Minnehaha Academy Blog

Nick Tofteland

Find me on:

Recent Posts

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

Cheryl Marker '95

Posted by Nick Tofteland on Oct 11, 2019

ACT 2018-business-portrait-coastal-click-photography-3067-S

Cheryl Marker started figure skating when she was two years old. In 8th grade at Minnehaha Academy, she needed to train during the day, so she left school early, eventually transitioning to attending only half-days. She started national competitions when she was 13 years old, and when she was in high school, started competing internationally; traveling to Germany, France, Canada, and Slovakia. “MA made that all possible,” she says. 

Making it Work

Cheryl was a single skater until age 13, when she became a pairs skater, and skated with a partner.  Most teachers were extremely accommodating of the fact that she would miss a half day of school, and also be gone for a week or two at a time--several times a year--for various competitions.  They would help her figure out homework, exams, and joint-class projects. Some teachers would get their lesson plans done weeks early so she could get everything needed for class done before she left.   

Radical Support

Rich Enderton, Cheryl’s math teacher, went over and above to help her succeed.  Cheryl was in Advanced Placement math and Mr. Enderton didn’t teach all of the classes she needed to take: he typically didn’t teach trigonometry or geometry, but he took it upon himself to teach her all of them during that time, sometimes as a tutor on the weekends.  “I had Mr. Enderton as a math teacher for six years. He did wonders for me; he worked with me at my pace and helped me excel at math.  My first year of calculus in college, I was still seeing things he had shown me. He gave me a huge foundation in math that I can’t even begin to thank him for.”  Cheryl earned her undergrad degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Minnesota, which required significant math skill.   While she was in college, she went back to Minnehaha and thanked Mr. Enderton in person.  “I want to thank MA and all the supportive teachers for allowing me to continue with my passion of Figure Skating while still in school.”

Cheryl continued her competitive figure skating career into her college years, but stopped competing after the ‘97 nationals.  To continue with figure skating, she would have had to move away from Minnesota, which affected her education.  She had to decide between the two, and she chose her education.  “It was a very hard decision to make,” Cheryl says. 

Life Beyond the Rink

Cheryl went on to grad school and got a PhD in pharmacology (the study of drugs) and a minor in neuroscience. After graduate school, she went into industry working for contract research organizations. She now works as a research manager in a lab at the University of Minnesota focusing on developing antibodies to opioids.  Her career veers toward toxicology, which is basically “…pushing past what is good for you.  Too much of a good thing is not always good,” she says. Additionally, the lab she is managing is hoping to bring the opioid antibodies into clinical use.

Cheryl is also an official and mentor in figure skating. Figure skating gave her focus and the knowledge that not everything is going to be easy and ‘right’ the first time. Skating taught her to pick herself up and keep going.  As an official and a mentor, she coaches parents and skaters through disappointments, like when they are devastated that they aren’t going to go to the Olympics.  “I encourage them that the important thing is that their kids are learning life lessons and developing friendships that they can take with them.” 

To The Students

"MA felt like a family. People were there for me and did so much for me.  MA was always there to support me and helped to make my dreams happen--as much as they could.  Take the incredible education for everything it can be.” 


Topics: Alumni Stories

David Anderson '67

Posted by Nick Tofteland on Oct 11, 2019


David Anderson has been a member of Minnehaha Academy’s Board of Trustees since 2008 and its Chair since 2012—including on Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017, the day of the explosion.  Normally, the Board of Trustees meets five times a year. The year after the explosion, it met 15-20 times, starting on Saturday, August 5th.  David states the Board was willing to meet whenever needed, because there were so many critically important issues to decide concerning the future of the School.  The Board includes people with different and wide-ranging expertise and every member brought their individual experience and wisdom to the discussion.  “Everyone on the Board pulled together in a remarkable way. I don’t recall any decision that was not unanimous even though there were many difficult things to think about and to act on,” David says.

There were several questions that the Board needed to consider and decide, including: 

Should we move the entire School to a new location?

In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, the Trustees decided that all options should be considered and that they should not rush headlong into rebuilding in the same spot “just because.” They realized that MA did not have all of the amenities a college prep school ideally would have, partly because the School does not own sufficient acreage. The Board explored moving the entire School and considered available buildings and vacant parcels of land. The Trustees concluded there was not enough time under the circumstances: holding school in a temporary location for more than a couple of years would present a potential existential crisis.  Because of this time crunch only then currently available buildings and parcels could be considered.  None of them fulfilled the Board’s requirements.  In addition, it was not feasible to raise the necessary funds for such a project in the time available.

The Board also retained experts in real estate and construction for consultation.  They advised that the demographic trend of migration to the core city would continue, making the current location advantageous. The Board, of course, felt the pull of the School’s history and was acutely aware that MA occupies some of the most beautiful acreage in the Twin Cities.  So in the end, the Board decided to rebuild on the West River Parkway property.  

Why not rebuild the same blueprint of the previous school?  

David says, “The biggest factor was that the school was antiquated for 21st century learning.” Education is now delivered vastly differently than it was in 1913 when the School was built, or even 30 years ago.  Classrooms were tiny and portions of the old building were mismatched. The Board wanted to build a leading edge 21st century facility instead of copying what was a century old.  After the explosion, no part of the original school existed and the only parts of the second renovation still standing were the chapel and the gymnasium.  “It didn’t make sense to rebuild an outmoded facility.”  David says. “This new building is intentionally larger than the old one, it will accommodate a better learning environment, and fit a larger student body.” 

Why raise more money if we are getting an insurance settlement? 

 “The measure of damages under the insurance policy is to rebuild the same thing that you lost,” David says. In other words, the amount of recovery was not sufficient to build a larger modern building, but only to recreate a replica of the original building. In addition, part of the insurance proceeds was earmarked for non-building expenses.  “A fair portion of the settlement related to expenses associated with the immediate recovery from the explosion:  the transition to the Mendota campus, the fitting out of the Mendota campus, the additional transportation costs that related to being at a place eight miles from MA, and all of the extras that went into getting a temporary replacement facility up and running. That, or course, meant those dollars were not available to fund the new permanent facility,” David says. 

God's Timing

God uniquely positions people “for such a time as this.” He placed certain people in leadership on August 2nd.  David was uniquely positioned as the Chair of the Board, an alumnus, and a long-term supporter of MA to lead the Board and our MA community forward through a very difficult time. He saw MA through the second of its hardest seasons in over 100 years.  “During the Great Depression, enrollment declined to 35 students, which was another tough time,” David says.  

To Fellow Alums

“We have reached an important halfway point in the first phase of the campaign, but we are still working to fulfill the mission. There is more to build. There is enrollment to enlarge. There is financial stability to achieve.  There is Kingdom impact to enhance. This is not the end of the journey. It is an important waypoint, but there is much more to do.”

Topics: Alumni Stories

Tim Carlson '91

Posted by Nick Tofteland on Sep 6, 2019

Image-1On August 2, 2017, Tim was walking through the skyway in downtown Minneapolis when he got a text from his son Drew, a student at Minnehaha who was playing soccer that morning on Guido Kauls Field at the Upper School. The text said, “the school just blew up.”  Tim couldn’t believe what he was reading.  “At the time, it was incomprehensible.”

Tim and his wife Erin, both alums from ‘91, have four kids at Minnehaha:  Drew, Gabe, Greta and Elsa. Drew was just starting his sophomore year.  Being on campus when the explosion happened had a big impact on him. There was not much time to process it all--everything moved so fast!  A site for the temporary Upper School was found in Mendota Heights, and the school was put together in just 35 days.  Seeing the way staff and Mortenson, the construction company, came in and made Mendota happen was “a spark of joy in the midst of tragedy.”  Drew’s was the only class (‘20) who went to the original Upper School, then to the interim campus in Mendota, and have now returned to the rebuilt Upper School. 

Trusting In Community

From a parent’s perspective, Tim felt loss in different ways. The kids immediately felt uncertain about the future, and so did they. School was supposed to start in a few weeks.  Tim decided to “keep his head down and keep moving,” which is what he would always do when he faced major challenges in business or his personal life. He said to his kids, “We are going to figure this out, we are going to do this, it’s going to be alright, God has a plan for our school.”   He reminded his kids that what happened didnot change the fact that they still had their classmates and teachers--the community of MA had not changed, and it did not matter where the building was--the community is still the same.  “Those are the people that you will want to lean into and the people that you will be around-- you will be alright.”   

An Opportunity To Lead

At that time, Tim had recently been elected to the Board of Trustees, so hewas involved in a lot of meetings and had a first-hand glimpse of what was going on, which helped him a lot.  “This was unique for a parent.  Other parents had a period of unknown--they did not see the bigger picture immediately, and were fearful about the future.”   Tim had a glimpse into the “awesome” leadership team that was working on everything and coming up with solutions. It made him appreciate the great administrators and staff at Minnehaha Academy, how they were able to pull through this together and keep teachers motivated.  “I have a tremendous amount of love and respect for our faculty and staff. Seeing them in action in a very adverse situation was really impressive.” 

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

Tim is excited for his kids to experience the new Upper Campus. “The facilities are amazing.” He loves having a fresh start, having a school designed and built for a modern learning environment and incorporating the beauty of the outdoors, especially the beautiful trees and the location along the river.  Tim is hopeful that the new Upper Campus will attract more families so others can experience it.  Although the building is new--and beautiful-- it is not what defines the community and learning environment.  “It is the people--the nurturing nature of the staff, how people treat each other, the culture that has been developed--that has not changed.”  He is hopeful that more people will look at the school and realize what a great place it is, and what a great opportunity it is for their kids.  “It will be a great tool that God can use to grow our community and grow our footprint in the world.” 

Tim is the co-founder and COO of AgMotion, Inc., which supplies different grains and food ingredients to different sectors--livestock or human consumption--sourcing, buying and shipping products both domestically and throughout the world. One of his greatest joys is seeing product coming out of places like India and Africa, working with local farmers who can get better returns for their crops than they could previously, and seeing the positive impact on the local communities. 

To The Alumni

What would Tim say to other alumni?  “Take the opportunity to reconnect in some way. Check it out. The school and the culture has changed and evolved in many positive ways. The diversity is so much better, and the different backgrounds of kids who go there has brought richness to the culture. The teachers push the kids to think and explore.  The opportunities that students have--like Cultural Field Experience--enrich the learning experience.   MA is consistent with the values, support, and learning opportunities from when we were there, but there are a lot more now. Don’t make assumptions--come and check it out!”

Topics: Alumni Stories

Janet (Valine) Larson '46

Posted by Nick Tofteland on Sep 6, 2019

IMG_8268Janet began dating her husband, Elwood (Woody) at Minnehaha when she was in 11th grade, and he was in 10th, back in the 40’s. As she says, “that was it,” they were always together.They got married in ’51 and were married for 62 years, until Woody went home to be with the Lord in 2013. Woody always liked to joke that he had “married an older woman.” Janet says, “we grew up together and will be together again someday.”

Janet came to MA from the East Side of St. Paul, and Woody came from North Minneapolis. She took the streetcar with her friends and it took an hour every day to get to school. “It was a great place to do homework!” Because the school was just 9th-12th grade at the time, they got to know students from every class. Janet’s greatest memory of MA was being a part of Singers, under Prof. Robert N. Pearson. “I loved singing and it was such a wonderful experience!” In those days, MA Singers often sang for Sunday evening services at different Covenant churches. Woody was also in Singers, and he often took her home from events, even riding the streetcar an hour both ways before he was old enough to drive.

Spiritual Life in the 1940's

Janet was brought up in a very devout Christian home, and was active in the Evangelical Free Church. She met so many Christian friends at MA. “There was a real spiritual ‘happening’ at MA in my years, a real revival. Kids would get up in class and ask the teacher for permission to go to the chapel and pray. Or, kids would come into class and say tearfully, ‘I need to go and talk to someone.’ It was a very meaningful year and a lot of kids gave their hearts to Christ. The Lord was working.”

Life after MA

After high school, Janet enrolled in Nurse’s Training and graduated as an RN from Mounds Midway School of Nursing. She was able to stay home with their four children while they grew up, often working the night shift when Woody was home. In later years Janet was the Director of Nursing at Bethany Covenant Home for 10 years. She also supported Woody with his passion, the non-profit “Hospitality House Youth Development,” which is still growing today. Woody combined his interests: working with young people, sports, and the inner city, by founding the ministry out of the back of a station wagon, equipped with a few bats and balls. He aimed to draw kids who were interested in athletics and disciple them, ultimately hoping to lead kids to Christ. “Many kids Woody worked with have become active Christians in the world. That was a God thing,” Janet says. “Woody would always say, ‘it’s not me, God made it happen.’”

To The Students

What advice does Janet have for current students? “Take your burdens to the Lord and leave them there. In school, with studying and tests, do your best. In the end, even if it seems like it’s too much work, it’s so important. It’s worth doing your best.”

Topics: Alumni Stories

Subscribe to Email Updates