4 minute read

Mike and Jaydene Laros and Fondulac

I saw the land and saw an opportunity to have a change from being a suburbanite to something a little more down to earth.

           —Mike Laros                                            photo by Bob Gustin

~by Bob Gustin

Mike Laros says it was an “ah-ha” moment which led him and wife Jaydene to move to Brown County in 1995.

They were living in the Chicago suburb of Barrington, Illinois, wanting to stay close to Jaydene’s family in the Peoria area when Mike—who doesn’t like cold weather—realized they could move south of Peoria within a 200 mile radius and still accomplish their geographic goals.

Though they had spent little time in Indiana, they found a listing for a guest cabin and decided to check it out. They rented a cabin for a weekend in early May and arrived on a rainy Saturday. But the next morning the sun came out and it was a beautiful Brown County day. Sitting outside to enjoy the weather, they discovered the whole place was for sale. A half-hour later, they owned it.

They set to work turning it into Fondulac Farm, a meticulously groomed setting for their home and two guest rental cabins with three stocked fishing ponds, a fire pit for marshmallow roasts or barbecues, and modern conveniences including fiber-based wireless internet and streaming television.

In addition to working on the real estate, the couple became heavily involved in the civic life of Brown County. Mike says it was a copier repairman who suggested they check out the local Rotary Club, where they met lots of people with no ulterior motives.

photo by Cindy Steele

“One thing leads to another,” Jaydene said, and she became involved in the Brown County Community Foundation board, Mother’s Cupboard, a church in Bloomington, and other activities. “When I see a need, I try to step in and help out.”

She also served as interim director of the Foundation.

Mike also joined the Community Foundation board, and has been active in Rotary, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Developmental Services in Columbus, Indiana Heritage Arts, the Taste of Art auction, and other organizations.

He was active in the first attempt to get highspeed internet in Brown County.

“I knew it would be important for growth and to build the tax base,” he said, as well as helping local schools. He credits Scott Rudd with the work in pulling together a task force and getting commitments from local electrical cooperatives to build and improve the network. And he mentions Del Newkirk as an inspiring figure who sets an example of community involvement and philanthropy.

Mike and Jaydene met on a blind date set up by college roommates in Chicago and were married in 1971.

Jaydene’s background is in nursing, an interest sparked by work as a “candy stripe” volunteer. She was raised in the Peoria area, attended Valparaiso University, and switched to the University of Illinois at the Medical Center in Chicago. She worked at the burn unit at Cook County Hospital, got her master’s degree in 1975, worked in staff development at a California hospital, taught nursing at Bradley University in Peoria, and was a nurse practitioner.

“She came home with blood on her outfit,” Mike said of Jaydene’s work in Chicago. “She was doing something much more meaningful than I was. I was doing something to make a living.”

Both decided to leave their jobs and careers in Chicago and do something different in a different part of the country. They applied to graduate schools in California and Jaydene got a master’s degree in nursing at San Francisco University while Mike studied at the University of California in Berkeley, getting a master’s in business administration. They later moved back to the Chicago area.

Mike grew up in the Bridgeport, Connecticut, area and graduated in 1969 from Clarkson College in New York, studying chemical engineering. He took a job with the heating and air conditioning manufacturer Trane, which took him to Chicago. Later, he worked as an engineering and construction consultant, specializing in utility projects, including oil pipelines and power plants, and started his own consulting business before retiring in 2011.

Mike and Jaydene have two adopted children, Sarah and Christopher, and three grandchildren.

A bonus for the Brown County property was that Christopher loves to fish, and Sarah likes horses. Ponds and stables provide plenty of opportunities for both. The property now offers one long-term rental cabin and one short-term rental.

Fondulac Farm includes seven buildings, but the Laros home is a remodeled 1860s cabin with added wings. Improvements to the house, cabins and outbuildings include new roofs, plumbing, electrical systems and more. “I saw the land and saw an opportunity to have a change from being a suburbanite to something a little more down to earth,” Mike said.

They like Brown County for its slower pace, and praise the opportunities presented by the local school system.

“We don’t suffer from lack of anything you can get in a bigger city in terms of resources,” Mike said.

As for the future of Brown County, “I hope it stays a lot like it is, rural in nature,” Mike said. “I hope we have a diverse population and the schools remain strong. I hope the internet opens the door for more millennials to be able to live here.”