Posts Tagged: Iowa

Driftless Region Museums: A Primer

Compiled by Inspire(d) Staff
Originally printed in the June/July 2010 issue of Inspire(d)

Sure, summer is all about festivals and swimming and canoeing and fairs, but what do you do when it’s raining? Or when it’s hot, humid, and sticky in a way that only the Midwest can be – like you’re trapped in a hot tub and there’s no time machine. Right?

Right. So in all our infinite wisdom, we hatched a plan: let’s learn more about some cultural, educational, fun, air conditioned museums in the Driftless Region. We asked each museum to submit a little entertaining information about what’s waiting within their walls for people like you and me. And boy did they deliver. Your kids can go rock climbing. You can see a clock someone once wanted to buy for $1 million dollars, a sailboat that actually crossed the Atlantic, and the place where the modern tractor was made. It’s all pretty cool. Literally and figuratively.

Check them out. Explore. If you’re a tourist, get the most of your stay. If you’re not – pretend you are!

Vesterheim Museum, 520 West Water Street, Decorah, Iowa
May – October open daily: 9 am – 5 pm, Thursdays ‘til 8 pm November – April: Tuesday – Sunday, 10 am – 4 pm, Thursdays ‘til 8 pm
Admission: $10/adult, $8/senior over 65, and $5/children age 7 –18 • 563-382-9681

With 24,000 artifacts and 16 historic buildings, this national treasure uses the Norwegian-American experience as a lens to explore the diversity of an immigrant nation. Step inside to discover stories of courage and beauty. You’ll find a cabin made from a single tree, a sailboat that crossed the Atlantic Ocean, elaborate costumes, colorful painting, silver wedding crowns, woven tapestries, and even intricately carved butter molds. The lives of the people who settled our nation were often as colorful as their folk art, and their stories speak through the objects they left behind. Come and see what they have to say. “USA Today” named Vesterheim one of “10 great places in the nation to admire American folk art.” Vesterheim also preserves living traditions through classes in Norwegian culture and folk art, events, tours to Norway, and educational programs for children and adults. Preserving a heritage. Connecting us all.

The Porter House, 401 West Broadway Street, Decorah
Hours:June – August open daily: 10 am – 4 pm, and Sundays 1 pm – 4 pm.
Admission: $5/adult, $4/seniors, $3/children age 6–16, Children 6 and under free 563-382-8465

Near the turn of the century, Grace Young fell in love with the “boy next door,” Adelbert (Bert) Field Porter, and married him in her parent’s music parlor in June 1904. They lived out their lives in the Italianate Villa that previously belonged to Grace’s parents – it now houses their personal furnishings, collections, artwork, photographs, and library. A.F. Porter’s collection of exotic butterflies, gathered over seven trips around the world, is the focal point of the museum, along with Grace’s piano in the music room, and her painted china collection. The museum grounds include a unique rock wall designed by Bert and built from his extensive collection of rocks and minerals. Fountains, birdbaths, planters, and a water garden enhance the gardens surrounding the house. In July of 1968, Bert conveyed the house and it’s contents for preservation as a public museum.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, Burr Oak, Iowa (Off Highway 52, 12 miles north of Decorah or three miles south of the Minnesota state line)
Summer Hours: Monday – Saturday: 9 am – 5 pm, Sunday 12 – 4 pm
Admission: $7/adult, $5/children age 6-17, Family Rate $25 • 563-735-5916

Question: Who has 10 eyes, no income and was forced from their previous life by an invasion? Answer: The Charles Ingalls family when they moved to Iowa in 1876 and Laura was nine years old. Laura’s family left the Banks of Plum River in Minnesota, fleeing the horrible grasshopper plague, to find a better livelihood. In Burr Oak, they helped run the Master’s Hotel and they moved twice more during their year in the small village. The building where they first lived opened as a museum, 100 years after their move, in 1976. The third site where they lived was the birthplace of their fourth daughter, Grace. Knowledgeable guides – familiar with Laura through Burr Oak history, her widely-read books, or the popular television series – help guests from around the globe understand the Ingalls’ Iowa life and times. Come explore the story of one of our country’s most beloved authors.

Children’s Museum of La Crosse, 207 5th Avenue South in historic downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin
Hours:Tuesdays – Saturdays, 10 am – 5 pm; Sundays 12 – 5 pm (closed Mondays and major holidays)
Admission: $6/person (Sunday Savers: $1 off admission!) Infants and members FREE • 608-784-2652

Learning and fun…rolled into one, for the young and the young at heart! Spend some affordable, quality time with your kids at the Children’s Museum of La Crosse, where you’ll explore three floors of hands-on exhibits, a climbing wall, gift shop, and much more. Lots of new exhibits added in recent months, including the heart-pounding NEOS game, Whoosh, Toothy Tango, kid’s crane, and a two-story rescue center. Memberships include a full year of admission + other benefits, starting at only $50! The $120 Passport level membership includes admission to over 425 participating museums nationwide! Ask about birthday parties, field trips, summer camps and other programs: convenient and fun – and kids will even learn something!

The Minnesota Marine Art Museum, 800 Riverview Drive, Winona, Minnesota
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10 am – 5 p, Sunday 11 am – 5 pm (Closed Mondays and Holidays)
Admission: $6/adult, $3/students age 5 – college, 4 and under free, $20 Family Rate • 507-474-6626

The Minnesota Marine Art Museum is not what you expect, or where you expect to find it. Next to a working Mississippi river port in the beautiful “historic island city” of Winona, the Museum houses one of the best collections of art inspired by water in the United States. A place where everyone is welcome (no art degree required!), the Museum is a year-round destination that hosts ongoing events and programs for kids, families, and adults including our popular Toddler Tuesdays and Family Fest.

Rochester Art Center, 40 Civic Center Drive SE, Rochester, Minnesota (on the Zumbro River)
Hours: Wednesday, Friday, Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm; Thursday: 10 am – 9 pm; Sunday: 12 – 5 pm
Admission: $5/adult $3/senior (62 and over); Free to children, students, members & Olmsted County Resident • 507-282-8629

Then: Founded in 1946, the Rochester Art Center presented local and regional art for nearly 30 years. For the next 30, RAC became a national focus for arts and crafts, particularly ceramics. Now: Today, RAC is a venerable organization in cool new digs. In 2004, we built an ultra-modern building, presenting contemporary art. We’re famous for Free Family Day (1st Saturday/month), Total Arts Day Camp; 3rd Floor Emerging Artists Series; national and international artists; FLUX (late evening music/art/performance for young-adults), and as a top 10 place in Minnesota for weddings and receptions… the view’s that beautiful.

Bily Clocks Museum/Antonin Dvorak Exhibit, 323 S. Main Street, Spillville, Iowa (12 miles south of Decorah)
Hours: May – October: Monday-Saturday, 9 am – 5 pm, Sundays, 12 – 4 pm April – November: weekends only
Admission: $6/ adult, $5/senior 65 and over, $4/youth age 6-17, $16/Family • 563-562-3569

Why did Henry Ford in 1928, offer $1million for one of the Bily brothers clocks and why did they refuse the offer? Take a tour of the Bily clocks museum, located in the quaint village of Spillville, and you’ll find out! Experience for yourself this one-of-a-kind collection of 40 hand-carved clocks created by Frank and Joseph Bily (bee-lee), farmers by trade and carvers by night. And why did Antonin Dvorak, Czeck composer from Praque, find his way to Spillville? That answer is found on the second floor of the museum. You’ll just have to come to find out!

Froelich Tractor Iowa John Deere Museum, 24397 Froelich Rd., Froelich, Iowa (4 miles east of Monona on U.S. Highway 18)
Summer Hours: Open six days a week (closed Wednesdays): 11 am – 5 pm • 563-536-2841

The Froelich visitor experience includes an 1891 general store museum, an 1866 restored country school, a l903 dairy barn, a rebuilt railroad depot, a turn of the century blacksmith shop, and a mini-grain truck display (new in 2009). The highlight of the summer is the Froelich half-scale model tractor display and video of its historic development. In 1892, in this tiny village, John Froelich invented the first farm tractor powered by a gasoline engine that operated in forward and reverse. It became the Waterloo Boy and the current John Deere tractor division in Waterloo, Iowa. Historians credit Froelich, Iowa, as the birthplace of the modern farm tractor. (Photo by Danny Eilers)

Villa Louis, 521 North Villa Louis Road, Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin
Hours:Open May 1 – Oct 31: 9:30 am – 5 pm. Guided tours on the hour from 10 am to 4 pm
Admission: $9/adults, $7.75/seniors, $4.50/youth 5-17, $24/family • 608-326-2721

The Villa Louis, also known as Dousman Mansion, is located on St. Feriole Island in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Today the site is restored to its late-19th century grandeur, when it was the estate of the prominent H. Louis Dousman family. At the center of the estate is the elegant Villa Louis mansion, designed by E. Townsend Mix and built in 1871. Earlier it had been home to Louis’s father Hercules L. Dousman, and before that the land was occupied by Fort Crawford. Prior to this, in 1814, the Siege of Prairie du Chien was fought at the site by American and British troops hoping to control Fort Shelby during the War of 1812. Still farther back, the site was of importance to American Indian tribes, especially the Mound Builders. Today the Villa Louis is the finest example of a British Arts and Crafts interior in a rural setting in the United States.

Music we’re loving…

Looking for some fresh listening? Some of our favorite roots artists have incredible albums out and we’d love to share them with you!


First, Duluth Bluesman Charlie Parr (who will be performing in Decorah at the Courtyard & Cellar September 11) has a new album entitled “Stumpjumper” on the epic Red House Records label. Charlie has been tearing up the roots / slide guitar for years and has hit a real home run with this latest recording.


Meanwhile NE Iowa’s own Joe & Vicki Price have a great album out – recorded by Joe McMahan at Wow & Flutter Studios in Nashville – entitled “Night Owls”. If you don’t already know, Joe & Vicki are royalty at Inspire(d) HQ, and we can’t sing the praises loud enough for this incredible blues duo. Even the cover of this record is an epic piece by Vicki Price depicting the now vaporized Main Entrance in Prairie du Chien, WI. The old school vibe of this record leaves you wishing you were sitting in a tavern listening to the masters work… Why aren’t you???


On the other side of the country, but in a similar-to-Driftless-region of Woodstock NY, Ruth Ungar and Michael Merenda, along with a super sweet crew of horns and beats and sounds, have released a truly roots inspired record. “Mike + Ruthy” as they are known, recorded “Bright As You Can” for the 30 Tigers label and we can’t get enough of it. We’re also scheming as hard as we can to get them to Decorah… the band also visits CSPS/Legion Arts in Cedar Rapids on Friday, October 2.  Shine on, indeed.

Adoption: These Red Threads that Bind Us


By Aryn Henning Nichols • Originally published in the Spring 2011 Inspire(d)
All Photos Courtesy of the Jensen Family

Families are bound together – whether it’s by the blood that flows through our veins or the tangled threads of fate. Sometimes it’s both.

Decorah’s Dave and Jane Jensen began creating their family “traditionally” with the birth of their first daughter, Erica, in 1989. In the six years following, three more beautiful baby girls – Dana, Kari, and Kiersten – were brought into the world. And while most would consider this a large family already, the Jensens felt their clan wasn’t quite complete.

“We didn’t think we needed to produce another human being for this earth,” Jane says. “But adoption – it was something we always wanted to do.”

They began to research different adoption agencies, and sent away for information from Holt International, an agency that has been finding orphaned children permanent families for more than five decades. Then, that very week, they saw a notice in the newspaper: Holt International was coming to Decorah to educate and inform the community about their mission and how adoption works.

unnamed-1It was the first of many twists of fate that have led Dave and Jane to the eight children they’ve adopted since 2002.

“Each of these adoptions – they’ve opened up so many doors,” Jane says, amazement in her voice. “In China they’re called ‘Red Threads’.”

The “red thread of destiny” is a Chinese legend that says there’s a god who ties a red thread around the ankles of two people, binding them together forever, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. Although commonly tying male and females together as soul mates, the phase may be applied to any two people.

For the Jensens, it was a look on their future child’s face, the amazing chance that they were the only ones writing to adopt a certain orphan, or a “spoken for” child suddenly being “available,” that made them certain a higher force was at work.

“Once we traveled to China and became personally aware of the plight of the orphan, those sweet innocent children left behind, who all deserve their own family to love them, we were changed forever. There was no turning back,” Jane says. “We knew God had a plan for our family from that first moment we met Claire.”

Claire, now 10 years old, was adopted from the Fujian Province when she was just 11 months. The experience was one of excitement and surrealism for the Jensens.

janewbaby“I remember when we found out we got her,” Jane says. “We were getting ready to go to Christmas at Luther and got the email from the agency. Everyone gathered around the computer and just screamed! We couldn’t believe it!”

Within six weeks Dave, Jane, and Erica were on a plane to China. They traveled with several other families that were also adopting, and they all stayed in the same hotel, waiting for the new children about to come into their lives.

“They told us to stay in the hotel room,” Dave says. “Then they call you on the phone and say, ‘The babies are on the way.’ You know they’re gonna hand you this baby, so of course, everyone came running out of their rooms. Kids were screaming, laughing…”

“Then they hand you this beautiful child,” Jane continues. “I remember thinking, ‘I’m so glad we did this.’ It’s just as miraculous as birth – you know this is the child you’re supposed to have.”

Since then, they’ve adopted five more children from China, and two (twins) from Ethiopia. Their ages at the time of adoption ranged from 11 months to three years, although for many – probably most – orphans, there’s no real certainty on age or birthdates.

“A lot of orphans are just left somewhere for someone to find them,” Dave says. “Supermarkets, hospitals, the side of the road – Matthew’s unique because he was left at a hospital with a letter from his birth father.”

The letter gives details on Matthew’s birth – his father was a migrant worker with no money, but he tried to take care of him. He kept him by his side for a year, until he realized he could no longer manage it.

Matthew had clubfeet that needed attention. In fact, all of the children the Jensens have adopted except one have had special medical needs. With their new family they were able to get the medical treatment necessary to happily continue their lives.

The Jensens – always Jane, sometimes other members of the family as well – have traveled to China several times now, and Ethiopia once, the summer of 2010. Kari and Dana – then 18 and 19 – joined Jane on the Africa trip. It was very different from China, she says. There was so much poverty, yet the people were so nice, open, and happy. Similarly, though, the orphanages were full.

Africa“The big problem in Ethiopian orphanages is that usually either one or both of the parents have died of AIDS,” Dave says. “People say, ‘You can’t change the world.’ But once you experience the situation there, you’re changed. You’re never the same.”

“You want to adopt them all,” Jane adds. Dave finishes the thought on both their minds, “You realize the children left behind are just like our children we’ve brought home. Every one is special and all they need is a family to love them and to give them a chance.   People have so many excuses about why they can’t adopt as well. But you must be willing to take that leap of faith.”

It’s hard to not want adopt every orphan out there. Not only are there young children with special medical needs, there are the older kids who are much less likely to find a permanent family. And at age 14 – at least in China – orphans “age out”: they are no longer eligible for adoption. It’s heartbreaking to look through photos online – posted through organizations like Love Without Boundaries and Ordinary Hero – and know that a good portion of those children will live their entire young lives in an orphanage.

It’s obvious it gets to the Jensens. But will they adopt more?

Dave and Jane’s eyes meet. “The timing’s not right,” Jane says, with a look on her face that says she’d love to adopt a hundred more at least. And while Dave appears to agree with the timing, it doesn’t look like he’d need much convincing to bring home Jensen number eight. “We never say never any more.”

unnamed-3“People say, ‘These kids are so lucky,’” he says. “But we’re the ones who are lucky.”

Jane agrees. The rewards of adoption are many; the challenges few. “Everyone just transitioned so seamlessly. And everyone always has someone to play with. It’s kind of the more the merrier!” she says with a laugh. “It’s just like they’ve always been here.”

This more the merrier attitude lends a certain amount of excitement to the household, but everyone seems to enjoy – or at least adapt – to it.

“It’s good entertainment,” says Erica. Then Dave jokes, “The volume has definitely intensified. And there’s more food – massive grocery store bills.”

Yes, with a household of 14, meals are an adventure. The question Jane is most often asked is: how do you feed everyone?

“Just like every family, you can’t please everyone,” she says. “We just make it work.”

If that means the house doesn’t always get picked up, so be it. And if it means they have to drive on a vacation instead of flying, that’s okay too.

unnamed-4“We’ve lost every kid at some point during different trips,” Jane says, laughing. “We’re like, ‘We got her all the way from China, and now we’ve lost her!’”

“So we said, ‘Fine. Next time we’re gonna drive,” Dave goes on. “So we did. To Florida. The floor was this deep in wrappers, food, and underwear,” he says, gesturing to about a foot above the ground.

It was for that trip that they got the big family Sprinter that hauls the crew around. When they go out to dinner, people always want to hear more about their family, their story. Indeed, it is amazing. They embrace what they call the chaos, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Most things in life that are worth doing and worth having require sacrifice and hard work and we can’t think of anything we would rather be doing!” Jane says. “We are truly the lucky ones!”


Aryn Henning Nichols has been inspired over and over again as she was writing this story. From a family of six, two of Aryn’s siblings are adopted as well. She hopes someday she, too, can provide a home to a child in need.

Thinking about adoption?
“My advice: Look into it. Go to an adoption meeting. It’s been the best thing we’ve done,” Dave says. Interested in learning more? Check out these Jensen-recommended adoption and orphanage websites:

The Jensen Family Timeline:
Erica – 25
Dana – 23
Kari – 22
Kiersten – 20
Claire  – 14 years old   from Fujian China  Adopted at 11 mos old in Jan. 2002
David – 13 years old from Guangxi China   Adopted at 22 mos in Jan. 2004
Matthew – 12 years old from Xinjiang China  Adopted at 33 mos in August 2005
Amy – 10 years old from Guangdong China  Adopted at 20 months in August 2006
Luke – 9 years old from Jiangsu China Adopted at 24 months in March 2008
Asmere and Abbeke 8 years old from Ethiopia adopted in August 2010
Jay – 5 years old, adopted from China.

The Jensen family totals 14 people. Their rural Decorah home has seven bedrooms. And there are still 147 million orphans in the world.