Inspire(d) Summer 2023

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ARE FUN SUMMER 2023 • NO. 73 CREATED IN Decorah, Iowa yep, it’s free!
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Oct. 26

Nov. 9 Wu Fei & Abigail Washburn >>

Feb. 9 Langston Hughes’s Ask

Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz featuring the Ron McCurdy Quartet

Mar. 7 tenThing Brass Ensemble

Apr. 23 Small Island Big Song

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The Acting Company
presents Odyssey

SUMMER 2023 contents






...and more!
05 20 58 76

SUMMER 2023. #73

Hooray for thesehumans!amazing



we couldn’t do it without



What’s the name mean?

Sara Friedl-Putnam / writer

Sara Walters / writer

Tallitha Reese / writer

Steve Harris / writer

Renee Brincks / writer

Christy Ebert Vrtis / writer

Lynsey D. Moritz / writer

Kelli Boylen / writer


Lynn Schnur / mental health writer

Scott Boylen / photography

Charlie Langton / photography

Sarah Hedlund / cover art


Interested in becoming a contributor? Email work samples to Aryn at, and we’ll chat!

Inspire(d) Driftless Magazine is headquartered & created in Decorah, Iowa. Big thanks to our HQ Community Partner, Visit Decorah. Say hi to these awesome folks in Downtown Decorah or online at

Learn more about Community Partnership opportunities by emailing


1. Buy local - We couldn’t make this magazine without our amazing advertisers and partners. Visit or shop with one (or many) of our advertisers, and let them know you saw them in Inspire(d)!

2. Become an Inspire(d) Member at

3. Visit us online – website and social – and share with your friends and family!

find the gnome...

G-Gnome is hiding somewhere in this magazine! The first five people (no previous winners please) to send us his page location through our contact form at gets a free Inspire(d) 7-Year Pen in the mail!


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! We’re here to remind folks that people are good! Our mission is, ultimately, to change the world… starting with our own community. We like to call it an experiment in positive news.

Inspire(d) Magazine is published quarterly by Inspire(d) Media, LLC, 412 Oak Street, Decorah, Iowa, 52101. This issue is dated Summer 2023, issue 73, volume 16, Copyright 2023 by Inspire(d) Magazine.

Support Inspire(d)

We want Inspire(d) to be accessible for all, which is why it is free on stands across the Driftless! But you can support Inspire(d) through Membership! We’ll send the magazine in the mail, to you or a loved one, for $35/year. Visit the Membership page at for details, or send a check for $35 to Inspire(d) Magazine, 412 Oak St., Decorah, Iowa 52101. Thank you for your support, and for joining the positive news movement!

Want to make a comment about something you read in the magazine?


Interested in advertising?

Contact Benji at or call 563-379-6315.

Summer 2023 / 06

Heck yes, it’s a gnome riding a bald eagle! This mag’s epic cover has made me smile more than any cover in our nearly-16year-history of making Inspire(d). My constant out-loud refrain (and I’m usually the only one in the room): OH MY GOSH, it is SO FUN!

So I guess that means my achievement is already unlocked: I made my life more fun…or, more accurately, artist Sarah Hedlund made my life more fun (THANK YOU, SARAH!!!!) by making the art on this cover. Learn more about this incredible Decorah-based artist on page 20, and be sure to check out her tips on experimenting with your own creativity this summer.

Our community builders in this issue – Colleen Foehrenbacher of Eagle Bluff Learning Center in Lanesboro, Minnesota, and Jeff Abbas of Dorchester, Iowa – might be considered “serial community builders.” They are builders of communities within communities. And some really unique ones, too: Did you know there’s an agate hunting community? And an agate photography community? I love that people are out there, creating niche communities and places of belonging.

I think community building naturally happens once you start doing things you love. Decorah’s Unofficial Community Photographer, Charlie Langton (although perhaps since I’m giving him the title, it’s official?!), loves photography, and the community loves him. We chose Charlie’s gorgeous prairie photo for our summer center spread (pg 42), and it gives me all the summer vibes. I got to ask Charlie five questions in anticipation of his upcoming photography show at Impact Coffee, opening August 1. Check out his fun – and incredibly poignant – answers on page 44!

Yes, it’s that word again: Fun! You’re going to see it and think it as you read through this issue – our theme is You are Fun: Experimenting in Life! My infographic kicks this section off, and mental health writer Olivia Lynn Schnur dives into the psychology of fun and ways we can work more of it into our lives this summer and beyond.

My first suggestion? Read this whole mag: There are lots of fun stories throughout! Learn about how an Onalaska, Wisconsin, music teacher became the leader of the Coulee Region Steel Band, how Jillian Webb Herrman and her husband and family built out Wold Farm in rural St Olaf, Iowa, with a Grain Bin Retreat, and a spontaneous Elopement Giveaway (happening THIS summer), and remember to “Wonder as You Wander” through Yellow River State Forest this summer.

Decorah’s Mabe’s Pizza celebrates 70 years of business and party-cut pizza, and we were stoked to have Inspire(d)’s Benji Nichols interview father-and-son duo Steve and Collin White for our summer Sum of Your Business on page 66 (you can also listen to the interview on Benji’s podcast at

Finally, I loved reading Inspire(d) newcomer Lynsey D. Moritz’s story about Lesya Ryzhenkova, her family, and the mission – and dreams – behind their weekly Ukrainian Village Pop-Up Restaurant in Lansing, Iowa. The support of this small river town and the determination of this family are incredibly inspiring.

And that, of course, is the goal. We hope you finish this magazine with a feeling of inspiration and a desire to get out there and experiment with your summer, seeking community, wonder, joy, and fun. This is your one life. Let’s do this thing.

Looking forward,

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 greatly to the geography as well). It’s a lovely place to live and visit, and we’re happy you’re here!

rad cover art by...


Decorah-based artist Sarah Hedlund created this freaking rad summer cover art for Inspire(d)! Read more about Sarah & her work on page 20.


What We’re Loving right now



The Seed Savers Exchange Heritage Farm, just north of Decorah, is a magical spot to visit any time of the year. And for many years, the magic was amplified (literally) with a late summer “Benefit Concert” featuring some of Iowa’s most authentic musicians. The event raised funds for the stellar organization, while also providing an epic evening of Iowa music and summer perfection (ok, even a thunder storm or two along the way –but those made good stories too!). Like many things, the Benefit Concert took a hiatus through the pandemic years, but has now returned, with a fresh crop of Midwest talent!

The 2023 SSE Benefit Concert will be held Saturday, August 5, featuring the music of David Huckfelt, Lissie, William Elliot Whitmore, Dave Moore, and Annie Humphrey. Ticket sales support SSE’s nonprofit mission to protect and promote America’s garden and food heritage.

Do not miss this magical night of music under the stars at Seed Savers Heritage Farm. Get your tickets ($40 advance / $45 door) at or 563-382-5990. Gates open at 5 pm – see you there!

(Want to know more about Seed Savers? Check out our podcasts featuring SSE Executive Director Mike Bollinger, and Development Director Cindy Goodner at


The 7th Annual Iowa Rural Summit included a special recognition of seven rural leaders through the Rand Fisher Rural Leadership Award, and Aryn Henning Nichols and Benji Nichols of Inspire(d) were among those honored at a special reception at Iowa State University in April 2023.

The Iowa Rural Summit brings together leaders from small towns across Iowa each year, and this year’s event included a special tribute to a group of individuals who have made a difference in their rural community or region.

The Rand Fisher Rural Leadership Award, sponsored by the Iowa Area Development Group Community Foundation, recognizes individuals in rural economic and community development, philanthropy, the arts and utilities ( Rand Fisher is the recently retired president of the IADG and a true champion of rural Iowa.

“Aryn and Benji were selected for the energy and creativity they bring to Decorah, Winneshiek County and all of Northeast Iowa,” said Mark Reinig, board chairman of the Iowa Rural

Summer 2023 / 12
JEWEL THEATRE OCT 6 & 7 – 7:30 PM BIG FISH Mark your calendars for Luther Dance & Theatre shows! More info online at JEWEL THEATRE NOV 10 & 11 – 7:30 PM NOV 15, 16, 17, & 18 – 7:30 PM UNDERGROUND RADIO THEATRE OF THE AIR PRESENTS… Dance & Theatre CENTER FOR THE ARTS • DECORAH, IA
Aryn & Benji with Bruce Hansen, VP of Iowa Area Development Group (L) Rand Fisher, IRDC Vice-Chair (R) at the 2023 Iowa Rural Summit.

Development Council (IRDC) which hosts the annual Rural Summit. “Their Inspire(d) Magazine tells positive stories about people, places, and things that make their community great, while promoting tourism, economic development, and town-pride.”

With a crowd of more than 360 individuals from 70 different small towns (including Decorah), the Iowa Rural Summit addressed issues ranging from childcare to health care to local food systems.

Other honorees included Cody Bunda, Pocahontas; Mark Edelman, Boone; Shannon Erb, Leon; Bruce Perry, Sac City and Heather Ussery, Knoxville.

We founded Inspire(d) Media in 2007 as an “experiment in positive news,” and we plan to continue bringing uplifting stories to the people of the Driftless Region and beyond for many years to come! We are beyond honored and grateful for this recognition of Inspire(d) and thank everyone that has been a part of our journey!


Old Kayak just taking up room? Tent and backpack? Canoe? Bikes hogging valuable garage space? What about your overgrown fly fishing collection?!

Last year, a group of outdoor-minded folks got together to talk about re-kindling an outdoor equipment exchange that once-upona-time existed as the Decorah “Ski Swap”. That event took shape in the fall of 2022 as the first ever “Decorah Gear Exchange,” and was a rousing success. Year two of the event is in full planning mode, with Pulpit Rock Brewery coming on board to sponsor and host the event in their fantastic space at the corner of College Drive and Fifth Avenue on the West Side of Decorah.

Join in to sell and/or buy new or gently used outdoor gear such as kayaks, canoes, tents, backpacks, fishing gear, bicycles, skis, lifejackets, car racks, camp stoves, and more! Please note: No firearms or weapons will be accepted. Proceeds will benefit outdoor recreation projects in Decorah, including Decorah Parks and Recreation Initiatives, further expanding recreational opportunities in the area.

Gear drop off for the sale will take place September 21-22, with the actual Gear Exchange Sale taking place September 23-24, all at Pulpit Rock Brewing on the West Side of Decorah.

Sellers will be able to name their price (or ask for advice on this – or donate your items!) and the rest is taken care of. Unsold items must be picked up after the event on Sunday September 24, or donated.

The Decorah Gear Exchange is a collaboration of The Getup, The Decorah Hatchery, Decorah Parks and Recreation, Driftless Outdoors, Luther College Center for Sustainable Communities, Pulpit Rock Brewing, and Visit Decorah.

Questions? Email \ Summer 2023 13 August 17 26 Houston, MN This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund Free Admission
Continued on next page 211 College Dr, Decorah, IA . market local vendors bottle shop N Market TH E L A NDING

What We’re Loving right now


The museum is open to the public seven days a week, June through August, and weekends through September, with tours starting at 1, 2, and 3 pm.

Special events are also offered, featuring programming for children in July and August. Keep an eye out for “Porter House After Dark” events this fall as well!

Follow Porter House Museum on Facebook or www. for details about these and other upcoming events.


Broadway Street just off Downtown Decorah makes for a lovely stroll through the summer months – and it isn’t hard to imagine life a century ago, with broad porches and rocking chairs, taking in a lovely summer’s day or evening.

The Porter House Museum, at 401 W Broadway in Decorah, was the home of Bert and Grace Porter, a Decorah story of sweethearts who would become world adventurers. Their home (now museum) is once again open for the season, as a time capsule of this eclectic, turn-of-the-century couple, featuring content for biology buffs, geology enthusiasts, architecture admirers, music lovers, women’s rights activists, globetrotters, and more.


Looking for a ride to Minneapolis? Have a snowblower to sell? Want to know what’s going on in Decorah any given day – or just want to plug into our region’s community?

For over a decade, has been providing an online community platform for Decorah and the surrounding region. This resource was the creation of Liz Rog and Brad Crawford, who ran with Liz’s idea for a good ol’ community bulletin board concept (originally started as an email list) that Brad was able to conceptualize with modern online technology. The result has been an amazing resource that includes event listings, classifieds, job listings, community information, and more!, for its part, continues to be free to use and accepts donations to offset the time it takes to answer reader questions, debug site features, and catch new scams that crop up in the classifieds section.

“It’s really a big experiment in seeing what the community needs and using technology to get it out there,” Brad says. And, thanks to the Internet, word has spread.

“I wanted to shine a light on the people here and foster appreciation for what we have together – and make it plain that anyone can fit in by offering what they have to offer,” Liz concludes. “And it has done exactly that.”

Driftless Area Art Festival 2023

Saturday, Sept. 16, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin

Summer 2023 / 14
Follow us on Facebook or at
Celebrating the Visual, Performing, and Culinary Arts of the Driftless Area Free admission, 80+ visual artists, performing artists, culinary artists, kids’ activities
Sunday, Sept. 17, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Be a part of the community, post listings, and learn what’s going on at! Want to learn more? Read the backstory on Liz, Brad, and Decorah Now in an Inspire(d) story from 2017 in the Community Builders section of our website,


The Driftless Education Center on the south side of Lansing provides an amazing “welcome” to Northeast Iowa and the Mississippi River Valley. The Education Center, a longtime project of Allamakee County Conservation (and many others), has provided an amazing meeting and visiting place since late 2017 – including several aquatic, amphibian, and river valley adjacent displays and educational exhibits.

This spring, with funds raised for the fifth anniversary of Driftless Education Center, a 16 -foot, 1,250-gallon fresh water aquarium has been installed, featuring native species of the Mississippi River. Essentially, the aquarium gives guests a close-up view of the Mississippi River and several species of fish that live in the River.

The Driftless Education Center is open seven days a week (afternoons only on weekends), with free admission – and is well worth the visit! Find out more at driftless-center


Strolling through a beautiful setting, viewing world-class regional art sounds like a great way to celebrate Northeast Iowa artists. Honestly, we think it sounds like paradise, and Elkader is certainly a slice of that!

Join in for the 9th Annual Art In The Park Celebration August 1920, 2023, from 10 am to 4 pm in Founders Park, Elkader. Enjoy the historic downtown setting while experiencing the sights, tastes, and sounds of Art in the Park on the banks of the Turkey River.

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What We’re Loving right now


(Cont. from previous page) This year’s festival also features a very special unveiling of a project in cooperation Elkader’s Abdelkader Education Project and

“Every year there is something new to get excited about at Art in the Park,” says Festival Cco-director Jillian Herrmann. “This year, we’re thrilled to showcase an interactive sculpture project during the festival that explores the intersection of storytelling, art, and activism. The life-size statue of Abdelkader, Elkader’s namesake, was created by Joe Reginella, dubbed the ‘Banksy of Monuments’ and just arrived in Elkader from New York.”

Plan ahead to take advantage of all the festival offerings by booking a local camping or lodging opportunity – make a weekend of it in beautiful Clayton County.

Find all the details at


Start your Independence Day off right with the Pulpit to Pulpit 5K and 1-Mile fun run in Decorah. While the route won’t take you all the way to Preikestolen in Norway, the run starts near Pulpit Rock Brewing Co. on College Drive and will take you by Will Baker Park and Decorah’s Pulpit Rock, then back to Pulpit Rock Brewing.

Pulpit to Pulpit is both family and dog friendly. The 5K is a timed event while the 1-mile is untimed. Since its inception, the event has raised thousands of dollars for local organizations and nonprofits. The 2023 Pulpit to Pulpit will support two fantastic local organizations: Decorah Community Free Clinic and Friends of Decorah Public Library.

Advance registration includes a t-shirt, with packet pickup at Pulpit Rock Brewing Co. Monday July 3 from 5-8 pm, or the morning of the race, beginning at 7 am. The race starts at 8 am. More details and registration:

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The 2023 National Granny Basketball Tournament will take place July 14-16 at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. And before you say, “What?” – you’d better get out of the way of these amazing teams of ballers from across the Midwest, ‘cause these women are rad. The 2023 event is co-hosted by the LC Decorah Troll

Trotters team, with a total of 20 teams

participating: 10 in the Championship division and 10 in the new “Off Our Rockers” division.

The first National Granny Basketball Tournament was held June 21, 2008 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Participating teams were the Golden Oldies, Abe’s Babes, NY Knickers, and Wanamingo Bulldogs. The teams played preliminary rounds at a local church, then the two highest-scoring teams earned the coveted spots in the championship game, which was played at the Target Center, right before a Minnesota Lynx women’s professional basketball game. The NY Knickers defeated Abe’s Babes 39-32 to become the very first national Granny Basketball championship team.

Since 2008, the organization has continued to grow, hosting an annual tournament and raising funds for local and regional charities. The selected charity for the Decorah tournament is the Raptor Resource Project. This nonprofit works to ensure the health and vitality of bird of prey populations, including the preservation of falcons, eagles, ospreys, hawks, and owls. For more details about the tournament, viewing, and registration visit: www.grannybasketball. com/national-tournament


Many folks living in the Driftless have ancestors who came from several valleys along the Sognefjord in Norway. There are groups that study these ancestors, and get together to share their heritage and research. “‘Lag’ groups study genealogy and customs from the various valleys of Norway,” says Lucy Ghastin, president of the Norwegian Bygdelag –Sognefjordlag. “Every year our group has an annual meeting; we go to various Midwest locations.”

This year, August 17-19, 2023, the Annual Meeting of the Sognefjordlag Stemne will be held in Spring Grove, Minnesota, at the Giants of the Earth Heritage Center (507-498-5070). All are welcome to attend events.

Some activities include:

Thursday, August 17: Socialize and register in the morning (or explore Spring Grove shops). Official programming begins at 1 pm.

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Join Oneota Valley Literary Foundation & Genevieve Gornichec, nationally bestselling author of The Witches' Heart with her new novel The Weaver and the Witch Queen.
July 28
Author Events • Writing Residencies • Fostering Youth Literacy Details at Photo by Daina Faulhaber Oneota Valley Literary Foundation is a new nonprofit organization in Decorah, Iowa

What We’re Loving right now

(Cont. from previous page) Learn about the Giants of the Earth Heritage Center, then explore the many exhibits with resident docents. You can even check out your genealogy.

Friday, August 18: Carpool to Faith Lutheran Church of Black Hammer to learn about its history and connection with immigrants from Sognefjord. Many Sognings are buried in the church cemetery. Evening entertainment is planned for both nights after dinner. We have a Silent Auction of member-donated items to support our youth summer exchange program to Norway.

Saturday, August 19: Annual member meeting in the morning with a few other activities. Members usually depart in the early afternoon.

Contact Lucy Ghastin at for details including registration, meal reservations, and events.


Winneshiek County Conservation is celebrating its 65th anniversary this year! The mission of the Winneshiek County Conservation Board (WCCB) is all about quality outdoor recreation opportunities, while also educating about and preserving natural resources through events and programming. We love all of Winneshiek County’s amazing resources and are so grateful to be able to get out and explore –and learn – about the region. Celebrate 65 years of conservation and education by signing up for a workshop, participating in an event, or just checking out what Winneshiek County has to offer outdoors. Watch for programs on fishing, kayaking, archery, birding, foraging, astronomy, leaf casting, geology, and more! Check for additional details and upto-date event info.

*Marks an event requiring registration – please call 563-5347145 to reserve your spot:

June 25: Hayden Prairie Walk, Lime Springs, IA, 1 pm

July 5: * Family Canoe / Kayak, Lake Meyer Park, 6 pm,

July 9: * Kayak at Cardinal Marsh, Ridgeway, IA, 2 pm

August 3: * Leaf Casting Day 1, Lake Meyer Park, 6 pm

August 8: * Leaf Casting Day 2, Lake Meyer Park, 6 pm Multi-day programs:

• Download a pdf with a checklist of “65 Things to Do: Adventures in Winneshiek County” at

• Pick up a Driftless Safari packet at Winneshiek County Libraries and explore the region with your family!

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One of Sarah Hedlund’s goals as an artist is to create art that has an impact. At left is her piece featuring Marsha P. Johnson, one of the most prominent advocates for the gay rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s in New York City, according to

On her social media post highlighting this art, Sarah writes: “Marsha Johnson was bold, vibrant, loving, and brave. She fought for what she believed in, took care of those who had less than her, and found beauty in a hard world. Marsha was an outsider within an outsider’s movement, who had to fight prejudice against her race, sexuality, and economic status. Without people like her, the gay community might not be where it is today; she is a shining example of the power of the heart and soul. I ask you to be more like Marsha, stand up for what you believe in, be your authentic self, and don’t let the bulls&*t keep you down.” / Artwork by Sarah Hedlund

During a typical workday, artist Sarah Hedlund might be sketching pink and orange dolphins surrounded by hearts and stars. Or a disco-dancing, white suit-wearing dinosaur. Or a punk rocker playing a guitar that shoots laser beams. Or a single eye staring out from a pint of India pale ale.

As creative director for Decorah’s Toppling Goliath Brewing Co., Sarah designs everything from labels and packaging to ad campaigns, point-of-sale materials, merchandise, signage, and even bottle caps. Outside of the office, she pursues a range of personal art projects.

“Like most artists, I want to know how to do everything. So, I’m always working on something different,” Sarah says.

Continued on next page \ Summer 2023 21

is the artist behind the awesome labels you see on Decorah’s Toppling Goliath Brewing Co. cans of brew, and across the company’s entire brand. / Images courtesy of Sarah Hedlund


Sarah participates in “Inktober,” a month long art challenge created by artist Jake Parker that is focused on improving skill and developing positive drawing habits. Every day for the month of October, anyone participating in the Inktober challenge creates an ink drawing and posts it online, using the hashtag #inktober. These are a few of Sarah’s drawings from Inktober 2023. / Images courtesy of Sarah Hedlund

Summer 2023 / 22

Take the illustration she created in 2020, following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (pictured on page 25). It unexpectedly helped Sarah raise nearly $30,000 for charity. It also demonstrated the impact that her art can have, whether she’s rebranding a brewery or advocating for social change.

“It’s that old question: You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk? Are you willing to dedicate your time to actually trying to change something?” she says.


Art has always been an anchor for Sarah, who grew up in a small town south of Iowa City. Her dyslexia made school a challenge, but art classes were her time to shine.

“Art was the one thing I was naturally good at. There was no wrong way to do it. There were no tests. You didn’t have to compete with other kids around how many books you read or who did math equations the fastest. It was a safe haven for me from a young age,” she says.

After high school, Sarah studied illustration at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She then got a job creating products and packaging for a Minneapolis toy company. A few years later, eager for a change, Sarah moved to Wyoming. She did graphic design for a hospital network and then a nonprofit before returning to Iowa.

Sarah was back in her hometown when she spotted a job opening at Toppling Goliath. Though she had never visited Decorah and didn’t know the brewery, she decided to apply.

“I’d always thought working as an artist at a brewery sounded cool,” she says. “When I drove up for the interview, I was taken aback by how beautiful this area is. I kind of knew the second I hit town that I would take this job.”


Sarah joined Toppling Goliath in 2016. The team was small at the time, and she helped with things like running social media, product photography, or managing the merch shop, while also doing marketing and graphic design. As the company was building its current facility on the edge of Decorah, Sarah saw an opportunity to update the Toppling Goliath brand.

She drafted a proposal for owners Clark and Barbara Lewey and got the go-ahead to reimagine the company’s look.

“I rebranded things from top to bottom – the logo, the fonts, the labels, the format of the packaging, everything,” Sarah says. “Clark was investing a lot into the equipment and building and people, and I think he knew it was time to elevate the visuals, too.”

These days, Sarah designs labels and materials that tell Toppling Goliath’s story in an engaging, impactful way. Her ideas help the business stand out in a competitive field. The Brewers Association, a not-for-profit industry organization, reports that more than 9,500 breweries were in operation in the United States in 2022.

“I know a lot of artists who do brewery artwork but are not fulltime employees of those breweries. That’s a difference with Toppling Goliath. Clark and Barb definitely saw the value in having an inhouse artist from early on,” Sarah says.

Her goal is to match the quality and creativity of Toppling Goliath’s visuals with the quality and creativity of its award-winning beers.

“I make sure we’re not cutting corners on the creative, because I do think a fun part of craft beer is the weird, crazy, cool artwork. It’s a micro-universe of art, and it’s a fun space to play around,” she says.

Continued on next page \ Summer 2023 23 Downtown Decorah Open daily! 563-382-4275 • 112 West Water St. Decorah Fantastic Selection • Great Gifts • Readings & Signings • Knowledgable Staff b k buzz! Bestsellers Fiction Mysteries Childrens Books Puzzles Poetry Scandinavian And more!


Sarah does a lot in her freelance world as well. She’s created posters for roller derby teams across several states. Some of those posters landed in the 2020 book, “Roller Derby / Girl Gang: An Art Anthology.” Each October for nearly a decade, Sarah has also produced drawings and digital illustrations through a month-long art challenge called Inktober. (“I love Halloween and all things spooky. It’s a fun way to make a bunch of creepy artwork,” she says.) And, a quick spin through Sarah’s Etsy shop reveals an array of pop cultureinspired posters featuring Pee-wee Herman’s bike, Bill Nye the Science Guy, characters from “Ghostbusters,” “The Golden Girls” cast members, and more.

“I was a kid that spent a lot of time in front of a television, and I love movies. A lot of that art is about my personal interests, and it’s also the kind of artwork that most people engage with,” she says.

Sarah uses art to process what’s going on around her, too, as she did through that aforementioned Ruth Bader Ginsburg illustration. After learning of the justice’s September 2020 passing, Sarah sat on her couch in tears. Then, she decided to do something.

“Going to my computer is not my first instinct when I’m feeling emotional. Usually, I want to draw or make something in a more classic style. But that night, I felt like making something to put on the internet for people who were feeling as upset as I was,” she says.

Sarah spent 10 minutes on a simple illustration of a lace collar, which Ginsburg famously wore with her judicial robes, set below the words, “Vote & Tell Them Ruth Sent You.” She posted the image on social media, texted with a friend, and went to bed. Overnight, the post went viral.

“I didn’t know you could get so many Facebook notifications that it can’t tell you


Artist Sarah Hedlund has created posters, like this one, for roller derby teams across several states. / Image courtesy Sarah Hedlund

how many you even have,” Sarah says. “Martin Luther King, Jr.’s son tweeted it. Celebrities shared it. It blew up, I think, because so many other people felt that exact same way at that moment in time.”

When people requested merchandise, Sarah hustled to make t-shirts, stickers, and buttons with the illustration. She sold digital files so individuals could print their own signs. She donated the proceeds – about $29,000 in all – to progressive charities.

“It seemed like such a chaotic time. I didn’t feel like I had any control over anything that was happening, politically, in our country. And voting feels small and insignificant sometimes, even though it’s

so, so important. Working on that project was really, really, really fulfilling,” Sarah says.

Since then, she’s commented on voting, drag queen bans, LGBTQIA+ rights, and other issues through her art. It’s a way to spark cultural conversations and inspire action.

“Even though the Ruth Bader Ginsburg thing was internet-based, it’s still something that local people talk to me about. Sometimes, I’ll see people at the grocery store wearing my t-shirt. You realize the impact that you can make,” Sarah says. “A lot of people here are very passionate about dedicating time to groups and events that try to foster change or create safe spaces, and it’s inspiring for me. It gets me thinking, ‘Okay, how can I use my skills and talents to either foster change myself, or empower other people who already are?’”

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W, Th, F: 10-6 . Sat: 9-5 . Sun: 12-4 . Closed Mon & Tues. 101 College Dr. Decorah, Iowa . 563-382-8209
per mile
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“I didn’t know you could get so many Facebook notifications that it can’t tell you how many you even have,” Sarah says after she created this artwork to honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg after her death in September 2020. The artwork went viral. / Image courtesy Sarah Hedlund


Sarah’s art-as-advocacy efforts also include pro bono work supporting various community groups. For example, this spring she created a promotional poster for “Afterlife: A Ghost Story,” a production by Decorah’s New Minowa Players. Sarah calls volunteer projects like these a win-win. The nonprofits and events she partners with get free, professional artwork, and she actively gives back to the community that’s become her home.

“I definitely enjoy engaging on a local level. I moved here. I didn’t know anybody. I had no knowledge of this town, and I have never lived somewhere that was so accepting, immediately. I have amazing friends here. Community is a huge part of what makes Decorah special,” she says. “Decorah is still a vibrant, engaged small town, and, unfortunately, I think that’s rare nowadays. I don’t want to just look around and say, ‘Oh, what a cute, quaint town.’ I want to participate.”

When Renee Brincks needs a creative break, she picks up some yarn. Her grandma taught her to crochet as a child, and she’s since made countless hats, scarves and blankets.


To explore Sarah Hedlund’s artwork, please visit or

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G A B I M A S E K , L . A C A C U P U N C T U R E & C H I N E S E M E D I C I N E 5 6 3 3 8 2 4 3 1 2 1 1 1 W i n n e b a g o S t D e c o r a h I A 5 2 1 0 1 h e l l o @ w i l d c r a f t e d a c u p u n c t u r e c o m w i l d c r a f t e d a c u p u n c t u r e c o m
Sarah’s poster artwork for the 2023 spring show of Decorah’s New Minowa Players. / Image courtesy of Sarah Hedlund

Come and visit in scenic Decorah, Iowa!

Vesterheim Main Building and Museum Store are open daily. Check for scheduled hours.

Special Exhibits:

Herbjørn Gausta, 1854-1924 Open through spring 2024

Includes paintings, preparatory works, and satirical drawings, all from Vesterheim’s collection, to give a complete picture of the life, creativity, and artistic ability of this well-known Norwegian artist. Made possible by Neal and Gerry Nottleson and Rob and Evy Alsaker.

Sámi Dreams July 1 to October 31, 2023

Features photographic portraits of Sámi men and women in Scandinavia along with recorded interviews by researcher Randall Hyman that touch on indigenous rights, climate change, reindeer husbandry, and art.

Made possible by the friends and family of Harley and Norma Refsal. Sámi Dreams is a traveling exhibit organized by Norway House.

Embellishment July 6, 2023–January 5, 2024

Highlighting pieces with a focus on detail by contemporary folk artists from around the country. Made possible by the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs; and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Shop the Museum Store and take a Folk Art School class – in Decorah or online! 563-382-9681 Decorah, IA

register now at:


Decorah artist Sarah Hedlund dabbles in many creative projects. She’s an illustrator and designer by trade, and her personal work ranges from pen-and-ink drawings to digital illustrations to watercolors. She has taken stained glass classes. She taught herself to sew dresses. She even learned to felt, and she’s used those skills to craft a witch-style hat. While experimentation comes naturally to her, Sarah knows that’s not the case for everyone. Here are her tips for tapping into your own creativity.


Plenty of people want to tackle creative projects, but they don’t allow themselves to try. “They’ll say things like, ‘You’re so good at that. I could never do it.’ But really, unless you’re following a pattern, there is no wrong way to make art,” Sarah says.


Sure, maybe you’d like to capture a magazine-quality photo or recreate the perfectly frosted cupcake that’s been circulating on social media. But remember, you don’t have to produce internet-ready projects. “It doesn’t have to be a finished product. You don’t even have to share things. I make stuff all the time that I don’t post,” Sarah says. “Sometimes, just the act of making the thing is the art.”


In a world where productivity is prized, we don’t always give ourselves permission to play. Aim for personal satisfaction, Sarah suggests, rather than social media likes or the next side hustle. “If you can pay your bills, just relax. Not everything has to be a business. Not everything has to be for other people. It’s about getting into a space where you play and experiment,” she says.

And if that artful experiment doesn’t turn out as you expected?

“It does not matter. If you try something and it doesn’t work, you don’t have to tell anybody. Just have fun and be a kid and let yourself make a mess,” Sarah says.



A NOTE FROM ARYN: We’ve long been wanting to feature Sarah Hedlund and her amazing art in Inspire(d). So we were so excited when she agreed to an interview. Then I dared to ask: Could we use her art for a cover? Could we even commission a piece?! I literally did a little dance when she said yes! And then we got to brainstorming. I told her we’d frequently used our favorite cover model, G-Gnome (he’s hiding somewhere in this mag!), for past summer issues – so would she consider centering the design around a gnome? Maybe a gnome doing fun Driftless things? Sarah ran with it, sending us three options (above). When we saw the gnome riding the bald eagle in front of a rainbow, there was really no contest (although they are all so great)! Bald Eagle Gnome was our pick, and from there, Sarah refined it into a full-color illustration. Just a couple of adjustments later, the Summer 2023 Inspire(d) cover was ready to go! We love it so much, and are grateful to Sarah for contributing her talents to this mag in such a huge way! This gnome is fun. And You Are Fun! Here’s to experimenting in life this summer! XOX - Aryn

Summer 2023 / 28 28097 Goodview Dr., Lanesboro, MN
Sarah experiments with a variety of artistic styles. Follow her work: @sarahhedlundart / Image courtesy of Sarah Hedlund


Colleen Foehrenbacher

Lanesboro, MN

Building Communit(ies) in Bluff Country: A woman from Ohio looking for an ocean found Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center instead. And she’s glad she did.

Six miles outside the town of Lanesboro, nestled snugly into the beautiful woods and river valleys of Southeast Minnesota, you find a unique community at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center. Circles of communities, really. At the very center –helping to build, nurture and strengthen each one – is someone who never really expected to be here.

Colleen Foehrenbacher has been Executive Director at Eagle Bluff for the past three years. She grew up in Akron, Ohio, and later attended Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, where she got a degree in biology. “My minor was marine biology,” she says. “You don’t find many oceans close to Ohio so it was a great fit when I worked as an intern doing marine education at an aquarium in Savannah, Georgia. After that I wanted to pursue a career in environmental education but I didn’t know if that was even possible.” It was possible, she discovered, and soon learned that Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, has a partnership with Eagle Bluff that allows a student to take graduate level courses in environmental education while teaching it at the same time. “My one-year plan was to come to Minnesota, deal with the cold, learn to be a quality educator, and then head back south. That was 13 years ago.” This place, with its unique landscape, coupled with Minnesota’s outdoor ethos, ultimately pulled her in, Colleen says. “I fell in love with Eagle Bluff, with teaching, and with the beauty of the Driftless region.”

About Community Builders

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. But it doesn’t have to be big to have a big impact. Building community is one of the most important things we can do in this life. Connecting with others helps us connect with our humanity, and realize we’re all in this together. Read more Community Builder stories at, and send us a note if you know someone we should feature here in the future!

Summer 2023 / 30
Colleen Foehrenbacher with Eagle Bluff’s resident educational turkey vulture. / Photo courtesy Colleen Foehrenbacher

Established in 1978, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center –one of only five fully accredited residential environmental schools in Minnesota – welcomes students from a variety of cities, towns, and backgrounds located throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa (one school near Chicago also sends students each year).

“There aren’t many places like it in all the Midwest,” Colleen says.

Elementary-age students come to Eagle Bluff for three- or fiveday camps, getting a taste of dorm life while combining classroom learning with outdoor exploring.

“They hike through forests, learn about local plants, animals, and insects, swim, canoe, and fish in the Root River, watch eagles soaring over the bluffs, observe the live animals and raptors we have on site – including a Great Horned Owl – get challenged on our ropes courses and climbing wall, take night hikes, and enjoy campfires,” Colleen says. “Eagle Bluff is so much more than a field trip. It’s a lifechanging, human-building experience!”

Elementary school groups account for the majority of the nearly 13,000 people who come to Eagle Bluff’s 200-acre campus each year. “For many, it’s their first time out in nature,” says Colleen. “Our staff and teachers receive specialized training to help all students have a positive experience. It helps that we’ve built good relationships with many schools and teachers over the years.”

Colleen Foehrenbacher expanded her leadership skills as a member of the 2023 class of Leadership Greater Rochester, a 10-month leadership program for Rochester area leaders and business owners. Colleen is pictured here with other members of LGR (from left to right) Steven Fischer, Numrah Fadra, Colleen Foehrenbacher, Ben Trehey, and Ben Mulholland. / Photo courtesy Colleen Foehrenbacher

Eagle Bluff also offers year-round programs and activities for all ages, from young children (there’s a preschool program for local kids ages 3-5) through senior adults. There’s even a program geared specifically toward women called “Becoming an Outdoor Woman,” offered in partnership with Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources. Women enjoy a weekend of outdoor activities at Eagle Bluff, including hunting for mushrooms, fishing, shooting a rifle, and archery.

“I took the course myself and turkey hunting is now my favorite hobby,” says Colleen. “My husband, Tony, and I hunt together and enjoy wild game dinners all year.”

Another community circle at Eagle Bluff is its staff. Nearly 40 people live and work there year-round, developing curriculum, maintaining properties and facilities, cooking, teaching classes (many are

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enrolled in the same Hamline University program that Colleen did years ago), meals, administrative tasks, building relationships with current schools, and recruiting new ones. “We build staff community by working and playing together,” says Colleen. “We make sure we get outdoors ourselves and visit other nature centers for new ideas and fresh inspiration.”

Eagle Bluff staff also connects with regional communities, including the nearby towns of Lanesboro, Fountain, and Whalan. “We want staff to enjoy where we live and encourage them to get involved locally,” Colleen says. “That might be volunteering at a local nonprofit, participating in projects like the Root River Cleanup on Earth Day, or enjoying trivia night at a local pub. Our maintenance person is the mayor of Whalan. Our marketing manager chairs the Lanesboro Chamber of Commerce. Those connections make all our communities stronger.”

Eagle Bluff also hosts events that bring people to its campus other times during the year. “Dinner on the Bluff” gatherings pair learning about the environment with good food and friend-making each winter.

Of course, the COVID pandemic challenged all communities, including those at Eagle Bluff – “Schools shutting down had a huge impact on our programs and finances,” Colleen says – but they’re on the road back, with new programs paving the way for a bright future.

“We’re working with a legislative effort called ‘Outdoor School for All’ that would provide every Minnesota public and private school student in grades 4 through 8 a three-day, twonight experience at an environmental learning center,” Colleen says. “States like Oregon and Washington already do this. There are 64,000 fifth-graders across Minnesota; this would help so many kids and be huge for Eagle Bluff. Bills introduced this year gained bipartisan support and will hopefully be voted on in May, 2024.” A long way from Ohio, far from any ocean, Colleen Foehrenbacher is doing work she loves in a place she loves. “So many good things are happening here,” she says. “It’s a great time to be at Eagle Bluff!”

Steve Harris, in his book “Lanesboro, Minnesota,” calls Eagle Bluff a place “…built on a dream with a side order of mushrooms.” Plan a visit to find out why, and discover this hidden treasure right in our Driftless backyard.

Summer 2023 / 32 (800)657-7025 • PROFESSIONAL LIVE THEATRE in Lanesboro DEATH trap
Colleen with MN State Senator Jeremy Miller, who is sponsoring the “Outdoor School for All” bill. / Photo courtesy Colleen Foehrenbacher To learn more about the Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center, visit, call (507) 467-2437, or find Eagle Bluff on Facebook. BONUS: You can listen to Inspire(d)’s Benji Nichols’ “Rhymes With…” podcast interview with Colleen Foehrenbacher at

Visit and create your own Lanesboro story

The streets of Lanesboro are bustling with activity during the summer months.

Visitors flock to town to enjoy biking, fishing and hiking, which are available three seasons of the year. In the summer, it’s time to hit the river and enjoy the refreshing waters that flow through town.

• Grab a tube, canoe or kayak and paddle your way through the countryside, past pastures and homesteads, through bluffs and forests.

• Enjoy a picnic or grab a meal on our restaurants’ outdoor patios.

• Seek out an adventure at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center and enjoy a high ropes course, mountain bike trail and a network of hiking trails.

Summer Fun in Lanesboro

EAGLE BLUFF ENVIRONMENTAL LEARNING CENTER Lanesboro | Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center is hosting events for the whole family, including indoor rock climbing, overnight outdoor family weekend, maple syruping, and more!

• Step into the phone booth by the Lanesboro Museum and learn more about the town’s history and the people who have lived here.

• Play pickleball, basketball, tennis in our park, or climb the jungle gym and relax on the swing. Stop and smell the flowers in our beautiful parks.

• Celebrate the arts with a visitor to our Lanesboro Arts gallery or take in a play at the Commonweal Theatre.

• Visit with the local community members and make new friends as you create your own Lanesboro story.

Find more information about Lanesboro

Signature Events at:

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Kayaking on the Root River. Photo by Barb Jeffers, Bluff Country Photography
Photo: Barb Jeffers, Bluff Country Photography


Dorchester, IA Jeff Abbas

It was mid-2015, and the contentious race for President of the United States had stirred up the emotions (and proverbial pens) of people of all political ilks across the nation. Never one to keep his leanings to himself, Jeff Abbas of Dorchester, Iowa, dove right into the fray.

“I was absolutely on fire, writing about political concerns on Facebook every day,” he says. Before long, he had amassed a loyal following – some people loved his musings, while others most certainly did not. Yet as his body of writing (and audience) on social media grew, so too did his angst. It wasn’t a great “place” to be.

One morning, while indulging in his daily routine of drinking his first cup of coffee outdoors while capturing a photograph, Jeff had a crystal-clear epiphany. “It dawned on me how good this simple act made me feel,” he says. “It took my mind off all the political strife, and my angst immediately started to recede – I never did any political writing again.”

And while he ceased writing about politics, Jeff didn’t stop posting on social media. Instead, he began sharing his “morning coffee shots” and encouraging others to do the same. His newly minted Facebook group, “Morning Coffee Shots,” had one simple rule: no posting about politics. The concept quickly caught on, and today the group has more than 700 members worldwide – authors, photographers, sculptors, painters, chefs, bakers, doctors, nurses, and people of many other professions – all of whom share Jeff’s enthusiasm for kicking off each day drinking coffee, taking a photo of some aspect of the world that surrounds them, and sharing that image with others.

“It’s an incredibly diverse community of people, of friends, really,” says Jeff. “And we all share the simple goal of capturing and sharing a beautiful part of every day and building each other up.”

Bolstering community connection both in person and through media has been a theme throughout Jeff’s itinerant life. Born in Denver, Iowa – a small town outside of Waterloo – he spent a good portion of his adult life in California after joining the United States Navy. By the early 1980s, Jeff was working in the General Mills factory in Lodi, California, where, as he recalls it, he “sat on a tall stool and dropped sauce packets into Hamburger Helper boxes.” Jeff hated the work

Summer 2023 / 34
Photo courtesy Jeff Abbas Agate Photography

– “I don’t like structure,” he says simply – and decided to flip a coin to determine whether his next career stop would be studying culinary arts or broadcasting.

Jeff would go on to enroll in culinary school, but he spent his time out of the kitchen volunteering parttime at KUOP (91.3 FM), an NPR-member radio station in Stockton, California, then owned by the University of the Pacific. When the station offered him a full-time job in 1985, he readily accepted. “It makes me wonder if I had elected to go to broadcasting school, would I have ended up being a chef?” he says with a chuckle.

As KUOP’s classical music host, Jeff cultivated a loyal listening audience over the next decade-plus even as he started experimenting with web-design work off the air (ultimately building the station’s first website.) That work, in turn, inspired an interest in digital photography. “My first digital camera was a Sony Mavica that would record eight to 10 images on a floppy disk,” he reflects.

When KUOP abruptly switched to a news/talk format in 1998, Jeff decided it was time to move on; he packed his bags and headed back to Northeast Iowa, where he did web work for a time for Ion Exchange (a company that sells native wildflowers). In 2006, through “happenstance,” says Jeff, he became station manager of KPVL (89.1 FM), a now-defunct, non-commercial community radio station in Postville, Iowa.

Work was as quiet as one might expect in small-town Iowa until May 2008, when the local Agriprocessors meat-packaging factory became the target of what was, at the time, the largest immigration raid in United States history. In the months that followed, Jeff created the Good Morning, Postville! show, his own mix of news, commentary, and community engagement, eventually becoming the local authority on the raid and its aftermath. “Things just kind of took on a life of their own” is how he now sums up the turmoil of that particular time in Postville.

As fate would have it, there was a silver lining to all that turmoil – Jeff met his future wife, Mary, who was then helping to heal the Postville community through her work with Catholic Charities. \ Summer 2023 35
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211 W. WATER ST. DECORAH Jeff Abbas poses with agates and polishing equipment at his studio in rural Dorchester, Iowa. /
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Photos by Sara Friedl-Putnam

The two would go on to found Kitchen Table Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA), which promoted “good health and social justice through sustainable agriculture” on their Dorchester-area farm. They enjoyed the work, but the physicality of the farming life eventually took its toll. Says Jeff, “Farming is hard work, and we got to a point that we just couldn’t do it anymore.”

And that’s when Jeff began gradually turning what had long been an avocation (agate hunting and photography) into a vocation. The COVID-19 pandemic afforded him the time to hone his “agatographer” skills even further. “During lockdown, I started to experiment more with the macro photography of rocks, minerals, and especially agates,” he says. “I got photo-editing software, acquired some lighting, did more research, began ‘talking’ to people online, and went on more agatehunting trips – I got pretty intense into it.”

Lake Superior agates (the oldest agates on the planet) particularly piqued his interest. “There are so many different theories about how these agates were formed,” says Jeff of the ornamental stone, consisting of chalcedony and quartz. “The only thing everyone agrees upon is that Lake Superior agates were created inside the hardened bubbles of lava.”

Today, more than a billion years later, nearly 1,000 pounds of those agates (many polished, many not) are displayed on shelves and stashed away in containers in Jeff’s Dorchester

home. (“Time spent studying Lake Superior agates and where they are found is far and away the best way to begin finding them,” he advises. “Once you know where to look, you are well on the way to building your agate collection.”)

His own collection includes not only concentric-banded agates (the most common kind) but also many other types: sagenitic agates, water-level agates, paint agates, tube agates, and hurricane agates, among others. Each, explains Jeff, has its own unique whorl and pattern, and making those patterns visible to the naked eye is what his agate photography is all about.

“I try to open up that world for people so they can see the actual formation of these stones down deep,” he says. “Ultimately, I want to help people understand the science behind these stones, and photos are the easiest way to do that.”

That mission drives Jeff to spend more than 10 hours a day immersed in photography and social media – he shares his photos on “Morning Coffee Shots” and other groups worldwide – as well as sorting and carefully polishing stones on the wheels he keeps in his studio. And while some might consider this level of devotion as work, Jeff views it as a labor of love. “I’ve finally reached that point in my life where I don’t have to dream about what I want to do because I’m freaking doing it,” he says. “I’m finally living the dream, and my greatest joy is sharing my work with others.”

Sara Friedl-Putnam wants to thank Jeff Abbas for not only the delicious muffins he baked and shared during the interview for this piece but also the beautiful agate he gave her (her first!) at the interview’s close.

Summer 2023 / 36
Road Decorah | 563-382-9360 |
1813 Trout Run
Angie Herrmann David Finholt Jeff Abbas bought equipment and honed his “agatographer” skills in order to take gorgeous photos like the one above, & on page 34. / Above photo by Jeff Abbas Agate Photography. Photo at right by Sara Friedl-Putnam
2023 10-20


Summer is the perfect time to soak up great live music and festivals in our region. We’ve been big fans and supporters of music across the Midwest since the launch of Inspire(d) in 2007, and we love to know that each summer there are more and more amazing opportunities out there. We took a moment to highlight a handful of favorites below – but it feels nearly impossible to give enough high-fives and props to all the good folks working hard to organize great music in the Driftless. So we’re creating a resource page at to connect you to THEIR websites to see up-to-date listings. Hop on over and check them out, shoot us an email if you’ve got another site to add to the list, and get out there and support live music, friends!


More than 20 years ago, brothers Larry and Doug Sebranek from La Farge, Wisconsin, attended the a popular bluegrass festival in Telluride, Colorado. On the drive home, they began to dream of creating an authentic bluegrass festival of their own on their maple syrup farm in rural Wisconsin. Right off the bat, they knew they had the perfect acoustical setting for it. Larry had once set up a speaker in their long, quiet valley, and drove down the road to see how far the sound would travel. He ended up driving three miles before the music faded out. The first event – then Bohemian Glen Bluegrass Music Festival (named after their farm) – happened in the summer of 1998.

About 50 friends and family members attended, and six local bands performed. After that first event, a group of family and friends volunteered to help Larry and Doug plan the second festival. The first order of business: replace the too-long original name.

“The group talked to Doug about renaming it ‘Larryfest,’” explains Larry Sebranek. “Quite a surprise when the festival name change was announced at the first meeting to start planning the 1999 festival.” When Larry briefly left that meeting, he says he returned to everyone wearing caps that said Larryfest.

This year, Larryfest will host its 26th event August 17-19, with two outdoor stages for a great roster of local and national performers. Attendees travel from across the country – and even the world, as they’ve had attendees from Australia, China, Japan, and more – to listen to the sound of authentic bluegrass music echo through the Driftless Wisconsin valley landscape.

The group of volunteers was formalized into a nonprofit called Kickapoo Valley Acoustic Music Association Inc. (KVAMA), with the purpose of preserving and promoting bluegrass, folk, and old-time music. KVAMA also holds a food drive at the gates of Larryfest, and a portion of the festival proceeds go to La Farge Fire Department, La Farge Ambulance Squad, La Farge Lions Club, and the Vernon County Sheriff’s Department.

Larryfest is known for several fun traditions, from free sweet corn on Saturday, an all-attendee-invited kayaking trip down the Kickapoo River, which is near the fest grounds, free tent-camping, and magical, light-wrapped trees in the audience seating area.

“You truly get the most banjo for your buck at Larryfest,” says operations coordinator Larry Liebl. “This event has become a tradition for a lot of families and groups of friends. We really want to see the festival attract some new people to keep this tradition of bluegrass music alive for the next generation.”

And in 2022, Larryfest launched the addition of free music workshops to the weekend’s offerings, led by performers from participating bands.

Summer 2023 / 38


August 17-19 • La Farge, Wisconsin

For tickets, band line-up, and more visit Tickets can also be purchased by phone: Larry Sebranek at 608.386.1448 or at Leo & Leona’s Tavern and Dance Hall, off Hwy. 33, Newberg Corners. / Photo courtesy of Larryfest

“The workshops started as a great way to allow people to not only hear the music of the fest, but to make music and jam together,” says Kjerstin Lang, marketing coordinator for the event.

Though Doug Sebranek sadly passed away in 2015 at age 52, the relationships he built lining up national bluegrass acts each year has carried the festival forward. “That focus on offering high quality, authentic, traditional bluegrass music performed by awardwinning professional groups from the southern states of Kentucky, Tennessee, North/South Carolina, and Virginia, as well as many popular local groups has contributed to the success and longevity of Larryfest,” says Doug’s brother, Larry. Planning to attend? Grab your tickets at, and bring your banjo and tent: It’s summer music time!

Tallitha Reese is a freelance writer and content manager based in Cashton, WI. She owns Words By Reese and you can find out more about her and her work at

Mark your calendar for these great events, and head to for a resource page to connect with other live music opportunities in the region!


The Viroqua area is always a great destination for a summer adventure, and boy do they have some fun plans this season.

• Vernon County Music in the Parks, happens every Wednesday alternating between Sidie Hollow & Esofea parks (Through August)

• Live in Viroqua, every 1st & 3rd Saturday through September (Catch Viroqua Pride Fest June 17)

• Driftless Music Festival, July 8 at Eckhart Park

• Viroqua Night Markets every 2nd Friday through September! Catch all the dates and deets at or Viroqua Chamber Facebook. \ Summer 2023 39 609 N Main St, Viroqua • open daily • viroquafood. coop Local and organic food in the heart of the Driftless Region. good. local. food. 3220 Highway 52, Decorah, IA • Visit our osage, Ia location as well! Friday 10-5 Saturday 10-4 & Sunday 11-4 get social with us! open every Bringing a smile to your space! New Home Decor & ANTiques 319-939-3039
Continued on next page



Lanesboro Arts is thrilled to announce another stellar lineup the outdoor summer music series Rhythms on the Root. The series activates the vibrant asset of Gateway Park as a place for the Lanesboro community and visitors to gather and celebrate with live music. The concerts will take place from 6 to 7:30 pm on the second Saturday of every month this summer: June (General B & the Wiz), July (Sleeping Jesus), and August (Faith Boblett). Tickets are on sale now and are $20 General Admission and $15 Lanesboro Arts Members (free for youth age 12 and under, but ticket still required). Find details at


Driftless Music Gardens is gearing up for an epic summer of festivals: Bonfire (June 8-10), Boogie Down (July 21-22), and People Fest (August 11-12). Hillsboro, Wisconsin

Founded by five members of Madison’s The People Brothers Band, Driftless Music Gardens is home to festivals and events that pair exceptional natural scenery and with some of the best musical and artistic talent the Midwest has to offer. Located in idyllic rural Hillsboro, Wisconsin, this summer’s Driftless Music Gardens lineups include bands from near and far – Michael Franti & Spearhead to Armchair Boogie to Yonder Mountain String Band to Joe & Vicki Price. “It’s in this beautiful place that we hope to change lives by creating a one of a kind experience rooted in compassion and appreciation for life and arts,” they write on their website, (where you can also find event details and purchase tickets)!

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Embrace the tranquility, unlock small-town charm in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. 608.987.3201 or 888.POINT WI (764.6894) Facebook and Instagram: mineral.point
General B and the Wiz concert sponsored by Inspire(d) / Photo courtesy of General B and the Wiz Driftless Music Gardens / Photo courtesy of Ty Helbach Photography


Lawn Chair night is a long-standing Thursday evening summer tradition in Decorah thanks to the Downtown Decorah Betterment Association! The series has continued to evolve in recent years, with a few select performances happening at the Winneshiek County Courthouse, and the majority of the Thursday evening concerts firing up on Washington Street, outside of the Hotel Winneshiek and Impact Coffee.

Find the entire lineup at – with both local, regional, and national performers helping make summer in Decorah a fun place to be! (See page 19 for the full line-up!)



Down on the Turkey River, outside of Elkader, a few folks have been working hard to make some incredible events happen –canoeing and kayaking, live music, camping – and music – all the good stuff. Save the date for the July 1415 Music Campout, for sure! Check out all the upcoming shows and details: Unique Experiences You’ll find them here. For events & ticket information visit 207 N. Main, Elkader, IA 563-245-2098 MUSIC THEATRE COMMUNITY
/ Photo: @TurkeyRiverCabinConcerts
River Cabin Concerts

What did the limestone say to the geologist? Don't take me for granite \ Summer 2023 43
PHOTO BY CHARLIE LANGTON “I took this photo on a late-summer evening. I often walk down to the Decorah Prairie around dusk because the songbirds are out feeding at that time. The prairie is anchored by two wonderful oak trees, but I confess that I’m partial to the one at the east end. The sinking light was playing music on the land when I shot this from the dike,” says photographer Charlie Langton. Read a Q&A with this “Community Photographer” on the next page.



Decorah’s Charlie Langton will tell you he’s not really a photographer. But we here in Decorah know the truth. He’s a photographer in the greatest sense. I chose his gorgeous prairie tree photo for our center spread this issue, because it just felt like summer – and the promise of fireflies and lushness and magic – but what Charlie is most famous for are his frequent pics of the people of Decorah: Kids hanging out in the shady gazebo at Water Street Park, grocery shoppers grabbing local produce at Oneota Co-op, partners walking hand-in-hand down the streets and alleys of this Northeast Iowa town. Each photo holds moments in time, feelings of a community, snippets of those passing through, passing time, passing by.

Photos get clever captions, like “Mom delighting in embarrassing her kid,” and “Definitely not lactose intolerant,” and “That matchless feel of a spring wind in your beard.” And if you’re on Facebook (and even if you’re not), and you know Charlie, he’s posting a delightful collection of photos of you to help celebrate your birthday.

You can see more of Charlie’s work at his photography exhibit opening on his birthday, August 1, at Impact Coffee in Downtown Decorah, and on display for the rest of that month.

“There aren’t any big photos of people in the exhibit because who would want their mug plastered large on a coffee shop wall for a month?” says Charlie. “So most of the photos are landscapes and town shots. But that didn’t reflect what I do most, so Tanya, Anja [from Perfect Edge Custom Framing], and I came up with the idea of a large collage called ‘We’re All In This Together,’ made up of small 2x3-inch people shots. I still felt the need to ask permission, so I posted on Facebook and Instagram. Remarkably over 200 folks said yes!”

I suggested to Charlie that we make him business cards that say “Community Photographer,” since he’s now retired from a 30+-year career as Communications and Marketing Director at Vesterheim Museum. He had no reply to that, but he did answer five questions for us about his years capturing the essence of this community.

What is your favorite part of being Decorah’s unofficial “community photographer?”

We are lucky to have a lot of great photographers, and they are all more imaginative and technically proficient than I am. If anyone thinks of me as our unofficial community photographer, it’s only because I am always out taking pictures of everything, everyone, everywhere, all the time – a title earned only by sheer, indiscriminate volume. I love taking photos – it is among my greatest joys – and folks not only have gotten accustomed to it, they often become spontaneous collaborators. I owe so much to this community, which allows me this happiness fairly unrestricted and which understands the value of seeing our lives reflected back as we live them, uncurated.

Do you have an all-time favorite photo you’ve taken? What’s the story behind it?

My favorite photograph usually is the last one I took that isn’t awful, until I eventually see what’s wrong with it and need to take the next one. But some photos do have lasting importance for me. During the rash of family farm foreclosures in the 1980s, some farmers were allowed to rent back their land from the bank. But without a few pieces of essential machinery to farm with, the land would be pointless, so at many auctions activists and friends would hold up a white cross to discourage bidding on an item. That way the farmers could buy back their own implements from the bank at the lowest price possible. At one farm sale I took a shot of a man holding up a white cross lit up by the merciless winter sun. That grainy pic on old Tri-X film will always have special meaning for me, capturing a kind of resilience in a tragic time.

What’s one book and/or movie you think everyone should read or see in their lives?

These sorts of questions are too hard, especially for an English major and a movie buff. I can say that Universal Harvester by John Darnielle is the best book I’ve read in many years, and certainly the best book I’ve read about small-town Iowa. It’s got the pacing of a thriller, but ends up being something else entirely – a moving elegy about loss, rural life, and mothers. It really is a kind of quiet tour-de-force, with evocative passages that will take your breath away. Hipper folks than me know Darnielle from the music group Mountain Goats. Watch any movie by Wim Wenders. And currently on TV, Somebody, Somewhere is matchless.

Summer 2023 / 44
Charlie took this photo of Inspire(d)’s Roxie Nichols (middle) with her pals Luca and Frances at the Water Street Park last summer. / Photo by Charlie Langton

What would you tell your 22-year-old self, today?

Have the courage to be totally yourself, love whom you love and do what you love. Understand that everything changes, criticisms and praise both fall away in time, and what you’re left with is yourself. There is nothing you do that someone else doesn’t do better, but that’s a poor excuse to do nothing. Fear less, risk more. Actually I tell my 72-year-old self the same things.

What’s inspiring you right now?

We’re coming out of one difficult time, a time of imposed isolation – the COVID pandemic – and seem to be entering another time of isolation, one of deep division and intolerance. So it may seem totally illogical to say, but what inspires me now is other people. So many have faced loss and suffering. So many face discrimination and marginalization. But I am inspired by their courage and their willingness to help and support others despite their own struggles.

I am inspired by older people who could virtually mark their end of days on a calendar and yet embrace their fullest lives. And I am inspired by young people who face unimaginable challenges and yet everyday remind us of joy. \ Summer 2023 45 D I S C O V E R Y O U R B E S T H E A L T H . . . W I T H O U T O M P R O M I S E . ww thenaturalspine com 563 277 1649 Dr. Scott Gamm WE ARE PROUD TO PARTNER WITH LOCAL FARMERS AND ARTISANS THROUGHOUT THE YEAR Wed-Sat: 5pm-close. Reservations highly recommended. 563-382-9463 117 WEST WATER ST. DECORAH, IOWA Molly Gallagher Mediation Support through difficult conversations • 319 270 4592 In person or on Zoom
An impactful photo: During the farm foreclosure sales in the 1980s, friends would discourage bidding on an item by holding up a white cross. This way, farmers could buy back their equipment at the lowest price possible. / Photo by Charlie Langton
Stop by our visitor center: 15 2nd St NW, Harmony • 1-800-288-7153 • Discover Only 30 minutes away from Decorah, this full-service community offers a variety of great dining options, unique antiques, gift shops and exciting recreational opportunities. Harmony, Minnesota • 10,000 sq feet Open Daily 10am-5pm • 50 Industrial Blvd. NE, Harmony, MN • 507-886-6660 130+ Booths @beebalm_harmony BOUTIQUE & CONSIGNMENT GIFTS • VINTAGE • HOME DECOR CONSIGNMENT CLOTHING & OTHER GOODS Consign with us! Learn more at 65 Amish Tours of Harmony Enjoy an exciting tour of Harmony’s Amish community with one of our knowledgeable guides! Mini Bus Tours . Car Tours . Group Bus Tours . Spring thru Fall Call 507-696-1354. Experience a lifestyle... 2 Main Ave North • Downtown Harmony / Find “Gloria’s” on Gloria’s Airbnb Located upstairs Where spacious and cozy meet! 507-886-2323 On The Crunchy Side AMER I CAN BAR & EATER Y 31 Main Ave N • Harmony, MN Best 20 feet of bar in SE MN! 507-886-5560 From burgers to salads to steak dinner, served with homemade bread. Plus tasty pizzas, soups, & chili! Wed-Fri 4pm-1am • Sat 11am-1am • Sun 11am-12am /onthecrunchyside Takeout available! Natural Stream and Waterfall in Your Underground Adventure Awaits Niagara Cave Harmony, MN Book online at: Open 7 Days a Week Until October 29th Also enjoy our professionally designed 18-Hole Mini-Golf course!

We are here today to remind you: You are fun. Every single person on the planet has the ability to have fun – no matter what that means for you.

When you were a kid, what did you do for fun?


I remember trekking down to the creek a mile from my house, peeling off my socks and sneakers, and squishing my feet down into the wet, sticky mud. If I was lucky, the mud farted, sending my friends and me into a fit of giggles that escalated over and over again at each muddy, explosive sploosh.

That was fun.

Would I do it tomorrow?

Honestly, I think the answer is yes. It still sounds fun, and farts will forever be funny, whether you’re a kid or not. So yes. Invite me to squish in some creek mud (if my schedule is open --- boorr-ing adult caveat) – I am 100 percent in!

What is your favorite fun kid memory? Is it something you’d do tomorrow?

Maybe your idea of fun is totally different now. Or maybe you don’t have any idea what fun means to you anymore. Oh boy, then, this will be fun: It’s time to experiment with your life to discover your idea of fun. It’s time to play. It’s time to get out there and seek the stuff that makes you smile.

There are a lot of important things in life. But I think one of the most important is that we live lives we enjoy. Ones in which we seek out the things that bring us happiness. Why, you might ask? Why not? What do you have to loose, besides a bummer mood?! Every day of your life adds up to your total lifespan. How are you living each day? Are you having any fun at all? The following pages will walk you through some ways to tap into and create fun in your lives, so buckle up (especially if bungee jumping is on your fun list).



Do something every week just because it’s fun

Embrace Optimism

It feels good

It makes you feel alive

You feel more joy You give yourself permission to play

Believe you ’ re going to have fun (and let that optimism trickle throughout your life).

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Take Your Dang Vacations!

Go for maximum enjoyment out of every little thing. That means being mindful as you enjoy them


Sometimes it’s hard to be spontaneous, but those are often the times that bring the most fun (and/or get you out of your comfort zone). Say yes.

Write silly jokes on your white board or on sticky notes and put them around the house. Laugh!

Watch or listen to a favorite comedian ...gnome anyone funny?

Try something you’ve always thought sounded fun, but you've never made time for. There’s almost never a perfect moment.


• Put on your favorite upbeat music, and dance!

• Unplug –generally, the most genuine fun is generally had away from the screens, connecting with other humans

• Change your look –in your house or with your self (new haircut, new piercing, new clothes)

• Pretend to be a tourist in your own town!

If you can’t think of something fun, do something you know a loved one thinks is fun. You might have a great time too! Fun is contagious, just like laughing (how fun!)

Don’t take yourself too seriously!

FUN!You are


Mental health counselor Olivia Lynn Schnur shares ways to explore summer fun for your mental health.

What comes to mind when you think of the word fun? Tropical beaches, hiking trails, or days full of adventure? Or maybe, gardening or long days by the pool?

Fun is an important aspect of mental health. It is a powerful antidote to stress, can provide relief from mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety, and can enhance social connection and bonding.

The funny thing is, we often think fun is something we plan for in the future. But if you reflect back on the times you had the most fun, it usually happens spontaneously.

So, let’s add a little play to your life and re-engage with fun this summer!


Write down (or think of) some recent times you remember having fun. Maybe it’s a time you belly-laughed so hard your stomach cramped (laughter releases happiness hormones in the brain, like serotonin and endorphins). Or when you smiled so much your face hurt.

Now reflect on the last time you felt free. What happened to make you forget your responsibilities? Perhaps you can feel a sense of joy arising within you, even now.

Take a moment to revel in the most salient memory. See what happens when you check in with the five senses. Reflect on the who, what, where, when, and why that led you to encode that memory as fun.

As you read this article, keep that moment in mind. You might find your personal recipe for fun in the details.


Children are gifted in the art of play. In fact, if you’ve spent any time with kids, you’ll likely recognize (at least intuitively) the importance of laughter, fun, and play. But it’s not just for kids; play is important in all of our lives. From a nervous system perspective, it gives us the opportunity to safely come to the edge of our sympathetic (fightor-flight) nervous system without becoming overwhelmed or feeling under attack.

Summer 2023 / 50

Think of your nervous system in terms of riding a rollercoaster. As you reach the highest point, the suspense and fear build (perhaps, to the point of fight-or-flight). But as the coaster drops, the wind blows through your hair, and you delight in the freedom of screaming at the top of your lungs; you experience a release. You might even turn to see others laughing or making eye contact as a nonverbal sign you’re going to be okay. By the time the rollercoaster arrives back to its starting position, you can feel yourself returning to a sense of safety (the parasympathetic state of rest-and-digest).


The basic recipe for fun involves three main ingredients: mindfulness, freedom, and novelty.

As we break down each of these ingredients, keep your memories of fun in mind. Consider how these elements allowed you to revel in an experience of fun. Then feel free to experiment and make it your own. What additional spices add joy, pleasure, or delight to your life? What unique flavors bring meaning or purpose to the pursuit of fun?


When we are present, we have the ability to engage. We notice the way a joke lands, erupting someone into laughter so infectious that soon we are laughing along. Mindfulness allows us to be present with joy as we fully connect with another human.

Mirror neurons are at play here. Researchers have discovered a place in the brain that lights up in response to another human’s behavior. For example, mirror neurons are to blame for a contagious yawn. They’re also at work when we feel empathy in response to another’s grief or sadness.

Mindfulness awakens us to the potential every moment has to offer. By staying present and engaged, we enhance our ability to connect. And when we are connected, fun – and laughter –become contagious.


It can be hard to prioritize fun while chasing meaning, passion, and purpose. You might even be wondering why fun really matters at all. Surely, fun cannot stack up against the weight of routine, money, success, or responsibility.

But Travis Tae Oh, PhD, a psychologist who specializes in researching fun, says liberation from responsibility is an essential component of fun –and can rejuvenate you for when you do need to return to responsibility.

Continued on next page

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We might think of liberation from responsibility as freedom. It’s that moment after the freefall of the rollercoaster, when you’re completely engaged with the present moment, unaware of anything other than the thump of your heart in your chest, and the feel of the wind at your face.

Freedom is a break. Freedom is not, however, avoidance, denial, or procrastination, postponing the inevitable as the pressure mounts. When we try to pretend our responsibilities do not exist, they loom in our subconscious and take mental energy away from the present.

True liberation requires a healthy balance of both freedom and responsibility. Learn to rise to the challenge of responsibility when it is necessary. And practice embracing freedom and relinquishing responsibility when a break is due.


So, what happens when we are completely present, and also free from responsibility? For many, a feeling of relaxation arises. But how can we elevate this moment of relaxation to one of fun? By adding an element of novelty – the third and final ingredient in our recipe for fun.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve experienced much fun, it might be time to step out of your comfort zone and add a little novelty to your life.

Novelty does not have to be scary – it can be anything outside your routine. (Although an element of playful fear or surprise can certainly be fun…think of a haunted house or horror movie.)

Maybe you commit to a fun exercise class once per week (think dance, yoga, or sports). Or perhaps you audition for a play, attend a community event, or set aside a date night with a friend or partner each week.

It’s also okay to let go of old hobbies that used to be fun, no matter how much time has been invested in them. A break from old hobbies might help you to rediscover the same passion and enjoyment they brought at the start. And in the meantime, what a great opportunity to try something new!


Mental health concerns like trauma, depression, and anxiety can sometimes sabotage an experience of fun. Remember, if you’re feeling pressured to make a moment fun, that is not how fun works. Instead, focus on practicing mindfulness by allowing whatever feelings arise to be present.

As with any mindfulness practice, happiness and joy are not usually

the first emotions to arise. It’s important not to suppress or judge any emotions that surface. Fun will come, eventually! Consider working with a mental health professional if feelings of depression or anxiety consistently block feelings of joy or experiences of fun.

Summer 2023 / 52
Auny Pole Photography DR. PETER J. BLODGETT • DR. LANA
563-382-3657 . 108 Fifth Avenue, Decorah, Iowa .
W. MCDERMOTT • DR. JOHN E. WILMES Olivia Lynn Schnur is a professional writer, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, and Certified Yoga Teacher. She writes about healing, health, and happiness with the goal of educating, uplifting, and inspiring readers. To learn more about Olivia, or to book a yoga session, visit


Now it’s time to play with fun in your own life! Don’t know where to start? Try experimenting with these ideas below –mix-and-match one activity from each category – to help you get out of your comfort zone. Example: Mindfulness – put your phone on airplane mode; Freedom – take a mental health day; Novelty – go explore a new city/trail Put them all together and see what sort of fun you have! Afterward, reflect on this combination and see if it’s the right fit for you.


Leave your phone at home/in the car

Put your phone on airplane mode

Engage the 5 senses

Make eye contact while you speak

Practice smiling at everyone you see

Notice the way your body feels when you smile or laugh

Pay attention to the emotions you feel around people you love

Practice authentic self-expression

Express gratitude

Express your emotions

Journal about the present moment

Practice drawing or painting a nature scene, pet, or loved one

Write a poem


Take a moment just for you

Get a babysitter and set a date night

Let your friend/partner plan a date

Delete the email application from your phone

Silence notifications

Take a mental health day from work

Set limits on new responsibilities when possible

Ask for help

Book a retreat and let someone else plan your activities

Stay somewhere with cleaning and food service

“Unfriend” frenemies/ “Unfollow” negativity

Go for a drive without a destination

Walk aimlessly


Plan a vacation

Go to a new coffeeshop

Road trip to a new town

Take a different route

Introduce yourself to someone new

Attend a new community event

Try a new activity

Explore a new park/trail

Try a new restaurant

Go camping somewhere without cell service

Read a new genre

Go to a live music event

Plan an activity with an acquaintance

Try laughter yoga (yes, it’s a real thing!)


What three things did you choose today?

Did you have fun? What was one moment that sticks out in your memory as fun?

Do you want to try that element with another option from the list? Make a plan here, and then keep experimenting, cultivating your fun-filled summer!

53 \ Summer 2023

Decorah Public Library and Inspire(d) are here to keep you



Spend the summer making your own maps of travels, family history, hikes, or own backyard!


True fun is essential for a meaningful life. Ditch your device and seek out joy and delight with the help of this book.


Get outside and go on a treasure hunt for delicious forest foods!


Rediscover the magic of an excellent blanket fort and spend some time being a kid again .


If learning more about wine is on your to-do list, this user-friendly, easy-to-understand book will teach you how to do it!



A wa rd -winning artist Taeeun Yoo invites children to try p l ay f ul animal poses.


illustrated by Pete

Did you know that hippos can’t swim? How about that ants take about 250 naps per day? This lively book makes non ction fun!


Did you know that the rst stop signs were black and white? Or that a litter of kittens is called a kindle? There's a lot to know and we bet you'll have fun learning.


Discover what a star is, how the moon looks close up, and what tools astronomers use to look at space while also getting ideas for activities you can do to engage with the night sky



; photographs by Alexandra Grablewski

St y lish, innovative projects that prom is e e n dl e ss hours of creative fun.

Check out all of these and more at:


Get silly – and have fun – this summer with these super easy Gnome Photo Props!

MAKE IT: step-by-step instructions at ILOVEINSPIRED.COM Paper Project


It’s late July in the Driftless Region. The air feels thick, the sun feels hot. Temps are holding steady with no reprieve. Just when you’re about to call it quits in favor of some air conditioning, in blows an island breeze. It feels tropical and refreshing. You’ve got a whole new perspective – but the weather hasn’t changed. What’s that you hear? It’s the Caribbean sounds of Coulee Region Steel Band turning the tides, uplifting you with their tropical vibes and 10-piece drum ensemble.

A band unlike any other in the area – in both size and sound –Coulee Region Steel Band (CRSB) plays a variety of songs, including selections by Jimmy Buffet, Carlos Santana, Harry Belafonte, Stevie Wonder, and others. “People enjoy CRSB’s upbeat attitude and music,” says percussionist and founding member, Jim Knutson. Along with familiar tunes, they enjoy playing what Jim calls “country” music, or rather “music that is from the countries of Brazil, Cuba, and the rest of the world.”

An instrument rich in history, steelpans are made from 55-gallon barrels. The vibration of the steel is what gives them their unique

sound. Pans of varying sizes create different pitches, allowing bands like Jim’s to provide an electric, vibrant sound.

Jim has been a proud pan owner since 2000, when he inherited his first set. At the time, he was the Onalaska High School band director in Onalaska, Wisconsin. Hooked on this new instrument, he started writing grants to obtain more, and began teaching others how to plan the pans, too. One class at Onalaska High School soon morphed into weeklong classes for Washburn Academy, a professional development program run by the education-based Wisconsin non-profit, Cooperative Educational Service Agency #4 (CESA 4). Jim found himself teaching pan drums to band teachers from across Wisconsin, including La Crosse, Milwaukee, Appleton, and Madison. “The La Crosse teachers wanted to form a community group, and there you have it, the Coulee Region Steel Band was born!” shares Jim. And it’s not just drums – the band also sings, and fans have been singing along since CRSB formed in 2005.

Now, almost 20 years later, CRSB is still made up of many music teachers, including Dan Lefebvre on Jimmy Buffet vocals and Andres

Summer 2023 / 56
Learn More:
Photos courtesy Coulee Region Steel Band

Linero Quintero on congas. And although teaching is not the primary focus of the group, Jim says it’s easy for this band of educators to “add an education element to any performance,” if requested.

Jim and the gang enjoy sharing their love for music, and have gigs lined up all summer. They’re playing Great River Sound’s music series at Dash-Park in Onalaska, the Concerts in the Park series in Holmen, and sets at The Freighthouse in La Crosse and at Elmaro Vineyard in Trempealeau. They’re especially excited to be playing the Pulpit Rock Brewing Company anniversary party on August 19 in Decorah. “We hope everyone comes out and enjoys our Caribbean sampler and some fun in the sun!” says Jim.

Band members –there’s usually between 10 to 12 at each gig – sing and play three lead pans, three double seconds (two-barrel drums), two triple guitar/ cello pans, bass, congas, and a drum set. “I own all our gear, so I guess that puts me in charge,” laughs Jim. “It’s a lot of instruments.”

Jim played lead pan for many years but is currently “in the driver’s seat” playing drum set. One instrument often used in bands like CRSB is the six bass – “six full-size 55 gallon barrels…for one player!” says Jim – but it’s a little too big for this crew.

The pans they play were made by Ellie Mannette, who is known as “The Father of the Modern Steel Drum.” This Trinidadian musician was said to have been the first person to use an oil barrel to build a steelpan. He shared his trade across the world, teaching others how to play, build, and tune steelpans until his death in 2018.

Not only does CRSB play Ellie’s drums, but it also shares the Caribbean style and sound that he helped develop in the 1930s and 40s. A sound that many have come to associate with sunshine, good times, and relaxation.

That’s exactly what Jim and CRSB hope to provide this summer as they play their drums and share their unique flavor. They’ll be bringing the island vibes to the Driftless Region all summer long.

Sara is a mom and writer living in La Crosse, Wisconsin. She has been an Inspire(d) contributor since 2018.


June 10: Elmaro Vineyard, Trempealeau, WI

June 29: The Freighthouse, La Crosse, WI

July 23: Halfway Creek Park, Holmen, WI

July 29: Elmaro Vineyard, Trempealeau, WI

August 19: Pulpit Rock Brewing Company, Decorah, IA

August 26: Elmaro Vineyard, Trempealeau, WI

August 29: Dash-Park, Onalaska, WI

August 31: The Freighthouse, La Crosse, WI \ Summer 2023 57
• 608-782-6655 You won’t find anything like this without a time machine.
211 Pearl Street, La Crosse, WI. @driftmercantile Small batch Fresh Fudge 1930s Soda Fountain • Ice Cream, Chocolates, Candies, Fudge
207 Pearl St. Downtown La Crosse, WI •
Summer 2023 / 58
Clematis growing on a Grain Bin at Wold Farm. In background, the Grain Bin Retreat enjoys a gorgeous view of a fall scene at Wold Farm. / Photos courtesy J Webb Fine Art & Photography Zach, Jillian, and daughter, Emmajean, at Wold Farm in rural St. Olaf, Iowa. / Photos courtesy J Webb Fine Art & Photography


The prairies of the Midwestern United States have long occupied the imaginations of artists, writers, and lovers. For Elkader painter and photographer Jillian Webb Herrmann, the prairie symbolizes new life and the possibility of connection.

She first encountered the tallgrass prairie on Wold Farm near St. Olaf, Iowa, 15 years ago with her then-boyfriend –now-husband – Zach. They had traveled to the family farm to “meet the grandparents.” On that first visit, Zach’s Grandpa Don tucked them into the tractor and gave Jillian the full tour of the farm property. She fell in love.

She was struck by the beauty and tranquility of the near-170-year-old farm: the rolling hills, the undulating prairie grasses and wildflowers, the endless sky, and the feeling of belonging – amidst seemingly boundless nature. But what caught her attention and her artist’s imagination were the grain bins. Continued on next page \ Summer 2023 59

“Those would make the cutest cabins!” Jillian remembers saying to Zach’s mom.

“And then his mom was like ‘that is actually something people do’ and so she started sending me pictures and I’m like ‘we can do this one day!’ and I started drawing.”

And she started dreaming. She hoped to welcome guests to experience the same feelings of serenity, belonging, and connection that she had every time she went to the farm.

“I feel like the people who will value this space are the people who really value their time together. There is no TV in here. That was a choice. I kind of want it to be a place where you really have to connect…you get to,” she says, laughing.

This passion project, which started during the first year of COVID, was not without challenges. However, with the unwavering support of her husband, her mom, Zach’s mom, and dedicated local contractors and vendors, the first renovation – the largest grain bin – was completed in the summer of 2022.

“The whole process was like a couple years of growth for me. I had to learn how to trust myself and trust that what I was doing was going to work out. I had to have a lot of faith, honestly,” Jillian recalls. “I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t had people that believed in me. Anybody that’s doing something big, or little, if you have the support of somebody who believes in you and will back you…That’s why this is here. If I hadn’t had that, this would not be here. I’m grateful that I get to share it now.”

They officially opened the Grain Bin to the public to rent in July of 2022, and in October, they invited friends and the community out to celebrate Jillian’s birthday with a “Barn Party” at Wold Farm. Folks

Summer 2023 / 60 @SandbarStorytellingFestival OCT 12-14, 2023 | WINONA, MN


toured the grain bin cabin and gathered together in the barn to eat, drink, and enjoy time together.

“I think my favorite part of it was the birthday card my husband wrote me,” Jillian says. “He said in the card, ‘Don and Bernice [his grandparents] would not believe that you have people coming from all over to stay at Wold Farm.’ And it makes me teary to say that because it was like, his grandma had a lot of big ideas, too. And she would love it. I think they would be really proud of this space.” \ Summer 2023 61 235 8th Avenue W, Cresco, Iowa •
Don’t let chronic pain impact your daily life. Our specialized Pain Management Clinic o ers help to control your chronic pain. Let us help Chronic Pain? Call 563-547-6351 or visit to learn more. Live Show catch a Save the dates For rental opportunities contact wendy
Interior spaces of the Grain Bin welcome guests for a relaxing stay.
Continued on next page
/ Photos courtesy J Webb Fine Art & Photography
Summer 2023 / 62 Offering over 40,000 plants! Iowa's #1 Destination Garden Center 108 E. Wilbur St, Hawkeye, Iowa • 563.427.5373 • Open daily May - September 50 mins north of Waterloo 30 mins south of Decorah Decorah K&K Gardens Waterloo
Prairie Dreaming. Photo courtesy J Webb Fine Art & Photography

While Jillian was already making use of the gorgeous lighting in the bin and the farm’s landscape for photo shoots – including engagement and wedding photos – she began to think of other ways she could utilize the unique spaces.

“I had someone come as just a solo retreat, and it was life changing for her,” Jillian says. “I want to be able to help people have that space to connect and just be.”

After a close friend stayed in the grain bin for an artist’s “sabbatical” over the winter, Jillian began thinking outside the typical vacation rental box.

“I’ve already been thinking about how I can make this space more of a retreat, more of an experience. My yoga crew came out here one night and we practiced in the yard and then we had a gathering in the grain bin after,” Jillian says. “But I could see it being a space for healing/health and wellbeing workshops, elopements, microteeny events. Even a rural experience package where they could come and go on the river. I just have all of these ideas!”

But the idea of creating a space for people to elope is what eventually took root.

What could be more fun than jumping in the car with your beloved, leaving the frenetic energy of the city behind, and escaping to a renovated grain bin in the middle of a tallgrass prairie in Northeast Iowa to elope?

At least that’s what Jillian hoped when she posted an “Elopement Giveaway” on the Wold Farm website and promoted it through her social media network. \ Summer 2023 63 Elkader, Iowa • 563-245-1992 • • 201 N. Main St, Elkader • Clip coupon for 10% off!* *some exclusions 563-873-2186 Night or day, we've got the place for you to play and room for you to stay. VISIT MCGREGOR/MARQUE E YOUR INDIE BOOK & GIFT STORE SINCE 1994 they have cats
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Jillian was already making use of the gorgeous lighting in the bin and the farm’s landscape for photo shoots, like the one above. But she started to think of other ideas…the elopement giveaway took flight. / Photos courtesy J Webb Fine Art & Photography

“I love love. I feel like we’re put on the planet to learn how to love unconditionally. That may not be everybody’s thing, but for me I feel like we are and that is a reason for being here and going through the hardships that we go through. And learning to love ourselves in the same way we love others,” Jillian reflects. “Everything comes back to love for me. The elopement thing really pulls it all together because, I don’t know, it’s like when you dedicate your life to somebody it’s the most obvious form of love.”

The giveaway itself is a substantial package worth almost $5000, and includes one night in the Grain Bin, dinner provided by a restaurant in Elkader, the officiant for the wedding, and a photo album of the event.

“It’s a really big giveaway, actually. I felt like I needed to make it super over the top,” Jillian explains. “I mean, a) to ask someone to elope, and then b), to elope at my house, and then pick me as your photographer. It’s pretty specific! I felt like it was worth a shot!”

To her delight, several couples applied.

Jillian selected a few finalists and began making phone calls to interview each couple.

As soon as she got Sara Chappell-Dick and Mickey Price on the phone, she knew she had found her winners.

“They feel like they could pack up and move here,” Jillian explains. “They feel like Northeast Iowa people. They were so outgoing and easygoing, and it’s just the two of them. I instantly felt comfortable with these two.”

Sara (26) and Mickey (27) live in Chicago with their dog Gingko. Both are outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers.

“We met in 2016, on Tinder,” Sara recalls via email. “Mickey had said that he was really into tea in his bio, so I messaged him that I drink several cups of tea a day – definitely an exaggeration. I had said that I love the poet Mary Oliver, which he responded to by quoting one of her poems (he told me later he had never heard of Mary Oliver before, he just googled it, lol). For our first date, Mickey cooked me a beautiful pheasant dinner. The rest is history.”

When Sara saw the Elopement Giveaway ad on Instagram, she thought it was meant for them.

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Sweet notes in the Grain Bin guest book. / Photo courtesy J Webb Fine Art & Photography

“We’ve been talking about a courthouse wedding for a while now, with plans to have a party with family and friends later on. When I saw the ad for the giveaway, and saw that it’s held on a beautiful farm in the prairie – a landscape that we both love and feel at home in, growing up in the Midwest – we felt like it was exactly what we were looking for and fit us perfectly.”

To their surprise, they won!

“We felt that the traditional wedding setup didn’t fit us very well. We both strongly value simple living,” Mickey and Sara explain. “We also share what feels like a really close, really personal bond between the two of us that we would love to represent by celebrating privately. We think a private ceremony in a landscape that means a lot to both of us feels really special.”

For Sara, the elopement is extra special because it ties her family past to her present life with Mickey and to their dreams of the future.

“I am so excited to wear my mom’s dress! It was sewn and handembroidered by my grandma. There are these little flowers she embroidered on it that will look beautiful in the setting,” Sara says. “We’re also both really excited to see what Jillian and Zach have going on at their farm, because we dream of having our own farm one day and love to chat with people who are living it!”

Jillian is hopeful that Sara and Mickey’s elopement is the first of many in the future.

“I love my life, and I love that I do painting and festivals and photography and all these things, but this elopement ties all of them together and brings all of my creative energy right here, and creates connection in the most intimate kind of way,” Jillian says. “In a world where there is so much pain and suffering and sorrow, there is still so much joy and love, and that’s what we need to focus on. Because it’s always there.”

Christy Ebert Vrtis is a teacher, writer, mom, and crime drama enthusiast who loves to curate book lists for family and friends, run (slowly) on the Trout Run Trail, and adventure around the world and throughout the Driftless with her husband and kids. \ Summer 2023 65 You'll find the destination is worth the journey every time for amazing Home & Cabin Décor Fashion & Accessories Personalized Engraving Great Selections, Staff & Music! 4 1 3 N O R T H Tues - Fri 10-6 Sat 10 - 1 641-228-2657 413 N Main Street
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Our mural "Modern Rosie" by Robin Macomber see her on the back of the building! Sara Chappell-Dick and Mickey Price of Chicago, IL won the Elopement Giveaway at Wold Farm. The couple loves adventuring outdoors and are excited for their July ceremony! / Photo courtesy Sara & Mickey
Learn more about Wold Farm online at
Summer 2023 / 66
SUM BUSINESS INSPIRING ENTREPRENEURS IN THE DRIFTLESS OF YOUR Mabe’s Pizza – half “Around-the-Garden,” half “Regular” – with its signature “party cut” (also seen on opposite page). /
Benji Nichols. An old-school
The fourth
Photos by
Mabe’s Pizza sign. / Photo courtesy Mabe’s Pizza.
and third
generations to
Mabe’s Pizza in Decorah, Iowa. Left: Collin and Jenny White, and Right: Connie and Steve White. /Photo courtesy Mabe’s Pizza

An interview with father-and-son-duo Steve & Collin White of Mabe’s Pizza, celebrating 70 years in business and four generations of family hospitality.

There are certain things that are identified as true Decorah landmarks: Dunning’s Spring, Vesterheim, Luther College, Seed Savers Exchange… and Mabe’s Pizza, of course! (Ok, there are lots more, but…)

For 70 years, the White family has been providing square cut pizza slices and hometown hospitality to Northeast Iowa locals and visitors alike. Now a fourth generation family business, the Mabe’s legacy started with Mabel White, who at the age of 49 (!), opened “Mabel’s Lunch Room” in 1953 at the corner of College Drive and Leif Erickson Street. Her proximity to Luther College was a winning choice from the start – they provided countless coffee, donuts, and eventually meals, to area residents and hungry students. It was one of those young patrons who asked Mabel about making a “pizza” – something she knew nothing about at the time, but would eventually make Mabe’s an iconic Decorah staple.

The “party cut” – where the pizza is cut into square slices to be easily shared among a crowd (or party) – is a signifying Mabe’s trait. Grandson Steve White confirms that the square cut pizza got its start because Mabel originally made the pizza in rectangle baking sheets at the Lunch Room before moving into the “modern” pizza world, with round pans and a new downtown location in the 500 block of West Water Street in 1962, where the name was shortened to “Mabe’s.”

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Mabel White / Photo courtesy Mabe’s Pizza.

Eventually, Mabe’s settled into its current location at 110 East Water Street in 1978, shortly before Mabel’s son Don (second generation, pictured at right) and wife Maime would take over the family business in 1981. Mabel’s grandson, Steve (third generation), would return to Decorah after college at UNI and working in Cedar Falls, taking over the reigns with his wife, Connie, in 1999, just a couple of years before Mabel would pass away. These days, Mabel’s great grandson, and fourth-generation pizza purveyor, Collin (Jenny) White joins his dad, Steve, in helping to merge modern technology – like online ordering options – while keeping Mabe’s Pizza traditions – and family recipes – close to heart. From forging partnerships with local breweries, to supporting an endless number of community groups and projects, Mabe’s is a true main street (or Water Street, in this case!) pillar.

Join them in celebrating 70 years of square cut pizza and four generations of family-run-business this summer – and keep an eye out for monthly specials and celebrations.

You can find the audio version of this interview – and extra behindthe-scenes info –online as part of our “Rhymes With Decorah” Podcast series at

The Basics:

Steve (third generation) and Collin (fourth generation) White

Business: Mabe’s Pizza

Address: 110 East Water Street, Decorah, Iowa

Years in Business: 70!


1. Tell us about the “leap” moment.

In 1953, Mable started Mabel’s Lunch Room – she was 49.

2. What was your path into the family business?

Steve: Of course in high school I did work (in the business), but then I went down to UNI in Cedar Falls, and I knew I wanted

Summer 2023 /
to be in 68 104 W Water St, Decorah • 563-382-4432 Christian Books & Gifts • Bibles • Advent Candles • Cards 321 W Water St. Decorah, IA • 563-387-0191 • Serving you for more than 25 years Friendly, local faces 563-382-4646 | 804 SHORT ST, DECORAH, IA M-F 10-15 • Sat 10-4 • Sun 12-4 WE’VE MOVED!

the restaurant business. I got involved in managing some restaurants there and to see how I’d like it, and when I graduated in ’81, I came back and started working full time.

Collin: I had a pretty similar story, I worked through high school, and went to college at Iowa Central. I knew I wanted to be in the business – I got a degree in hospitality management. After the first year they voted me the manager for our second year students, graduated in 2013, came back and have been back working at Mabe’s since.

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

The second location was on West Water Street downtown (now the “Oneota Professional Building” across from Vesterheim) – which became Mabe’s second location, burned on December 31, 1968, during a kitchen remodel. Don (Mabel’s son) and Mabel bought out Grove’s pizza, who were located in the Hotel Winneshiek building at that time, and re-opened in the “new” location just under two months later. Meanwhile they sought out a piece of property just down the street that was empty, and in February of 1978, Mabe’s opened up at what is our current location.

Finding employees is also always a challenge – we always need employees. We’re at about 2/3 of what we were at before the pandemic – we have roughly 55 employees, but were at about 75 before the pandemic. Luckily we have some very loyal employees that have been with us for decades.

4. Any mentors/role models you look to/have looked to?

Steve: Well, I’d say the number one thing is we wouldn’t be where we are today without Grandma Mabel – at the age of 49 starting what she did. I know she liked to cook, and her friends just encouraged her to start her business – she had four big boys and had to cook for them as well.

Collin: Besides Great Grandma Mabel, I’d say I look up to my Dad –seeing what needs to be done, to be successful, the amount of work that needs to be done not only at the store, but outside too.

5. What’s something that has helped mange your business run well over the years?

Collin: The nice thing for us is that my mother, Connie, has been helping with the bookwork for years, so that’s been nice to have inhouse, willing answer phones and questions. We also upgraded to a cloud-based ordering and POS system right before the pandemic which really helped.

6. How do you manage your life/work balance?

Steve: Since the pandemic we’ve changed our hours where we’re only open about 80 hours a week (!). But that’s just the posted hours – Collin and I are often in by 7:30 or 8 each morning, and we open at 11. Hospitality is a lot of work.

Collin: You’re always on the job, but we have some great employees that we can rely on – our pizza starts with the dough –we make it fresh daily, and we’ve had a very loyal employee who’s been working for us for 42+ years.

Tom Clements Jr. has been the mastermind behind our dough –and creates some real magic there. That’s a great example of a loyal employee who helps keep things going.

Good support. My wife Jenny and I just had a daughter – Having a supportive partner and family makes it all work too – she’s very supportive of it, and it helps out a lot.

Steve: But at the end of the day as the owner – the business doesn’t take a break, so when something goes wrong, or someone doesn’t show up, we deal with it, you just deal with it.

7. What does it mean to be an independent business on a rural downtown main street in 2023?

Well, we try to be involved in our community – we want to be involved and help in ways we can – whether that’s sponsoring a Park Rec program, helping the Sunflower Daycare project, and other things –we do the best we can to support those things – as the \ Summer 2023
201 West Water St • Decorah, Iowa • 563-382-2626 • • Hours: Monday - Friday: 9am - 6pm • Saturday: 9am - 3pm
An old-school photo of Mabe’s employees, including loyal dough-maker Tom Clements Jr. / Photo courtesy Mabe’s Pizza



Summer 2023 / 70

Photos, oppsite page, clockwise from top left: Lesya Ryzhenkova with her boyfriend/partner, Michael Kolsrud, outside of their shared business “The Good Life Gallery and Frame Shop”; The first “Ukrainian Village” event; Lesya and her mother, Olga Kotina, in traditional Ukrainian clothing; Dumplings are featured at the Ukrainian Village Pop-Up Restaurant; Folks ordering food each week will be greeted by this logo on the order form. Below: Lesya with her handmade beaded picturesavailable at “The Good Life Gallery and Frame Shop”/ All photos courtesy Lesya Ryzhenkova

Lesya Ryzhenkova is Ukrainian. But, that is not all she is. She is a daughter, a sister, a mother, a partner, a friend. A business owner, an artist, and, most recently, an official US citizen. Her home, Lansing, Iowa, is a small Mississippi River town where Lesya is an active community member, running two businesses: The Good Life Gallery and Frame Shop and the Ukrainian Village Pop-Up Restaurant. Surrounded by custom artwork and a welcoming energy, Lesya pulls a tall stool up to the worktable at her Main Street Lansing shop, where she frames artwork for clients and creates her own handmade beaded pictures. A determined and hard-working woman, Lesya taught herself how to speak English by watching American TV and movies like Pretty Woman on repeat. She speaks about the life she left behind in Ukraine and the one she is building in the US.

Continued on next page \ Summer 2023 71


Lesya is one of five kids. Her sister, Natasha Ewing, has lived in the US since 2000, and after a visit in July 2007, Lesya decided to join her, moving to America with her daughter, Dasha, 2010. In 2021, Lesya officially got her American Citizenship, and in September 2021, they headed to Ukraine for a family reunion.

On the return trip to the US, Lesya’s mom, Olga Kotina, came along for a planned nine-monthvisit. But because the war had started, Olga could not go back. Luckily, Lesya and Natasha were able to sponsor and bring their two other sisters, Tanya Rohanova and Zina Maksymenko – along with a niece – to the US in August 2022 through United for Ukraine, an American government assistance program. Their brother, Victor Kotin, joined the army to fight the war in Ukraine.


“Last year, when the war started, my mom and I were here together in Iowa. We didn’t sleep for months. We were watching the news, wondering when this war would end – we cried and cried and cried,” Lesya reflects. “I said to my mom, ‘we have to do something, let’s raise money!’ Nobody in Ukraine was ready for war – no uniforms, no helmets, nothing!”

Lesya and her mom went to work, planning a fundraiser in Lansing to support people in Ukraine who were living through these difficult times.

“We cooked a meal and lots of people came to donate to Ukraine,” she says. “We raised, in four hours, $10,000 and another $10,000 within the next few months. We raised $20,000 from this little town and the surrounding areas!”

Proceeds from the fundraiser went to Myronivka, Lesya’s Ukrainian hometown. A small town 60 miles south of Kyiv, it is similar in size to Lansing or Waukon. Her family knows everybody there and knew exactly how the funds were going to be used: first aid kits, medicine, night vision goggles, army uniforms, soldiers’ recovery, a drone, an army car, and more.

Summer 2023 / 72 5 6 3 - 3 8 2 - 2 2 2 8 ∙ w w w . k e r n d t b r o t h e r s . c o m G A N K S G I V E A S H O T A T B U Y I N G A H O M E ! * S o m e r e s t r i c t i o n s a p p l y S e e a r e p r e s e n t a t i v e f o r d e t a i l s
Lesya with sisters - Natasha Ewing, Tanya Rohanova, & Zina Maksymenko. Opposite page: Lesya’s brother, Victor Kotina, who is serving in the Ukrainian Army. / Photos courtesy Lesya Ryzhenkova


This original fundraiser inspired the Ukrainian Village Pop-Up, a carry-out food service where residents and visitors of the Lansing area can order traditional Ukrainian food online weekly, then pick up their order on Sundays (see sidebar for ordering details). Their first pop-up was a soft opening to showcase the types of food they planned to offer, and featured lively cultural song and dance, along with moving speeches made by Lesya, her family, and other Ukrainian friends in the area. They did not ask for payment for any of the food and entertainment they provided on that day, but had a collection bowl where people could donate money to help those suffering in Ukraine.

“Any help is good,” Lesya continues.

“Because, lots of people lost their jobs, lots of people cannot find jobs, lots of people just fled their homes. Lots of people need lots of things. Everyone needs help in any way people can give it.”

The truth is, as we are all aware, war is not an easy topic to talk or write about. We hear about tragedies and families torn apart, but we don’t always know how to help.

“It is so hard, watching so much suffering and sadness,” Lesya says. “It is even sadder knowing that you can just be at home, asleep or drinking coffee or watching TV, and they can just bomb you! Nobody knows when and where to expect attacks.”

While it is incredibly important to stay updated on what is happening in Ukraine and across the world, Lesya and her family decided their pop-up should not only focus on helping people affected by this war, but also celebrate their home, their history, their food, and their culture. The goal is to use this tragedy as a way to share more about Ukraine, not just about the war.

“A lot of people just stop here to talk about Ukraine. Because of the Ukrainian food pop-up events and the Ukrainian flag in my frame shop window, I have met so many people interested in helping, as well as fellow Ukrainians from La Crosse, Postville, Viroqua… all over!” Lesya says. “For the first year it was so hard, they started to talk and I would start to cry. It was just a shock to everybody. It’s just a shock.”

All of the proceeds from food purchased at the Ukrainian Village Pop-Up go to Ukraine. You can also send money directly – they have opened an account at Lansing’s Kerndt Brothers Bank called, “Ukrainian Relief Fund,” and you can send checks there or to P.O. Box 323 in Lansing, Iowa. You can also come into Lesya’s shop to meet and talk to her – she welcomes it! Lesya enjoys talking about the two cultures.


“This life in America versus life in Ukraine, especially for women, there could be a whole article just dedicated to the differences! I can do what I want, I can get a driver’s license, I can get an education, I can get a job, I can own my own business,” Lesya says. “It honestly felt like my life just started when I came here to the USA.” \ Summer 2023
73 Helping people create charitable connections to the causes they love. Let us help inspire your generosity in your community. INSPIRED GENEROSITY Contact Roger Huinker Charitable Advisor 563-380-1500 cell Online farmers market all year long. Pick-up sites in Decorah, West Union, Postville, Calmar and Waukon. Home Health Nursing Personal Cares Public Health Services Committed TO YOU Vaccinations Smith Building, 305 Montgomery St. Ste. #3, Decorah, Iowa • 563-382-4662 Homemaking Services Happy Feet Clinic All profits are donated to Winneshiek County nonprofit organizations DONATE GIVING LOCAL IS WHAT WE DO! Depot Outlet A Thrift Store for All REUSE SHOP Mon-Fri 9 to 6 • Sat 9 to 3 or find us on Facebook 563-382-2700 • 510 Montgomery St, Decorah, IA Continued on next page

If things continue to go well with the pop-up, Lesya and her family would love to start a brick-andmortar restaurant in Lansing – the first Ukrainian restaurant within 100+ miles.

“Yes, being a restaurant owner means we will be busy all of the time,” Lesya continues. “But, we love to do this. I will not look back at this experience and regret not trying. We are the type of people that cannot be still, we always have to be doing something! That is how we live our life. We love to talk to people.”

Folks within the Lansing community have been nothing but supportive of this dream. In fact, one of the other local restaurant owners came to offer ideas, guidance, and help with anything they might need. Their friend, Maryann Baldwin, owner of Lansing Office Works and Lansing Kitchen Space, has allowed them to use the Kitchen Space to prepare their pop-up fare. Another friend, Andrew Boddicker, the new Executive Director of Main Street Lansing, helped get their order form created and posted online. The list of support is never-ending.

“I love this town. I love this community. I will never leave this place. I am so proud that we, as Ukrainians, can show you who we are, what we eat, how we celebrate, how we dance, how we sing… who WE are. I want to show more. Show the JOY!” Lesya exclaims. “When you come in to dine at our future restaurant, we hope people will walk in and be transported to Ukraine for an hour or two. Our music, our dances, our food… the whole experience!”

Lynsey is a Decorah, Iowa, native who now lives on an acreage overlooking the Mississippi River in Southwest Wisconsin with her husband and their dog. She enjoys exploring the Driftless area, learning new skills, traveling as much as possible, and eating all of the delicious food!


All proceeds from food purchased at the Ukrainian Village Pop-Up go to the Ukrainian Relief Fun. Ordering and enjoying the food from Ukrainian Village, is as easy as 1-2-3!

1. Place order before midnight on Friday – scan this QR code with your phone camera, or search “Ukrainian Village in Lansing” on Facebook for an easy link to their jotform ordering page.

2. Choose a pick up time for Sunday (between 11am - 2pm)

3. Head to Lansing Kitchen Works, 274 Main Street, Lansing Iowa, to pick up your food at your chosen time on Sunday! And enjoy!

Notes: • Didn’t put in an order before Friday at Midnight? You could chance it – they always make a little extra food that people can pick up the day-of (but do try to order ahead). “We cannot make everything and do not want to make too much extra, because we do not want to be wasteful and throw any food away. Do you know how many people in Ukraine, and all over the world, are going hungry?!”

• They are also open to select special orders + events. “We have had some special orders,” Lesya says. “One family wants us to come to their house to cook for them, or for big orders that people might like on other days [other than Sunday] we are open to coordinating that! Call me directly.” 563-794-0813

Looking to support the fundraising effort to help Ukraine, but can’t order food through the pop-up? Any help is welcome – you can send checks written to:

“Ukrainian Relief Fund”

P.O. Box 323

Lansing, IA 52101

Or send it directly to Kerndt Brothers Bank, where the account is hosted:

“Ukrainian Relief Fund”

Kerndt Brothers Bank

370 Main St

Lansing, IA 52151

Summer 2023 / 74 People you can trust. People you can trust. Quality you can Quality you can depend on depend on Est 1961 M o n d a y : 9 a m - 6 p m T u e s - F r i : 9 a m - 5 p m S a t u r d a y : 9 a m - 1 p m 3 g o l d s m i t h s 2 g r a d u a t e g e m o l o g i s t s 1 w a t c h m a k e r 3 d i a m o n d s e t t e r s 5 6 3 - 5 6 8 - 3 6 6 1 e l l i o t t j e w e l e r s . c o m 3 1 W e s t M a i n S t r e e t W a u k o n , I A
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Summer 2023 / 76
KELLI BOYLEN • PHOTOS BY SCOTT BOYLEN The Yellow River State Forest in Northeast Iowa offers plenty of gorgeous vistas for folks visiting the 8,990-acre forest. / Photo by Scott Boylen

Wonder is often seen as the stuff of childhood. But setting a goal to live life with intentional wonder can be magic – for kids and adults alike. Wonders abound at Allamakee County’s 8,990-acre Yellow River State Forest!

By the numbers, Yellow River State Forest (YRSF) is about 30 miles from Decorah, 50 from La Crosse and 20 from Prairie du Chien. There are 48 miles of trails, including trails for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, horse riding, and snowmobiling. There are 101 regular campsites, 32 equestrian campsites and five backpack areas with 21 secluded sites as well as a rustic cabin available by reservation. YRSF has more than eight miles of trout stream access, public hunting, one-of-a-kind ecosystems, and is a Globally Significant Bird Conservation Area.

And it’s a place full of magic and mystery.

Next time (or the first time) you take a hike there, challenge yourself to look at the forest with fresh eyes. Look at things up close and far away (heck, bring a magnifying glass and binoculars!).

Study the pattern the lichens make on the rocks. Did you notice the many shades of green? How many species of trees can you see? How many colors of wildflowers? How many shades of blue is the sky from the horizon to the zenith overhead?

Find a good rock or log to sit on for a few minutes. After considering what lives in and near that rock or log, close your eyes for a couple of minutes. Take a few deep, slow breaths… and listen. How many different birds do you hear? Does the wind sound different as it passes through deciduous trees, evergreens, or prairies?

The number of things to wonder about is endless!

If you are feeling really adventurous and curious, think about the whys to all of your questions! Now that you are all tuned into the natural world around you, let’s investigate some mysteries at Yellow River State Forest! \ Summer 2023 77
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Why is there a fire tower in Iowa?

Iowa’s only fire tower was erected in 1963. The tower – 99 feet and 9 inches tall – is located on top of a woodland knoll in YRSF, at an elevation of 1,047 feet. Although fire towers were once common across the United States, this tower was never actually used for fire detection. It was given to the state forest by the National Forest Service. The tower is now a symbol of fire protection in a bygone era. It is unsafe to climb and is locked to even DNR staff, but you can drive up to the base and see this unique treasure reaching to the sky.

Friends of Yellow River State Forest worked earnestly on getting the fire tower designated on the National Register of Historic Places – a goal accomplished in 2021– and hope to someday restore the fire tower, though no plans are currently in motion.

Bigfoot, bobcats and bears? Oh my!

There are stories that Bigfoot lives in these forested hills. In 2017, the Animal Planet series “Finding Bigfoot” filmed an episode at YRSF. Although no photographs, remains, or other evidence of such a creature has been found, you never know what you will find at YRSF…

Like bobcats! These threefoot-long wild cats have a short “bobbed” tail, and weigh 20 to 30 pounds, according to the Iowa DNR. They typically live three to five years, and mostly eat rabbits, mice, voles, and squirrels. They live secretive lives at YRSF, as they are very shy animals and it’s rare to catch a glimpse of one.

There are occasionally black bears that pass through the area as well – one was struck on Highway 76 near State Forest Road several years ago, but the Iowa DNR says there is not a breeding population of black bears.

If you see a bobcat, count yourself lucky! If you see a black bear (or Bigfoot!) note your location and the time, and let the DNR know!

Someone told me that there are cacti in YRSF… that can’t be real!

The Paint Rock Unit of YRSF contains one of Iowa’s most unique ecosystems – goat prairies – and small cacti certainly can live there. Also known as dry prairies or hill prairies, this special place sometimes occurs on southwest-facing bluff sides with minimal topsoil. Many uncommon plants can grow there, including pasque and blazing star flowers and even very small prickly pear cacti. Look carefully and watch where you step – not only to protect the plants but because rattlesnakes also live in goat prairies!

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I came upon an area where the trees were recently all cut down! I thought clear-cutting was something that should be avoided at all costs. Is my mystery tour turning into a nightmare?

Clear cutting – done correctly – can be a useful forestry management tool. According to Cody Barloon, a Forestry Technician at Yellow River, the reason trees in a carefully selected area in YRSF were recently cut is to regenerate Big Tooth Aspen (Populus grandidentata). Cody says the population of aspen trees in Iowa has been declining, and they are hoping to use the old adage of “cut down one aspen and a thousand will grow.” Aspens face a lot of competition from other trees, so when they’re trying to re-establish themselves, it’s useful to remove all the other species in a small area. Aspens reproduce rapidly from root suckers, forming dense stands when cut or harvested. Often what appears to be a large group of individual trees are root sprouts from a single seedling or tree.

Aspens live for about 50 years and can be used by more than 500 species of animals and plants for habitat, and the seed, buds, and catkins (the flowering spike) are utilized by many birds, including quail and grouse, according to Iowa State University Extension.

I found a tree that looks like someone grated off the bark, what in the world is going on?

According to YRSF Forester staff, that is called “flecking.” It is a common sign that the tree is fully infested with a very nasty bug called the emerald ash borer. When an ash tree gets enough emerald ash borer larvae in it, woodpeckers figure this out and then fleck off the bark to get at the yummy larvae underneath. This is a very bad omen for the ash tree as it is pretty much doomed by the time it gets to this point.

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DECORAH, IOWA 563-382-8406
Yellow River State Forest photos by Scott Boylen

Emerald ash borers cannot travel far on their own, but they have spread throughout the United States by hitchhiking when humans move wood. They are one of the main reasons you should never transport firewood – buy it and burn it where you are camping. Magic, wonder and enchantment are all around us, we just need to take the time to look, listen and feel!

Kelli Boylen is a freelance writer and a licensed massage therapist who is lucky to live next to Yellow River State Forest. She dislikes writing about herself in third person.

Scott Boylen is a freelance nature photographer and a sixth grade science teacher in Decorah. He enjoys fat tire biking and hanging out with his beagle.


Friends of Yellow River State Forest was established in 2018 to be a voice for Yellow River State Forest. The mission is to enhance Yellow River State Forest for public use while protecting the integrity of the flora, fauna, soil, and water.

Friends of Yellow River State Forest, a 501(c)3 non-profit, is made up of dedicated volunteers and board members. They have invested hundreds of hours protecting and preserving

treasured natural resources, raising funds, and making improvements to YRSF. They assist and support the DNR’s mission, operations, and programs at YRSF. They have raised and reinvested more than $100,000 into Yellow River State Forest. New members, volunteers, and donations are always welcome.

Their accomplishments include:

• Streambank improvement projects

• Contributed toward the seeding of 120 acres of native prairie in Yellow River State Forest

• Built observation/ photo blind in the wetland area on Donahue Road

• Purchased more than $4,500 worth of trees for campgrounds, helped to plant 100+ additional trees

• Ice and firewood sales to campers

• Purchased 20 picnic tables and helped assemble another 30 tables

• Purchased and replaced all horse-hitching posts

• Fire rings for backpack camping areas

• 20,000+ new YRSF maps

• Gravel and excavator work for trail repair, improvement, and maintenance

• Programming for visitors and community members including outdoor cooking, youth scavenger hunts, shooting star watch party, fly fishing, bird ID, fly tying, snowshoe hikes, annual Mother’s Day 5k, 10k, and half marathon trail run, and lots more. Events are posted on Facebook and on www. Have an idea for programming? Let them know!

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Margaret Grund (Kopel) is a woman who has worn many hats throughout her life: mother, wife, daughter, sister, grandmother, greatgrandmother, nurse, teacher, entrepreneur, and friend. Her family and friends say she is a selfless, kind, and resourceful woman.

Margaret was born in 1939 to Joseph and Theodora. She and her 11 siblings grew up on the family farm in Olivia, Minnesota. Her mischievous spirit and spunky nature often got on her siblings’ nerves. Seeing this energy, her mother developed Margaret’s creativity toward sewing. It was a talent and skill she would use and enjoy for a lifetime. Living among a large family on a 1940s farm had its share of limited luxuries. Margaret recalls her mother using animal feed sacks as fabric for dresses.

After Margaret graduated from Danube High School, she attended practical nursing school in Minneapolis. In 1959 she married Roger Grund and together the couple raised four children, first in Olivia, Minnesota, briefly in Glencoe, and lastly in Winona in 1972.

Margaret has a servant heart. While getting settled in Winona, she worked tirelessly during the day at the family-owned laundry mat and as an overnight nurse caring for geriatric patients at St. Anne’s nursing home. She has touched many lives over many decades.

Along with sewing, knitting, and crocheting, Margaret found time to learn a new hobby to feed her creativity: basket weaving. After taking one class at a local school, she was hooked. She loves making different sizes and varieties for kitchen, bedroom, and bath, using fibers that she dyed, stained, painted, or left natural. She proudly adds her signature and date of completion to the bottom of each basket. Making a basket is a joy, but teaching others the skill gives Margaret even greater satisfaction. The basement of their home is stocked with many fibers and weaving products, with a workshop section of tables and chairs that was often set and ready for students eager to learn. Her grandkids recall many times visiting Margaret and Roger where the street was lined with strange cars and they were greeted to a full basement of adult students. In the early 1990s, Margaret worked to share her talents and build the weaving community on a much larger scale by hosting a multi-day weaving workshop retreat for students and teachers. The retreat attracted basket weavers from the Driftless Region and across the country. The retreat flourished under her leadership and continues today under the capable hands of a beloved student. Through these many hats, Margaret shares a common thread: her kindness, humility, and creativity. All these qualities are proof of the key to a life well lived.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?

The best advice I have been given is to wake up with a smile and carry it through the day, with you to share with others.

What did you want to be when you grew up? When I was younger there were not many working opportunities for women. It was either teaching or nursing. I knew teaching was not for me, so nursing was the best fit.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you want with you? Handiwork, a good book, and ice cream

Try to describe yourself in one sentence. I am a woman who gets up in the morning with the goal to serve another person in some positive way, and at the end of a full day, to get a good night’s sleep.

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

Name one thing you could not live without. My family. I am fortunate to have a close-knit and connected family who care for each other. We are all willing to lend a hand and support each other. I feel genuine love in the room when I am with my family.

Tell us about…your favorite memory. My favorite memory was listening to my heart and moving our family to beautiful Winona. Neither Roger or I had ever visited southeastern Minnesota. We both grew up living amongst the flatter farm and cornfields of Renville County. I will forever remember walking around Lake Winona on a crisp autumn day and watching the colorful changing leaves in the bluffs. I’ve been blessed to see the bluffs from the kitchen window of our house for many decades.

Tell us how you’d like to be remembered. I would like to be remembered as someone who thought of others before herself. My mother told us on a nightly basis to use your life to make others’ lives better. I’d like people to also remember me as a happy person and someone who accepted people and things as they are without trying to change them.

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Valley Suites Rehabilitation Margaret Grund PROBITUARY – A NOTICE OF LIFE! Interviewed by granddaughter, Hannah & daughter, Amy
Margaret Grund in her Winona, MN, living room.

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Dorchester, IA Jeff Abbas

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Summer Fun in Lanesboro

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What We’re Loving right now

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Driftless Area Art Festival 2023

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What We’re Loving right now

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SUMMER 2023 contents

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Decorah Public Library and Inspire(d) are here to keep you

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FUN!You are

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Dorchester, IA Jeff Abbas

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Summer Fun in Lanesboro

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COMMUNITY BUILDERS Colleen Foehrenbacher

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What We’re Loving right now

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What We’re Loving right now

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Driftless Area Art Festival 2023

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What We’re Loving right now

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What We’re Loving right now

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