Inspire(d) Summer 2021

Page 44

Lara & Neil /

tine Jepsen Photo by Kris



Martinsen-Burrells Decorah, IA BY KRISTINE JEPSEN



ids, even little ones, can have a big impact on one’s criteria for “community.” Back in the mid-2000s, Lara and Neil Martinsen-Burrell were living in North Carolina, where Neil was enrolled in a postdoctoral program in mathematics and Lara, a massage therapist, was gearing up for graduate studies in social work and public health. Then they had the first of their (now three) children, Rose. “That’s when we realized, ‘Whoa! Kids need outside and the space to be curious and explore and follow passions,’” Lara says with a laugh. “We needed to find and make the community our kids needed.” They headed to Waverly, Iowa, for a teaching position at Wartburg College for Neil. Once there, the family looked toward Decorah, Iowa, where Lara had attended Luther College. They traveled to the town for events, staying with families in the area, and the community felt like a good fit. So in 2013, they moved to a rural homestead north of town, prioritizing both their immediate family community and what they could give back to their larger, new one. Natives of Colorado (Lara) and California (Neil), the M-B’s, as they’re known around town, have long been committed to volunteering and fostering community, plus both have ‘camp counselor’ on their resume. 44

Summer 2021 /

“We got a pretty good idea of what it means to participate in a community – what each person can contribute and what you can achieve together,” Neil says. “It’s become very clear to us how powerful an effect arises from ‘what’s normal’ in the community you make,” Neil explains. “When your friends also compost their coffee grounds, or keep chickens, or homeschool their kids, or share project-based learning [as they do in many parts of the Driftless, including Decorah], it becomes much easier to do it, too. And that shifts the baseline for what’s possible, within and without.” “It frees up the energy you might spend deliberating how to live out your values, so you can channel it into other things – new things,” Lara adds. Today, there are ropes hanging from their roof – antennas for Neil’s ham radio project, and a set of aerial dance silks are bolted to the sunroom ceiling (15-year-old Rose bought them herself to support her five years and counting as an aerial student and instructor). 10-year-old Violet is into dance, reading, and art, and 6-year-old Linden, a chronic whittler, orients the family toward woodworking skills and harvesting different wood from their rural acreage. Lara, for her part, is a facilitator for local non-profits and families with young children, including a vision committee to create a proposed Center for Belonging, an emerging folkschool.

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