Rhymes With Decorah Podcast: RWD28 Erika Skogg – Photographer and National Geographic Explorer

Decorah Nordic Dancers, Photo: Erika Skogg

Erika Skogg is a National Geographic Explorer, documenting and sharing culture through the lens of photography. Born and raised in Green Bay (WI), Erika is a recipient of National Geographic’s Early Career Grant which fueled her photography project documenting Scandinavian-American culture.


Through this cultural preservation project, Erika also hopes to encourage others to become more interested in their family’s genealogy and immigration stories, fostering an appreciation for the myriad of unique sub-cultures within the U.S. with renewed understanding and respect of the continued immigration stories of today.

Photo: Erika Skogg

Erika’s early career began with outdoor guiding on the white waters of Colorado, and mountains of Big Sky, Montana as a Ski Instructor. Graduating from Montana State University with a degree in photography, Erika blended her love of the outdoors and guiding with her photography education to join National Geographic Expeditions designing and guiding photography trips around the world. 


Photo: Erika Skogg

She has led photography workshops in Morocco and Cuba with National Geographic Expeditions, on board National Geographic/Lindblad ships through the Arctic and Alaska, and has led National Geographic Student Expeditions through Tanzania, Iceland, Tuscany, Peru, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Ecuador & The Galapagos. 


The “Scandinavian American” exhibit at Vesterheim depicts the lifestyle, celebrations, and traditions of Americans of Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish ancestry in the communities of Decorah, Iowa; Hancock, Michigan; Ephraim, Wisconsin; Pequot Lakes, Minnesota; and Lindsborg, Kansas. The stunning collection of unique and personal photographs captures modern takes on the traditions that have been preserved by generations of families that identify with Scandinavian immigration.

“Tusen Takk” to Erika for making time to talk with us for this show while she was in Decorah in the late fall of 2022. 

See more about the Vesterheim Exhibit here.

Visit www.erikaskogg.com to see more about Erika’s work and international travels.

Erika with Decorah resident and local artist Norma Wangsness

Rhymes With Decorah Podcast: RWD27 Ben Krouse-Gagne – Helping Services Holiday Lights!


(If you missed one of our earliest episodes – #5, click here to hear Helping Services Director – Carson Egglang!)


Ben Krouse-Gagne is the Director of Community Engagement with Helping Services, and as part of that work also helps coordinate all of the efforts that equal the annual Holiday Lights! Located at Decorah’s Pulpit Rock Campground, the drive-through show features over 80 displays nightly from Thanksgiving to Christmas night.

Holiday lights is one of the largest fundraising events to support the work of Helping Services, who provide resources to the 8 county area of NE Iowa. Since 1973, the organization has providedd everything from substance and drug use prevention, domestic abuse resources, opportunities for new parents, youth mentoring programs, and much more.


Through the past 18 years, Holiday lights has engaged the region with a special opportunities to help usher in the Holidays. Each year on the night before Thanksgiving, the campground is open to walking traffic only, and also features special entertainment, soup, cookies, hot cocoa, and more. As part of Holiday Lights there is also an annual fireworks show (Friday, Dec. 9 at 6:30pm in 2022!) that takes place near the Decorah High School football stadium. The lights are then open every night from Thanksgiving to Christmas for drive through from 5pm-9pm.

Over 400 volunteers each year help make this community effort come to life in support of Helping Services. Find out more on today’s show – and find out more at www.helpingservices.org or 563-387-1720 for more details!


“Rhymes With Decorah” is a companion project of Inspire(d) Media.

Original music heard in this podcast performed and recorded by Nick Zielinski of Decorah. Find him on Instagram @indicative_of_drumming

Rhymes With Decorah Podcast: RWD26 Christian Myrah – RockFilter Distillery


Christian Myrah comes from deep Spring Grove roots, and while his journey to distilling is anything but typical, his mission in tying together agriculture, community, and business is incredible. Through multiple generations, the Myrah family have been involved in agriculture and the region (just check the Giants of the Earth Heritage Center!). But when Christian returned to Spring Grove in 2006 after several years in the Navy flying fighter jets (and continuing in the Naval Reserves), a new vision appeared for an opportunity in Spring Grove – RockFilter Distillery.


“Planted, Tended, Milled and Distilled” from www.rockfilterdistillery.com

Upon his return, Christian had been working with his family to continue converting their acres to organic certified cropland. Christian also had the curiosity and support to try growing a few things out of the ordinary like open pollinated corn, triticale, barley, and hulless oats.

Map courtesy of www.rockfilterdistillery.com

Along with that, he knew that Schech’s Mill existed near Caledonia (MN’s oldest standing, functioning, water powered grist mill). Combine that with our regions karst topography, which filters groundwater through  limestone, and what you have are the ingredients for making high quality, small batch organic bourbon and whiskey. (There are a – few – other details!)


RockFilter has even forged creative relationships with midwest Artists like Minneapolis based musician and writer Dessa, whom has had a series of bourbons come out in collaboration. 

Join us for this show as we talk about Christian’s journey and all that RockFilter is doing – not only in producing incredible bourbon and whiskey, but helping shine a light on Spring Grove, MN. 


This is the fourth show in a mini-series about Spring Grove, MN. Check out the shows below for more – and thanks for listening: 

> Find the first episode featuring Spring Grove’s Economic Development Director, Courtney Bergey Swanson here

> Find the second episode featuring Bill Fried of Giants of the Earth Heritage Center here

 > Find the third episode featuring Pat and Patrick Longmire of Red’s Hometown Market and Fat Pat’s BBQ here

“Rhymes With Decorah” is a companion project of Inspire(d) Media.

Original music heard in this podcast performed and recorded by Nick Zielinski of Decorah. Find him on Instagram @indicative_of_drumming

Rhymes With Decorah Podcast: RWD25 Pat & Patrick – Reds Hometown Market Spring Grove


(This is the third show in a mini-series featuring the community of Spring Grove, MN – check out the links at the bottom for more!)

The Longmire family have been in the grocery business for many decades, but it was in 1989 that Pat bought a store in Spring Grove (when Patrick was just 2 years old!).

The original store in 1989.

In 2000 they built a brand new 15,000 square foot store from the ground up, offering the region a modern grocery experience without going to a larger city.


Since that time they have pushed the boundaries of what it means to be a “small town” grocery store – whether through community fundraising dinners out of their deli, starting Fat Pat’s BBQ Trailer (2017), adding a modern Coffee House and drive-through with Jo’s (2019), and eventually a brewery (2022) to match up with their now Friday night BBQ offerings. 

Jo’s Coffee House, attached to Red’s.

Patrick (Jr) attributes his 7+ years in Austin, TX, playing and working and touring in the music business, with opening him up to more ideas for Red’s. Whether a Coffee Shop or Texas style BBQ joint – creativity is key to success keeping a small town business relevant, fun, and successful. In fact, Patrick has just purchased another building in downtown Spring Grove where Fat Pat’s BBQ will be opening in 2023. Pat & Patrick are amazing examples of keeping relevant in a rural economy and providing multiple services to not only their town, but our region.

A huge thanks to Pat & Patrick for taking the time to chat with us!



This is the third show in a mini-series about Spring Grove, MN.

> Find the first episode featuring Spring Grove’s Economic Development Director, Courtney Bergey Swanson here

> Find the second episode featuring Bill Fried of Giants of the Earth Heritage Center here


“Rhymes With Decorah” is a companion project of Inspire(d) Media.

Original music heard in this podcast performed and recorded by Nick Zielinski of Decorah. Find him on Instagram @indicative_of_drumming

Rhymes With Decorah Podcast: RWD24 Bill Fried – Giants of the Earth Center – Spring Grove



Welcome to our second show in a mini-series from Spring Grove, MN!

In this episode we visit with Bill Fried from the Giants of the Earth Heritage Center.


Founded in 2009, Giants of the Earth Heritage Center is a nonprofit historical society that is dedicated to honoring, preserving, and interpreting the history and heritage of the people from Spring Grove’s Norwegian Ridge (Minnesota’s oldest Norwegian settlement!) in southeastern Minnesota.


Drawing on a rich cultural history, the Center records and reflects the achievements of indigenous peoples and immigrants to the Spring Grove area, while also providing a gathering place and a sense of community and identity. The framers of Giants of the Earth Heritage Center were inspired by the great author Ole Rølvaag, who’s work described the early pioneers’ trials and tribulations.


The historical structure that houses Giants of the Earth also has a special place in downtown Spring Grove, having had many uses over the years, but originally built in the 1890s as a hotel. The building has undergone an incredible full restoration, including an elevator that services all floors, and is also home to several excellent Sigmund Årseth murals.


A very sincere thanks goes out to our special guest for this episode, Bill Fried. To find out more about the Giants of the Earth Heritage Center, visit:


The Center welcomes visitors year round in downtown Spring Grove, Monday – Saturday 10am-5pm.


This is the second in a series of a four show mini-series from Spring Grove, MN. You can find the first show, featuring Spring Grove Economic Development director Courtney Bergey Swanson at this link.


“Rhymes With Decorah” is a companion project of Inspire(d) Media.

Original music heard in this podcast performed and recorded by Nick Zielinski of Decorah. Find him on Instagram @indicative_of_drumming

Rhymes With Decorah Podcast: RWD 23 Courtney Bergey Swanson – CEDA / Spring Grove Ec. Development

Welcome to the first in a series of shows featuring — (Not Decorah!) — Spring Grove, MN! A huge part of our goal in starting this companion podcast to Inspire(d) has been to have another format that we can help tell the stories of our region. Despite the name “Rhymes With Decorah” (or perhaps because of it!?), the show is not just about Decorah – but all those that work to make our region a great place. And Spring Grove is a Great Place! Join us for the next 4 episodes as we feature profiles from this great SE Minnesota community. First up is Spring Grove’s Economic Development Director – Courtney Bergey Swanson!



Courtney Bergey Swanson grew up on a farm near rural Lanesboro, MN, and returned to Southeast Minnesota after studying Art and Communication Studies at Luther College. Before joining CEDA in 2016, she served as Director of Advancement for Lanesboro Arts. Her position with CEDA (Community and Economic Development Associates) is Vice President of Development and Collaborative Services – which also includes being the Economic Development Director for Spring Grove.


Courtney’s work in SE Minnesota has helped implement several community and economic development projects, including public space improvements, historic renovation, cultural tourism efforts, and strategic planning for community growth.

Courtney is fueled by the belief that rural areas have the potential to advance their narrative, embrace innovation, and make creative pathways towards a sustainable future. She is also a Mom, Wife, fiber and ceramic artist, and enjoys sharing her talents through teaching. 

Join us for our first show in this series featuring the community of Spring Grove!


“Rhymes With Decorah” is a companion project of Inspire(d) Media.

Original music heard in this podcast performed and recorded by Nick Zielinski of Decorah. Find him on Instagram @indicative_of_drumming

Rhymes With Decorah Podcast: RWD22 Happy 15th Birthday Inspire(d) – Aryn Henning Nichols


Join Inspire(d) founder and Editor in Chief Aryn Henning Nichols along with Benji Nichols for this episode of “Rhymes With Decorah”, as they talk about 15 years of Inspire(d), the Fall 2022 issue (#70!), a new website, and so much more.


October 2022 marks 15 years of Inspire(d), which launched with it’s first issue on October 4, 2007 (hear a fun story about that day on the show!).

Through it all Aryn and Benji are so grateful for the support of the readers and advertisers that have made this “experiment in positive news” possible. Thank you!!!

A big shout out to Impact Coffee in downtown Decorah for their early support of “Rhymes With Decorah”. If you would like to learn more about sponsoring this show email Benji @ iloveinspired.com

“Rhymes With Decorah” is a companion project of Inspire(d) Media.

Original music heard in this podcast performed and recorded by Nick Zielinski of Decorah. Find him on Instagram @indicative_of_drumming


Rhymes With Decorah Podcast: RWD21 Ross Evelsizer – NE IA RCD

RWD #21 Ross Evelsizer – NE Iowa RCD


Ross Evelsizer is the Natural Resource Projects Director for NE Iowa RC&D (Resource Conservation & Development) – a Decorah native, avid outdoorsman, husband, Dad, and even a part time chef! But the heart of Ross’s work is in the form of projects that focus on the health of our region’s watersheds, through many channels obvious, and less obvious.

Ross’s work has most recently been recognized through a 2022 “New Voices in Water Quality Award” from ISU Extension and Outreach’s Conservation Learning Group. The award celebrates the commitment to advancing conversations, taking action and advocating for water quality improvements that benefit all Iowans.


“Each of these individuals was nominated by peers and recognized for their efforts, achievements and passion for improving and restoring water quality,” said Jacqueline Comito, Conservation Learning Group program director with ISU Extension and Outreach.


Evelsizer’s contributions to protecting and improving Northeast Iowa’s waters are wide-ranging. He has facilitated watershed and landscape resiliency planning for the Turkey, Upper Iowa, and Wapsipinicon watersheds, leading to the installation of dozens of best management practices that have reduced the impact of flooding and improved water quality in the region. He has also been instrumental in helping Northeast Iowa farmers expand their agricultural production through multi-cropping, working with growers to implement cropping systems that protect soil heath, reduce flooding, and improve water quality while expanding market opportunities by planting and harvesting multiple crops from the same field in the same growing season. 

These contributions are not only valuable for the long vision of NE Iowa’s agriculture systems, but for the sustainability and well being of everyone who lives in our region.


Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation & Development works with partners from throughout our region to explore natural resource based economic development opportunities while at the same time protecting and enhancing natural resources. Their mission is to “recognize opportunities and provide leadership to make Northeast Iowa a vibrant, place-based model for the nation!”

A huge thanks to Ross for sharing his time with us for this show – and for his continued work to make NE Iowa an even better place to live, work, and play.


Learn more:

NE Iowa RCD: https://northeastiowarcd.org/

New Voices in Water Quality awards: https://newvoicesinwater.org/

Rhymes With Decorah Podcast: RWD20 Birgitta Meade – Jean Young and The Decorah Impact Crater

On this episode of “Rhymes with Decorah”, we tell the incredible story of geologist Jean Young and the discovery of the Decorah Impact Crater. Long time educator and NE Iowa native Birgitta Meade joins us to tell the story of Jean, who she also called a friend, right up to her passing in 2010. We dedicate this episode to all those who are willing to follow a hunch in life, and take action in their beliefs, no matter what others may say. 


Jean Young was indeed, a “character” – a well educated geologist, regarded local artist, and fan of dragons. Jean was also a founding member of the Oneota Coop, served as a board member of Ryumonji Zen Center, and lived a simple, but fascinating life surrounded by rocks!  While many locals likely found Jean’s eccentricities and lifestyle a bit out of place in NE Iowa, Jean had many friends and her scientific hunches were something of absolute genius. Jean’s work in discovering the Decorah Crater could very easily have never happened – and we are all the benefactors of it.


Flowers And Falling Hearts, by Jean Young

In 2004-2005 a team including Jean Young, Robert McKay and H Paul Liu from the Iowa Geological Survey helped discover the Decorah Impact Crater – and particularly the ancient layer of shale (The Winneshiek Shale) that would provide some incredible geologic discoveries.

470 million years ago, the eastern edge of what is now Decorah was hit by a 650-foot meteorite. At that time, much of North America, including what is now Iowa, was covered in ancient oceans, and it was sediment from those oceans that filled in the crater basin creating layers of shale.

It was these layers of shale that led to the discovery of the meteor crater by citizen geologist and artist Jean Young. One of Jean’s jobs over the years was studying well-drillings for the state of Iowa to help present information on the most efficient (water) well locations. It was within these samples from around the Decorah area that she started noticing unusual patterns – including shale – which should not have geographically been there in comparison to the surrounding area. After contacting friends and acquaintances at the Iowa Geological Survey Jean’s hunch proved correct – that the shale layer represented an impact crater below the surface of Decorah.

Eventually the Iowa Geological Survey mapped the samples, outlining the crater’s basin. Scientists tested the layer of material underneath the crater for shocked quartz (shattered crystals) and conducted rock density and electromagnetic aerial surveys, confirming the impact structure.  



Not only did the shale layer confirm the impact crater, but to everyone’s great surprise, the layer also held incredible fossils – many of which had never been seen before and entirely different from the surrounding geography. The most incredible of these discoveries (so far) is Pentecopterus Decorahensis, a six-foot-long sea scorpion that pre-dated the oldest known sea scorpion by 10,000 years.


Pentecopterus rendering by Patrick Lynch, Yale University

To get at the fossils, inconveniently located underneath the Upper Iowa River, scientists temporarily diverted the river from the excavation site, recovering more than 5,000 specimens, including plants, shrimp-like animals, and the oldest known fossils of jawless fish. These discoveries have led to new insights into what life was like during the Ordovician period, and all because of Jean Young’s hunch.

Birgitta and others are in the early stages of documenting Jean’s work in the discovery of the impact crater, and are already working to share this story and the science behind it with children and adults across the region through presentations and information. The group hopes to have a full website in the future with information, additional discoveries, and more. 

You can visit this page for more information on the basics of the Decorah Impact Crater or a more in depth 2015 article from the Iowa Science Interface. We would like to offer a sincere thank you to Birgitta Meade for helping tell the story of Jean Young and this incredible discovery in our region. 

Rhymes With Decorah Podcast: RWD19 Chris Johnson – Vesterheim Museum


Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum has roots that go back to the 1800s and a collection of artifacts that was first formed at Luther College in Decorah. Those items became the roots for what is now the most extensive collection of Norwegian American Artifacts (33,000 and counting!) in the World.


On today’s show, we talk with Vesterheim President and CEO Chris Johnson about the old and new of Vesterheim, as well as his roots to NE Iowa and life long connections to Decorah.


Norway’s US Ambassador Kåre Aas & Vesterheim’s Chris Johnson

Vesterheim encompasses not just an amazing collection of artifacts though, it is also home to a beautiful outdoor campus, an amazing Folk Art School with classes for all ages, a research library and archive. Simply put, Vesterheim is not just a museum or destination, but a community of members from across the World who recognize the immigrant experience and importance of immigrant stories to our culture.


The “Strong Roots, Bold Future” Campaign has been the work and vision of many involved with Vesterheim to continue making not only a fantastic destination, but also re-think how Vesterheim can continue to reach new audiences near and far through online programming, and interactive opportunities. The five pillars of the campaign include:

– Grow the campus around a new, world-class gathering and exhibit addition;

– Connect the historic collection with contemporary art and social movements;

– Expand the digital reach of the folk art / collection, enrichment opportunities;

– Engage audiences from near and far, and of every background searching for meaningful cultural experiences;

– Draw people together into community, both in person and virtually to share stories of their journeys.

Exciting outcomes of this project have already included the reconstruction of Vesterheim’s outdoor campus as “Heritage Park” – a beautiful outdoor setting connecting the historic structures of the campus. And the new “Vesterheim Commons” building which will act as the new “front door” and meeting place to the Museum and so much more.


We can’t thank Chris enough for taking the time talk with us today to share his stories and vision for Vesterheim.

Find out more about Vesterheim, see virtual galleries, class offerings, become a member, or donate and support the museum by visiting vesterheim.org

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