Minnehaha Academy Blog

Nathan Stromberg's '96 Art Celebrates History of Upper School

Posted by Amy Barnard on Jan 23, 2020


Upper School Art Instructor Nathan Stromberg '96 recently revealed his original piece that remembers and celebrates the history of Minnehaha Academy and the century-old building we lost in the explosion. Roughly 425 hours (almost half a year of after-school work) went into this project that was hung in the school this January.


Stromberg, who himself graduated from MA and began teaching here in 2002, chose to exclusively use archival materials in this collage, and if you look closely you'll see the images of many MA alumni and faculty from over the years.

Many images of faculty members are intentionally placed near the rooms in the school they would have taught.

Below we are including close ups of each panel, but we encourage you to consider stopping by and checking out the work for yourself, as you'll be able to even more details up close.

Beneath each panel we've included explanations from Mr. Stromberg relating to his work.

(TIP: To watch a special student-produced video interview with Mr. Stromberg please check out this link: http://www.redhawksonline.com/2020/01/21/strombergs-masterpiece/.)


"In my collage work, I tend to work fairly intuitively and I’m always on the lookout for humorous images and bits of pop culture to hide in there, but I knew this work had to be different. Everything about it had to be thought out meticulously because it would be heavily scrutinized and looked at for a very long time. The solution was to exclusively use archival school material. Thankfully, we have a lot of it, and our archivist was fine with me destroying/re-using old yearbooks/pamphlets/promotional materials as far back as the beginning of our school, 1913, so long as I left at least 5-6 good copies."


"Much of that material was black and white, so I dyed many of the fragments with acrylic ink for the bottom layers and used the full color images for the top. Tens of thousands of fragments, 5 months and approximately 425 hours of work later, here’s the result."


The entire history of the school is here in word and image—pictures of students and faculty members who spent decades here—memories that are shared by so many people."

2020-Stromberg-Old-School-Art-6 "I sincerely hope it is a point of connection for our school and particularly our alumni, and I hope it brings people joy for a good long while."


"For all those who’ve lost a point of physical connection or the place where you made your high school or career memories, this is especially for you."


All quotes from the artist, Nathan Stromberg.

We are so grateful to both Mr. Stromberg and the donors who made this work possible.


To see a special student-produced video interview with Mr. Stromberg please check out this link:




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Topics: Upper School, Alumni Stories, Fine Arts, Faculty Stories

Discover a New Story: Building Empathy Through Cultural Field Experience

Posted by Amy Barnard on Jan 16, 2020

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Packing donated clothes for the children's home.

Last spring’s Cultural Field Experience (CFE) trip to Roatan wasn’t Abbi Slininger’s first cross cultural venture. At seventeen years old she’s already made her way to Costa Rica, Europe, and Bora Bora with her family.

In spite of this, Abbi's trip to Roatan impacted her in ways these previous excursions didn't.

"I realized that I want to live my life so that I give back...It will make me a better person and impact others if I’m not just thinking about myself," Abbi explains.

Abbi joined ten other students along with Principal Jason Wenschlag and science teacher Nancy Cripe in Roatan, a little island off Honduras, to volunteer at a children’s home this past spring.

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Abbi teaching a student at the home she spent a lot of one on one time with how to make friendship bracelets.

The group helped children in the home with homework, assisted in setting up the new tilapia farm (a source of both food and income for the home), taught crafts, painted walls, and joined a local church in their outreach to some of the poorest families on the island.

While there, the students also heard the children share the various and often difficult journeys that brought them to the home.

"I was surprised that some of them were willing to share, and that they still wanted people in their lives [after what they had experienced]," Abbi shares.

She says getting to know the children and the time she spent meeting people during the church outreach made her aware in a new way of the needs of others, as well as the very different stories that make up the tapestry of our world.

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Testing water quality in preparation for the small tilapia farm that alum Randy Bevis '87 prepared for the home. MA students brought additional materials and taught the older children at the home how to test water to keep the farm healthy.

These are exactly the glimmers of understanding that CFE Director Jessa Anderson hopes to see increase in the coming years at MA.

"We want something deeper than traditional service learning for CFE," she says. "We want students to be developing empathy, building relationships, and learning to be better global citizens."

This is a tall order. In a world where "service learning trips" face increasing scrutiny, at times seen as little more than badges to stick on a college application, or (hardly better) as a chance to feel good about doing something nice, Ms. Anderson wants more for MA students.

"It’s not just going and serving in a place and leaving," she explains.

Instead, she wants students to learn about the places and people they serve in ways that deepen their respect and empathy, as well as help them feel connected to people who may be very different than themselves.

For Anderson, this isn’t simply a matter of theory or nice ideas she learned in a seminar on social justice. As a small child, her family moved to an economically depressed neighborhood to be part of a church plant and serve the community. In a later season of life, she heard people’s stories in Northern Ireland and South Africa while serving on a peace-building and reconciliation ministry team.

These encounters changed how Anderson sees the world and sees individuals.

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Paint rollers drying after MA students helped with bathroom renovation. 

The question facing her today is this: How do you help an entire school prepare for CFE in a way that might facilitate these mindset shifts?

This year Anderson is preparing empathy-building activities for students to use during team meetings and then take on the road and into their CFE encounters.

In keeping with the year's theme—"Discover a New Story"—teams will discuss the value of learning each other's stories and discuss how to ask good questions while avoiding those that might not be so helpful. From there, a pack of conversation starters will help them draw out their teammates' stories.

Once students arrive at their CFE sites team leaders will encourage them to use these new skills to learn from the people they meet.

Whether playing bingo at a veteran's home, repairing a house in rural Kentucky, or working with an environmental conservation group in Guatemala, Anderson hopes that hearing the stories of others will bring a greater sense of connection to the wider world.

For 2019 CFE participant Langting Deng, helping immigrants improve their English at the International Institute opened up just that type of connection.

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MA students at the International Institute helping immigrants with their English.

Langting shares that she stepped into the experience with no small amount of hesitancy: herself an international student, she wasn’t sure how much she had to offer these adult language learners from Ethiopia, Chile, and other nations that seemed so far removed from her life back in China or her days at Minnehaha Academy.

But sitting alongside them at simple folding tables in the Institute's classrooms, Langting was surprised to find that her own experience as a second language learner gave her common ground with these adults. That common ground then opened doors for deeper revelations.

"I realized that there are a lot of people in the world who are similar to me; each person has their own struggles and each person is working very hard, even harder than I am sometimes."

"When we have the opportunity to go out and see people in different settings it stretches us and it broadens our view," says Anderson.

"It’s really easy to live in a bubble where you’re comfortable...When we actually see and experience [different settings] we learn to respect those realities and to empathize with people’s stories."

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Nicholas and student at the home building a model airplane.

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Topics: Upper School, Cultural Field Experience, Caring Community

Selfless in a Selfie World

Posted by Amy Barnard on Jan 7, 2020

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It’s mid-September. Through the floor-to-ceiling windows of Mr. Sauer’s third floor classroom you can see the first flickers of fall color speckling the green canopy below. Class is over, and senior Peter Shaffer grabs his books, ready to move on to the next class.

"Shaffer," Mr. Sauer stops him. "I have something for you."

Kris Sauer, English teacher and assistant cross country coach, slips a white envelope into Peter’s hands. "I don’t know what’s in it," he says.

Peter looks at the envelope, confused. It’s a letter from former cross country and track teammate, Chris Schold, written four years earlier and filed away in Mr. Sauer’s cabinet for safe keeping. Today Chris studies economics at St. Olaf and is preparing for his upcoming position at Optum, but during these four years the letter made a trek from the rubble of the old building, to Mendota, and finally to Mr. Sauer’s new classroom.

"What is this about?" Peter wonders.


Peter Shaffer just before qualifying for State.

Later that evening, when Peter opens the letter at home, he understands. Mr. Sauer often gives his students the opportunity to write a letter to their future selves. Four years after they graduate, he mails those letters back to the students so they can see and remember the wishes they had for themselves on the cusp of leaving MA.

Chris Schold, however, chose not to write to himself, but to write to Peter, who was just in eighth grade at the time.

Now a senior, Peter opens the letter to find words of encouragement and an exhortation to continue forward in excellence. "I was surprised at how much he noticed about me in seventh and eighth grade, and that he thought to write to me about it," Peter shares, adding that he felt humbled to be on the receiving end of such a gesture.

For his part, Chris considered just doing the assignment and writing to himself, but, "I started to think about how this assignment could actually be used to bring greater good to the team."

Letter from Chris to Peter copy

Peter's positive attitude and willingness to "stick with it" when things got tough impressed Chris throughout their time in cross country. "I wanted to let him know that he was a great student and athlete and it was a pleasure to get to know him. It seemed like a good way to finish out the year and make an impact on someone else."

Chris’s decision exemplifies a key value that staff and faculty at MA hope to nurture throughout the community: Considering the needs and feelings of others, and how you can be part of making someone else's life better.

In a world where popular media and culture often glorify self promotion, faculty continually challenge students to consider how their actions and choices impact not only themselves but also those around them.

Class Constitution

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Each teacher has his or her own way of offering this challenge throughout the school year. If you step into fifth grade teacher Nichole De Haven’s class early in the year, you might catch her working on the Class Constitution with her students.

"How do you want others to treat you this year?" she asks her students. "What are your hopes for the ways others do or don't interact with you?"

The students brainstorm a list together that goes up on the whiteboard.

"Do you notice anything interesting about this list?" Ms. De Haven asks the group.

Inevitably students start to recognize that their peers hold similar hopes and values (kindness, truth telling, etc.) as themselves. This revelation plants seeds of empathy and nudges students to consider how their words or actions may impact their peers.

Fifth grader Katie Jane shares this realization: "It’s important to hear other people’s ideas and what they have to say. I don’t want someone to ignore me when I’m talking, so I should respect them when they are talking."

As they work through these values, the students develop a Class Constitution—a series of agreements they make for how they want to treat each other.

"It’s really helpful to have their wording, not just mine," says De Haven, noting that the process gives the students a sense of ownership. The class then agrees as a community to "uphold the Constitution" that they’ve created.

Random Acts of Kindness

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Middle School Counselor Sarah Rothstein also works hard to reinforce the community values on campus. Herself a transplant to Minnehaha with experience in two public school districts, she shares that she’s witnessed firsthand the uniqueness of the Minnehaha culture.

"I’ve never worked in a school where for the most part kids tell you the truth, and when they make a mistake and they own it," she says.

Rothstein is quick to clarify that Middle School students at MA aren’t perfect, and they definitely aren’t immune to the many quirky friendship dramas and behavior issues adolescents are famous for, but, she says, "As a whole the kids here really want to do the right thing. Although they make mistakes, they own them; although they have friendship troubles, they want to work them out."

Wanting to reinforce the good she already saw happening as well as broaden students’ ideas about serving and loving others, Ms. Rothstein instituted the Random Acts of Kindness board. Each year she writes out cards that recommend ways to serve others or help others feel safe and included in school. Over the course of a number of weeks, students chose cards from the board and then report back on what they did.

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Some examples include:

  • "I let someone go in front of me in line."
  • "I told someone that I was thankful for her because she always makes me laugh."
  • "I helped babysit for my neighbors."

Serving Others With Our Bodies

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Even in the more unexpected places, like physical education class, instructors work with students on developing an awareness of others.

On a blustery Wednesday morning in October, fourth graders from Jordan Fitch’s phy-ed class toted rakes as big as themselves into a yard just a few blocks from the school. After a brief prayer for their time together and the family who owned the home, the students got to work pushing leaves into piles and then bagging them up.

In all, students served six neighborhood families through raking this fall.

"I’ve been trying to teach our PE students that our bodies aren’t just here to serve our needs alone, but that we are called to serve God and serve others with this gift that we’ve been given," shares Mr. Fitch.

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Students praying for the people whose yards they would be raking that day.

Before raking he shared this scripture to help set the tone:

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." (Mathew 25:35-36)

While Fitch loves sports and loves the growth that comes from learning to be part of a team or to push oneself physically, underneath everything he wants students to connect their faith with all aspects of life.

"I would love students to see everything they do in PE as an opportunity to serve God and to honor Him," he says, reaffirming that a primary way we serve God is to serve others. "Raking was a unique experience to do that."

Full Circle

While these examples are just a few of the many ways faculty encourage students towards an awareness of and empathy for those around them, they typify an undergirding mindset seen in classrooms across campus.

Upper School Spanish instructor Anne Calvin notes, "Ultimately it’s about being the body of Christ. We call out the good in our students but we also name the things that are undesirable such as, 'that doesn’t have any place here.' The desire is to have an environment that is Christ-like, where the Holy Spirit is present. It’s not just a poster on the wall, but it’s rooted in something much deeper and more profound in how we view one another, that we do bear the image of God."


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Topics: Middle School, Upper School, Lower School, Caring Community

Basketball: Minnehaha Academy v. Sierra Canyon [Photos]

Posted by Rebekah Peterson on Jan 4, 2020

What an amazing night of basketball at the Target Center! Minnehaha Academy defeated Sierra Canyon 78-58 in the ESPN Clash of Champions exhibition game.

View full gallery slideshow.

The Redhawk Boys' Basketball team played a fast-paced and exciting game to a crowd of 17,378 people - one of the highest attended at the Target Center in the last six years. It was also broadcast to more than 17,000 people on ESPN3.

A huge congratulations to our student athletes for the way they represented Minnehaha. We couldn't be more proud of all they have accomplished on the court and in the classroom.

We were fortunate to also have our very talented student Grace perform the National Anthem to begin the game. She truly shone in the spotlight on a national stage!

Students Grace, Prince (also on the basketball team), Zac, and Danyelle were featured on the big screens at the Target Center when our new Upper School video was shown during halftime. It was fun to share what life is like at Minnehaha to our basketball fans.

A huge thank you to all of the Redhawk community who came out to support the team. Your energy was palpable in the space and made the night so much fun.

Thank you also to the coaches, staff, the Target Center, ESPN, Paragon, and everyone else who made the night such a success!

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Topics: Upper School, Athletics

Baby Jesus Play [Photos]

Posted by Rebekah Peterson on Dec 20, 2019

The four-year-old preschoolers did an excellent job performing their Baby Jesus Play for family and Lower School students. They spent weeks memorizing their lines and the songs, and all of that work paid off! We are so proud of what our students accomplish. Thank you, preschoolers, for your beautiful gift of the play and songs.

Photo Gallery Link


Topics: Preschool

Preschool Christmas Concert [Photos]

Posted by Rebekah Peterson on Dec 20, 2019

What a beautiful job the three-year-old preschoolers did as they performed Christmas songs. What a blessing to hear their sweet voices!

Full gallery.


Topics: Preschool

Stephen Swanson '63

Posted by Nick Tofteland on Dec 20, 2019

4Donizetti. Leoncavello. Mozart. Offenbach. Puccini.  These are just a few of the composers of the 106 opera roles that Stephen Swanson has sung.   He is a concert and opera singer, an opera stage director, and a Professor of Voice at the University of Iowa. He has made a living as a singer since 1970.  “It’s been a good life,” says Swanson. 

Harry Opel was Stephen’s biggest influence during his time at MA.  Stephen made it into the Singers as a sophomore, which was very tough.  Part of the audition required sight reading, which thanks to Harry’s training, he did extremely well. “That skill has helped me my entire life.”  Throughout his three years as a Minnehaha Singer they sang some very difficult music and they did it exquisitely well. Harry’s teaching and leadership is what made that possible. “You would have loved him. If you like music, you would have been in awe of him. He was the best there was. The Singers under Harry’s direction were something very, very special.”

Stephen counts Harry among the world class conductors with whom he has worked over the span of his entire career. “Harry had an incredibly high standard, a great love for music, directing, and the people in his ensemble. Nothing but the best was good enough for Harry. He inspired us to be better than we were.  And then, when we were better than that, he said we still had another step forward.  He was an amazingly good musician.  He did not compromise his standards in literature one tiny bit, even though he got some flack from people who said his music was too highbrow. The music that the Singers performed was a Christian testimony as well as an educational experience.” Stephen stayed in touch with Harry and his wife after high school, and they were friends until the Opels passed away. 

The Next Step

After MA, Stephen went to North Park College on a music scholarship and got two degrees, a Bachelor of Music, and Bachelor of Music Education.  “I had always wanted to be a second Harry Opel. Then I realized I would never be as good as Harry as a Music Educator, so I thought I better stick to singing!”  After North Park, he earned a Master’s Degree at Northwestern University. He started his professional opera career with two summer young artist’s apprenticeships at Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts (one of the premier training programs for young professional singers) followed by a third summer there as a young artist.  From there he went to Europe and spent two years in Switzerland and 17 years in Germany, singing opera. 

In 1994, Stephen was hired by the University of Iowa as an Associate Professor of voice. He received tenure four years later, followed by a promotion to Full Professor. While presenting a Master Classes for the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre he worked with Eli Aronson, ‘17, who was one of the young artists there and was delighted to discover that Minnehaha is still producing great singers.

To The Students

What is Stephen’s advice for current Minnehaha students?  “To paraphrase Harry, always be the best you can be, and be better than that the next day. If you are doing your best, be satisfied, and realize that tomorrow you will be even better.”

Topics: Alumni Stories

Eli Aronson '17

Posted by Nick Tofteland on Dec 20, 2019

Headshot2019When he was in 5th grade, Eli had a desire to go to a school that would be more academically focused.  A family friend went to Minnehaha and highly recommended it, so Eli did a shadow visit, and really liked it. There was one problem. The school charged tuition, and his family couldn’t afford to pay the whole amount. His family applied for the Heritage & Hope Scholarship, a donor-funded program which provides needs-based financial assistance to mission appropriate students.  Eli’s family received the scholarship, and he started MA in 6th grade.   

Home Away From Home

Eli came to Minnehaha because he wanted an environment that would challenge him.  What he didn’t realize was that MA would provide him with a home. “I felt cared for by the students and faculty. I felt a great sense of community. I was excited to learn and excited to go to class. I feel lucky and blessed to have had that experience.” 

As he got older, he got involved with many of the arts, like theatre, orchestra, and choir.  He auditioned for the fall play his freshman year, and was lucky to be cast, as there were only a few freshmen cast. “That experience really changed my life, because I realized that theatre and performing was something I really loved and I found gratifying.” His biggest influence was Mrs. Hallberg, his band and orchestra teacher.  “She helped cultivate a love of music in me and supported me in expanding my musical horizons by joining choir and taking voice lessons.” 

His final orchestra and choir Christmas concert of his senior year found him ‘in the moment’ and really cherishing that experience.  He reflected on how lucky he was to be around people he loved, and to be involved in all the things he loved to do. “I felt very cared for and was very happy at Minnehaha.”   

During his time at MA, he was involved in three orchestras, two choirs, and in every main stage play and musical.  “I don’t think I would have had that opportunity at any other High School. Those experiences shaped me into the person I am today and gave me the confidence and knowledge that I can make a career in doing what I love:  music.” 

Life Beyond MA

Today, Eli is at St. Olaf college, working on a Bachelor of Music in vocal performance. “That’s basically ‘code’ for music and opera,” says Eli.  He especially loves opera and hopes to start his career as an opera singer.  “Opera combines acting, music and singing.  It was a natural progression of those interests for me.” 

In 2017-18, Eli was a young artist with the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre. He was in a production with Stephen Swanson, ’63,  the Head of Vocal Music at the University of Iowa.  “His professionalism and depth of experience added so much to the production,” says Eli.  In the past two summers, he has performed in operas with the Halifax Summer Opera Festival in Nova Scotia, Canada.  

To The Students

What would Eli say his school experience would have been like if he had not come to MA?  “I’m not sure where I would be in life right now.  I don’t think I would be going to the college I’m going to, or pursuing the career I’m pursuing, because MA really opened opportunities for me in those ways that I do not think I would have had at other schools.  The Heritage and Hope Scholarship enabled me to come to MA and have a phenomenal education and experience.” 

Topics: Alumni Stories

Yearbook Staff Awarded by International Journalism Honor Society

Posted by Amy Barnard on Dec 17, 2019

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Quill and Scroll, an international high school journalism society with nearly 100 years of history honored four Minnehaha Academy students as well as the yearbook staff as a whole last week for their work.

The staff received Quill and Scroll's Blue and Gold award in the area of Comprehensive Visuals for the selection of photos they entered in the contest.

The following students received individual awards:

Lily McClelland, Junior: First place overall in the clubs/organizations photo division, below.

11 Clubs service interns Lily McClelland
McClelland's photo of Sammi '19 and Annika '19 collecting blankets for a charity drive. 
Anna Noble, Junior: Second place, feature photo, below.
12 Feature photo swingset Anna Noble
Noble's photo of Linnea Askegaard '21 and Abby Hobrough '21 playing with children during last year's Cultural Field Experience.
Josh St. Andrew, Sophomore: Second place, student life photo, below.
10 Student Life diploma Josh
St. Andrew's photo of Olivia '19 receiving her diploma from her father, Lower School instructor Jeff Bosshardt.
Stella Berlin, Sophomore: Third place, academic photo, below.
9 Academic photo Line drawing Stella
Berlin's photo of Bekah Hoyle '22 in art class.
Congrats on a job well done, yearbook staff!
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Topics: Awards, Academics, Exceptional Academics

Ruth Berg and John Carlson Honored During Window Installation

Posted by Amy Barnard on Dec 16, 2019

Last week Empirehouse installed the stained glass windows in honor of Ruth and John, as well as a central piece that reflects our Christian mission. The three windows float above the six panels that were that were moved from the former prayer chapel.

We invite you to watch this video of the installation and take a moment to remember these two beloved colleagues.

Topics: 3100 Campus

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