Posts Tagged: Maggie Sonnek

Read Inspire(d) Spring 2019 Online!

The Spring 2019 Inspire(d) is all about planting the seeds of hope for the future!
Here’s what you’ll find:

Puentes/Bridges • La Crosse Promise • Folk Schools in the Driftless • Sum of Your Biz: Night Dive Swim • Q&A with Mollie B. • How to Make Friends as an Adult • Week of the Young Child • & More!

A note from Aryn:

I don’t know about you, but around this time of year (when I’m making the Spring Inspire(d), I suppose), I find myself thinking, “Thank freakin’ goodness; we’ve made it!” Spring!

Of course, there’s currently a blizzard outside. And there could be false spring or third winter or whatever we got last April (let’s hope not)! But I’ve got my fingers crossed for some spring-like weather, crocuses and daffodils, and open windows soon!

In the meantime, enjoy these pages of fun, positivity, and springtime vibes! We’re all about planting seeds of change with this Inspire(d). We hope to teach our kids empathy, kindness, and compassion, for starters, so that they can create a better future for themselves. This is one of the motivators behind Week of the Young Child, a national movement dedicated to spotlighting our youngest learners – learn more about local efforts in Sara Friedl-Putnam’s story on page 54.

In Maggie Sonnek’s piece about Puentes / Bridges, a Wisconsin non-profit that works to bridge the cultural gap between area farmers and their employees from Mexico, compassion and empathy are big components (pg. 34). It’s such a cool program!

Speaking of cool programs, you should definitely check out Sara Walters’ story on La Crosse Promise (pg. 58) – they offer a scholarship – up to $50,000 – to homeowners/buyers who are willing to invest in two challenged neighborhoods in La Crosse. It’s truly an innovative approach to neighborhood revitalization.

And we love the self-love that Heather Caye Brown promotes through her swimwear company, Night Dive Swim, and in this Spring’s Sum of Your Business. What better message to share with our kids than to Love Your Self?!

As for the literal seeds on the cover: You can use those for the Paper Earth Hearts Roxie and I made for this issue’s paper project (pg. 33)! We put them together on one of the many January snow days, and are thinking they’ll make great Earth Day presents for friends and neighbors this April.

Make sure not to miss Benji’s fun Q&A with polka music star Mollie B., my infographic, “How to Make Friends as an Adult” (it’s not as tricky as you think!), and a great line-up of fun events to cure your Spring Fever this year!

Thinking you need something a little more in-depth to get you out of the house? Consider signing up for a class at one of the great Folk Schools in the Driftless! Learn about offerings from Driftless Folk School, Eagle Bluff Skills School, and Vesterheim Folk Art School in Kristine Jepsen’s story on page 19.

We’ve got plenty more, too, to help keep you entertained until the snow melts and the seeds start sprouting!

Happy Spring, friends!

Looking forward,

Aryn Henning Nichols

Click here to read the Spring 2019 Inspire(d) online!

Walk Your Talk: Women Mayors

How women are changing the political scene: Conversations with four female mayors in the Driftless Region

By Maggie Sonnek • Originally published in the Winter 2018-29 Inspire(d)

On a warm, sunny August afternoon in Wabasha, Minnesota, mayoral candidate Emily Durand sits in a lawn chair at the local Farmer’s Market. She sips on an iced chai she purchased at one of the stands and nibbles on a homemade cookie bought at another, and she chats with folks as they pass – locals and tourists alike – sharing her vision for the charming Mississippi River town. But more powerful than anything Emily could say, is how she listens. The joys, the frustrations, the worries – she hears them all, and she ensures her neighbors and friends that if she’s elected mayor, she’ll always keep an open ear, and an open mind.

Fast-forward four months to November 6, 2018. Election Day, the day Emily joined a wave of female candidates breaking barriers in this year’s mid-term elections. Candidates like Ilhan Omar from Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, who, along with Rashida Tlaib from Michigan, became two of the first Muslim women elected to Congress. 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York’s 14th District, became the youngest woman elected to Congress. Abby Finkenauer, another 29-year-old, defeated incumbent Rod Blum to represent Iowa’s 1st District, and Cindy Axne was elected to represent Iowa’s 3rd District. They will be the first women from Iowa elected to the House of Representatives…ever.

On an even more local level, women here in the Driftless are lacing up their boots (or sneakers) and striking out to lead their communities as mayors. We walked and talked with four such women – some the first to hold the office in their town’s history – to learn why they’ve decided to take up the mayoral mantel, and what they hope to achieve. One thing is clear: In addition to making their voices heard, they want to hear yours too.

Emily Durand, Mayor-Elect in Wabasha, Minnesota, says whether she won or lost the race this fall was beyond the point. She wanted to show her nine-year-old daughter, Thea, that having a voice is important.

“We, as women, have to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable. We have to learn to ignore the doubts and negative voices,” Emily says. “Sometimes politics can feel like an old boys’ network. I hope that instead of shutting women down, this inspires them to find their own way into leadership.”

An expert in the realm of research and project management, Emily toyed with the idea of running for office while she and her husband, Scott, were living in the Twin Cities. But when Scott became part owner of a dental practice in Wabasha, the couple and their young daughter moved the 60 miles south, and political plans took a backseat while they settled in.

This year, though, six years after the move, the timing was right. Emily ran for Mayor of the town of 2,500 – and won. She’ll be the first female mayor in Wabasha. Her plate is full: She plans to continue working as a project manager, and she and Scott have two children now – their daughter, Thea, and now four-year-old son, Heller. But moving away from the idea that life needs to look a certain way is freeing, she says.

“Women get asked the question, ‘How will you do it all perfectly?’ And the answer is, you will not,” she says. “And that is totally fine. Once you realize that perfection is not the goal – and it’s actually not healthy for it to be the goal – you can start moving forward.”

Lorraine Borowski, former director of Decorah’s Public Library System, was definitely qualified to run for Mayor in Decorah, Iowa. But she was scared, she says. And uncomfortable. She hated door-knocking. So she added a talking point: Bright red New Balance tennis shoes.

“I was confident in my ideas and what I had to say, but I was terrified at the thought of actually doing it,” Lorraine says of campaigning door-to-door. “But once I put on my red shoes and got out there and just did it, I was fine.”

Lorraine suspects other women leaders feel the same way. Like her, they have the skills and passion to lead, mobilize others, and make decisions, but they sometimes let fear take over. To combat these doubts, Lorraine found a mentor, a retired teacher who is active in state and local politics.

And once she was elected in 2017 as the town’s first-ever female mayor, she continued to surround herself with knowledgeable people, who made sure that even if she didn’t know the answers, they would.

Her favorite part of the job? Listening to her community (there’s a trend here).

“I love having open discussions,” she says. “I love allowing people to talk and creating space to listen.”

When Karen Mischel returned home to Viroqua, Wisconsin, after being away for 17 years, she jumped right into local government. The former Merchant Marine was proud to be from the small (population 4,500) Wisconsin community – and excited to be back. But she knew the progressive town, bordering the Ocooch Mountains and nestled in one of the best organic farming regions in the U.S., needed a change. Karen was ready to disrupt the status quo in a race against the incumbent mayor, who had held the position for two decades. This past spring, she did just that: She won the election and became Viroqua’s first female mayor.

“The former Mayor had a reputation for just going through the motions,” Karen says. “He didn’t show up for community events. He didn’t want to make waves or cause anyone, including himself, to feel uncomfortable.”

Karen knew Viroqua, with its historic downtown complete with unique shops and award-winning restaurants, deserved a leader who would move the community forward.

“How can we do that if our mayor doesn’t even show up?” Karen asks.

She cut through the white noise by holding listening sessions, and, simply enough, answering her phone. These people just really wanted to be heard, she says.

Her full-time job as an organic farm inspector gave her further opportunities to connect with the people of Viroqua. Vernon County, which encompasses Viroqua, has the highest concentration of organic farms per capita in the country.

“These farmers and their families are so devoted to their work,” she says. “Even though each farm operates differently, they’re all working toward the same goal. That’s how I’d like to see our town work too.”

Northwest of there, in Spring Grove, Minnesota, it was an argument that led Sarah Schroeder to politics. She got into it with the city administrator about proposed admission prices for the town’s new swim center. At the end of their conversation, the city administrator suggested she run for mayor. She initially laughed it off. But, after some thought, she decided to run. Sara jokes that she did most of her campaigning from her mother’s beauty shop.

“I think it all comes down to who is willing,” Sarah says. “Who is willing to hustle? Who is willing to have discussions? Who is willing to listen?”

Sara, who works as a graphic designer at Gunderson Lutheran in La Crosse, is clearly willing to jump in and do the work. She serves on the board of the Ye Olde Opera House in Spring Grove, and sits on the town’s economic development authority, planning and zoning commission, and fireman’s relief association board.

She ran for mayor in 2015, when she was just 33 years old, and won. She was re-elected this fall.

“I would get asked, ‘Aren’t you too young to be mayor?’” she says. “By continuing to break down barriers, as women – young women – we are proving that we have a voice. We have ideas. And we can move communities forward.”

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Maggie Sonnek is navigating life in the slow lane. A transplant from Minneapolis, she loves living in the Driftless Region where she can hike in the bluffs and swim (not in the winter!) in Lake Pepin. She’s a wife to Eric, mom to three kids and writer.

Read Inspire(d) Winter 2018-19 Online!

Inspire(d) Winter 2018-19

The Winter 2018-19 Inspire(d) is all about walking your talk! Here’s what you’ll find:

Female Mayors in the Driftless Region • Mentoring in Northeast Iowa, Burning Bright • Getting in the Spirit – RockFilter Distillery, La Crosse Distilling Co., Harmony Spirits • Sum of Your Biz: David Wadsworth • Snowbird on the Cheap • & More!

A note from Aryn:

Those feet on the cover? They’re mine and Roxie’s, and looking at that picture gives me a sense of pride, excitement, and – I’m finding as I get older – a sense of urgency. I know, I know: I’m only 37! But time keeps on ticking away, and I want to be sure we’ve a.) lived this life well and b.) taken care of this world so our daughter can live her life well, too.

I think about it every day – are we doing enough? What will things be like for Roxie in 10, 20, 30 years? The urgency of it all starts to seep in. But I take a deep breath, and do what I can do. I try to walk our talk within our community by emulating the ideas we write about in this magazine.

Others walk their talks in their own, awesome ways, like Driftless women who have recently pulled a seat up to the political table as mayors. Maggie Sonnek interviewed four such women – some are the first female mayors in the history of their towns. This comes as we celebrate a record number of women elected to congress in November 2018. It’s (beyond) time, and it’s exciting. I applaud and support these women, and I’m happy they’re providing these great examples of female leaders for Roxie.

In a different  – but equally important – role, there are mentors in Northeast Iowa who are directly supporting young people through Helping Services Youth Mentoring. 2018 marked the program’s 20-year anniversary of fostering positive friendships and experiences in the area, and January is National Mentoring Month. I interviewed Mentoring Coordinator Kathy Schwartzhoff, as well as local mentor Paul Bauhs and his mentee, Jake, about the ripple of good impacts that has come from the program (and how you can join in too).

Decorah’s popular winter solstice concert, Burning Bright, has been bringing light in the darkness and giving back to the community… also for two decades! Choir member Kristine Jepsen chats with founding members and directors as they reflect on years past and prepare for this season’s performance.

Along with the work (and joy) of walking our talk, there also has to be time for fun. This day – and every day – is one to be lived well. Winter can be a tough time for remembering that, so we put together some ideas to help you get out – of the doldrums, and out the door, too. Winter challenges, ideas for “Snowbirding on the Cheap,” and more. Plus, don’t miss Sara Walter’s feature on the rise in craft distilling in the Driftless – read about RockFilter Distillery, La Crosse Distilling Co., and Harmony Spirits, then grab your designated driver and head out to explore this new and rising industry in our region. Special shout-out to my good friend and photographer, Jen Opheim, for road tripping with me to Spring Grove – see her beautiful photographs of RockFilter starting on page 44.

Other days, you might want to stay in. We’ve got you covered! Maybe as you make your house extra koselig (remember? If you don’t, check page 32) you can read about David Wadsworth and Wadsworth Construction in this issue’s Sum of Your Business. Making houses cozy and well put together is what he’s all about.

All of us here at Inspire(d) hope you have a great end of 2018, and that you look to 2019 as a year filled with possibilities. You can do anything! Let’s do this!

Happy New Year! Thank you for reading – and being – Inspire(d)!

Looking forward,

Aryn Henning Nichols

Read the Winter 2018-19 Inspire(d) online here!