Posts Categorized: News

Betty (Thomson) Piggott

Interviewed by granddaughter Aryn Henning Nichols (August/September 2009)
(Photo taken on her wedding day.)

Betty (Thomson) Piggott, 90 years old on August 5, has always been the real matriarch of our extended family. Heading over to her house on Sundays, we would be greeted by a table all set and a meal – usually some kind of meat and potatoes – ready to go. Feisty and fun, we played board and card games when I was a little girl. She could often beat me in Chinese checkers, but the game Concentration – I had that in the bag. And she makes the best apple pie in the world.

1. What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Be good and do what you started out to do.

2. Worst advice?

Oh, I don’t know. I was lucky enough to not get any bad advice, I guess!

3. What did you want to be when you grew up?

My dad wanted me to be a nurse, but I instead did housework.

4. What did/do you do?

I went on to be an office assistant, which is what I was doing when I met Curtis. I did pretty much everything in that office. I had to take care of a lot of things. Then I became a housewife and mother.

5. If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you want with you?

A man, sweets, and… TV, I suppose.

 6. If you could eat anything every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Any kind of sweets. (Aryn’s note: Grandma requested a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting for her birthday. Must  be hereditary: it’s my favorite too. I was happy to bake her one because I got to eat some too!)

7. Name one thing you could not live without.

I don’t think there’s anything I couldn’t live without.

8. Tell us about: your wedding day.

It was very short at the Catholic Church. The only people there were Jim and Bernie Hoolihan. We went and picked up Curtis’s folks after and went out to eat in Decorah – I don’t remember where. It was nice that morning, but by night it was snowing so hard we could barely see the road. We went to La Crosse and stopped at Curtis’s cousins on the way, but they all had the measles! They were surprised to see us, but we celebrated. Then they had to take us to our hotel because we had a flat tire. We went to Minneapolis the next day and got another flat tire, but we made it. And we didn’t get the measles.

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Phyllis (Johnson) Leseth

Interviewed by Benji Nichols

(Benji’s note: It is impossible in one page to summarize the incredible depth of knowledge and love that Phyllis Leseth has for Decorah and the surrounding area. In a short two-hour chat with her, it became apparent that Phyllis should really be the subject of a book, not a single page, but we’ll do our best to represent her amazing accomplishments here!)

“My Mother always said I was one of the first babies born at the old hospital,” says Phyllis Leseth from the heart of her historic home on Rural Avenue in Decorah. Speaking with her, it is apparent that this charming woman has more stories than one can imagine. At 92, Phyllis speaks eloquently about her experiences being among the first group of women to attend Luther College (class of ’39) – where she earned a degree in English and History – and of being one of the first females to work on the Luther Newspaper & News Bureau. Through a fascinating life of teaching, writing (including a stint at the CR Gazette!), volunteering, and raising a family – it’s the history that she has thrived on throughout the decades. It is also timely to note that Phyllis was a part of the very first organizing committee for Nordic Fest in Decorah in 1966. At that time project leaders from the local J.C.’s including Jerry Aulwes, Mike Dahly, Harry Olson, Darrell Pierce and Gary Svenson enlisted the help of Vesterheim Director Marion Nelson and Phyllis Leseth to help launch the first annual Nordic Fest – which has since brought over 1.5 million visitors to Decorah over 43 years.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
My Father was the youngest in a large family, and was a very self-made man. He had great respect for education and was the only one in his family to go to High School. He always had the feeling that you were only as good as your word. “Remember to always tell the truth, and if you ever promise to do something – do it.”

What did you want to be when you grew up?
Growing up on Washington Street in Decorah we had a great bunch of neighbors and friends, and the schools and teachers were wonderful. I was lucky enough to attend Luther as one of the first female students – and with my interests in writing and history I think teaching seemed natural. I did teach for a short time in Western Iowa before I was married, and then went on to write for the Gazette amongst other things. (Phyllis also spent a short time working at Quaker Oats in Cedar Rapids during The War.)

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you want with you?
Oh I would want a stack of books as I read all the time, and a GOOD pair of shoes. And I suppose I do love a good cake – nothing better!

Tell us about…
Your wedding day:

Hubert and I were married at Decorah Lutheran Church – the old church. All of our high school gang was there and I had five of my good friends as bridesmaids. I remember my dad walking me down the isle and stopping to ask me, “Are you sure you want to go through with this?” He was joking of course – he had a wonderful sense of humor. Hubert worked for A&P in Decorah for many years and then went to the main offices in Des Moines and eventually we moved back to Decorah and he managed the office at Peter Johnson & Sons.

Your favorite memory:
I have so many wonderful memories of my life here in Decorah and beyond. I feel so blessed to have had such great parents  – they set very high standards for us. My mother was a graduate of the Northwestern School of Music and taught before she was married. She sang at many occasions around the area through her life. I give my parents a lot of credit for making education so important in our lives. I went to Luther as one of the first Women to do so, and during depression times, so it really is something else. My family, of course, has just been wonderful and both my daughters became teachers and are in Decorah. (Cam Ford, and Adrianne Coffeen.) I have also enjoyed volunteering at the Vesterheim Museum for many years – History is really my thing, and it has been for years –and it still is!

Black & White: Phyllis Leseth with Marion Nelson (past Vesterheim Museum Director) and the Leseth’s Rosemaled ’56 Chevy. Laura Hoeg painted the original design and updated the date annually.

Color: Phyllis Leseth at home, Spring, 2009

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Miles of Trekking at Lake Meyer

By Lauren Kraus

Hello, Summer! As each day begins and every heavy rain passes, the trees and vegetation bring a bright green glow to Northeast Iowa. That fresh glow has been buried in snow for too long and now is the time to get out and play. The late sunsets, colorful flowers, and green leaves are intoxicating – you just can’t help but feel happy in the presence of summer! For me, this constant beckoning to be outside means tromping around in the woods and exploring area trails. I am excited to keep surveying the region’s greatness and continue the trail series featured in Inspire(d) last spring, summer, and fall. We checked out some pretty prime spots, and if you need a refresher, see the complete series of trails articles in the main “read” section. Whatever your mode – hike, bike, run, or walk – make sure you take advantage of the fantastic natural setting that is the Driftless region.

Know of Lake Meyer? No, no, not to be mistaken with Michael Myers, the fictional character from the “Halloween” slasher series. Winneshiek’s Meyer is much better and not scary. (Although, summer is definitely a great time to stay up late and watch horror movies or tell ghost stories.) Lake Meyer is a hidden gem that sits on 33 acres of rolling, rugged woodlands nestled just three miles southwest of Calmar off Highway 24. It’s not the land of 10,000 lakes here in Iowa, so a body of water surrounded with great hiking trails like Lake Meyer is unique and not to be missed. Home of the Winneshiek County Conservation Board, Lake Meyer Park not only has beautiful trails with a few rustic bridges (including a hidden draw bridge) to enjoy, but boasts a campground and nature center that is open for outdoor education and regular events such as the Women’s Canoe Workshop that happened this June.

In the mood for bluegill, largemouth bass, or channel catfish? Lake Meyer also has great fishing. So get out the picnic basket, pull out those fishing poles and brush off the old Eureka tent, ‘cause Lake Meyer Park has it all. For more information and specific event dates, check out

Itching for a new trail to check out or need a reminder of the sweet, sweet tromping grounds in Decorah? You asked for it. The folks of Decorah Human Powered Trails (DHPT) as well as several volunteers kept their momentum going – even after the flood damage last June – to build virtually one mile of new trail in the Dunnings Spring Park above Ice Cave Road. Deke Gosen of Decorah’s Oneota River Cycles expressed his excitement about the success in making this new trail a great loop with little elevation differential and a better entrance off Ice Cave Road. This is open to all types of bikers, runners, and hikers with varied skill level. To access this new trail, called “Mother’s Day,” head east on Ice Cave Road and keep a lookout for a trailhead on the north side (your left) of the road. You will notice a small, brown Decorah Parks and Rec. sign with a little hiker on it well after the entrance to Dunning’s Spring but before the Ice Cave. This is the older trail. Keep going about 100 yards and look for another trailhead. It is clearly tracked out, but not marked with a sign. Note the most recent, updated map included for a visual. Head up and enjoy the lush, thick forest!

If you love the trails in Decorah and are looking for opportunity to have a little organized fun on them, the DHPT hosts a variety of events each summer, competitive and non-competitive.

For information, dates, and contacts check out Get outside! Summer is in full swing and now is the time to take advantage of the awesome landscape of Winneshiek County. Soak in that sun and fresh air and check back in August for more fantastic locales to explore.

Lauren Kraus loves sleeping under the stars, enjoys eating food cooked over a fire in the woods and gets antsy when inside for an extended period of time. Does this surprise you? Unfortunately, she did not find one morel mushroom this season. She has a lot to learn.

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