Minnehaha Academy Blog

Nick Tofteland

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Lisa (Hubers) TerHaar '88

Posted by Nick Tofteland on Jan 28, 2020

Lisa-5Lisa TerHaar ’88 and Michelle Thompson ‘86 have created a brand-new concept combining children and elders with dementia in a Montessori program. This intergenerational classroom day program “engages children and elders in a meaningful community while experiencing ordinary life with extraordinary love.”   They call it “Nonna’s,” which is the Italian word for grandmother, and want it to be a home away from home, where children have an experience “just like being at grandma’s.” Nonna’s first location is in Wayzata, across the street from Presbyterian Homes. Right now, they are enrolling infants, toddlers, and elders in their Montessori day program. You can find out all about Nonna’s online at nonnas.net. 

Dedicated Faculty Make A Difference

Lisa attended MA from 7th-12th grade and remembers having good friends, enjoying being a part of the athletic programs, and appreciating the teachers at Minnehaha.  Being a part of the volleyball and ski team were “a lot of fun,” with the camaraderie of the team being the best part of the experience.   “My teachers at MA were all people who really loved their subject area.”  Rabbi Swanson was a very inspiring teacher who taught Biblical concepts by reading through the Chronicles of Narnia and Pilgrim’s Progress with his students, adding a layer of depth and relating it to their own spiritual formation. Her French teacher, Mrs. Johannessen was doing French immersion before immersion “was a thing.” Mrs. Johannessen “breathed French and promoted this whole feeling of another world in her classroom.”  They would have special days where they would do things like make French food.   Lisa even got to go to France on an amazing two-week trip planned by Mrs. Johannessen, which included one week of travel and one week of staying with a French family.  

Life Beyond MA

After attending Calvin College to earn her BSN, Lisa attended the University of Minnesota to earn her MSN and credentials as a nurse practitioner.  She spent several years caring for elders in the Allina Health System and Presbyterian Homes communities, which cultivated an interest in integrative/functional medicine, most specifically in the area of dementia prevention. While working at Minnesota Personalized Medicine, she collaborated with Michelle and their husbands to co-found Nonna’s, where Lisa is Chief Operating Officer and Director of Adult Programming. 

Lisa has been a caregiver for her mother who is living with dementia, which inspired the intergenerational programming.  One of her hopes and goals for this coming year is to create and launch a community-based dementia prevention program.  “For me, that is a really important part of the work--to go beyond just caring for elders---but to connect with families, and other people in the community who are concerned about dementia risk.”  

What's Next?

“The research is really building around the opportunity we have to prevent dementia. It is estimated that there is a period of 10-15 years when you’re having changes to your brain before symptoms are present.  If we can connect with people in that window of time, there is so much that we can do!” she said. Lisa has received training with Dr. Dale Bredesen, who, in his book “The End of Alzheimer’s” has published dementia reversals for people who are in those earlier stages. “It is very exciting research.  I look at my mom, and we were too late to implement the program for her--but now looking at myself, my sisters, and people who are in our generation, we are at the critical time in life to make changes.”  Dr Bredesen coined the term cognoscopy, suggesting that just as we routinely screen people for risk of colon cancer, we can screen people for their risk of dementia.  What do people aged 50+ need?  First, they need a thorough intake assessment, which includes assessing sleep status, a history of toxin exposures, along with a lab workup to identify their personal risk factors, which then leads to a personalized prevention plan. Lisa is enthusiastic in her belief that there is hope for families, like her own, who are at risk for dementia.

Topics: Alumni Stories

Michelle (Lee) Thompson '86

Posted by Nick Tofteland on Jan 28, 2020

Michelle ThompsonWhen Michelle was in elementary school, Bev Oren, an MA parent who was also a friend of Michelle’s mother, encouraged sending Michelle to Minnehaha. Bev noted that Michelle had leadership abilities and shared that MA fosters leaders, so it would be a good fit. Her parents agreed and enrolled her in her 7th grade year. Her first day they dressed her in a little suit and pumps (with pigtails) which they still joke about now. Her parents began “priming the pump” at a young age!

A Perfect Fit

MA was a perfect match to help grow Michelle in many ways, including her leadership gifts. Classes were taught in depth and teachers were passionate about their subject matter. She had Janet Johnson for Honors English (“amazing”) and felt she completely understood how to write a great paper and use grammar correctly.  She knew her Bible and learned exegesis and how to take apart verses with the Book of John in President Nelson’s Honors Bible class. Jane Weigel was her math teacher and called out character traits in her life. Mr. Glenn made it clear in Civics Class that “your rights stop where someone’s start,” shaping political thought and constitutional understanding. Wendell Carlson was her counselor and encouraged her to press on for excellence. MA staff gave Michelle opportunities to lead, to express ideas and to form groups. She started Bible Studies, sang on the worship team, and often spoke in front of her peers.  “I cannot say enough about Minnehaha and how it really impacted me. It was everything my parents were hoping for.” College felt easy for her since high school had been so rigorous.  “We were--and are--a very close class that stays in touch.  I still have many good friends from my time at MA.” 

Education As Vocation

Today, Michelle is the founding parent, teacher and Head of School at Hand in Hand Christian Montessori, a pre-K-12th grade school celebrating its 20th year.  Hand in Hand has grown over the years to be the largest Christian Montessori School in the country, with 341 students on 2 campuses in the Twin Cities area. She also launched Nonna’s of Wayzata--a new version and application of Montessori-- in 2019 with Lisa (Hubers) TerHaar ‘88 and their spouses. At Nonna’s, they work with both infant/toddlers and those with aging and dementia. “This was a new concept--Christian Montessori on both ends--when we decided to put these groups together,” says Thompson.  “We first got requests for infant and toddler Montessori, then we fell into a Montessori for aging and dementia --and wondered if the two groups would work together.  I got excited about that!”  

Inspired By Grandma's Love

The Lord reminded Michelle of her Italian grandmother, whose house she often visited growing up, and she wanted to create a place that felt like her grandmother’s house.  “Every day when you went you were loved, hugged, and we made food together. Let’s make it like that--less institutional and more like family. Put the elders with the littles and see what comes of that.”  Michelle did a year of Montessori training for the aging to learn to apply the same Montessori concepts to aging as she had to children. “It is groundbreaking--we are the first in the country to do this.  No one has brought these ideas together in any one place.”  God brought she and Lisa together. Lisa knows the medical side and dementia prevention skills.   Michelle has background with children and running a school.  “When we found each other, we thought ‘God is doing this.’ There is a lot of awesome work that can be done when we do it together.” 

 “Nonna’s whole mission is to do small things with great love. We want to be great at ordinary life.  We cook together, eat, change diapers, live out our days….it is a regular day. The way we do it and the why of how we do it focuses on respect for the children and respect for our elders.  Montessori is based on that person-centered-ness.  To be able to do it in a systematic way for a business is special.  It is going to be a model to love people well and bring people into authentic community.  It has been a great ride--way beyond what I thought was possible.” 

To The Students

Michelle’s senior quote was from missionary Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”  Her advice for current students builds on that quote. “What you do for Christ lasts--that’s what matters most.  At the end of the day, that is what is still standing.  Don’t despise your youth or think, ‘Later on I will get it together.  Later on I will be a strong Christian.’ You can be a leader now for Christ.  Embrace it now.  MA wants to foster your spirituality and leadership. Take hold of it.  Don’t waste those years. Don’t think it will come later-this is your opportunity right now.”

Topics: Alumni Stories

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

Casey Franklin '87

Posted by Nick Tofteland on Dec 3, 2019

CaseyCasey Franklin felt the call to plant a church in Denver, Colorado.  When he was pondering what denomination the church would be, he re-examined the Covenant church:  its history, roots, and theology. “It really brought back my spiritual foundation at Minnehaha.”  He had so many thoughts and memories of his faith foundation at MA, such as: “These are my spiritual roots to everything that I am learning now, which I never really knew. I have come full circle. This is my tribe.  This is why I am the way I am--this is why my theology is the way it is! This is where I really fit. This is why I feel so much at home with the Covenant.”  All that spiritual formation was planted deeply at a young age through MA.  That’s why he appreciates it even more now. As he looks back, it’s all part of the deeper connection of how God formed him, was with him, and guided his life from a young age.

Hearing God's Call

It all started at MA his junior year, when he felt called to ministry. He felt such a strong connection to the Bible Classes, and especially Rabbi Swanson’s classes. “Once I figured him out, I took every class he offered. I really enjoyed both his teaching and his care for students.  Rabbi had this funny policy that if you were tardy more than 3 times, he would take you out to eat at the Lake Street Garage.  And I got taken out a few times!” Rabbi took a special interest in him and was a huge influence in his spiritual formation. Reading and discussing books, including Pilgrim’s Progress and books by C.S. Lewis was both foundational and formative in his spiritual development. 

Casey went on to the University of Northwestern at St. Paul after graduation and double majored in Bible and Business.  He wrestled with whether he should do full time ministry. After graduation, he became a Youth Pastor for several years and served different churches in Bloomington, MN. He got married and moved to Colorado in 2002 right after their first daughter was born and took a hiatus from full-time ministry for a few years.  When he was in Evergreen, Colorado, he felt the call to plant a church.  His best friend had just moved back to Minnesota, and he called him up and said, “I feel like I‘m supposed to plant a church.” His friend encouraged him both to do it, and to check out the Covenant.  “The rest is history.”  He really enjoyed getting back into the Covenant; “It was like coming home.”  

Planting A Church

Casey planted Inversion Covenant Church (inversiondenver.org) which meets on Saturday nights at an existing Covenant Church called Centennial Covenant. They set out to reach unchurched people and started with a unique strategy for doing that through meetup.com.  Meetup.com is a website that was started as a social club (non-religious) in the wake of 9/11 by some of the survivors in New York City who felt the need to get people off technology and get them to meet face to face in affinity groups.  Once you sign up, you can find groups with all kinds of different interests that are meeting near you and get to know people. They started their own group called the South Denver Social Club seven years ago, and now have over 3200 subscribers. The first weekend they opened the group, 30 people signed up, and they had 30 total strangers show up at their house for a game night with food.  “Denver is transient--everyone is from somewhere else, so it makes it easier to meet people.  They come with a dream to hike and ski all the time, but don’t always have the basics figured out – like a job and a place to live. And they want to make friends and experience authentic community.”  

When they first started, Casey called their group youth ministry for adults.  He planned fun events like bowling or dance nights for the groups, and when people showed up, showed them hospitality and love.  Soon they planted a church. They have been self-sustaining financially for a few years now but are still small and have their struggles.  They still use meetup.com to get volunteers for their community food bank every Saturday and invite them to worship.  Their strategy is to reach out to both the people who need the food and to the people who come to volunteer and are looking to make a difference. “We are hanging in there, having a lot of fun, and reaching a lot of people. I really enjoying what we are doing,” says Casey.

To The Alums

What would he say to other alumni?  “I cherish that I was able to go to MA. I’m so thankful and feel so blessed and proud. I will always have the memories to look back on. It wasn’t perfect, but I am really thankful for it. If I still lived in Minneapolis, I would love to send my daughter to Minnehaha.  Some of my friends and classmates have kids at Minnehaha, and I have to admit I’m a little bit jealous.” 

Topics: Alumni Stories

Jenny Johnson '99

Posted by Nick Tofteland on Dec 3, 2019

jennyOn many levels, Jenny Johnson credits Minnehaha Academy and her time there to her career of 15 years as a non-profit fundraiser, and now serving as the Director of the Family Philanthropy Resource Center at the Minneapolis Foundation.  “A lot of what I learned and experienced at MA led me to a career in non-profit philanthropy.  I had an experience that was meaningful in understanding the continuity of volunteerism and getting to really see change happen.”  

Lifelong Relationships

Jenny was a ‘lifer’ at MA.  She attended Kindergarten through 12th grade then went on to Covenant Bible College, and finally North Park College.  As students and classmates, she and her peers really connected with each other for the 13 years they were together.  There were 88 graduates in her class. “I’m really grateful for my small class--we got to spend a lot of time together.  My closest friendships as an adult are still my friends from MA.” 

Jenny believes that MA was instrumental in developing her as a whole person. It wasn’t just about academics, sports, music, art, etc.  She and her classmates had exposure to all of it--and one thing wasn’t more important than another. Everything contributed to the whole person. 

The Value of Volunteerism

Jenny and her good friend Cara had the opportunity through MA to volunteer at a local elementary school a few blocks from school.  They went for 30 minutes two mornings a week for 3 years. “I loved the consistency--that Cara and I did it together, and I also loved that we got to work with these same kids year after year and watch them grow and learn.”   This experience taught Jenny about the consistency of volunteer efforts and the importance of not just dropping into a community one time and thinking that you are going to change anything. She grew an understanding that longevity, persistence, continuity, and commitment are what changes a community and an individual’s life.  This experience, and another experience during her college years volunteering with transitional housing for people with AIDS, significantly shaped her and her future career.  “I saw the same types of transformation in people’s lives as a volunteer in college that I saw as a volunteer in high school, and I credit these experiences to what I am doing today.  I saw how someone’s life could be transformed through their own determination and persistence and the opportunities offered by a nonprofit organization.  That clearly became a career that I wanted to go into.” 

Life Today

Today, Jenny works for the Minneapolis Foundation as the Director of their Family Philanthropy Resource Center.  Primarily, she works with families and individuals in the Twin Cities community helping them to make an impact or change in our community through their philanthropy. “I help them to Identify their own values, and then help them align their charitable giving with their values. It’s an amazing group of people to get to work with.  It’s people who are thinking about their community and thinking about ways to help the community to move forward and achieve better things. I love my job.”  

Jenny is married and has two young children. She and her husband are currently exploring schools for their kids, and Minnehaha is a strong contender.  “I keep coming back to the whole person development--strong academics, strong athletics, opportunities to participate in music and drama.  It’s all there!  At the end of the day, I want my kids to be good people--to have character and integrity.  I hope that they also do well academically, but that is not the most important thing to me.  It’s hard to create an atmosphere with both academic rigor and intentional character building.  MA does a great job with both.”  

To The Students

What word of advice would she give to current students?  “Cherish your MA friendships and keep those people close to you. I am so grateful on so many levels to still have those close friendships today.”

Topics: Alumni Stories

Connor Wray '10

Posted by Nick Tofteland on Nov 22, 2019

ConnorWray_CFO_CoFounder_JonnyPopsConnor met Erik, his friend and co-founder of JonnyPops, in 2010 while in school at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN.  Erik told Connor and some friends about his cousin Jonathan’s passing and the idea they had to make a simple, “good for you” frozen treat with real fruit and nothing artificial.  Motivated by the story, Connor and his fellow classmates combined resources and started working on a recipe for JonnyPops.  In 2012, they made their first sale to a local store. 

Laying The Foundation

Connor attended Minnehaha beginning his sophomore year through his senior year of high school.  He was active in the choral program at MA, sang in a college choir at St. Olaf, and still loves to sing in his choir at Mount Olivet Church. “I really had no idea about business until my senior year--when I took economics from Mr. Hoffner.  It was by far one of my favorite classes.” He majored in economics and computer science, with economics sparking an interest that steered him on the path of both starting and working with JonnyPops while still in college.  “MA was a solid foundation, helping me develop the skills of how to think and how to learn.”  

More Than Frozen Treats

Today, at age 27, Connor is the Chief Financial Officer at JonnyPops, and oversees both financial and administrative aspects of the organization. He works full time at their sole manufacturing U.S. location in St. Louis Park, MN, where they make seven flavors of fruit and cream popsicles. Connor says, “It’s very rewarding to have a product that we work very hard to make sure people feel great about buying, sharing, and eating.  JonnyPops tastes good, and people understand the ingredients--simple and natural--it’s good for them!”  Their motto is “a better pop for a better world” which includes a social and ethical component --some of their proceeds support addiction recovery and rehab in honor of Erik’s cousin Jonathan.  On every stick, they print good deeds that they call “better world challenges” that encourage people to make the world a better place with every pop, one pop at a time.

“It’s really fun to work on something every day where the whole point is a fantastic, positive interaction with eating a treat or sharing a treat. It’s also a privilege to be able to show up every day and work on something that you have been a part of since it was created and you have a stake in making it successful. That’s a privilege that not a lot of people have, and in particular not a lot of young people.  It’s special thing to be able to say “every drop of sweat that goes into this, I’ve got a stake in it.  I feel very lucky.”  

Reflecting On The Past

Connor and Erik were named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list of young entrepreneurs in the Food & Drink category when they were both just 25 years old. Connor feels that Minnehaha prepared him well for the skills he uses every day:  communication, writing, soft skills, and reading and absorbing information quickly to get up to speed on technical challenges.  “I am dealing with new and unique challenges all the time.  MA had a great focus on developing the skills of how to think.” 

To The Students

What advice would he give to current students?  “I am a believer that you get out of things what you put into them.  There is an opportunity for anyone who is willing to ‘get after it.’  Success takes a lot of hard work, but there is an opportunity to be successful for anyone who is willing to work hard.” 

Topics: Alumni Stories

Lara Hammel '86

Posted by Nick Tofteland on Nov 22, 2019

Lara HammelHow do you go from a law degree to opening a famous Twin Cities Ice Cream Shop?  Ask Lara Hammel.  She is the co-owner of Izzy’s Ice Cream with her husband, Jeff Sommers.  After college and law school, she and Jeff moved to Michigan, where she practiced law.  While she was pregnant with their first child, they came back to Minnesota.  She stayed home with their first daughter, Anda for two years.  After their second daughter, Ora, turned one, she went back to work part-time as a law clerk for a judge in Hennepin County, while Jeff was a teacher.  They started having discussions about owning their own business, and they separately wrote down all the business ideas that they had. When they compared ideas, ice cream shops were on both of their lists!  After doing some research, thinking about it, and admiring other companies, they decided to go for it.  At the time, they thought about buying and selling another company’s ice cream.  They couldn’t find anyone to sell them their ice cream, so they learned how to make it themselves. Izzy’s was born.  

Lara came to Minnehaha as a sophomore transfer, as she had moved from Wisconsin to St. Paul, just across the river from MA.  “Everyone was so welcoming.”  One of her most memorable moments was working with the yearbook teacher, Elaine Ekstedt.  Elaine encouraged her, and Lara became the editor of the yearbook her senior year.  The yearbook team helped her become a better writer, and as a result, she went to Hamline University and majored in English.  “Mrs. Ekstedt believing in me and giving me that support was very important.  All the writing I did for publications helped me write more effectively. I felt well prepared for college.  And, I use those skills all the time in the business world.” 

In The Beginning

When Izzy’s first started, Lara ended her time in the law office and worked full time at their St. Paul location.  Jeff worked part time at Izzy’s, and part time as a teacher. They had two kids that were two and four years old.  Jeff would teach all day, and Lara would work all day at Izzy’s. After work, Jeff would come to Izzy’s with the kids.  The kids would wait in the car, and Lara and Jeff would switch places and Jeff would work at Izzy’s until close.  “We did this for quite a while.  I would scoop cones and make the ice cream simultaneously. We worked at it!” Lara says.  Izzy’s took off and they got a lot of nice press.  Today, Lara runs the business, working mostly on the behind the scenes details. Her husband is more of the ‘face’ of Izzy’s and interacts with the public. They have grown to two locations--downtown Minneapolis and Merriam Park in St. Paul. They are known for their signature Izzy’s Scoop, which is a small scoop of ice cream on top of each of their cones. 

Why She Does It

What is the most rewarding part of Izzy’s?  “Bringing people together.  It’s about the customers, the families and the community. We can provide a space for others to come and gather.  It is so diverse and so many socio-economic demographics come together. In the summer, when I see people on the street with our ice cream and they are happy and chatting and just being together--that is most rewarding for me,” Lara says. 

You can now find Izzy’s in your local grocery store!  They’ve started with nine flavors, including a new look with their packaging. They are also working on launching an online ordering platform this winter, where customers can order their ice cream and get it delivered to 48 states.  Lara says, “We are starting in Minnesota and hoping to grow regionally and beyond.  That’s exciting!”  

To The Students

What advice would Lara give to current students?   “We hire a lot of teenagers at Izzy’s, and it’s hard to see them struggle with doing so much, and so much pressure in today’s world.  Try not to worry about what you are ‘supposed’ to do.  It’s going to be OK.  Take on things that give you joy, and that you are passionate about.  Make the best of the friends and the opportunities that you have right now.”  

Topics: Alumni Stories

Barbara Chapman '83

Posted by Nick Tofteland on Nov 5, 2019

Barbara Chapman

Barb Chapman was a part of the first ever class of math majors at Northwestern College.  While researching potential careers for a class project, she got excited about actuarial science, which is a discipline that assesses financial risks in the insurance and finance fields using mathematical and statistical methods.  As an introvert, she imagined her ideal job in a room by herself with no phone. 

Soon after, Northwestern hosted a mission emphasis week with representatives from different ministries from around the world.   She approached the Wycliffe table, which was staffed by the parents of a student she knew.  She asked them “What would you do with a math major?”  Their eyes just shot open and they said, “You can learn a new language.”   She said, “No, I tried to learn French and couldn’t speak it.  Then I went to France and got incredibly homesick. No...I can’t do it.”  This couple took her under their wing and invited her to some of the Wycliffe presentations which really tugged on her heart.  

Discerning Vocation

This couple from Wycliffe--time and time again--would call her and invite her to things missions related.   She and God went head to head and she felt like God was saying “I want you to go.”  She argued with God, “I can’t learn the language” and He said, “I want you to go.”  She said, “I get homesick overseas” and He said, “I want you to go.”   Despite all her arguments, she still felt a passion inside of her that this was important!  She finally said “I will go!  I’ll go for a year on a short-term mission and see what comes.”   

In that era, short-term mission trips meant going to the Philippines and Japan as an English teacher.  She decided to go to Japan. Her first short-term project was teaching English in a local church in very rural Japan.  She lived alone. Her first day by herself she collapsed and just bawled.  The next day she got up, washed her face, and taught her first English class.  As soon as she was dropped off at home, she turned away from the car and started crying again. This went on for a week.  She was sleeping but not eating.  She didn’t have a phone in her house, so she went to one of her student’s homes and asked to use her phone, and called her parents collect.   

Encouragement in the Word

The first thing Barb said to her dad was, “I don’t know if I can make it.”  He said, “They don’t want a miserable missionary” and she rebutted, “I signed a one-year contract.”  Her dad told her that she was thinking as a child and it would be better for everyone if she would come home.   She said “OK.  I’ll see how tomorrow is.”  

The next day was Saturday, which went fine. The next day, Sunday, she went to church and had fun.  She thought, “If this is too hard, I’ll just get on a flight Monday—my day off.”   As each day passed, she felt a little bit better.  The verse God kept giving her was Matthew 19:29: And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.  She would read the verse and pray, “You promised.  Because I left everything I know for Your sake, not mine.  I was going to be happy sitting in a cubicle somewhere.”  Every new day brought healing.  After a month, a volunteer Japanese teacher from the church asked her how long she had studied Japanese.  Barb said, “I couldn’t count beyond 10 before I came here.”  The teacher said, “I’ve never had a short-term missionary come and be able to speak as well as you.”  Barb shares, “God gave me a gift with the language, and He gave me a crisis point in my homesickness. He brought me through, and He healed me through it. He used my dad and the reassurance that I could go home to remind me that “I can provide for you, I will take care of you.”

At the end of her first year in Japan, she still had Matthew 10:29 running through her brain.  But she was encouraged that she could do it.  When she looked around and remembered how many families she could run to if she was in trouble, how many people she could call if she needed a ride, and how many families would include her in their holidays, she could not count them all.  God showed His faithfulness through that verse; He had given her new friends and family, and He would provide for her.  

Vocation Affirmed

During that year, He confirmed first that he wanted her in career missions. Then He confirmed that Japan was not just a one-year thing.  She also met her soon to be husband Jeff--who was also a short termer that same year.  Barb and her family have been on the mission field now for over 20 years.

At Minnehaha, just like in Japan, encouragement kept her going.  She remembers having struggles with French and a teacher who kept encouraging her she could do it—no matter how poor she did. She was not sporty at all in 7th grade.  The coach at the time encouraged her to “just keep going. “ In volleyball, she was a terrible player, but she loved being a cheerleader on the bench.  Her coach always said, “Don’t give up, just keep going, you don’t have to be the best, you don’t have to achieve what others achieve.”

To Fellow Alums

What would Barbara say to other alumni?  “While I was growing up, I often felt like I didn’t have anything important to say—that I couldn’t say anything to anyone that they didn’t already know.  In Japan, I felt like I had something important to say that people had not heard!  I can’t reach everyone, and you have been placed where you can reach people that I would never be able to reach. If you know Christ, you have something important to say to the people around you.”


Topics: Alumni Stories

Andy Birdsong '05

Posted by Nick Tofteland on Nov 5, 2019


Andy’s whole story is about standing on the shoulders of giants.  Many people along the way gave him opportunity and invested in him, and now his goal is to pass that on to others. 

A Firm Foundation

Andy grew up in a Christian home and it was important in his family to both understand and live out your faith. Both of his parents instilled in him values that have set the path for his life. It was extremely impactful for him to have these values reinforced at school.  “The ability to both question your faith and define your faith during formative years in a safe and supportive environment is something I will never forget about Minnehaha Academy.” 

Some of the most impactful moments he had at MA were convocation and chapel.  He loved the worship and music, and can still remember speakers and themes that helped him to think about his faith. “MA took secular education and made it impactful for Christianity. That was one of the things I respected most as I think about my time there.” 

Better Caught, Than Taught

Andy valued the experience of seeing his teachers live out their values day to day in a way that was caring, compassionate, kind, and resolute in their own beliefs without infringing on a student’s own personal space. “I ‘caught’ living out values in a way that impacts others. If someone wants to talk about faith and Christianity, I’m in.  But I can’t walk into a room and say right away, ‘Yo--Jesus saves!’  I learned and was taught a way of living out my values that can impact culture that is real and relevant while also being set apart. That is what I hope is the call upon my life, and I hope my son ‘catches’ that from me.” 

Soft Skill: Coachability

All of his teachers and coaches made some sort of impact on his life and poured themselves into him, most notably Lance Johnson.  He was the Dean of Students and became the Boys’ Basketball coach Andy’s senior year. Lance hired Andy as an Assistant Coach right after he graduated from high school and they coached together for three years.  This was very formative for how Andy looked at the game of basketball, team building, and the importance of culture. Peter Hamburge ‘99, who served as an assistant, had a great impact on him as well.

After Minnehaha, Andy went to Bethel University. It was another environment where he was watching and learning values lived out in a way that were real and relevant.  After college, Andy went to Florida State University where he earned a Master’s of Sports Administration and Business. While there, he was also the Men’s Basketball Graduate Assistant. Andy got that role without first meeting the head coach, Leonard Hamilton, but when he finally did, Mr. Hamilton became like a father to him. “If there ever was Mount Rushmore of African American coaches that broke through the college game, his face would be on it.  He has been impacting college basketball for 45 plus years.” 

Relationships, Mentorship & Opportunity

After Andy finished at Florida State, he aspired to work in the NBA but no one was hiring, so he moved back to Minnesota. While he was home, he got a phone call from the San Antonio Spurs about an internship.  Andy had been handing out his resume at the Sweet Sixteen basketball games in San Antonio where FSU was playing. After his first few rounds of interviews, he called Coach Hamilton and told him he was interviewing. Coach Hamilton started laughing, “Andy, why didn’t you tell me?”  Andy said “I wanted to do it by myself. I didn’t want to bother you.”  And Coach laughed and said “I mentored R.C. Buford 20 years ago!”   Andy went on to get the Basketball Operations Internship with the Spurs. R.C. told Andy that the reason he got the opportunity was because he took Coach Hamilton’s word.  Andy was with the Spurs for a year, spending a lot of personal time with R.C. and his family. They grew a bond that was “unshakable.”   

He then got a job in Atlanta with the Hawks.  “I got thrown into an ocean and could either sink or swim.”  He became the Basketball Operations Assistant, then the Director of Basketball Operations for a few years, later returning to San Antonio to serve as the Director of Pro Player Personnel and General Manager of the minor league team.  This past May, he was offered the position of the Assistant General Manager for the Brooklyn Nets. He and Sean Marks, their GM, were interns together in San Antonio and sat next to each other every day for a year.Sean became like an older brother to him.  

His story, at the end of the day, is all about personal relationships and living out your values.   Anyone can scout, anyone can run an organization, anyone can impact a bottom line.  “The heart in which you do it and the intensity and fervency that you attack daily relationship and daily work--that is what matters.  The job itself is the ultimate blend of interpersonal relationships and asset management.  If I can be solid in both of those things--which is a very delicate balance--I feel like we can have success in the profession.  At the end of the day, I am a sum of many parts, and I don’t take that lightly. I represent all that have poured into me throughout my life.” 

Every step of Andy’s journey has been about people investing in him, and him investing in others. God places people in our lives, and God gave Andy opportunity after opportunity for intentional relationship building.  Andy says, “You just need to keep your eyes open and your heart open to see what happens.  Do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Don’t do it to make money, to gain power or influence, just do it because it is the right thing to do.  If we could all do that, we would be in a much better place than we sometimes find ourselves.”  

To The Students

What would Andy say to current students at MA? “We’re called as Christians to both be excellent and to be set apart.  Success is found not just in the championship games, but in the slow burn of daily life and who you are doing it with.  If you put all your efforts into one thing--like winning the championship--when you win the championship you realize that you’ll just want to move on to the next thing!  If you can’t find true success in the people around you, then I would challenge you that you are chasing the wrong thing.”

We look forward to welcoming Andy home to Minnehaha Academy on November 7thwhere he will share his story with the leadership class, speak in Chapel, and talk with students at lunch.

Topics: Alumni Stories

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