The Luther College and Decorah Area Chamber of Commerce Luncheon is always a great way to welcome in a new year. 2019 marks the 30th annual collaborative event.
Guest speaker Reynolds W. Cramer ('91), President and CEO of Fareway Stores, Inc. talked about changes in the grocery industry, his family history with Fareway, and of course his memories of being a student on the Luther College campus.
The Lunchoen is a time we pause to say thanks. First, we thank to those that have served the DACC board for their commitment and leadership to the organization. This year the DACC has two outgoing board members. Brian Huinker, Group Benefit Partners, has served 6 years on the board of directors, including the role of president during the 2015 fiscal year. Dawn Muhlbauer, Decorah Bank & Trust, has also completed 6 years of service to the DACC board, including serving as board treasurer from 2013 to 2015.
The DACC also recognized Shannon Duncan, Manpower. Shannon served as the 2018 Chamber President and led the organization through a year of organizational changes, including taking over maintenance and management of the Visitor Center. The DACC also developed a new mission, vision and values under Shannon’s leadership.
We also take time to thank one of the many volunteers that make our community so special. DACC Board of Directors President, Joe Gavle recognized this 2019 Outstanding Community Service recipient, Mark Faldet. Mark was recognized for his years of dedication and service to the greater Decorah community.
Mark's nomination identified him as an unsung hero who has demonstrated exceptional and outstanding leadership through volunteerism for decades. Mark was a volunteer and board member for the Decorah Teen Center in the 1990s. He has lent his hand and expertise to countless other organizations, groups, and to our community at large - often looking to invest in ideas, and people that will continue to grow and strengthen our town and region for decades to come.
Recently, Mark worked with the Decorah Tree Board to plant hundreds of trees in Decorah. Mark has also been known for less structured volunteering, like his regular visits to nursing homes in the area. Others may have seen him volunteering during Nordic Fest with his homemade sweep pan in hand cleaning up post parade trash. You will find him hauling lumber and supplies to help build infrastructure for area events at ArtHaus, Live on Water Street, and more. Or clearing sidewalks, blocks at a time, on upper Broadway after a winter storm (where he's also lived for over 3 decades.) It is these countless gestures that add up over years of service that truly create a community.
Finally, a note on Mark’s career in Luther College admissions. Through his life's work, he has put the interest of young people first. Mark offers guidance as students navigate Luther's educational experiences. He also takes the extra time to make lifelong friends and builds connects through various networks.
The DACC commends the many leaders and volunteers that are silent contributors to the community. Today, we pay special recognition to Mark Faldet for his obvious pride and dedication to the Decorah community.
Well we did it folks; we made it through the holidays and on to a New Year. After eating my weight in potatoes like a good Norwegian, I’m ready to make some intentional changes for the coming year. I’m not the kind of person to make grand resolutions I can’t keep. So instead of setting myself up for failure, I try to make small changes to improve myself, my life, and my community. I really do believe that these small changes can add up for a significant net gain. I have decided to share my little list and invite you to take a look at what you can do to make our little corner of Iowa just a bit better.
1. Support the Arts
Northeast Iowa has a thriving artist community. Buying art locally contributes to the creative fabric of our community. Local art builds character and creates an atmosphere that makes people want to stay and put down roots. Purchasing local art supports small businesses and keeps our economy vibrant.
2. Send a Thank You Card
Everyone talks about how busy we are these days. And it does seem like the more time saving technology we acquire, the more ways we find to fill that time. Taking 5 minutes out of your day to write out a thank you note can be more impactful than you might think. I’m starting by challenging myself to write just one per week for a month.
3. Bring a Bag
Oh I tried so hard last year. My house is full of reusable tote bags that I just can’t seem to bring with me. So I’m tying a string around my finger and won’t forget because this year is different…for sure…I can feel it.
4. Attend a Class, Seminar, or Discussion
We have amazing resources in Decorah for thought provoking discussion and experiences. Luther College hosts dozens of speakers for events that are free and open to the public. The Northeast Iowa Peace and Justice Center invites the public to attend documentary screenings and discussions with local leaders. There are class opportunities offered through Vesterheim, ArtHaus, and Eagle Bluff Skill School. Learning is a lifelong process that I hope to continue for quite some time.
Working at the Chamber, I am amazed by the impact of our Visitor Center volunteers. In 2018 they put in over 300 volunteer hours to facilitate memorable visitor experiences. That is over 300 hours of time they gave to welcome people to town. This is exactly what makes Decorah the kind of place people want to visit again and again. They have inspired me to find my own volunteer calling in 2019.
If you are looking for volunteer opportunities check out Northeast Iowa Retired and Senior Volunteer Program or contact me at the Chamber. We can always use new friendly folks who are familiar with the area.
May your new year be filled with self improvement and the betterment of your community.
I love local. In the last year I moved back to Decorah after living in Minneapolis, and began working at the Chamber of Commerce. This change completely reshaped my perspective on what it means to shop local, give local, and invest local. There are all kinds of facts and figures explaining the positive impact that local dollars have on a community. When Ben Grimstad spoke about the role of Decorah Bank & Trust at the December YP event he didn't just throw out a bunch of numbers; he told a story.
I’m not going to give away all the good details because you will have to attend a YP gathering for the inside scoop, but I will say that Ben’s story is compelling because it defined the purpose of a community bank. A community bank, like all banks, is focused on growth, however this growth isn’t limited to just money. Growth can be measured by the number of new businesses financed, or satisfied employees, or solar panels installed.
Ben made banking relatable to each and every person sitting in T-Bocks Upstairs. When I think of businesses that foster community, my mind typically goes to the neighborhood grocery store, coffee shop, or brewery. A bank that is focused on a variety of growth metrics achieves success by investing in these community cornerstones. My perspective on investing in the local economy continues to evolve and now includes: shop local, give local, and bank local.
I really can’t remember the last time (if ever) I was excited about a bank, but I am now!
*Book recommendation: Think Big, Act Small by Jason Jennings
This month we had the honor of hearing from Dr. Wee, President of Northeast Iowa Community College. He was willing to share his journey of how he got to where he is today.
He started off by telling us about growing up in Singapore where his parents wanted the best for him. Following his service in the Singapore Armed Forces the search for a college education ensued. He applied to colleges all over and took the first acceptance letter he received. On July 4, 1983 Dr. Wee arrived in the USA and studied at University of Arizona, Tucson.
Dr. Wee has been an educator for more than 25 years. He taught at the University of Arizona, Luther College. and since 2011 he has been the president of Northeast Iowa Community College. It was evident in listening to Dr. Wee that he is very passionate about the community he serves and every student that crosses his path.
During his talk with the YP group he spoke about following the voice inside you. When you feel like you're not happy with your career, relationship, etc. then it is time to move on. He continued to relate to his experiences and times that changes told him it was time to go do something new. Dr. Wee expressed that happiness is a large key to life. He told us that he truthfully never knew what he was going to do next, but his heart was saying it was time for something new.
Towards the end he was asked to repeat something that they had heard him say before: life isn't short, it's long. This was a new way of looking at life. Looking around the room, I could tell that others were digesting this bit of information and realizing that his reasoning made a lot of sense. Every time I hear Dr. Wee speak he always has new bits of wisdom that I take away and really process. He has an amazing way of opening your mind and making you think in a new ways. If you ever have the chance to hear from Dr. Wee you should definitely listen.
If you would like to learn more you can visit the YP Decorah Facebook page, or contact me everyone is welcome.
Thank you to Dr. Wee for speaking with us and to T-Bock's for hosting us.
When people ask me how things are going in the Visitor Center I usually respond with, “It’s going great,” followed by, “very busy though!”
Throughout the year we have welcomed visitors from over 39 states and 8 countries. How in the world did little Decorah in the Northeast corner of Iowa attract all these people?!
I began working my dream job at the Chamber of Commerce in February. It may not be the typical dream job, but I get to welcome travelers of all kinds to this beautiful place while supporting local businesses in a town I love. Throughout the year we arranged visits for groups ranging from bikers to bloggers, and Norwegian ancestry meetings to a women’s Corvette club. I am passionate about facilitating memorable experiences in the Decorah area.
The volume of our walk-in traffic drops with the temperature, but it’s also when we are able to put in the most work on our projects. Looking back at the tourist season, we are able to take into account visitor center data and frequent requests to better serve our visitors. This year we developed and maintained 10 unique brochures and guides to assist folks in their discovery of Decorah. I particularly enjoyed making a scavenger hunt style brochure for kids who get bored very quickly while their parents look over maps and talk about which brewery to check out first.
It has been very interesting to see what attractions pull people to this part of the world. First time visitors usually hear about one big point of interest like Seed Savers, Vesterheim, or the eagles and come to the area to check it out. Once they are here, newcomers quickly realize an afternoon in Decorah simply isn’t enough time to fully experience all it has to offer.
The hardest question to answer when people walk through the door is, “What is there to do in Decorah?”
How could you possibly sum up every answer to that question? I try to steer the conversation to narrow down the choices. Do you like nature? Are you interested in museums? Do you like independent boutique shops? Are you here for biking? As soon as I can determine a topic of interest, out comes the city/county map and I start circling and highlighting all the places to go with little notes and tips written everywhere. My map folding skills have increased quite significantly over the last 9 months.
If I were to pinpoint the best part of working at the Chamber, it would be the feeling of being in a community hub. I regularly interact with dedicated community leaders striving to improve the place we live. And while I am able to work in close proximity to these leaders, I am also able to immediately see the benefit their efforts have on our visitors. I see the smiles when a father/daughter duo completes the Trout Run Trail for the first time; I hear the excitement in the voice of an angler who is new to the area and picking up a fishing guide; I listen to the many, many stories Decorah High School and Luther alumni tell about how much things have changed for the better in the years they have been away.
Thanks for doing great things Decorah, it makes my job a lot more fun!
Seriously, I feel like we've been working on holiday decorations for a LONG time. And I guess if April feels like a long time ago to you my sentiment is justified!
One of my takeaways from 2017 is the community has a lot to say about holiday decorations. The DACC has been organizing and funding holiday decorations for the community for as long as I've been a part of the organization. And this may date me a bit, but that's been at least 20 years.
In the past, the holiday season was a time that I bribed my son's friends with pizza and silver cord hours if they would help me prep decorations. We pulled all the wreaths down from the shelves. Remove them from boxes. Check lights. Replace lights. Fluffed up the branches. Line them up by the door for the Street Department. We checked hundreds of light strands and replaced several bulbs. Trust me, it was a filthy, thankless job. Except for the pizza.
The beloved wreaths and garland of the past were very worn and deteriorated to a point of being unusable. I'm happy to say we were able to recycle most of the materials. Strands of lights that were still functioning have been saved for future use.
Which brings me back to April. After processing all the feedback on the 2017 tree lighting project downtown, it was time to rally people to create a new vision. We formed a committee and debated the pros and cons of owning decorations versus outsourcing the project. The lists were long. Ultimately it was decided that owning the decorations and supplies was the way to go.
Ownership also means we need to plan for all the behind the scenes stuff. We will store the decorations here at the DACC office and prep them for display each year. We will also need to continuously seek donations to properly maintain and replace when needed.
For today, the new decorations are up and I can't wait to see them lit up after dark today. Sometime right after lunch....thank you day light savings time!
A huge thank you to the local SSMID Board (Self-Supporting Municipal Improvement District) and the Depot Outlet for providing generous contributions that allowed us to place an order by August 1st. And of course the Street Department crew for their time in putting the decorations up.
If you enjoy them too, consider a donation. Private funding is the only way we will be able to expand and maintain this project.
I sincerely hope the 2018 holiday season is full of family, food, laughter, and friends for all of you!
Growing up standing beside my dad in the alleyway watching the tractors pull in while dad opened the doors on their wagons and watching the corn or beans spill out into the pit was one of my favorite pass times. After the tractor pulled out of the alley and if there was no one waiting dad would hand me the push broom and I would start sweeping the rest off the floor into the pit. I remember watching in amazement as my dad walk across the grate of the pit, I would always walk around scared somehow, I would fall in. I learned to get over my fear of heights quickly, because I would always want to ride with my dad up in the man-lift to walk across the catwalk while he was checking bins. There are so many memories I have from going to work with my dad or stopping by with supper for him during the long fall nights.
Agriculture has and will always be such a large part of my life whether it be through my dad or all our friends and family, it will repeatedly impact my life. I heard the following phrase once and I can’t think of anything truer. “Despite all our achievements we owe our existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains” –Farm equipment association of Minnesota and South Dakota. When I started my career with the Decorah Area Chamber of Commerce there was a lot to learn, but after a half a year or so I was presented the opportunity to be liaison to different committees and programming. I was ecstatic to take on the Ag Committee to be able to give back and show appreciation to farmers in this area.
This is my second year delivering during our Stay Safe project, but it is my first year leading the committee. Having the privilege to be apart of our Ag Committee holds a special place in my heart. This year I drove and had Gabriel with me out delivering bags. Our area to cover was in the Highlandville to the state line corner of the county. There may not be a lot of farm land in that neighborhood, but there was enough to put smiles on the faces of everyone that we found. One of the farmers we stopped even mentioned to us that his crew and him were just talking about the program the other day while doing something they knew wasn’t probably the safest. It’s nice to hear that the thought of safety translates into thinking about this program.
The Stay Safe and Take a Break program was started in 2004, so this was our 14th year going out and delivering bags. Some of the original people that implemented the program are still on the committee and still find it to be very incredible event to take place. It is such a rewarding experience to give back to the agriculture community. Farmers have the craziest hours during the fall and being able to hand them a bag full of goodies that our members donated is a very fulfilling experience. Everyone that receives a bag is always so appreciative of us taking the time to come out and remind them to Stay Safe and Take a Break. It was another success, as we delivered 180 bags out to the hard-working farmers in the Northeast quadrant of Winneshiek County.
While all the farmers are out pushing hard to put 2018 harvest in the books, the Ag Committee and I are here to remind you to Stay Safe and Take a Break.
This year I had the opportunity to participate in the annual Stay Safe, Take a Break program offered through the Decorah Area Chamber of Commerce and run by its Ag Committee.
We started the day with 180 bags loaded up with all kinds of snacks, safety items, and donations from area businesses. Six teams gathered at the Chamber building for a quick lunch of Mabe’s Pizza then hit the road.
The Northeast quadrant of the county was in rotation to receive the bags this year. We spent about 4 hours cruising the gravel roads looking for harvesters out in the fields. Rachel drove the truck while I kept an eye out for the tell-tale cloud of dust rising from the hills along State Line and North Bear Roads.
We gave a bag to a farmer who may have been on the Minnesota side, but that’s just being a good neighbor and it never hurts to do a little PR for Iowa. There was a county road worker out cutting brush on the roadside and we figured he could use a snack and a break too.
Ultimately the twisting hills and valleys around Highlandville proved to be more suitable for fishing than farming so we hit the blacktop on Big Canoe Road to see who we could find. We stopped at every truck, semi, or combine we came across, handing out bags along the way while reminding folks to “stay safe and take a break!”
This program is in its 14th year so many people recognized us driving to their fields with the bright orange goody bags. There were smiles all around as we chatted with farmers who were working hard to finish up harvesting before any more rain.
Winneshiek County has over 2,000 active farmers and agriculture is a cornerstone of our economy. I enjoyed the chance to show support for the growers in our area who keep the county vibrant and strong.
Everyone can work to stay safe by slowing down and watching for farm vehicles on the roads during this harvest season!
The Decorah Area Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with the Decorah Police Department, announces Halloween trick-or-treating will take place on Wednesday, October 31 with suggested hours for trick-or-treating from 5–8 p.m.
While 5-8 p.m. are the encouraged hours for the night please be mindful of porch lights. Only visit homes with porch lights on at any point in the night. Alternatively, if you are not interested in greeting all the trick-or-treaters, keep your porch light off.
Readers Digest recently shared some Halloween Etiquette Rules:
If you don’t know what a costume is, don’t guess
Skip the gruesome decorations at the office
Use costumes to your advantage at work
Don’t assume everyone shares your sense of humor
Keep in mind that culture isn’t a costume
Remember that in this day and age, nothing is private
Headstone decorations shouldn’t touch a nerve
Teach your kids a lesson
Let kids talk about their costumes
Keep it quiet
Be part of your teen’s costume planning
Skip the haunted house
Be mindful of allergies
Make sure everyone is invited
The DPD and DACC remind everyone to keep an eye out for trick-or-treaters to ensure a safe and happy Halloween.
Have fun and be safe!
It was a privilege for me to fill in at our November YP Decorah event last night. Dave Mitchell, Luther College wrestling coach, teacher, husband, and father was an inspiration with his honest comments and feedback to the group.
Dave learned a long time ago that he was going to need to be resilient. Great leaders are resilient. You can't be a great leader if you are not resilient. We are constantly challenged with responding to changing environments, requests from friends, family, coworkers, bosses, etc. Sometimes we need to be quick to respond or help. Sometimes it's matter of being resourceful but often we need to be resilient in our approach and ability to problem solve. Change is constant and we all fall on occasion. The real challenge lies in getting up and learning from it.
"When you face setbacks and defeat, take the lesson from the experience, commit it to memory, and move forward with the positive." Dan Gable
Do you have a growth mindset? Are you actively looking for ways to improve yourself, your job/career, or personal relationships? It can be very easy to become complacent or just comfortable. And, for the record, I do believe it is okay to live in that space for a moment or two once in while! Dave encouraged us to look at the past fondly and take a moment to recognize our growth, how are we better now? Always grow from our experiences.
Dave learned from a CEO at a National Wrestling Coaches Association event to set 3-5 goals every year. 3 is better than 5 because you are more likely to accomplish them. 3 goals each year personally and professionally. Be sure to take time to reflect on them throughout the year. By all means celebrate your successes or adjust when and where you need to.
Dave also shared a very tangible concept - are you an energizer or energy destroyer? Everyone will have that really great day where everything goes right and it's easy to be the ultimate energizer! You'll also have days that make you wonder why you got out of bed. Outside of those extremes where do you land - an energizer or energy destroyer? I think we can all agree the energizer is probably more effective.
Dave ended the talk with a quote from Warren Buffett:
"The BEST investment you can make is investing in yourself."
Find balance in your life. Work-life balance is a challenge and we all fall out of sync once in a while. Be honest with yourself and be open to making adjustments as needed.
Dave engaged in a thoughtful conversation with the YP Decorah audience. We touched on today's employment challenges, the pros and cons of social media, and challenges you may face as a young professional.
YP Decorah, a program of the Decorah Area Chamber of Commerce, meets once a month with local professionals like Dave Mitchell. If you would like to learn more you can visit the YP Decorah Facebook page, or contact Rachel.
Thank you to Dave for speaking with us and to Rubaiyat for hosting us.
See you next month!
*Book recommendation: Resilience by Eric Greitens, Navy Seal