “Coulee” derives from the French “couler,” meaning to flow, and refers to the Mississippi River and various other rivers and streams flowing through the area, leaving behind steep valleys and narrow ridges. Here are some things to check out: Myrick Park, 789 Myrick Park Dr, La Crosse, WI, is La Crosse’s oldest park. It connects to numerous trails, from easy to hard, featuring scenic views of the marsh and surrounding bluffs.

Bunny trails will take you to the Hixon Forest trails which connect to the top of the bluff and the human powered trails. Or, follow the Myrick trails on a bike out of the park, connect to the state trail system and ride all the way to Trempealeau in the north or Reedsburg to the east.

Viroqua, Wisconsin, and it’s surrounding communities should deinitely be added to your adventure list (especially if you’ve never been!). From Sidie Hollow Lake to the Kickapoo Valley Reserve – an 8,569-acre tract of land located between La Farge and Ontario – there are tons of trails and beautiful nature in which to find yourself. Check out viroqua-wisconsin. com for tips on driving (the Black Hawk Trail or a tour of the area’s 11 round barns) or historic walking tours of Viroqua as well. Learn more at viroqua-wisconsin. com.

Norskedalen Heritage & Nature Center, N455 O Ophus Bike + Hike in the Driftless: Rd, Coon Valley, WI, is a nature There are tons of great paved and mountain biking and heritage center dedicated and hiking trails around the Driftless. Have you checked to preserving and sharing some of them out? How about trying a new trail a the natural environment and week? There are few things simpler or more inspiring cultural heritage of the area than a walk in nature. surrounding Coon Valley Below are just a few options to get you started. Many in Southwest Wisconsin. are entire trail systems that will keep you busy with Three Chimneys is a rock formation off US Encompassing about 400 acres new trails for months to come! Make sure to pick up Hwy 14, outside of Viroqua. along scenic Poplar Creek, maps (contact the local chamber or tourism office for / Photo by Jerry Quebe Norskedalen (which means options on that) or download them online before you the Norwegian Valley) has lots go. Happy trails! to offer - hiking trails, historic buildings on site (COVID restrictions may apply - please check Decorah Human Powered Trails – Decorah, IA in advance), and special events. Find more information at www. Trout Run Trail – Decorah, IA Prairie Farmer Trail – Calmar to Cresco, IA Yellow River State Forest – Harpers Ferry, IA

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Becoming an Outdoors Woman



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Calling all adventurous female readers interested in Becoming an Outdoors-Woman: Take a BOW… er, that is… check out BOW – Becoming an Outdoors-Woman! Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) is a non-profit, educational program offering hands-on workshops to adult women that will increase competence and confidence in nature. It was developed in 1991 by Christine Thomas, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point College of Natural Resources and author of Becoming an Outdoors-Woman: My Outdoor Adventure. The Original BOW workshop format is a three-day, multi-course event with more than 20 classes to choose from, such as: flyfishing, archery, kayaking, hiking, camping, nature photography, bird watching, orienteering, Dutch oven cooking, and more! Several states also offer “Beyond BOW” opportunities which might include one- to three-day events with a single topic, like a day at the shooting range, charter fishing, kayaking on a local lake, a weekend of camping, or an archery clinic. Hoping to learn more before you go? Sign up for a Women’s Outdoor Subscription Box. Each box is packed full of gear, resources, field guides, and more. The May box will highlight fishing - sign up before April 11 to get yours in the mail. Learn more at your state’s DNR website. Iowa: • Minnesota: • Wisconsin: Want to take it a step further? Become a member of Iowa Women in Natural Resources! IWINR, formed in 1988, is a membership organization open to anyone interested in the purposes of Iowa Women in Natural Resources. Their mission is to provide a network and support system for women in natural resources and environmental fields, to promote the entrance, advancement, and retention of women in natural resources and environmental careers, and to promote opportunities and training for the development of environmentally responsible attitudes and behaviors. Many of these needs are met through quarterly newsletters – with info on current


Spring 2021 /

environmental issues, organization news, and upcoming events – a membership directory, an annual conference, and workshop opportunities. Learn more at IWINR also offers the Outdoor Journey for Girls Program, a threeday, two-night workshop aimed at introducing outdoor skills to girls ages 12-15 using “hands-on” opportunities. Find information at

Other fun ideas Foraging + Wildflower identification – Get outside and grab supplies for dinner (make sure you know what you’re foraging first), or see what’s growing for wildflowers! Like local foragers, The Wilders Way, on Facebook for tips, or check your local library or bookstore for guides. Geocaching – It’s so fun and simple: Search for on the web. Sign up for a free account. Apps are available for your smart phone! Fishing – Stop by your local state or county park for information and even maps of trout streams. (Don’t forget to purchase a fishing license if required) Bird Watching – Any local birding groups in your area? Search the web or Facebook – it can be a great way to Inspire(d) editor Aryn Henning connect. Or find birding Nichols tries fly fishing / Photo guides at your local library by Benji Nichols or bookstore. Gardening – Does your community have a community garden plot? See if there are Master Gardeners in your area willing to share their gardening tips. Stargazing – County or State Parks may have special stargazing events. Or take off on your own – away from city lights – to enjoy the night sky. Like Driftless Stargazing on Facebook for updates on meteor shower opportunities in the Driftless. Canoeing or Kayaking – IA, MN, WI all have “Paddling (fill in the state)” books (such as Paddling Iowa by Nate Hoogeveen) that are filled with resources. Check your local bookstore, library, or online for availability. Ready to get out there? Contact a canoe or kayak rental service in your area, grab the needed gear, and have fun! Plus, don’t forget all the great State Parks, Nature Preserves, and National Monuments in our region. Find wonderful resources at your state’s DNR websites (see left) or at National or nps. gov. Happy adventuring!

Mary Hyland purchased her home on the Volga River in Wadena, Iowa, in 2013 and enjoys gardening and spending time in her cabin along the river in the backyard. Other interests include paddling northeast Iowa rivers, fishing, camping, canning, and puttering about. She also enjoys photography and reading Inspire(d).


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Lynne Kephart Interviewed by granddaughter Elizabeth Kephart Reisinger

With an easy laugh and a presence that brightens any room, Lynne Kephart has been a fixture in the Decorah community for more than 60 years. She, along with her late husband Russell, owned Kephart’s Music Center for more than 50 years and raised their four children in Decorah. And while COVID, or “the plague,” as she amuses, may have temporarily halted her busy social schedule (even her 90th birthday celebration), she hasn’t lost her spark. Raised an only child, Lynne now has 11 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren (and counting) spread all over the United States. Born on July 2, 1930 in Missouri to Irby Henry and Thela Shuck, Thela Lynne (Henry) Kephart grew up primarily in the Washington, D.C. area. Both of her parents were attorneys; in fact, her mother was one of the first women to practice law in Missouri and the first woman to be appointed prosecutor in the state. It was Irby’s job, though, that pulled them to D.C. in 1933. Do you have a favorite memory?

Just one?! I turn 91 in July, I have lots of favorite memories!

Ok, let’s start with your childhood. Growing up in Washington D.C. must have been exciting.

Both my parents were politically active and the dinner table conversation was always stimulating. Our house was always hosting some friend for dinner. My first presidential inauguration was Roosevelt’s in January 1937. I was riding on my father’s shoulders, in the crowd in front of the Capitol building. I remember it was very cold and I, at age seven, was not very impressed. My father was an attorney in the Department of Justice in downtown Washington. His office window opened to Constitution Avenue, the parade route of choice in those days, and we usually took advantage for watching. I remember seeing King George VI and Queen Elizabeth [parents of the current Queen Elizabeth] visit in 1939, the first time a reigning British monarch had set foot on American soil. They rode with President Roosevelt in a large black open-air limousine. I felt cheated because the Queen wasn’t wearing a jeweled crown – just a plain, dull hat! Russell & Lynne served In December 1941, I remember one Sunday when the phone rang during dinner. It was for our dinner guest, a friend as Grand Marshalls of the of my father’s, I think the man worked for the FBI. The guest took the phone, said nothing to the person on the other Nordic Fest parade in 2010 end, and hung up. He then grabbed his suitcase, dashed out the door and roared off in his car without any explanation. and celebrated fifty years of We later learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Kephart’s Music Center. I met Harry Truman in March 1945. My mother was in the same PEO group as Bess Truman, and I was invited along to a cocktail party to visit my friend Phyllis, the daughter of the party’s hosts. It was understood that this was an adult party, and Phyllis and I were to stay quietly upstairs. We did until the piano music started; then we sat on the stairs and peeked. There was Truman playing the piano – very well I might add – and holding a highball in his hand! “I want to get his autograph,” I said to Phyllis and I blundered downstairs. He was very pleasant to me.

What an amazing time to live in Washington! I know there was some sadness, too.

A teenage Lynne Henry in Alexandria, VA.

In 1942, when I was only twelve, my father died suddenly of a massive stroke in his sleep. It devastated my mother, not only from heartbreak, but also because my mother became immediately responsible for a household of three women (myself, my grandmother, and Do you know someone you’d my aunt, both of whom had recently moved in). How fortunate we were that love to interview for this my mother had gone to work at Legislative Reference Unit of the General page? Let us know! Accounting Office (GAO) before the start of the war. Her job was secure, not temporary, when the war was over. She eventually became the head of her unit until she retired, and then moved to Decorah, in the 1960s. But by far the worst thing that I experienced was the loss of my beloved daughter, Marcy Kephart. At only 27, she died suddenly in July 1987 of a fatal cerebral aneurysm. How do you cope with something like that? You pick up the pieces and carry on as best you can. I’m so thankful for what time I had with her, however short it was.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

If you can believe it, an actress! I quickly lost interest, though, after high school, and found journalism when I became editor of the school paper. My writing took me to the University of Missouri in Columbia. That’s also how I met Russell, he was studying music education at Columbia. After we both graduated, we married in December 1950. Eventually, he moved out of teaching and into sales, and one day in 1960, he visited Kjome’s Music in Decorah. Russ came home and told me what a nice little town Decorah was. We bought the music store soon after and, well, the rest is history.

Name one thing you could not live without.

Right now? My calico cat, Blossom. She’s such good company for me. That is, until this plague ends and all my family can come and visit me again.

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