community builders

Terri Wolfgram

Terri Wolfgram
Paperback Rider’s Terri Wolfgram with her mobile Little Free Library. / Photo courtesy Terri Wolfgram

One of the easiest ways to travel to a new place this summer is by cracking a new – or new-to-you – book. Little Free Libraries make it even easier, providing donated books free of charge. These treasure chests of information are a common sight in the Driftless – it’s not unheard of to stumble across several within one small community. But in La Crosse, Wisconsin, the library comes to you. 

“I remember seeing Little Free Libraries around Red Wing, Minnesota, and thinking it was a cool idea,” says Terri Wolfgram, who lived in Red Wing, before moving to La Crosse in 2007. Inspired by Portland, Oregon’s Street Books, a mobile lending library that delivers books to people living on the streets via a Haley Tricycle – a large tricycle that is built to transport hundreds of pounds of cargo within a sturdy, lidded, lockable box – Terri decided to take the idea on the road, creating Paperback Rider, a mobile Little Free Library.

In 2018, Terri headed out with a large basket for her own regular bike, some books from her house, and a Little Free Library mobile charter number. She set up in Riverside Park in downtown La Crosse on April 12, and continued to pedal to local parks throughout that year, keeping track of how many books she gave out along the way. By the end of 2018, it was a total of 485 books. 

Terri Wolfgram's first mobile Little Free Library
On the first day out with Paperback Rider, Terri Wolfgram stocked her regular bike with books from her own house. / Photo courtesy Terri Wolfgram

“I live in a neighborhood where a lot of people struggle,” says Terri. “When kids get books from me, I let them know that they can keep it, give it to a friend, or leave it in any Little Free Library.” 

Terri began stocking up on books at yard sales and places like the clearance shelf at Goodwill. Then Mario Youakim from Beer By Bike Brigade (a group that started out organizing once-a-month summer bar hops on bikes in La Crosse and grew to host and support a variety of events and fundraisers for the community) shared Terri’s efforts on social media and the large book donations started rolling in from both individuals and businesses and organizations. 

“Eddy at Driftless Books in Viroqua, Wisconsin, gives me children’s books whenever I visit. Beth from Pearl Street Books in La Crosse has books for me whenever I ask, and Rick and Zoe at Fair Trade Books in Red Wing, Minnesota, have given me books, as well,” says Terri. 

For the 2nd version of Paperback Rider, Terri’s husband built a box for a trailer to display books. / Photo courtesy Terri Wolfgram

She soon realized that her operation needed a larger carrying capacity. Terri purchased a trailer and her husband built a box that could be opened for display, but the resulting rig was a bit cumbersome and tended to tip. After completing the debut season of Paperback Rider in November of 2018, Terri started a GoFundMe to raise money for the ultimate dream: A custom Haley Tricycle book bike.

That dream came true in May of 2019 when the current Paperback Rider book bike arrived. That year Terri gave away 980 books while pedaling through La Crosse. 

Although Paperback Rider offers books of all reading levels to people of all ages, Terri says she definitely goes through children’s books the quickest.

Early on in the Paperback Rider journey, Terri had one of her favorite experiences to-date at Poage Park, which is the closest park to Terri’s home.

“As I got there, there were several kids in the street, some with bikes. The oldest was maybe 13. They were talking about someone and swearing. I set up and they moved on,” she explains.“Then two of the younger ones came over to see what I was selling. I told them I had free books and asked if they would each like one…

Eventually, they each took a book and went over to the steps on the play equipment. Soon, I could hear the younger one reading No, David! by David Shannon, out loud to his friend.”

Then 2020 and COVID put a hold on Paperback Rider, as it did with most things. 

“I only went out once in 2020 to a friend’s yard where the neighboring daycare lady came over with two kids at a time,” explains Terri. “I gave out 14 books.”

But on May 22, 2021, Terri was two weeks past her second COVID vaccination and ready to take the bike back out to Poage Park and beyond. Later that same summer, she decided to take her regular bike to Houska Park every Tuesday to offer books to the homeless community there (a tradition she now continues). At the end of 2021, Terri had given out a total of 771 books.

Terri’s current Paperback Rider set-up with her custom Haley Tricycle book bike. / Photo courtesy Terri Wolfgram

Building community through books and reading is something that comes naturally to Terri, as her own mother was a voracious reader who passed that on to her daughter.

 “She grew up during the Great Depression and wasn’t able to finish high school. She also didn’t get to travel until her later years, but she knew so much about so many things/places because she was a reader,” explains Terri. “Even though money was tight, there were always newspapers, magazines, and books in our house. I also visited the library regularly.”

For Terri reading is also a way to honor the memory of her father, who passed away from multiple sclerosis when she was in kindergarten – the same year she learned to read. 

“In elementary school, the MS Read-a-Thon was a thing,” she says. “I looked forward to that every year, because I could raise money doing something I loved AND help fight the disease that took my dad.”   

Terri tries to have Paperback Rider in action each year from April to October, with a set weekly schedule and regular spots, although the weather doesn’t always cooperate. Up-to-date information is posted on the Paperback Rider website: www.paperbackrider.org and social media pages. 

Terri Wolfgram's work shoes
Terri’s “business shoes” help her Pedal Literacy in style. Do you want to Help Pedal Literacy as well? Contribute funds or learn about volunteering or donating books at paperbackrider.org / Photo courtesy Terri Wolfgram

Earlier in 2022, Paperback Rider officially became a non-profit organization – a process that began in early 2021. 

“There was a lot of paperwork and I had to assemble a board,” explains Terri. “I’m hoping to get one ore two more volunteer board members at some point. We started meeting virtually even before the non-profit status was granted, just to toss ideas around.”

 The non-profit status streamlines the fundraising process. Contributions to support Paperback Rider can be made on their website, where Paperback Rider shirts and hoodies can also be purchased. Terri acquired a canopy tent and tables so Paperback Rider can take books to events that are outside the riding area, and she has big dreams for the future of the non-profit. 

“I have some other ideas that I’m working on,” adds Terri, “including getting each third grader at my neighborhood school a new book. Eventually, I’d love to give a new book to every third grader in La Crosse each year.” 

Through Paperback Rider, Terri has found a way to combine her love of books, bikes, and kids, all while giving back to the people in her community, especially the kids. Terri has seen firsthand how reading at a young age can open up a whole new world, and foster lifelong friendships. Back in Paperback Rider’s first year, Terri met three boys at Poage Park who would all take books each time she saw them. One child in particular, “Z,” often chatted with Terri while she was at the park. Z is now 15, and he and Terri still keep in touch. 

“One day, Z and I were sitting on the picnic table when a girl came over. She asked what I was selling and I explained that I had free books. She looked for a bit, then looked at Z and asked, ‘Is she your mom?’ Z said, ‘No.’ The girl asked, ‘Well, who is she?!’ Z looked at me, paused, looked at her and said, ‘She’s my friend.’”

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 www.wordsbyreese.com.

Stephanie Fromm

Decorah native Stephanie Fromm talks fast and works faster. On meeting her, you might think the Winneshiek County Tourism and Economic Development Director has been in that role since birth. 

Stephanie Fromm poses on Water Street in Downtown Decorah. / Photo courtesy Stephanie Fromm

And, in a way, she has: the Luther College business major moved back to the community in 2015 to accept the position shortly after she and her husband, Decorah (native) social studies teacher and coach Zach Fromm, had their firstborn, Wally. Since then, they grew their family by two more kiddos (Marcie and Piper), all while nurturing their own collection of businesses: “Twin Springs Lodge” near Decorah; “Marcie’s Cabin” near Warrens, Wisconsin; and lately, “Piper’s Skoolie,” a bus they renovated as a tiny home and rent as Airbnb accommodations along the Upper Iowa River

“When we bought the bus, my mom just shook her head,” Stephanie says with a laugh. “She said, ‘Well, I don’t know what you’re going to do with it, but it always seems to work out, so…’” 

Her mom, Brenda, is referring to Stephanie’s personal way with redirection, a necessary mindset for an entrepreneur and community advocate facing the challenges that come with innovation. It has something to do with not quite admitting one is wrong, Stephanie explains with a grin. Instead, it’s about reframing to think, “But what if we do it this way?” she explains, illustrating with her hands the concept of pivoting a problem to allow a slightly different approach. Zach, who is equally as focused and intentional about business development, chides her about this determination. “I get it all the time,” she says, “especially in the example we’re trying to set for our kids about saying you’re sorry, but specifically, when you might be wrong.” “‘So…are you going to say it?’ he will pester. ‘Are you?’”

It’s the kids that led Stephanie to her current role in the building of Sunflower Child Development and Discovery Center in Decorah, a $9M project to relocate and expand the current Sunflower childcare center. The project has raised $6.5M to date in grants and local donations or pledges and is chasing its final $2M in commitments as of spring 2022. 


Stephanie, her husband, Zach, and the whole Fromm family enjoy canoeing on the Upper Iowa River.
/ Photo courtesy Stephanie Fromm

The Fromms got on the waiting list at the current Sunflower childcare facility – Decorah’s largest (120 children) and one of the few to provide infant care – when Wally was three months old, and finally got a spot a year and a half later. This experience is common, Stephanie explains, adding that they had to talk a family friend into providing Wally’s care until the space at Sunflower opened up. Today the waitlist tops 140 children.

“Simply put, childcare, along with housing, determines whether working families can move to Northeast Iowa,” Stephanie explains. Without it, employers can’t attract desired employees, throttling both the goods and services produced here, and the businesses and services those residents support. By the time she joined the Sunflower board in 2018, the situation had reached crisis proportions internally, too: they couldn’t keep staff from turning over for lack of living wages, benefits, and opportunities for advancement. Then, to make matters worse, COVID hit, redoubling the logistical (and literal) touchpoints of caring for young children.

“That’s when I realized, this is not a childcare problem: this is a community problem,” Stephanie says. And over the past two years, she and a diverse army of advocates, co-led by interim Sunflower director Merlene Brown and board president Barb Wilkerson, have identified core needs: Enough room for lots more kids (up to 308)! Competitive wages and benefits! Community awareness of childcare as a critical service!


Stephanie poses with Merlene Brown, who has been integral to the Sunflower visioning and fund-raising. They met when Stephanie’s oldest, Wally, started daycare at Sunflower as a toddler, a circumstance Stephanie says made a permanent positive impact on Wally’s life. “If he hadn’t been in group daycare, with teachers who knew so much about developmental cues, we would not have known, as parents, that he couldn’t hear,” she says, tears almost shining in her eyes. “If they had not caught this challenge so early, so we could get him the help he needed, he would not be where he’s at socially or in school. He just wouldn’t. We will always be grateful.” Merlene knows this story intimately. “You got through it!” she says, laying a comforting hand on Stephanie’s arm. “I’ve never heard you tell it without crying.”
/ Photo by Kristine Kopperud

Key to the business plan is a community-based revenue stream: A dedicated discovery center and indoor playspace (dubbed a ‘marriage saver’) open to the public that will feature STEAM activities (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) and natural history. “Any parent of young kids will tell you that an 18-month old bundled in their full snow suit will last maybe 20 minutes outside? Of a whole weekend?” Stephanie laments with a chuckle. “We need someplace indoors.” 

The discovery center will be used by the childcare facility during care hours, then open to community groups and the public (for a fee) on evenings, weekends, and school breaks. 

“This hybrid model is of interest to childcare centers, churches – really, any facility not maximizing its use – everywhere,” Stephanie explains. “Lots of eyes are watching our success, across the state and the country.”


An artist rendering of how  the future Child Care Center and Discover Center may  look when it’s completed. / Courtesy Sunflower project

When Sunflower set about finding a location to build, so the current facility could stay open during the expansion, the need was met by Winneshiek Medical Center. Plans are drawn for four donated acres, and Sunflower will break ground in summer 2022. “We’re dreaming up a drone photo of a huge groundbreaking ceremony,” Stephanie explains, “calling it a BYOS – bring your own shovel.” 

Learn more about the project at decorahdiscovery.org. Donations are always accepted. And visit the Fromm family’s rental properties at twinspringslodge.com, marciescabin.com, and blufftonbus.com. 

In the meantime, and always, you’ll find Stephanie asking and pivoting and asking again (for more collaborations among businesses, between institutions, through state and federal agencies). “If we just work together on things, think what we could do!” she summarizes with a cheerful grin.  

Kristine Kopperud has been a Driftless resident and writer for more than 15 years and is relocating this summer to work further with end-of-life care and advocacy in Central Florida. Follow along at kristinekopperud.com!

Contribute

Help make the Sunflower Child Development and Discovery Center happen! Donate to the project at decorahdiscovery.org

Maryann Baldwin

Maryann Baldwin loves to plant the seeds of ideas. Whether she’s mentoring local entrepreneurs, supporting city agencies like the Lansing Parks and Recreation department, volunteering through the Lansing Women in Business group, or running her new coworking space, Lansing Office Works in Lansing, Iowa, Maryann perfectly illustrates the positive impact a community builder can have. 


Maryann Baldwin poses on scaffolding in the then-soon-to-be Lansing Office Works space. They spent several hours attaching and hanging each individual cord for the light fixtures, and Maryann was feeling giddy about the upcoming opening.
/ Photo courtesy Lansing Office Works

However, she quickly credits those around her for making things happen.

“The way I see it, I’ve just created a garden. I provide the sunlight and fertilizer and water, and then I stand back and let it happen,” Maryann says. “Everything is connected, and it’s so fun to watch things grow.”

Connections, both intentional and unexpected – plus a little bit of serendipity – have shaped Maryann’s path since she retired from a media and market research career in 2017. When she decided to resume the violin lessons she enjoyed as a child, for example, she spotted a flier from a violin teacher who happened to live just a mile down the road. When Maryann wanted to teach Pilates, she approached the Lansing Fitness Center owner about offering classes there, and within a few months, she ended up purchasing it. Later, as she contemplated a new business concept, a coworking space that would offer resources and events for small businesses, someone reached out about buying the fitness center from her. 

 “For me, that’s what’s great about life. These paths open up, and you look down them and say, ‘That sounds like fun. I think I’d like to do that,’” she says.

Maryann grew up in Rochester, New York, and worked in Green Bay, Los Angeles, Orlando, Chicago, and beyond before discovering the Driftless Region 20 years ago. She and her husband bought property in western Wisconsin two weeks after their first visit, and they made a permanent move to De Soto in 2013.

“The fact that I have lived in large, metropolitan areas makes me really appreciate what I have here. While big cities have lots to offer, I’d rather visit the cities and come home to a rural environment. It’s incredible to be able to live in a place like this,” she says.

Maryann tired of the frequent work travel in her corporate career, but all that time on the road paved the plan for her new venture, Lansing Office Works. While visiting clients in various cities, she often plugged into shared office spaces with flexible membership levels. Geared toward remote workers and entrepreneurs, these coworking spaces typically bundle the use of communal tables or dedicated desks, charging stations, office equipment, internet access, and other perks. Some also offer networking events, educational seminars, and business coaching services.

As she outlined how a Lansing coworking space might look, Maryann talked with Jordan Degree of the Rural Ideas Network. The Dubuque-based nonprofit serves entrepreneurs and economic development organizations in rural communities, providing in-person and virtual resources for small business owners. Through its Innovation Lab program, the Rural Ideas Network also operates coworking hubs in five eastern Iowa communities. (Read about the organization’s Dyersville coworking space here.)

Once again, fate was on Maryann’s side.

“At the end of our first conversation, Jordan mentioned that they were looking to open other coworking spaces throughout rural Iowa. He said they could help me, if I was interested,” she says.

 Maryann started scouting locations and found herself drawn to the former Grand Central Station restaurant in downtown Lansing. The building had been sitting empty for several years.

“It was this huge space on the primary business block of Main Street. Every time I came into town, I’d drive by it and think, ‘Someday, someone is going to buy that. I wonder who it’s going to be.’ As I started thinking about selling the fitness center, I realized that I might be the one to bring it back to life,” she says.

Lansing Office Works from outside in the evening. / Photo courtesy Lansing Office Works

After closing on the property and kicking off interior updates, Maryann worked with the Rural Ideas Network team to build out programming and marketing plans for Lansing Office Works. In advance of the facility’s opening, she tapped into the nonprofit’s coworking accelerator program for customizable website templates, technological tools, and operational support. 

“We launched our network of coworking spaces to create a model that we knew would be sustainable in rural communities, and now we share what we’ve learned through our coworking accelerator,” says Eric Dregne, who directs the Rural Ideas Network’s Innovation Lab initiative. “We can help with everything from choosing furniture to building a website to maintaining an operating system that lets people join and manage their coworking plans, book meeting spaces, or navigate door access systems.”

While the nonprofit provides an array of business tools, Eric says it takes a strong local partner to make a place like Lansing Office Works succeed. He praises Maryann’s professionalism, commitment to the community, and genuine interest in creating opportunities for others. 

“She had the vision for bringing a space like this to Lansing, which makes her somebody special. She also has a great business background. Because she’s run her own business, she knows the potential pitfalls, she understands what success feels like, and she appreciates what it’s like to do your own thing. That makes her super relatable,” he says.

Maryann opened the doors to Lansing Office Works in October of 2021. She created three membership plans for members, each with varying levels of facility access. All plans include workspace use, a high-speed Wi-Fi connection, complimentary coffee and tea, and invitations to roundtable discussions, presentations, and workshops. Members can also take advantage of individual business coaching sessions through the Rural Ideas Network. 

“I definitely wouldn’t have grown as fast as I have without the business coaching opportunities,” says Wood Media founder Elizabeth Loberg, who operates her web design agency out of Lansing Office Works. “I can hop on a call with them as often as I want, and they’ll help me work through obstacles or decide to pivot or find whatever support I need when I’m stuck.”


Elizabeth Loberg and Andy Kelleher, both Lansing Office Works tenants, with Maryann during Global Entrepreneurship Week. / Photo courtesy Lansing Office Works

Basing her agency at the downtown Lansing facility connects Elizabeth with local entrepreneurs and potential clients. She has worked on projects for Main Street Lansing and Red Barn Campground & Restaurant, which maintain Lansing Office Works memberships. She brought vendor sign-ups, housing reservations, and rider information online by crafting a comprehensive site for Lansing’s 2022 RAGBRAI events. She’s welcomed an intern from the Kee High innovation class that meets daily at Lansing Office Works, as well.

“Elizabeth is the perfect example of what this space was meant to be. I wanted a place where entrepreneurs can hang up their shingle and say, ‘I’m here. How can I help you?’ Her business has been a huge success, and I’m thrilled about it,” Maryann says. 

Elizabeth considers Maryann a friend and mentor who is always available to talk strategy, socialize, and support a facility that is “full of laughter and joy and ideas being tossed about every single day.”

“Lansing Office Works is just an outstanding resource for anyone that wants to grow a business. There are so many opportunities here, and this place can do so much for the community,” she says. “Maryann genuinely cares, and it’s really nice to have someone like that. We all build off her beautiful creations and what she has put together by being involved with different groups and efforts here in town.”

Renee Brincks writes about unforgettable places, inspiring people, and projects that make the world a better place. Read more of her work at reneebrincks.com. 

Build Your Business!

Lansing Office Works is located at 274 Main Street, in Lansing, Iowa. To learn more about coworking memberships, meeting room rentals, events, and entrepreneurship support, visit lansingofficeworks.com.

Connect with the Rural Ideas Network

The Rural Ideas Network brings business development tools to individuals and organizations working to strengthen small-town economies. “Rural communities are often missing resources, whether it be coworking spaces, business coaching services, or strategic planning support for new and existing companies. Either the support isn’t there at all, or it’s delivered by one person who has to travel around a multi-county region,” says spokesperson Eric Dregne. “We offer in-person, virtual, and hybrid assistance that’s customized to all kinds of communities, and we’re always open to new partnerships.” www.ruralideas.net.