Minnehaha Academy Blog

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

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:




Send me information about Minnehaha Academy!


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

Mary Meyers '61: An Unexpected Opportunity to Give

Posted by Amy Barnard on Dec 12, 2019


Mary (Tildahl) Meyers ‘61 had always wanted to give something significant to Minnehaha Academy. It never quite seemed that life arranged itself in a way to make that possible, however.

When her children, Christy (Meyers) Waldon ‘87 and Todd Meyers ‘88 were in the throes of college, Mary came into an inheritance from her mother. She and her husband, Dan, agreed to put the money towards their children’s education, but with the understanding that at some point in the future if they were able to come up with another large sum of money it would be a sort of “replacement” for the inheritance money, for Mary to use or give as she wished.

Fast forward roughly two decades and Dan sold his financial planning business.

Just as the money came through, the Meyers family received a call from fellow alum Dan Parten.

“He shared how we as a class of 1961 were coming together to give with this goal of—perhaps—being able to name a classroom,” Mary shares. Both Mary and her husband felt drawn to this vision and Mary decided that this was where she wanted to give.

Each time Mary shares this story, she becomes visibly emotional.

“This now was my opportunity to give,” she says. For the first time in years, it felt as though she could give away something substantial. And she knew exactly where she wanted to give it.

“It was the first thing in my mind,” she comments, when asked why she chose to give to MA. In retrospect she observes that there really was no other option, as far as she was concerned. She had a rich experience at the school with deep relationships and teachers like Ann (Franklin) Kauls who drew things out of her she didn’t know were there.

“I remember thinking...that she must see something in me that I don’t see in myself.”

After graduation, Mary continued to meet yearly with a handful of friends from MA, at times flying across the country for the get-togethers. Once her own children came along, she and her husband sent them to MA as well.

And now it was Mary’s chance to give back. She set aside a significant portion of the money and contacted MA, letting the school know she’d like it to go towards a classroom, the goal set by her graduating class.

I received the blessing of being able to give. I never had that before…to have the joy, to know what that joy was, of giving, was a blessing. It’s worth whatever money you have [and are] able to share. It’s a gift to be able to give.”

Topics: Alumni Stories, 3100 Campus

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

Courtney (Anderson) DaCosta '99 Comes Full Circle

Posted by Amy Barnard on Nov 26, 2019


Even a stint working for the US government in the intelligence community and a law degree from Georgetown couldn't keep alum Courtney (Anderson) DaCosta ‘99 away from Minnesota. For DaCosta, coming home meant both coming back to the Twin Cities and also coming home to Minnehaha Academy.

2019-Courtney-Place of Influence

“I feel like most Minnesota girls end up finding a way to bring their significant others back to Minnesota,” she says, laughing.

Today, Courtney is senior legal counsel for employment and benefits at 3M, a global industrial, healthcare, and consumer products company headquartered in St. Paul whose household brands include Post-it®, Scotch®, and Command®.   

Courtney didn’t grow up knowing that she wanted to enter the world of employment and benefits law, or that she would one day return so fully to her roots.

A Minnehaha Academy lifer, DaCosta thoroughly enjoyed her math and science classes and planned to find a career that would incorporate this foundation. During her sophomore year at Dartmouth College, though, she found herself gravitating towards the social sciences and a degree in government. While in college, she interned with a US Senator in Washington, DC, and worked on a major political campaign.

“I wasn’t totally sure what I wanted to do right after college; I had a thought that I might want to go to law school,” she says, “but I wasn’t quite ready to commit to that yet.”


DaCosta with her parents during her volleyball years at Dartmouth.


She moved to DC, the hub of all things political and public service, to pursue an opportunity to work as an intelligence analyst with the federal government. It seemed like the right fit for the time: She could be in DC, where her then-boyfriend (now husband), Jason, also worked, as well as explore options for the future.

While DaCosta enjoyed her job as an analyst, the pull of home still played at the back of her mind.

“Ultimately it was important to me to have the ability to move back to the Twin Cities, and that likely would not have been a realistic option on my then-current career path,” she explains.

DaCosta finished her two years in the intelligence community and then plunged into a law degree at Georgetown, graduating with her JD in 2008. When it came time to determine the next step, she and Jason decided to relocate to the Twin Cities.  Courtney completed a clerkship with a federal appellate judge before joining Minneapolis-based global law firm Dorsey & Whitney LLP as an associate, while Jason opened the Twin Cities office of technology company Alarm.com, Inc.  After about four years with Dorsey, in 2013, Courtney joined 3M, where she has served in a variety of roles, both as an employment and benefits attorney and a business attorney. 

“When I think back through my education—high school, college, law school—it’s been more important in terms of my career to be able to think critically about problems and solutions and to know where to go to find information, than it has been to learn facts, and I think that was a strength of MA.”

DaCosta remembers working in English class under Dr. Barbara Olson, learning to research and to write clear, concise, and convincing pieces, a foundation that serves her well even to this day.

She also says that MA instilled in her the importance of being a good citizen of the world and of maintaining relationships with people in one’s life; for her, this has played out in pro bono work with nonprofits serving children and families in need as well as regularly reconnecting with her high school friends.

Based on her own positive experience, it might seem obvious that DaCosta’s return to Minnesota would include enrolling any future children at Minnehaha Academy. Adding to that is her family history: As you enter the front offices at the Lower and Middle School, a plaque honoring Courtney’s grandmother, Arlene Anderson, hangs to the right of the door. 


Arlene Anderson, from the announcement celebrating her 39 years at MA.

Anderson worked at Minnehaha Academy from 1945 to 1984, first as a History and English teacher, and later as the Dean of Students, Dean of Instruction, and then Middle School Principal. Later, she served on the Board of Trustees and eventually as board chair.

She was so connected to the school, and was very proud of it and very committed to it,” DaCosta says. Consistent with her deep connection to the school, Anderson’s memorial service was held at the Upper School.

DaCosta’s father, Arlene’s son—David Anderson ’67—is also an MA alum and currently serves as Chair of the Board of Trustees.

In spite of all of this, before committing to enroll their oldest child, Flynn, in the preschool program last year, the DaCostas met with current parents, members of the school leadership team, and others connected to the school.

“I had a really great experience at the school, but I wanted to make sure that the school as it exists now was a place I felt comfortable having our kids attend, and that my husband felt that it was the right school for our family as well.”

A year later, with Flynn in Kindergarten and little sister Claire looking ahead to preschool next year, the family’s choice to commit to the MA community still feels right, says DaCosta, noting that she could tell that Flynn’s teachers at the Lower School have really loved him and that he has loved them back. Equally special, she says, is knowing that her son is in the place that both her grandmother and father have loved and to which they have committed so much of their time and energy.


Flynn's first day of PreK last year.

“I think sometimes, when I take Flynn to school, [that my grandmother] never got a chance to meet her grandkids; but I know that she would have adored them and that she would have been especially proud that they are at the school.”

While DaCosta had already made the return to Minnesota and stayed close to her MA friends, in a way it was as Flynn started his journey at MA this past year that she truly came full circle.

“I’m looking forward to my kids being able to experience MA in many ways similar to how I did,” she says, “but also, [it will be] in a beautiful new place that my family has had a role in making happen...that makes me feel closely connected to the school as well.”


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Topics: Alumni Stories, Academics

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

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