Posts Tagged: sara friedl-putnam

Summer 2021 Inspire(d)!

Summer 2021 Inspire(d) Cover

The Summer 2021 Inspire(d) is all about finding ways to make do with what you’ve got on hand – in your fridge and for your summer. Inside, you’ll find fun activities, inspiring people and organizations, and tips for self-care and working with what you’ve got. 

Work With What You’ve Got! Community Hunger Solutions • Little Free Libraries • This American House • Blue Fruit Farm • Mental Health + Self-Care • Hammered Flower Postcards • Community Builders: Lara & Neil Martinsen-Burrell • Driftless Tiny Towns Day Tripper • Sum of Your Biz: Big Driftless & More!

Read the whole thing online here!

A note from Aryn:

After a year that felt stocked to the brim with lemons, it’s time for some lemonade, don’t you think?

Many have been “working with what we’ve got” – i.e. making lemonade out of lemons – for a while, perhaps forever if you’re particularly skilled at that character strength. Others might still be honing those talents.

But either way, we’ve definitely all had some practice. We’ve become better at recognizing our ever-shifting comfort levels in this ever-shifting world, and have found new tools to better Work With What We’ve Got.

So we here at Inspire(d) say it’s time to squeeze the best out this summer! Let’s make some dang lemonade, friends!

This issue is filled with inspiration for just that: Stories of innovative folks who know how to make the most of, well, whatever.

In Sara Walter’s piece about Community Hunger Solutions (pg 16) in Viroqua, Wisconsin, find out how this organization takes seconds and surplus food and produce from farmers, factories, and more – food that would normally be heading for the bin – and gets it on local tables that need it.

Meet Jason Loper and Michael Schrieber – and their house, the Meier House in Monona, Iowa – in my story about their path from Chicago to the Driftless, and their new book about the history of their house, the only Frank Lloyd Wright American System-Built Home in Iowa (pg 22).

Read about the ever-enterprising farmers at Blue Fruit Farm (pg 48) in Winona, Minnesota, using MPR and lasers to keep pests away, plus how they helped to establish organics and a farmers market in their region in a story from new Inspire(d) contributor, Renee Brincks.

For our summer Sum of Your Business, Benji Nichols chats with Cody Whittle of Big Driftless about the ups and downs of running his hand-crafted (and amazing!) gear, pack, and apparel company (pg 54), and Kristine Jepsen features the Martinsen-Burrells – or the MB’s as they’re know around Decorah – in a Community Builder piece that highlights the family’s work with the local OWL program (pg 44).

As for your summer: are you planning some, ahem, smaller travel plans? Erin Dorbin takes readers on a Southeast Minnesota Tiny Town Day Tripper Adventure that’s full of fun, winding you through tiny towns and Driftless backroads (pg 60).

As you travel, keep an eye out for little house-like structures, filled with books and installed around towns across the U.S. These are Little Free Libraries, and they were founded in Hudson, Wisconsin. There are quite a few around the Driftless, and we learn about the history, and some of Decorah’s LFL, in Sara Friedl-Putnam’s story (pg 28).

Finally, make sure you take a stop mid-way through this magazine for the summer Mental Health piece by local mental health counselor Olivia Lynn Schnur. She walks us through tips that will help us Work With What We’ve Got – starting with self care (pg 37) – with an infographic introduction by me (pg 33).

Plus, there are a ton of fun summer things to add to your to-do list: live outdoor music (pg 14), flower pounding postcards (pg 43), and lots of super cool things around the region (pg 9). We hope you make the most of this fleeting season – it’s your summer, after all…and you’ve gotta work with that!

Looking forward,

Aryn Henning Nichols

Spring 2021 Inspire(d)!

Read the Spring 2021 Inspire(d) online!

The Spring 2021 Inspire(d) is all about getting out of ruts and finding ways to move forward. Life is full of ups and downs, and we are here to help you navigate those directions. Inside, you’ll find great inspiration that will help you decide where we go from here, and how you might get there!

Moving Forward: Strategies + Goals, Driftless Goat Company, greenpenny & Winneshiek Energy District, Community Builders – Brandon LaRue & Jeanene Thicke, the Artists Behind the Murals, Hummingbirds • Outdoor Adventures & More!

Read the whole thing online here!

A note from Aryn:

I’m turning 40 this spring! (May 20, woot!) When I turned 20, I started writing decade lists: 30 Before 30, 40 Before 40…you get the pattern. These lists have helped me accomplish goals – from learning to play chess to perfecting all the moves to the Thriller dance to swimming with manatees. The next list I’ll write is 50 Before 50. Wah?! How can this be?

Time just keeps on slipping (slipping, slipping) into the future… but at the same time, it can feel like we’re stuck in a rut. Especially after the year we’ve had. Where do we go from here? What’s the next step? Sometimes choosing a path or motivating ourselves forward can feel like the most difficult task in the world. And it CAN be really hard. But there’s never a better time than now. That’s the best time for anything, really. When should I shower? Now! When should I prune that tree? When the pruners are in your hand! When should I apply for that job? How about now? If you try to wait for the perfect moment, all the moments pass you by.

Moving forward starts with the next right decision. Get some tips on how to make that choice from our awesome mental health writer (and area counselor) Olivia Lynn Schnur (pg 22), and ideas for getting out of ruts in my infographic on page 20.

Something else that helps? Literally getting out of the house. We put together some fun, safe options. Outdoor adventures? Read Mary Hyland’s story on page 60. Up for a road trip? Check out some of the awesome murals popping up around the Driftless, and before you go, read the backstory behind a few of them in Sara Friedl-Putnam’s story on page 34.

I get huge smiles every time I read Craig Thompson’s pieces – the man just has a way with words, especially words about birds! Learn about the late spring return of hummingbirds – or hummers, as he called them – and enjoy his wife, Mary’s, accompanying artwork on page 56. What a pair!

Spring = tax time as well, and thinking about finances…but have you thought of making your finances green (beyond the color of money, that is)? Learn more about the locally run greenpenny and its relationship with the Winneshiek Energy District on page 28, and mark your calendar (and our checklist) for Earth Day April 22.

One thing I really love about publishing Inspire(d) is getting notes and story suggestions from readers. It always seems to result in the most inspiring tales – which was totally the case when a reader suggested we feature Driftless Goat Company. I so enjoyed hearing about the journey of Peter and Cynthia Ruen and their family as they made their way from New York to Lanesboro in this issue’s Sum of Your Business (pg. 14), and also the paths of our Community Builders Brandon LaRue of La Crescent, Minnesota (pg. 48), and Jeanene Thicke of Bangor, Wisconsin (pg. 52).

We thank you for reading, and hope this issue brings you inspiration – to get outside, to enjoy the earth, or explore the region – encourages you to get creative (learn to weave a paper basket from a grocery sack!), and helps you find a way to move forward.

We’ve got this.

Looking(and moving) forward,

Aryn Henning Nichols

 

Pete Espinosa

By Sara Friedl-Putnam • Originally published in the Holiday + Winter 2020-21 Inspire(d)

Pete and Kari Espinosa (and dogs) / Photo courtesy Pete Espinosa

It’s 1964, and Pete Espinosa is five. He’s riding in the car, a little boy accompanying his mom and older brother Paul on the 80-mile drive from Mason City to Decorah, Iowa, to drop Paul off at Luther College. The trip, as Pete recalls, was bittersweet – as the trio hauled bins of possessions into Olson Hall, first there was laughter, and then there were tears.

“When you are five, nothing is more important to you than your mom, and I can remember my mom being so sad on the way home because Paul was her first child to leave for college,” he says. “That is impactful when you are that young.”

That visit would be the first of many. Pete returned to Decorah again and again through the years to visit Paul and then older sisters Pam and Ann at Luther. “Decorah was ingrained in me early,” he says with a smile. In 1977 it was Pete’s own turn to enroll at Luther, where he majored in speech communications and political science and, as a senior, met his future wife, Kari Tollefson, then a Luther freshman.

“When I graduated, I took a job with IBM in the Quad Cities, but came back to Decorah a lot over the next three years to visit Kari,” he says. “I spent a lot of time in Decorah for someone who did not live there.”

Pete steadily climbed through the ranks at IBM over the next 18 years, eventually serving as executive assistant to the company’s chairman and CEO. In 1999 he left IBM and went on to hold senior executive leadership positions at a handful of software companies before landing at Mortgage Cadence, where he currently serves as CEO.

As jobs took him literally all over the country – “I have lived in New York, Boston, Kansas City, the Quad Cities, Omaha, the Twin Cities,” he says – Decorah remained a constant, as he and Kari returned for Luther Homecoming and other events throughout the years even as they raised their three children, Josh, Justin, and Rachel. There was just something about this scenic small town.

In 2013, after spending a fun and memorable long weekend with Kari’s siblings and family in Decorah, the couple was inspired to put down roots in town, and join the community on a more tangible level. They bought a lot and built a house on Iowa Avenue. “We chose Decorah, and because of that we very much want Decorah to be successful,” says Pete. “We are not just rooting for it but want to do something positive.”

That has been their mantra time and again over the last six years. In 2014 the couple purchased and renovated Bottle Tree laundromat on College Drive, an investment that, while not necessarily very profitable, served the Decorah population in an important way. Then in 2015, Pete, teaming up with a few family members and friends, opened Pulpit Rock Brewing Company. The brewery was one of the reasons – Toppling Goliath Brewing Company being the other – that Decorah is on the map for craft-beer connoisseurs worldwide. “I am not even a beer drinker, and there was no financial plan that made any sense when we opened,” he says. “But we want to do good things for Decorah, and we thought this would be a good thing for Decorah.”

Pete and Kari at Pulpit Rock Brewing Co. in Decorah, Iowa / Photo courtesy Pete Espinosa

And it has been. As it turned out, says Pete, head brewers Bob Slack and Justin Teff, make great beer: “I was blown away. We started winning awards, and we were getting more and more requests to rent out our taproom, next door to the laundromat.” Those requests inspired another change. When he received an offer to buy the laundromat, he accepted it, contingent that the laundromat would stay on the West Side of Decorah to serve that population. The move left the former laundromat space available to remodel into an event venue, which has been popular from the start.

In 2019, the Espinosas created another anchor for the community. Pete and Kari had long had their eyes on 211 College Drive, a spacious (11,000 square feet) building next door to Pulpit Rock that housed a furniture business. When that business closed, Pete and Kari bought the building to, once again, do something good for Decorah. “We wanted to build an establishment unlike anything else in town,” says Pete, “It was important that we didn’t put anyone out of business.”

The Landing Market opened in July 2020. Modeled after the Lynhall in Minneapolis, it offers a range of food and drink options, from fresh-brewed coffee sourced from Impact (also in town) and other items from distinctive wines to grab-and go sandwiches (made from fresh, locally sourced ingredients) as well as what Pete calls “the best French toast around.”

French toast at Jusin’s at the Landing Market in Decorah / Photo by Sara Friedl-Putnam

The French toast is a featured menu item at Justin’s, an eatery in the Landing Market named after Pete’s son, who has cognitive disabilities. Providing meaningful work opportunities for adults engaged in the Spectrum Network (which serves adults with cognitive disabilities) has been an integral part of the mission of establishing the food hall. “There aren’t a lot of employment options for Spectrum clients in Decorah right now,” says Pete. “But here they can help make yummy, reasonably priced food in a cool setting. That is a home run.”

The Espinosas are also supporters of the arts. Pete and Kari purchased the former Wonder Bread store on Broadway Street in Decorah to ensure ArtHaus, a space for visual and performing arts, had a home in which to grow and thrive in the Decorah community.

Pete, center, with some of his family outside Pulpit Rock Brewing / Photo courtesy Pete Espinosa

“My wife and I believe that the more people you can help in a community, the better everything else turns out. That is the essence of the laundromat, the brewery, the Landing Market, and ArtHaus,” says Pete. “And it all goes back to the fact that we chose to be here so we want to do what we can to make this a special, unique place.”

In 2016, Pete was honored with the Luther College Distinguished Service Award. And in 2017, he joined the Luther College Board of Regents. “I said, sign me up, when asked,” says Pete. “I felt like I could help.”

Delivering Pete’s Distinguished Service Award, Eric Runestad, then Luther vice president of finance, summed up his essence thusly: “Pete is the kind of person that makes you think ‘I could do more.’”

That he is.


Sara Friedl-Putnam has tried the French toast at Justin’s in the Landing Market and can attest to the fact that it is the most delicious French toast in town, if not the region.