Posts Categorized: People

Community Builder: Greg Wennes

Community Builder: Greg Wennes – Sunrise Care Facility, Spring Grove, Minnesota

Story and photos by Kristine Jepsen • Originally published in the Fall 2017 Inspire(d)

It’s a sunny Thursday morning, and Greg Wennes is waiting in a plastic lawn chair, under the mature trees shading Sunrise Care Facility, just “Sunrise” for short. It’s a farmhouse on the outskirts of Spring Grove, Minnesota – known by locals as the Gilbertson place. As many as 10 men, all recovering alcoholics or addicts, can eat, sleep, work and find community and support here. They may stay weeks, months or years as they transition between formal rehabilitation treatment and regular, productive lives.

When Greg, owner-operator of Wennes Communications Stations, helped found Sunrise in 1988, it was among the first of its kind in this part of the Driftless. And while these days he’s a guy who has the glow of wintering in warmer places and who drives a glittering burgundy motorcycle, among other classic rides, he needs you to understand this about him first: He’s a recovering alcoholic, a lifelong condition.

There was a time when he himself came home from residential treatment to find his house empty but for a mattress and a dying spider plant, his wife and kids gone. He’s been to the depths, and he knows what it takes to climb out (and stay out), one handhold at a time. Sunrise was founded to provide the footing.

“Drinking is a lonely occupation,” he says, “but ‘sober lonely’ is incredible. It’s one of the most difficult parts of recovery.”

Opening a care facility isn’t the easiest thing in a tight-lipped Scandinavian community, where people keep problems to themselves, but beneath any public stigmatization that existed, Greg and other founders quickly assembled a broad base of support, across medicine, recovery treatment policy, public health, law enforcement, and ministry. The home opened as a non-profit with significant help from the Tweeten Foundation, previous owners of the local hospital. Renovated twice to date, Sunrise operates with resident fees paid privately or subsidized by state and federal public health systems. Supporters aspire to add a private wing for women soon, too.

“It takes an alchie to know and help an alchie,” Greg says of his friend and colleague Greg ‘Gregor’ Rostad, using recovery slang for an alcoholic, as opposed to a ‘normie’ (an un-addicted person). Gregor, also a successful business owner, is in his fifth year as administrator on-site at Sunrise, a job layered with management, mentoring, discipline, and compassion. “It takes being both an achie and a business person to make this place work,” Gregor says. Above all, he has to keep inevitable social challenges from trampling the bottom line.

Residents, each with his own private room in the stately farmhouse, make meals together in teams. They coordinate clinic and therapy visits, run errands in Sunrise’s two shuttle vans, and perform all the maintenance of the house and five-acre grounds. They also host and attend recovery meetings, both on-site and at other meeting spaces around the region. Friends and family can sign in to visit, and it’s common for residents to walk the mile or so into downtown Spring Grove to shop on their own, enjoy the view of neighboring pastures, and get a breath of normal, small-town life.

“Anyone can quit drinking,” Greg says. “The question is, ‘How do I learn to live and function in society as a sober person?’ Our goal is to provide a sober, safe sanctuary.”

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To join the conversation, Greg and Gregor recommend Facing Addiction (facingaddiction.org), a resource hub for those living with addiction or wanting to support someone who is. To learn more or support Sunrise Care Facility, visit sunrisecarefacility.com.

Community Builder: Shannon Dallenbach Durbin

Community Builder: Shannon Dallenbach Durbin: ArtHaus & Creative Community

By Aryn Henning Nichols • Originally published in the Fall 2017 Inspire(d)

“I got this.”

It’s a phrase Shannon Dallenbach Durbin has found herself saying a lot. Usually it’s about a job or a project that will bring artists, kids, and/or creativity together.

“Computers can do so much now. They can replace manual labor and intelligence,” she says. “But creativity can’t be replaced. It’s what humans have… and we don’t nurture it enough.”

Fostering a creative community started early for Shannon.

“I always wished I had that one best friend,” she says, “But instead I had a bunch of friends from a bunch of different groups. And maybe that’s because of my personality – I like almost everyone.”

She grew up in Arlington, Iowa, and went to school at Starmont, where she was active in pretty much every activity possible: musicals, choir, saxophone, piano, art, dance, tae kwon do (she’s got a black belt!), future homemakers, future business leaders, chess, drama, yearbook, quiz bowl… you get the idea.

“I really wanted to experience everything,” she says. “And nothing about that has really changed.”

In high school, she was also on what she called a “LOVE mission.”

“It was my goal to make sure that no one felt unloved,” she says. “I wrote lots of letters to random classmates sharing what I liked about them, I went to graduation parties I was afraid wouldn’t have many attenders, and I bought anonymous gifts for people.”

After an eighth grade trip to the Holocaust Museum, she came across a Dalai Lama quote: “It is not enough to have compassion, you must act.” This became Shannon’s motto, and even drove her college choice, the University of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota, because of the school’s strong emphasis on Social Justice. Shannon got a degree in art education, then moved back to Starmont to teach high school art.

It was a great job, just not quite the right fit.

“I realized I loved organizing curriculum but teaching wasn’t my favorite,” she says.

So Shannon took an ad design job at a newspaper in Elkader, but shortly after she started, most of the folks in her office left to start another newspaper. Shannon stayed on. “This newspaper had been around for decades and I really didn’t want to see it end,” she says. The owners of the newspaper said, “You got this?”

“I had no idea what I was doing, but I still said, ‘Sure! I can do this!’” Shannon started running the place, hiring writers and designers – even her husband, Bryce.

It’s this can-do attitude that has helped Shannon grow creative communities across Northeast Iowa. Shannon and Bryce moved to Elkader in 2008, where they had their two sons, Lincoln and Felix (now 8- and 3-years-old). She ran the newspaper for two and a half years. Next up was a two-year stint with AmeriCorps, then two years running a retail shop in Elkader called Whimsy Market, while also volunteering with the Elkader Main Street Committee, and helping to organize the first Art in the Park in Elkader.

Then she landed a job that brought all her passions to one place: program coordinator for the Clayton County Extension office in Elkader. Her work focused on planning community events and youth programs like a makers’ space, lego robotics, youth after-school clubs, and more.

“I loved that job so much,” Shannon says. It was hard to conceive of leaving, but in 2016 a job opportunity arose: Executive Director at ArtHaus in Decorah.

“I basically said, ‘If you can make this job a lot like my current job, then I’m your gal,’” she says. The board was excited to have Shannon’s background in the arts, business-ownership, kids, and the region as a whole. They offered her the job, and she accepted.

“There is a great group of people on the board, and they give me the flexibility and freedom to do what I think will work best for ArtHaus,” she says.

That means promoting cool classes that are all about community. Folks can come together for a casual night of subversive cross-stitching, or head in for open studio time or join in on a singing or writing workshop.

“I want to make it easier for people to make their own art,” she says. “ And I want to make the arts community accessible for everyone.”

“I think I found my groove,” she says. “I love partnering with other groups to make things happen and reach sustainability,” she says. “ Then it’s my turn to say, ‘You got this.’”

Community Builders: Red Roxy

Community Builders: Roxanne Schnitzler & Jessica Rediske: Red-Roxy Quilt Co.

By Kristine Jepsen • Originally published in the Fall 2017 Inspire(d)

When Roxanne Schnitzler and Jessica Rediske opened Red-Roxy Quilt Co. on Water Street in 2013, mother and daughter were already pretty well known around town. Roxanne was an administrator in the Winneshiek County Sheriff’s Office, and Jessica was a loan officer at Viking State Bank, both based in Decorah.

“But who really likes to go to the bank?” Jessica says with a questioning look. “Or to jail?!” adds Roxanne. “This business is a different ball game: People are so happy to be here,” Roxanne concludes.

Crafting is, one might argue, in their DNA. Roxanne has served as clothing superintendent for the local 4-H chapter since her own kids were in the club. Today, machine embroidery is her strong suit (she stitched the logo tapestry that greets visitors at the Red-Roxy checkout). Jessica, for her part, is a natural problem-solver and quickly took up the Bernina sewing machine repair and warranty work that came with the business. They divide the required management between them – more amicably than either imagined.

“We didn’t really know how it would go, to be honest,” says Jessica, whose day starts early with the milking of 75 registered Holsteins on her family’s farm. “What’s surprised us most is how diverse the quilting community is, right here in our rural town.” One of the first of Red-Roxy’s many ongoing classes, exploring “100 Modern Quilt Blocks,” drew 36 people, ranging in age from 21 to 85.

This community of quilters and ‘sewists,’ they say, are part forager, part engineer, and all artist. Even though Red-Roxy stocks 3,000 bolts of fabric, folks know that when any given batik or double gauze or true-blue cotton is gone, it’s gone – as in, perhaps not even available from the manufacturer – and they pore over them with the precision of gem buyers, piecing together just the right combination that will make their next project shine.

Jessica and Roxanne decide which of these fabrics to buy a year or more in advance, often at huge market shows that feature thousands of designers and vendors, all vying to get their limited-time wares out on shelves.

“Our store trademark has become the bright and modern,” Roxanne says. One of her current favorites features fluorescent cats. “And we’ve learned to make our buys together to get the other’s opinion on how it fits the year’s craft trends or palettes. Otherwise, something will show up and we’ll cringe and point fingers at each other: ‘Did you order that?’”

Then there’s the magic of bringing a quilt, wall-hanging, or piece of clothing to life, full of angles, measurement, cutting, and of course, sewing. Red-Roxy sells kits of pre-cut fabrics, ready to be stitched into blocks, or staff can advise on how fabrics will (or won’t!) work together in a pattern.

True to the nature of ‘patchworking,’ Red-Roxy is a stop on the All Iowa Shop Hop each June, in which crafters get access to exclusive fabrics and discounts as they pick a little here, a little there from the circuit of nearly 100 stores.

 Red-Roxy also contributes to “Row by Row,” an international event each June through September. Central organizers choose a theme each year (2017 was “On the Go!”), and shops design and cut unique kits that comprise one row of quilt blocks. The first crafter in each store to complete eight rows, each representing a different store’s local flare, wins that store’s Row by Row prize: a valuable bundle of ‘fat quarters’ (quarter yards of fabric).

But Jessica and Roxanne say quilters’ true colors come flying out in the store’s dedicated craft retreats, winter and summer, as well as “Fridays After Close” (FAC for short), 5pm to midnight, once a month. The adult version of a lock-in, these retreats allow crafters to bring their current project and machine and just dial in for hours.

“We feed them, and we break up the frenzy with games and other fun stuff,” Roxanne says. “It’s so fun to see the talent in this community.”