Posts Tagged: kristine jepsen

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 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.”

Community Builders: Red’s IGA

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

Meatball suppers, spaghetti feeds, pancake breakfasts: There’s no dispute that food fundraisers are a beloved Midwestern tradition, especially when there’s lefse involved.

But in small towns across the Driftless, fundees face a bit of a problem: Any such rally takes time to organize and many, many hands to run successfully. And who wants to plan for months to raise only a few Benjamins in the end (after expenses)?

This was the dilemma Pat ‘Red’ Longmire of Spring Grove, Minnesota, set out to solve six years ago. As founder and owner-manager of Red’s IGA on the east end of town, he saw mutual benefit to running a “turnkey” fundraising program for local organizations. First, Red’s chooses a tasty seasonal menu (meat, ‘taters, veg, coleslaw, and a buttered roll) and performs the food prep. Then, they set up a serving station, usually in the produce aisle of the store, and a few staff, often including Red himself, work alongside student or non-profit volunteers to assemble $9 to-go plates as customers drop in. Generally, 250 meals are served up, and when it’s done, Red’s provides the cleanup.

“My goal is to put $1,000 in their pocket every time,” Red says of the fundraiser recipients: Spring Grove student council, Lions Club, food pantry, and Friends of the Library, among several other causes. “It’s like smoking brisket,” he says, referencing one of his favorite hobbies. “I just love to see the reaction on someone’s face when they take a bite and enjoy it.”

Meanwhile, customers who stop in for the meal get a close look at Red’s ever-expanding stock of vegetables, fruits and items on promo, there in Aisle One.

“Having people come into the store, supporting a local cause, at the end of a long day, getting a plate of comfort foods, gives people a lot of confidence in shopping locally,” Red says. “It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, the more you give back to community, the stronger your support in return. As business owners, I feel it’s our responsibility to give back.”

So keep an eye on the lettered sign outside Red’s IGA (or keep-up-to-date on Facebook). Once each month, September through May, it will announce which Spring Grove organization is running a “Red’s meal deal.” Plates will feature sliced turkey breast (sometime in November), or, yes, gooey, delicious Swedish meatballs in midwinter.

This year they’ll be adding half-chicken to the rotation, utilizing the smoking equipment of Fat Pat’s Texas BBQ, a food truck Red is partnering on with his son, Patrick, Jr. Recently returned to Spring Grove with his young family, Pat (as he’s known, apart from his dad) picked up the BBQ trade as a traveling musician in – you guessed it – Texas. Father and son work side-by-side in the grocery store and in the food truck, which often sells out within an hour or two of sliding open their window for business.

“In small towns, people are giving constantly,” Pat concludes. “That’s the nature of pitching in to make things like the Christmas light display in the city park possible.” By providing a hot, familiar meal on a chilly night, Red’s IGA hopes to make that charity easy as pie.