If Duluth feels like home,
it's because it could be.


Dennis O'Hara


Our purpose is to foster a connected, vibrant, and growing city.


Our mission is to curate and create content that inspires, educates,
and connects people to Duluth, showcasing its unique quality of place.


Our Vision is to see people filled with a deep sense of belonging and identity with Duluth.


Intentional. Positive. Genuine. We believe that our purposeful action opens doors, positive attitude invites others to step through, and authentic relationships give the grounding to repeat this process.

Duluth Public Library Is Your Passport to the World

Duluth Public Library Is Your Passport to the World

I have no shame in my game. I’m proud to admit that I am a true-blue, bona fide bookworm. And, despite all the amazing digital offerings available today, I personally kick it old-school, preferring to curl up with an actual book.

Whether you’re a fellow book lover like me or prefer more modern selections like audio books and eBooks, the Duluth Public Library (DPL) has your back. In fact, today’s library has enough options to keep you educated, informed, and entertained in perpetuity.

Best of all? This amazing resource is open and welcoming to everyone. The library remains one of the few places where money isn’t a barrier to entry. Today we’ll explore how the DPL can serve as your free passport to the world.


The DPL offers an abundance of materials for patrons of all ages, including CDs, DVDs, digital services such as audio and eBooks, and streaming services. The library also lends out toys, puzzles, Wi-Fi hotspots, and hosts a wealth of programs and activities. Patrons can even check out an electric meter device, called a Kill-O-Watt, to measure their electricity consumption.

The library also serves as a “partnership center,” where various community partners schedule time to meet with the public. This includes MNSure advocates/navigators, tax professionals, and more.

And the library does much to support local youth. For instance, the DPL coordinates a community-wide school readiness initiative called Every Child Ready Duluth. Head Start screenings are available for young children. Another major DPL project is a program that provides a virtual library card to every student in the Duluth School District, called a Port Card.

An ISD709 student types in their student ID number to check items out on their Port Card. Photo submitted.

These services are free of charge to all patrons. Tourists and visitors can even get in on the action!


In our modern times, some may question the relevance of public libraries. Library Manager, Carla Powers, shared her thoughts on the subject.

Carla Powers is the Duluth Public Library Manager. Photo submitted.

“There are many reasons why libraries in general, and our library in particular, are relevant today,” Powers shared. “I will touch on three of them: access, connection, and sustainability.

“First, access. In the digital world, libraries are a lifeline for people who do not have a computer or internet in their homes. Despite all the work that's been done to close the digital divide, it still exists.

“People come to the public library to access free Wi-Fi or check out a Wi-Fi hotspot if they have their own device. If they don't have their own device, they can use a desktop computer or laptop in the library.

A library visitor browses local historical records in the Main Library's North Shore Room. Photo submitted.

“Importantly, libraries also offer help and instruction. Having access to the digital world is important, but it doesn't do much good if people don't know how to accomplish what they need to do online.

“Second, connection. Libraries are among the few places where everyone in the community is welcome. You don't need to have a membership, and you don't need to pay money or buy something to get in.

“A lot of people who come to the library are here to borrow a book, use a computer, or do research. But we also have teenagers who come in to meet up with their friends, a couple who makes a library visit part of their date night each week, and folks who just need a warm place to hang out.

Young enthusiasts explore the world of everyday plant remedies in the Plant Magic program at the Main Library. Photo submitted.

“Third, sustainability. The entire community shares what's in the library collection, which means the items get reused over and over again. Even though digital offerings are a bigger part of what libraries check out these days, books and other physical items are still in high demand. I don't foresee this changing anytime soon. A report released last fall by the American Library Association found that Gen Z and Millennials have a preference for print books.

“Along with books, DPL offers DVDs, music and audiobooks on CD, puzzles, toys, Wi-Fi hotspots, and electric meters for checkout,” she added. “And, every time someone borrows and returns one of these items, it saves them from having to buy (and later discard) it.”


As Powers noted, the DPL remains a highly utilized community resource. For instance, in 2023, more than 762,000 books and other materials were checked out from the Duluth Public Library.

That same year, there were over 300,000 library visits across the three library locations (Downtown, West Duluth, and Mount Royal). Additionally, nearly 130,000 digital items were downloaded, 30,000 uses of the DPL’s public computers, and over 37,000 people were attending DPL programs. The DPL’s total number of cardholders hovers around 51,000.


If you’re just in Duluth for a visit, you’re in luck: the DPL welcomes you, too.

“If area visitors have a library card from within the state of Minnesota, we can get it registered at DPL,” Powers explained. “This would give visitors access to many items that may be of interest while on vacation: guidebooks, toys and learning kits for kids, games, puzzles, and of course, books, magazines, DVDs, and audiobooks.

“For visitors who do not hold a Minnesota library card, there are still many resources to utilize for all ages and interests,” she added. “They can consult with a reference librarian on local attractions or get the inside scoop on favorite spots, from restaurants to local trails. They can browse current and historical local newspapers, research significant buildings and sites, use the library's free Wi-Fi, or take a guest pass to use the library's computer and printing services.

“And, for groups with children, visitors are welcome to drop in for a story time at any of our library locations. Families can attend outdoor story time during the summer and discover one of our local parks!”

In the summer, the Every Child Ready Duluth initiative teams up with Duluth Parks and Recreation to host a series of story and play times with each session held at a different neighborhood park in the city. Photo submitted.

Educate, Inspire, Entertain

Well, there you have it. Whether you’re looking to learn, be entertained, or find inspiration, the DPL is simply the place to be.

The library is a place where everyone is welcome. Consider checking out this amazing resource today.

For more information, please visit duluthlibrary.org.


Andrea Busche is a Duluth + regional freelance writer and small business owner. She is credited with over 1,000 bylines in local print and digital publications, and has been a frequent contributor to Destination Duluth since 2017.


Back to Top

Amber Nichols Considers Herself an “All-Around Photographer”

DD SATURDAY EVENING POST - PHOTOGRAPHER PROFILE - Amber Nichols, owner of Amber's Impressions Photography.

When it comes to photography, Esko resident Amber Nichols can just about do it all. “I like to say that I’m an ‘all-around photographer,’” she noted. “While I love to shoot wildlife, landscapes, and night photography, I have done everything from event photography to portraits and more.”

Today, she is probably most well-known for her images of Grandma’s Marathon and the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon; several of which have won some pretty cool awards.

Impressively, other than a few community education courses, she is mostly self-taught.

She is also familiar to the Destination Duluth audience. In 2023, she was recognized with one of DD’s Top Photographer awards, after attracting over a million views. “It was one of my images of the northern lights that put me over a million,” she shared.

March 23, 2023 Aurora Borialis showed up in a spectacular way. This was taken facing south at the Veterns Overlook outside of Duluth. Photo by Amber Nichols.

Unique Upbringing

Nichols and her siblings were raised in a rural setting between Palisade and Aitkin, Minnesota. Her childhood domicile was rustic, to say the least.

“We had no electricity, and no running water,” she explained. “We used a wood stove to heat the house, and we had an outhouse. It was a very unique childhood.”

After her parents’ divorce, Nichols moved with her mom to Danbury, Wisconsin, and she  graduated from Webster High School. As a teen, she worked as a cashier at a gas station, had an office job at the Burnett County Sentinel, and also served on the Danbury, Wisconsin volunteer fire department, alongside her stepfather.

She was two weeks away from entering college (where she planned to pursue equine science), when she learned she was pregnant. “I was supposed to go to college, but I got pregnant, so life took a drastic turn,” she explained. But everything ultimately worked out for the best.

When she was offered a temp job through Kelly Services at Nels Nelson & Sons, she and her two young daughters, Serena (now 26) and Marcy (23), moved to Cloquet. Nichols later had a 3rd child, a son, Chase (20).

Amber with her daughters Serena and Marcy and son Chase. Photo submitted.

To make ends meet, she worked a few temporary jobs - through places like Kelly Services and Manpower - before landing a full-time job as the office manager at High-Mark Construction. While at High-Mark, she returned to college full-time, where she earned an associate’s degree in business management and an associate’s degree in fine art, from Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College (FDLTCC), and two bachelor’s degrees – in accounting and business management – from Bemidji State University. She is currently the general manager at Lake Superior Art Glass.

As a single mother to three kids, Nichols has had to work incredibly hard to achieve her professional and educational dreams. “I have always taken on more than I probably should,” she said with a grin. “But that’s how I was raised.”


Nichols became interested in photography at an early age, when she wanted to capture memories from family vacations. She bought her first camera, a basic Kodak, as a teen - with money earned from her cashiering job.

“I have been interested in photography since I was a teenager,” she said. “Over the years, it has become a passion. I had always wanted to turn into a business, but wasn't sure how or when to do it.

“About ten years ago, I became a member of Frozen Photographers, a group on Facebook. It has changed my whole perspective on photography. What was just a hobby has now become my new career.  It turns out that I was just waiting for the right moment.” She has now shifted her focus to photographing events, races, and photojournalism.

Winter in Duluth with sunrise and sea smoke rising from the bay. Taken behind the DECC on a cold winter morning. Photo by Amber Nichols.

“In the beginning, I was mainly focused on landscape/wildlife photography,” Nichols noted. “I love being out in nature and surrounded by the beauty that it provides. After I joined the Facebook group, I found a new aspect of photography called Light Painting.  I fell in love with it instantly!  People can check out my night photography for examples.”

Equipment and Locations

Nichols has come a long way from that early Kodak. Today, she uses a Canon EOS R6, a mirrorless camera that is good for fast action and low light, but is also a good overall camera. For lenses, she has several Sigmas, a Canon, and a Tamron.

Her favorite place to shoot wildlife is the Sax-Zim Bog. In fact, she offers guided photography tours where she brings clients to the Bog. She also has several favorite locations in Duluth, Superior, and Cloquet.

Great Grey Owl taken at Sax Zim Bog. He was content to sit there and have his photo taken for about 20 minutes before he left his perch. Photo by Amber Nichols

Nichols loves everything Duluth and the surrounding area have to offer. “Duluth has a big city feel with a small-town atmosphere,” she noted. “And I just love the amount of nature that is right here at our fingertips.”


Nichols’ photos have been published in many places, including the Burnett County Sentinel newspaper, and the Pine Knot newspaper in Cloquet, where she also maintains a freelance gig alongside her full-time job.

2023 Snow storm photojournalism. This is at River Ranch Farm in Esko, and won 1st place from the Minnesota Newspaper Association 2023 Feature Photo. Photo by Amber Nichols

Her photos have been used for the cover of the Duluth Community Education catalog, and have been published in Lake Superior Magazine. Her images have been displayed inside the Great Lakes Aquarium, Whole Foods Co-op, VIP Pizza, and she has been the featured photographer at Split Rock Lighthouse.

She is now one of the official photographers for Grandma’s Marathon, and also shoots for Marathon Photo. She’s taken snaps for the NorthShore Inline Marathon, the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, and Catalyst Content Festival.

2023 John Beargrease Dog Sled Marathon Start. The photo won 1st Place from the Minnesota Newspaper Association 2023 Sports Photo. Photo by Amber Nichols

Additionally, as noted, Nichols has won several awards for her images, including:

  • 2023- Minnesota Newspaper Association - 1st place sports photo and 1st place featured photo
  • 2023 - Destination Duluth Top Photographer - 1.02 million views
  • 2020 - Minnesota Newspaper Association - 2nd place sports photo
  • 2020 - PSA - Best of the day
  • 2020 - N4C - 3rd place best of the best

She also maintains a variety of photography-related affiliations. She is the current treasurer (and former vice-president and president) of the Duluth-Superior Camera Club. She has served on a non-profit board for The Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College Foundation, and since 2015, she has been the administrator for the Frozen Photographers Facebook page.


In her spare time, Nichols enjoys spending time with her three kids and her mixed-breed dog, Winchester, who is quite the charmer. “He’s the unofficial greeting dog for the cruise ships when they dock in Duluth,” she said with a chuckle. “Everyone loves him. Even the captain came off the ship to say hi to him.”

Amber and her dog Winchester enjoy the holiday season. Photo submitted.

She also enjoys reading and traveling. Two of her bucket list locations (to visit and take photos) are Ireland and Iceland.

Although she does make some income through her photography, eventually, she’d like to make it her main, full-time gig. “I’d love to take photos as my main source of income,” she said. “It would be great to have the freedom to travel and take photos and do what I want, when I want.”


As a talented photographer who has come a very long way, Nichols graciously offered some helpful advice for new shutterbugs. “Whether it’s as a hobby or a business, there’s always something new to learn about photography,” she noted.

“Don’t get discouraged. I would recommend doing stuff you love; it can really feed your soul. And, have fun with it. Art is meant to be shared and enjoyed.”

To learn more, or to purchase one of Amber’s photos, please visit ambersimpressions.com.


Andrea Busche is a Duluth + regional freelance writer and small business owner. She is credited with over 1,000 bylines in local print and digital publications, and has been a frequent contributor to Destination Duluth since 2017.




Back to Top

Zeitgeist Theater Makes a Rollicking Return With “Pride and Prejudice”


Zeitgeist Theatre opens its 2024 season with Pride & Prejudice
By Jane Austen adapted by Kate Hamill - Directed by Justin Peck
Playing at Teatro Theatre now through February 24
For more info and tickets, visit zeitgeistarts.com/theater

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Jane Austen

That sarcastic opening line from “Pride and Prejudice,” Jane Austen’s 1813 classic novel about the Bennet household of five unmarried daughters and their mother’s frantic pursuit of husbands for them, has been adapted many times. With classic film adaptations and a mini-series, a musical, and even an improbable movie where the Bennet sisters become zombie hunters, the story has endured.

Zeitgeist Theater’s version, by contemporary playwright Kate Hamill, takes the prim and proper story of manners and polite society from Austen’s novel and turns it upside down. Slapstick, farce, sexual innuendo, pratfalls, and general comic mayhem all made it a raucous evening of comedy.

Had she been in the audience, would Jane Austin’s face have turned several shades of bright red, and her reaction have been one of shock? Undoubtedly!

And would, dear readers, the traditionalist “Janeites” and devoted English literature teachers in the crowd (including this reviewer) be offended? Except for the most immovable among us, absolutely not!

Director Justin Peck keeps the balls in the air (literally and figuratively), and his actors performing at an appropriately frenetic pace for a wildly entertaining evening. As the show’s ad describes, Peck wanted his staging, with just “two chairs and four boxes” (and an anachronistic keyboard), to rely on the talents of eight actors.

Peck chose wisely with his enormously talented troupe members playing multiple roles with some crazy quick costume changes, sometimes moving from male to female and back again for humorous effect. It is the level of the acting throughout that is the show’s hallmark. Each of the eight is deserving of praise.

The cast of Pride and Prejudice, which is playing at Zeitgeist.

Playing the two leads, Alyson Enderle as Lizzy Bennet and Zachary Stofer as Mr. Darcy, are the only two actors taking on just one role. Enderle has all the pluck, wittiness, intelligence, and high-spirited nature of Austin’s original. For the requirements of this comic adaptation, however, the role is meant to be more giddy and silly. Enderle uses a catalog of expressions and broad physical reactions to display her inner feelings about the hysterical goings-on around her.

Becoming a favorite leading lady in area theater, Enderle is a perfect Lizzie Bennet and also demonstrative of the title’s themes, filled with pride and her own prejudices that she must overcome to find her true match.

Stofer’s patented nostril flare is used to great effect as Mr. Darcy to show his disdain for those out of his sphere and station. His gradual softening as he falls in love with Lizzy, without even realizing it himself, are subtle and then gradually more apparent, to charming effect.

Stofer has less of the humor in this adaptation to rely on. His commanding presence stands out, even when he is in the background and not directly a part of a scene, as he observes all.

Stofer and Enderle go toe-to-toe throughout, in this early 19th century version of  a rom-com. With each a quick match for the others banter, independence and intellect, their verbal sparring matches are integral to the show’s success.

Stuart Gordon has the evening’s broadest trio of characters to play, the smarmy and villainous Wickham, the overbearing and pandering Collins, and the lusty and fawning Miss Bingley. Using different accents, hilarious facial expressions, and constant costume changes, Gordon gave a comedy acting class.

The character of Jane Bennet is the less showy or comic. as the perfect, angelic, and beautiful sister. Agatha Pokrzywinski is always believable and sweet as the innocent bystander who gets caught in the web of the marriage game.

Pokrzywinski doubles as Miss deBourgh, the infirm and completely shrouded daughter of the infamous Lady Catherine, and “intended” bride for Mr. Darcy. She babbles in an unintelligible language and communicates with only her ridiculous verbal intonations, gaining her some of the biggest laughs of the night.

Jess Hughes impeccably performed the nuances of the epitome of haughtiness and snobbishness, Lady Catherine. And, in the sharpest of contrasts, playing the ultimate airhead in the family, Bennet daughter Lydia, with a fascinating blend of ditziness, innocence, guile, and duplicitness, Hughes is spot-on in both roles, showing a complete shift in accent, diction, and demeanor, delineating the two roles.

Often stealing the show was Phil Hoelscher, particularly as the doltish, gangly, and perpetually whining and coughing daughter Mary Bennet. After a while, it only took the unexpected entrances of Mary with her bonneted head, dowdy dress and straggly hair to send the audience into waves of laughter.

Hoelscher also played Jane’s suitor. Mr. Bingley, with a sweet shyness and child-like stage business, including bouncing a ball which provided comic fodder for other characters.

Never missing a beat, Christine Winkler Johnson is in perpetual motion with her preposterous orange flowered “party” hat, her endless beleaguered nerves, and her panic to arrange suitable, and sometimes not so suitable husbands for her four girls. (The novel’s fifth sister Kitty is AWOL in this adaptation). Winkler Johnson was also funny as the loud servants, introducing  guests.

Jennie Ross was a delight as the droll, sarcastic Mr. Bennet, and suitably mousy and downtrodden Charlotte, friend to the Bennett sisters. She marries someone she does not love, since she is from a poorer family and is without a dowry. This is emblematic of one of the important themes from Austen’s novel.

Costumes from UMD’s costume supervisor, Laura Piotrowski, gave the needed sense of the time period, with appropriate hats and accessories to allow for the endless changes and the sense of each character and their fashion sense (or lack thereof).

The show’s only off “notes” were the jarring pre-show and curtain call’s blaring rock music. While the lyrics may have been thematic, they were hard to understand. Contemporary music would have been fine with different song choices.

One of the most quoted lines from the novel is, “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”  Zeitgeist’s production gave ample opportunities for that sport and laughter for their appreciative full house.

(This review was based on the February 15 performance).

After a long hiatus, welcome back to the former Renegade Theater, now renamed Zeitgeist Theater! The theater community is richer for their often irreverent, envelope-pushing production styles and script choices, with a five show season set through 2024. For more information, visit zeitgeistarts.com/theater

Next up for Zeitgeist Theater is “POTUS: or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying To Keep Him Alive” running May 30-June 8.



Back to Top

Burger Paradox Added to Duluth Grill Family of Restaurants

Mike Busche


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a paradox as “...having seemingly contradictory qualities or phases.”

This is undoubtedly the case for Burger Paradox – the newest culinary addition to the Duluth Grill Family of Restaurants. “The paradox comes from the fact that we wanted people to come in expecting a dive bar and be pleasantly surprised,” General Manager Kevin Ilenda states, “Surprised not just with our food quality, but also our service and cool artwork.”

Patrons might be tempted to judge a book by its cover, as the restaurant is (intentionally) covered with graffiti. However, guests may be surprised to learn that Burger Paradox offers delicious, chef-created burgers, wings, Phillies, and artfully crafted cocktails, wine, and craft brews.

The venue’s elegant, twinkly lights contrast the gritty urban graffiti art featured throughout. And the service is next-level good.

Please join us for this edition of Eat & Drink Duluth, where we experience all the strategic contradictions of this unique paradox … a Burger Paradox!


Burger Paradox – which opened May 21, 2023 – is the latest installment in the Duluth Grill Family of Restaurants. It follows Duluth Grill, OMC, and Corktown Deli & Brews in Tom Hanson’s ever-growing portfolio of restaurants and other businesses.

Located at 2113 West Superior Street, Burger Paradox is the former home to Coach’s, Spoon’s, and before that, Mitch’s Bar & Grill. Yet again, Hanson opted to house his latest endeavor in the heart of the Lincoln Park Craft District, providing additional value and appeal to the neighborhood.

Intentionally made to appear as a "dive bar", Burger Paradox's food is first-class.

While Hanson owns the restaurant, Dan LeFebvre is its managing partner. LeFebvre is expected to take over ownership upon Hanson’s eventual retirement.


The Vibe at BP is urban, gritty, and cool. As noted, the interior and exterior are decked out in bright, colorful graffiti (more on the talented artist later), including several depictions of the restaurant’s unofficial mascot: the Burger Monster.

Mela Nguyen is the Burger Paradox brand "graffiti" artist.

The restaurant features exposed bricks and ductwork. Bright accent walls – in neon green and teal – provide some nice pops of color.

There is a “restaurant side” and a “bar side,” with a semi-open concept connecting the two. Booths and high-top tables are available, along with plenty of spaces to belly up to the bar. Soft yellow twinkly lights and purple icicle lights hang above the bar, providing a moody ambiance.

Our fellow patrons included just about every demographic: couples, groups, families with young children, and seniors. We arrived at 4 pm on a Friday, and while it was initially pretty quiet, things kicked into high gear at about 5 and got busy enough for a waiting list.

Mike’s been on a bit of a wine kick, but he didn’t see any on the menu. So, he asked! And, yes, Burger Paradox offers wine. The Quadrum is a blended red from Spain. It was rich and full-bodied. There is also a Quadrum white wine available.

I chose to sample a craft cocktail: the Prickly Pear Mojito. It features Don Q Cristal Rum, mint, lime, prickly pear, and simple soda. The drink is a beautiful purple color, contrasting nicely with the mint and lime green. It had a sweet-tart flavor and packed a nice punch.

Mike enjoys the Quandrum red wine, while Andrea sips the Prickly Pear Mojito cocktail.


A variety of “munchies” (appetizers), wings, and Phillies are also available. Drinks include cocktails, hard malts, tall boys, draft beer, and wine … although the wine isn’t on the menu, you just have to ask. Local breweries Bent Paddle and Castle Danger are well-represented. And, every table comes well-equipped with an “aioli caddy,” featuring four delicious ailois that taste amazing with fries.

We sampled the "Bacon Brunch Wings,” featuring Tom and Jerry sauce, bacon, and Fresno syrup. They are created to taste like French toast with a hint of spice. Sweet and spicy: indeed a paradox!

Bacon Brunch Wings are paradoxically sweet and spicy.

It probably comes as no surprise that Burger Paradox specializes in burgers. But at BP, they refer to them as “smashies.” Each hearty burger features three giant patties with plenty of unique fixings.

Our server, Mela Nguyen, explained that two of the most popular smashies include the Paul B’Onion (All-beef patties, cheese, Top the Tater, potato chips and pickled red onions on a pretzel roll), and the Big Mac-inspired McDowell, which features BP’s own “special sauce.” A vegan patty is also available.

Mike decided to go with a classic: the Royale with Cheese.

From the menu: All-beef patties, American cheese, pickles, onion on a grilled brioche bun.

Burger Paradox's "Smashies" are three thin, perfectly seared burgers.

Mike is a dairy-free guy, so he opted for just the meat, pickles, and ketchup.

Served on a soft, shiny, Turano-brand bun, this burger is most definitely a monster. Three giant, flavorful patties provided tons of protein. The edges of the patties and the bun were well-crisped. The dill pickle slices provided a yummy crunch and flavor.

I chose to try a Philly. There are three varieties; I opted for the Classic Dunk.

From the menu:

Shaved beef, house-made cheese sauce, onions, peppers, on a hoagie roll, served with beef au jus.

The Classic Dunk Philly pretty much requires a knife and fork.

This was definitely a “knife and fork” sandwich, and half was more than enough for me. (I enjoyed the rest for the next day’s lunch). The cheese sauce had a delicious kick, and the green peppers and onions were finely diced. The hoagie, sourced from Great Harvest Bread, was soft and slightly chewy. The au jus was rich and salty.

Sides for both sandwiches include a choice of house-cut beef fat fries, Peruvian cauliflower, chips with Top the Tater, or Korean Brussels sprouts. We both opted for the fries, which were medium-thick and arrived hot and fresh.


We were so fortunate to be assisted by server Mela Nguyen, who also happens to be the amazing artist responsible for all the cool graffiti at BP!

There is no paradox between Burger Paradox's food and staff. Both are excellent. From left to right Bill (Assistant Kitchen Manager), Mela Nguyen (server and artist), Cory (Operations Manager), and Kevin Ilenda (General Manager)

Mela has a degree in graphic design, and together with her boyfriend, Kevin Ballecer (who also works as a server at BP), handled all the graffiti art found both inside and outside. Her art is also featured on all the BP merch, including t-shirts, hoodies, and hats, all available for purchase at the restaurant.

Mela was incredibly generous with her time. In addition to talking about the menu, she shared many details about her art. The art on the “restaurant side” was completed with spray paint. And for the bar, she used acrylic paint, applied with a brush.

Back to the service … Mela is incredibly sweet and friendly and offered her opinions and advice about the menu when asked. She is very well-versed in every menu option available at Burger Paradox.


Burger Paradox is indeed … well, a paradox. At first glance, the dichotomy of a “classy dive” might seem like two disparate worlds colliding, but somehow it just works. The food is delicious, and the service is wonderful.

If you’re in the mood for a decadent “comfort meal” served up in a cool, urban setting, consider giving Burger Paradox a try.

For more information, please visit burgerparadox.com, or find them on Facebook or on Instagram @burger.paradox.

About Andrea Busche,
Editor, Eat & Drink Duluth

Andrea Busche is a Duluth and regional freelance writer credited with over 1,000 bylines in local print and digital publications. Her food column, Local Pairings, was first featured in Duluth.com magazine, and later published in the Duluth News Tribune from 2016-2018.


Back to Top

Spirit Mountain Is More Than Ski Hills

Spirit Mountain is a top destination for winter and summer recreation

Spirit has come a long way since it opened as a ski hill in 1974. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, Spirit now offers snow tubing, camping, lift-served mountain biking, and an adventure park featuring a zip line, mini golf, a scenic chairlift, and an alpine coaster for summertime enjoyment.

Boarding is big at Spirit Mountain. Photo by Jeff Doty

Additionally, the Superior Hiking Trail, Duluth Traverse, and Duluth Cross City Snowmobile Trail all pass through the property, providing many other options for year-round enjoyment. For all of these amazing reasons, Spirit Mountain is considered a top destination for both winter and summer recreation.

“Spirit was built as a recreation area to allow people with many differing interests a place they can call their own,” said Tess Regenold, Spirit Mountain’s Director of Marketing and Programming. “And, we are proud of how Spirit not only meets the needs of these communities, but really fulfills them.”

Mountain Biking Trails are epic at Spirit Mountain. Photo from Spirit Mt Facebook Page.

Skiing & Boarding

Featuring everything from bunny hills to black diamonds, skiers and snowboarders of all ages and abilities can conquer their own unique challenges at Spirit. There are 22 named runs, which vary in difficulty. The hills at Spirit provide 700 vertical feet of fun, with 175 acres of skiable terrain. Lessons and instructors are available for beginners, too.

Ski Hills at Spirit are designed for all ages and levels. Photo by Amy Leigh.

And, if you like a side of scenery while you ski, you’ve come to the right place. Spirit Mountain Recreation Area is perched atop a glorious hill overlooking the city of Duluth, the St. Louis River, and Lake Superior.

Take in the incredible views overlooking St. Louis River and Lake Superior. Photo from spiritmt.com

Other Activities

Duluth’s splendid summers go hand-in-hand with Spirit Mountain’s Adventure Park and lift-access Mountain Bike Park. As noted, there are plenty of warm-weather activities to get your adrenaline pumping, including an alpine coaster, zip-line, mini-golf, jumping pillow and scenic chairlift rides. The Mountain Bike Park has trails for many abilities, and will be adding new trails and connectors this summer.

Spirit Mountain's Timber Twister has 3200 feet of track with speeds of up to 26 mph! Photo from Spirit Mt Facebook Page.

Zip through 700 feet of trees on the Timber Flyer. Spiritmt.com photo.

Additionally, Spirit is a great place to host an event. The on-site Skyline Chalet is a popular venue for weddings, celebrations of life, class reunions, corporate events, and other private gatherings.

There is also dining available. Guests can stop by the Riverside Bar and Grill year-round, or in the winter, can choose from quick service at the café or sit-down dining at the Moosehead Saloon.

Spirit Mountain is also home to plenty of fun events throughout the year, including the Atmore Memorial Slalom Race; Bike Duluth Festival; and an annual spring celebration called SMASH (Spirit Mountain Annual Spring Happening). Please visit Spirit Mountain’s website or Facebook page to learn more.

Lift-Accessed recreational and competitive Mountain Biking are dialed at Spirit. Photo from spiritmt.com

Spirit Mountain is a great place to catch some epic bird-watching, too!

If you’re just here for a visit, you’ll get the most adventure out of your stay by making your year-round accommodations directly on the property. Spirit has two on-site lodging options, including The Mountain Villas, which are a privately-run lodging facility, and the beautiful Spirit Mountain summer campground.

Good Times, Every Time

With so many options for recreation in every season, Spirit Mountain remains a top choice for outdoor adventurers.

“As Spirit continues to provide fun for so many, we believe one of the original mottos is just as true today as it was when Spirit first opened, which is ‘Good times, every time,’” Regenold said.

For more information, please visit spiritmt.com.  Look for the most recent “Mountain Message” to receive the latest guest information.


Andrea Busche is a Duluth + regional freelance writer and small business owner. She is credited with over 1,000 bylines in local print and digital publications, and has been a frequent contributor to Destination Duluth since 2017.


Back to Top

Justin Peck Is Duluth’s Mr. Theater

DD ARTIST PROFILE SERIES – Justin Peck Is Duluth’s Mr. Theater

Actor and director Justin Peck was creating theater even as a child when, as he relates, he was “staging epic adventure stories with my action figures.” Since then, he has gone on to much bigger stages and is now at the very heart of the area's theatrical scene.

Justin plays Belle’s father, Maurice in the Duluth Playhouse production of Beauty and the Beast (2018), directed by Joe Chvala. Photo submitted.

Raised in rural northwestern Wisconsin, about 25 miles outside Spooner, he left there to attend the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He took several creative writing and theater classes. However, his primary focus was film. Justin graduated in 1995 with a Radio/TV/Film degree. He also studied improv at Brave New Workshop for several years after college.

He describes his career path as a “winding one.” He worked at two different television stations during college in various roles. After college, he used his film degree to manage a video store in the Twin Cities briefly and did production assistance work for films being shot in the Metro before taking a position as a Broadcast Engineer at KSTP-TV.

At the same time, he started his first company, which did computer animation. “As the late 90s unfolded, I rode the wave of the dot com boom, transitioning into a career as a software developer. The next 26 years saw me hopping between companies, initiating several startups, and pioneering one of the first location-based mobile gaming firms,” Justin said. He has also been a software architect for the BigBadToyStore since 2012.

Always “Playing”

“The first bit of theater I can remember is a play I wrote and directed in first grade about Valentine’s Day and striking up a friendship. Growing up, theater opportunities were scarce. I performed in 4H plays, joined the Drama Club in high school, directed a youth theater production, and got the chance to perform in our two senior-class plays. I was always writing plays and radio dramas, however, and recording them on cassette,” he noted.

The premiere (and only) performance of Once Upon a Valentine's Day. Hammil School, 1981. Justin is the card on the left. Photo submitted.

He added, “I was part of a lovely community theater in Wisconsin for several years . . .where I had the good fortune to play several dream roles, including Benedick, Oscar Madison, and Fagin.”

“The most impactful mentors I've encountered are the artists I get to collaborate with. Duluth’s arts community is so vibrant, and the immense talent and creativity of the artists here offer me continuous opportunities for learning and inspiration,” he said.

Justin plays FDR in the Duluth Playhouse production of Annie (2021), directed by Phillip Fazio. Photo submitted.

Since coming to Duluth, Justin has acted in ten shows mostly for the Playhouse, Including playing a lead in “Mamma Mia,” the opening show at the renovated NorShor, He has directed four shows, two at the Underground and two at the Playhouse.

“What draws me to theater, and narrative art as a whole, is the power of storytelling. Stories are our way of making sense of the world, offering windows to see life through others' eyes and mirrors in which we recognize ourselves,” stated Peck. “Theater brings a unique immediacy and transience to these stories, creating a shared physical space that amplifies their impact in a way no other medium can. It’s this vulnerability and intimacy in theater that I find so potent.”

Justin Peck is directing a scene for Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play (2022) in the Teatro for the Duluth Playhouse’s Underground Series. Photo submitted.

Justin also helps to coordinate the Duluth Classic Film Series at Zeitgeist along with Jody Kujawa and Jason Scorich, He is the current President of the Board for the Duluth Playhouse, and he is a member of the actual-play podcast Twin Portals.

“Spamalot” Times Two

The musical “Spamalot” that Justin directed at the Duluth Playhouse holds a special place in his memory due to the unprecedented circumstances surrounding it.

“We were about to open in early March of 2020 when Covid hit, and everyone went into lockdown. The set stayed in place on the NorShor stage for 18 months gathering dust while theaters were shuttered.”

A scene from the Duluth Playhouse production of Spamalot (2021), directed by Justin Peck. Photo submitted.

He added, “When we were finally ready to try live theater again, we were only able to bring back half the cast, so we recast the roles for performers who were unable to return, went through the entire rehearsal process again, this time masked and socially distanced. It was the first production on the NorShor stage after the shutdown.”

“To me, it feels like I directed “Spamalot” twice. The first version almost no one got to see. The second version was under crazy circumstances. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced, and I hope I never have to do that again,” he said.

Family First

“I’m married to my best friend, Jody. We’ve known each other since elementary school, and I’m still head over heels about her. She also makes theatre, but her primary passion is education. She’s an elementary school teacher for ISD 709, and that takes up the majority of her time,” he noted.

Justin and Jody have four adult children, all of whom grew up onstage. “Out of all the things I’ve done over the course of my life, I can say without hesitation that they are what I’m most proud of,” he said.

The Peck Family. Back row: Spencer Peck, Corey Peck, Alex Peck. Front row: Kaylee Peck, Justin Peck, Jody Peck, Kelsie Balon Peck. Photo submitted.

Justin, Jody, and their youngest child Kaylee moved to Duluth from Northwestern in early 2015. “Our three older children were in college, we had always loved the North Shore, and we felt it was time for a change. We fell in love with Duluth and this community immediately. We're so grateful to be here.”

New Twist on Pride & Prejudice

Justin is excited about his current production, “Pride & Prejudice,” coming up at Zeitgeist Theater; he explained, “Jane Austen’s novel is a masterpiece, and Kate Hamill’s irreverent, slightly naughty adaptation somehow elevates the sarcasm and wit of the original to farcical levels without losing any of the emotional depth,” he said.

Pride and Prejudice opens February 14 at Zeitgeist Theater and runs through  February 24. Photo submitted.

Justin noted that Hamill said that the play should be done with as few props and scenic elements as possible, with the energy of kids playing dress up, and that’s the approach he and his cast are taking.

“No set, very few scenic elements and props, just some of Duluth’s best actors making magic. My goal (and the challenge of this piece) is to strike the right balance between farce and emotional truth. It’s a tricky line to walk but the cast is extraordinary and more than up to the challenge,” he stated.

“It’s always my goal to make work I can be proud of with brilliantly talented collaborators. “Pride & Prejudice” is a great example of that. Everyone involved is passionate and contributing ideas that consistently elevate the piece. It’s a constant source of joy for me . . . And being able to launch the new Zeitgeist Theater is an absolute honor,” said Justin.

“Another Openin’ Another Show”

Justin continues to be a cheerleader and “Mr. Theater” for the community with his support for other theater companies, whether he is performing or directing there or not.

His calendar continues to fill up with theatrical gigs. In April, Justin is directing “Constellations” for the Duluth Playhouse in their intimate black box Lab space. In May, he’ll be appearing onstage for “Peter and the Starcatcher” (Duluth Playhouse) and in “The Macbeth Dinner Party” in October (Zeitgeist).

“I’ve got a few more things in the works too, but I’m not quite ready to announce those yet. Stay tuned,” he said.

Feb 14th – 24th (Wed – Sun week one & Thurs – Sat week two)
7:30 pm evenings & 2 pm Sunday matinee
For tickets, go to zeitgeistarts.com/theater or call 218-336-1412

“This isnt your grandmothers Austen! Bold, surprising, boisterous, and timely, this P&P for a new era explores the absurdities and thrills of finding your perfect (or imperfect) match in life. The outspoken Lizzy Bennet is determined to never marry, despite mounting pressure from society. But can she resist love, especially when that vaguely handsome, mildly amusing, and impossibly aggravating Mr. Darcy keeps popping up at every turn?! Literatures greatest tale of latent love has never felt so theatrical, or so full of life than it does in this effervescent adaptation. Because what turns us into greater fools…than the high-stakes game of love?” From Zeitgeist Theater site



Back to Top

Sam Cook Shares His Life As a Storyteller and Adventurer


Sam Cook is a storyteller writer, best known for his outdoors columns in the Duluth News Tribune.  Photo submitted.

“I think all of us want to be told stories, whether they’re about a 4-year-old catching a walleye with a Snoopy rod or the deep ties among hunters gathering at a deer shack in November.” Sam Cook

Sam Cook has been telling his captivating and enchanting stories for over four decades, most of us reading them in his columns or in one of his book collections.

But in reading them, one can almost hear his voice, talking around a distant, crackling campfire about a close encounter with trumpeter swans or a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the North Pole, about taking risks and making choices, and about what it means to be truly alive and living in the moment.

Two bull caribou run across a high pass in Alaska's Brooks Range. Photo by Sam Cook

Writing about Arctic wolves, wild stormy nights, simple camp suppers, starry skies, and the majesty of Lake Superior, he lyrically shared his magical tales.

Cook acknowledges that he did indeed find his true calling. “We all have our skill sets. Some of us teach. Some of us build. Some of us sell. I write . . .”

Path to Being a Beloved Columnist

Born in the small town of Sabetha, Kansas, his family later moved to Topeka Kansas; Grand Island and Omaha, Nebraska; and then back to Sabetha where he graduated from high school.

Sam Cook (center) making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on a canoe trip in 1964 with the Sommers High Adventure Scout Base in Ely. Photo submitted.

Cook started writing for publication in 1970 when he was in basic training for the Kansas National Guard and began sending unsolicited pieces about his training experiences back to the Sabetha Herald, his hometown newspaper.

He said, “I thought they were sort of funny, sometimes poignant. I didn’t ask to be paid. It was my first experience being published, and I found it rewarding.” Sam went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas in 1970.

In 1976, Sam and his wife Phyllis decided to quit their jobs in Kansas and move to Ely. Minnesota, where he started writing for the Ely Echo and as a canoe outfitter on Moose Lake near Ely. He recalled, “We planned to be gone from Kansas for a year. We never moved back . . .”

Sam and Phyllis Cook in 1976, while working at Canadian Border Outfitters in Ely. Photo by Mike Zika

After a brief stint in Longmont, Colorado, with the Daily Times-Call, he began sports writing for the Duluth News Tribune in 1980. He became an outdoors writer at the News Tribune later that year and soon a general columnist as well, writing a weekly column. Hundreds of columns later, he retired in 2018 after 38 years.

“What a wonderful ride,” he noted. “I met so many wonderful outdoors folks and enjoyed telling their stories. Our region is rich in fascinating folks living interesting lives. Fishing guides. Hunters. People living on the edge of the wilderness. Characters like Benny Ambrose up on the border in the canoe country; Dorothy Molter, who lived alone up on Knife Lake near Ely; my friend ‘Jackpine’ Bob Cary of Ely; Joe Seliga, the Ely canoe builder, and so many more.”

Cook holds a lake trout from a winter day trip in the Ely area a few years ago. Photo by Kelly Murphy

He added, “It’s great to write about people who are doing something they love. and going with them to one of their favorite places to do it.” His experiences and meeting fascinating people, however, sometimes went well beyond the Northland.

“Covering the expeditions of people like Will Steger and Paul Schurke of Ely, whose team traveled by dogsled to the North Pole in 1986, enriched and broadened my career. Certainly, standing atop the frozen ocean at the North Pole when we flew in to pick up the team was a highlight of my career. I wrote my stories longhand on the return trip from a jump seat in a Twin Otter bush plane with several sled dogs tied out along the walls,” he said.

Sam Cook paddling in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness with Nellie on board. Photo by Phyllis Cook

“I didn't think of my work at the News Tribune as writing,” he added. “I thought of it as a way to tell stories. I would come back from interviews or trips and couldn't wait to begin writing a story. I wanted to share with readers what I had seen or learned or done with fascinating people in our region.”

Many of his stories have been collected and published in the books “Up North,” “Quiet Magic,” “Camp Sights,” “Friendship Fires,” “Moving Waters,” and “If this is mid-life. . . where’s the crisis?”

Photography and Teaching

Along the way, he also became interested in photography. He had a News Tribune photographer accompany him on stories many times, and from them learned some tricks of the trade.

“I would bring back my average photos to the photo department at the News Tribune and edit my shots with Bob King, Jack Rendulich, and other staff photographers. They were very helpful – and tactful – in editing, and I became a better photographer as a result.”

Canoeing in Quitico Provincial Park, Ontario. Photo by Sam Cook

Sharing some of his own tricks of the writing trade, he has taught writing workshops, and spoken to writing and journalism classes. “I take the interviewing and writing process seriously, and I’m happy to share my process with those classes. I hope it has helped those students.”

Advice on Adventuring

Sam gives some tips on how to have adventures. “Start small and just go. Maybe get some friends together and hit the trail for a night or two. Or network a bit -- go join a group and see what kinds of trips it might offer. Or just show up for outdoor programs offered around town. Or go for a day trip -- to a lake near the edge of the Boundary Waters or do a simple overnight on the Superior Hiking Trail. Tell an outdoorsy friend you'd like to tag along on an upcoming outing. You will meet like-minded folks. Let the networking begin.”

Sam and Phyllis Cook taking a break while hiking the Oberg Mountain Hiking Trail near Tofte last fall. Photo submitted.

Of his retirement, Cook says, “We travel. We camp. We paddle. We cross-country ski. I hike almost daily with friends on Duluth’s wonderful trails. We go to France and Switzerland occasionally to see our kids. We try to collect experiences rather than things.”

Whether writing of exciting far-off adventures or about quiet rambles with his “yellow dog” in the woods, Cook’s stories have always evoked tears, laughter, and contemplation with his eloquent prose and “Hemingwayesque” style.


Sam Cook and yellow Lab Nellie on Mountain Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Photo by Phyllis Cook

“Up North”
by Sam Cook

Up North is a certain way the wind feels on your face and the way an old wool shirt feels on your back. It’s the peace that comes over you when you sit down to read one of your old trip journals, or the anticipation that bubbles inside when you start sorting through your tackle box early in the spring.

Up North is the smell of the Duluth Pack hanging in your basement and the sound of pots clinking across the lake. It’s a raindrop clinging to a pine needle and the dancing light of a campfire on the faces of friends.

Up North is a lone set of cross-country ski tracks across a wilderness lake and wood smoke rising from a cabin chimney. It’s bunchberries in June, blueberries in July and wild rice in September.

Each of us has an Up North. It’s a time and place far from the here and now. It’s a map on the wall, a dream in the making, a tugging at one’s soul. For those who feel the tug, who make the dream happen, who put the map in the packsack and go, the world is never quite the same again.

We have been Up North. And part of us always will be.

Up North” is reprinted with permission from Up North by Sam Cook. Published by the University of Minnesota Press, 2003. Copyright 1986 by Sam Cook. All rights reserved.










Back to Top

All Aboard! Take a Murderous Ride on the Orient Express

Duluth Playhouse

DD Arts & Entertainment Review - Duluth Playhouse's Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express is playing now through February 11 at NorShor Theatre. Creative by Duluth Playhouse.

“The story you are about to witness is one of romance, murder, and the primal urge for revenge.” This opening line from the play “Murder on the Orient Express,” is delivered in an ominous tone from “world-famous” Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. With this dark pronouncement, the Playhouse audience was sent hurtling down the tracks on a wild ride.

Author Dame Agatha Christie penned over 60 detective novels, 14 story collections, and 19 plays. Her works have been translated into over a hundred languages, and more than 150 movies and television program adaptations have been made, making her the undeniable icon of the golden age of the English detective story.

Her beloved novel, Murder on the Orient Express, was adapted into a play by modern playwright Ken Ludwig, who the Christie estate commissioned, managed by her grandson, to choose any of her works to adapt.

Author of such popular shows as the musical “Crazy for You” and the play “Lend Me a Tenor,” Ludwig used his comic credentials to add humorous elements to Christie’s dark tale of murder on the famed, elegant, and opulent “King of Trains” Orient Express.

The train becomes a character itself, both in the novel and the play. Scene designer Ann Gumpper meets the challenges of effectively recreating passenger berths, hallways, a dining car, and the snowy landscape as a backdrop. Her proscenium-framing pieces give an elegant look with the theater’s red curtains and serve as an effective place to project the snow effects of a blizzard.

Traveling from Istanbul to Paris, the train gets caught in a blinding storm, and is stopped by the mounting snow, with the first-class passengers stuck far from civilization while they await rescue. It is then that a bloody, gory murder is discovered in a locked berth, and Poirot is hot on the trail to find out “whodunit.”

The crafty detective soon deduces, after finding out the true identity of the victim, that the murder is related to a famous American kidnapping case where a child, Daisy Armstrong, was kidnapped and later found dead.

Christie was fascinated by the real-life mystery and tragedy of the 1932 kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby and used many of the details from that true story as the connecting thread of “Orient Express.”

Knowing the story well of the Armstrong kidnapping, Poirot can start unraveling the threads of the mystery of the murder victim and his body full of stab wounds to discern who might have had the motive to kill him.

The colorful cast of suspects includes a young Englishwoman, a Russian princess, a Swedish missionary, a Scottish colonel, a train conductor, a Hungarian Countess, an American businessman, and an American divorcée.

The veritable United Nations of accents the show requires is handled with varying degrees of success. At times, the accents got in the way of clarity, clean diction, and an understanding of clues, making some comic lines fall flat.

Standouts in the eclectic group of possible murderers are Christa Schultz as the brash, loud, and obnoxious Minnesotan, Helen Hubbard. Schultz brings her considerable acting chops and comedic timing to the role. With her bright orange, satin dress, broad accent, and hip-swaying brashness, she commands every scene in which she appears.

Portraying the beautiful Countess Andrenyi, who also just happens to be a doctor, Playhouse newcomer Sarah Blossom was elegant in bringing the mystery and contradictions of her character to life.

Director Julie Ahasay has assembled a talented cast (of all local actors) to take this ill-fated trip. Ahasay’s direction makes this a fun guessing game for the audience as they try to become amateur detectives to figure out the murderer's identity.

Monsieur Bouc, director of the train company and friend to Poirot, becomes his “assistant” in sorting through the tangled clues and in dealing with all the idiosyncrasies and hysteria of the eccentric passengers. Michael Kraklio portrays a perfect, mostly calming presence who comically does have his own moments of sheer panic. His line delivery was always on point, with impeccable diction and projection.

Mike Pederson as the dandified Poirot, with the character’s iconic mustache, deftly portrays all the character’s fastidiousness, vanity, and ego.

Personifying Poirot’s reliance on his intelligence, conviction, and morality, Pederson makes strong comedic and dramatic choices. Ludwig described Poirot as having “ethics and eccentricities.” Pederson weaves both into his dignified detective.

There were a few instances of opening night wobbliness with a couple of miscues of raising train set pieces early, a clunky moving of a podium in the dark, and hesitancy in a few lines, but nothing that derailed the show.

Especially in Act One, the scene shifts of moving the train cars were slow and made the pacing slower. The show picked up steam, however, in Act Two.

The final dramatic scene, where Poirot gathers all the suspects to tell them who is guilty, was cleverly done with the repetition of significant lines that were important clues. One of Christie’s patented surprise twist endings brings the show to a satisfying close, with chaos restored to order, albeit with more than a little moral ambiguity.

The story’s inherent theatricality, Christie and Ludwig’s masterful writing, and an ensemble cast obviously having great fun in the storytelling, all made for an enjoyable mid-winter’s eve escape.

The show runs January 26- February 11. Most performances are sold out; a few tickets remain for select performances. For more information, call 218-733-7555 or visit duluthplayhouse.org

Next up for the Playhouse is the Pulitzer-Prize winning musical “Next to Normal,” running March 16-31.Tickets are on sale now.

Visit destinationduluth.co/ArtsAndEntertainment for arts profiles and other theater reviews.


About Sheryl Jensen - Arts & Entertainment Editor

A retired educator with the Duluth Public Schools, Sheryl Jensen has been a theater director of over 60 school and community productions. Her production of William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew at East High School won the National High School Theater award from the BRAVO television network.

Having written theater, music, dance, and opera reviews for the Duluth News Tribune for many years, she now is the Arts & Entertainment Editor for Destination Duluth.





Back to Top

Destination Duluth Hosts 4th Annual Celebration of Photographers Event

Glenn Blaszkiewicz

Destination Duluth Hosts 4th Annual Celebration of Photographers Event

On the evening of Monday, January 15th, 2024 an array of Destination Duluth’s talented photographers, Board members, and sustaining partners – along with their guests - came in from the cold to gather and celebrate.

As in years past, 2023 was a banner year for DD photographers. Throughout 2023, these hard-working artists have continued doing whatever it takes to capture their amazing images.

This often includes working plenty of late nights, early mornings, and enduring inclement weather conditions to shoot – and generously share - their shots. As a result, they continue to attract an astounding number of views to DD’s social media platforms and website.

In 2023, DD content recorded over 88 million views. This averages 240,000 impressions per day. Over the 10.5 year history, their content has 650 million views.

Those jaw-dropping stats are definitely worth celebrating.


The Celebration of Photographers Event was held at Duluth’s Great Lakes Aquarium for the second consecutive year. The warm, humid setting of the Aquarium – featuring plenty of exhibits showcasing fish, birds, and mammals - was a welcome comfort for guests, as outside temps hovered in the negative digits.

Stephanie and Brad Irwin marvel at the moose at the Great Lakes Aquarium.

The Aquarium provided a unique opportunity for the photographers, who were encouraged to arrive early, roam around, and snap photos of the creatures and décor.

The evening kicked off with a happy hour. Later, guests enjoyed a delicious dinner of pasta, salad, and dessert from Valentini’s. A formal program – including plenty of recognition for photographers – comprised most of the evening’s festivities.

Kathleen Wolleat, Rick and Judy Rice enjoy chatting during the social hour.


Jerry Thoreson, DD’s Managing Director, began the formal program with Board member introductions.

Later, DD co-founder and Board member, Branden Robinson, shared some history of the organization. Robinson also expressed reverence for the significance of the day – the event was held on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Remarks were also given by photographer Hansi Johnson – who worked hard to promote Duluth in the May 2014 “Best Town in America” contest through Outside Magazine. Tanner Hermes also spoke; this talented physician assistant, photographer, and his family decided to move to Duluth after reading the Outside Magazine story on all Duluth offers the outdoor enthusiast.

Outside Magazine "Vote Duluth" contest organizer Hansi Johnson, was pleased to meet Tanner and Pam Hermes.


Thoreson took some time to reiterate DD’s purpose, mission, vision, and values for the evening’s guests:

Purpose: To foster a connected, vibrant, and growing city

Mission: To create and curate content that inspires, educates, and connects people to Duluth, showcasing its unique quality of place

Vision: To see people filled with a deep sense of belonging and identity with Duluth

Values: Intentional, positive, and genuine

New in 2024

Thoreson also noted that, heading into 2024, DD has several new initiatives/priorities in the works. They include a new and improved website experience.

The continuation of the Eat & Drink Duluth initiative was also announced, featuring restaurant reviews and photos, completed by writer Andrea Busche and photographer Mike Busche.

And, the Arts & Entertainment initiative will continue into 2024, as well. This segment includes theater reviews and artist profiles, completed by writer and theater reviewer, Sheryl Jensen.

Thoreson also announced a Kickstarter campaign, to raise funds for the creation of Watercolors – a documentary about local artist SJ Nielsen, the creator of the Duluth Alphabet.

Thanks, Sustaining Partners!

During the program, DD’s sustaining partners – including Glensheen Mansion, Grandma’s Marathon, South Pier Inn, the Duluth Grill “family” of restaurants, Essentia, Lake Superior Railroad Museum, Bent Paddle, Lake Superior Zoo, and Split Rock Lighthouse – were recognized and thanked. Many of the night’s door prizes were shared by these generous organizations.

Prizes included a Duluth Grill cookbook, a private tour of the Zoo, and plenty of merch. The grand prize – a two-night stay at the South Pier Inn – was given out at the end of the program.

Celebrating Photographers

The largest part of the program, however, was reserved to recognize and honor DD’s talented photographers. A variety of photographers were recognized by name. They also received a certificate for their work.

Awards were given in the following categories, based on the number of views the photographer has received:

50-200k Club Awards

Receiving awards for having 50,000 to 200,000 views of their images were (from lowest to highest) Joe Garfield, Kyle Johnson, Marius Anderson, Dan Bielski, Colin Willemsen, Ingrid Johnson, Marybeth Kiczenski, Dana Malkovich, Bob Jauch, Andrew Jerry, Roxanne Distad, Ryan Rumpca, Dominic Ricci, Randy Wolf, Dustin LaVingne, Scott Rockvam, Bill Donovan, Paul Chen, and David Brickner.

Marybeth Kiczenski, drove from her home Chicago to attend the Celebration.

200-300k Club Awards

Receiving awards for having 200,000 to 300,000 views of their images were (from lowest to highest) Matthew Moses, Kyle Arndt, Heather Moe, John Keefover, Tim  Beaulier, Gregory Israelson, Brian T. Johnson, and Dawn LaPointe.

Kyle Arndt proudly displays his award for being in the 200-300k Club.

300-400k Club Awards

Receiving awards for having 300,000 to 400,000 views of their images were (from lowest to highest) Nicholas Stamper, Kathleen Wolleat, Jim Schnortz, Sandi  Larson, Travis Novitsky, Nole Maurice, Scott Youmans, Jamie Rabold, Donald Jay Olson, Jeff  Sundin, and Cary Schmies.

Jeff Sundin displays is award for being in the 300-400k Club.

400-500k Club Awards

Awarded for 400-500,000 views of their images were Edward Lee, and David R. Johnson. In the 500-600,000 Club were Rick Rice, Paul Scinocca, and Charles Howard Smith

Edward Lee was recognized for having over 400,000 views of his images.

600-700k Club Awards

Receiving awards for having 600,000 to 700,000 views of their images were (from lowest to highest) Jesse Nord, Jane Herrick, and Nancy J Lindberg,

Nancy Lindberg was awarded for being in the 600-700 Club.

700-800k Club Awards

In the 700-800,000 Club were Marcie Crain, Glenn Blaszkiewicz, Lindsey Ruhnke, Mark Ellis, Adam Malmanger, and Melissa Dressely.

Melissa Dressely was awarded for being in the 700-800k Club.

800-900-1m Club Awards

Those with 800-900,000 views of their images were Douglas Kilen, Joe Polecheck, Cody Lau, Jan  Swart, and Tanner Hermes. Andy Kunz was awarded for being in the 900k-1 million bracket.

Tanner Hermes was recognized for having over 800,000 views of his images on Destination Duluth.

Top Photographers 1-2 million

The photographers whose images had more than 1 million views are named in the“Top Photographer” category. With 1-2 million views were (in order lowest to highest) Amber Nichols, Scott Bjorklund, Ken Harmon, Rich Hoeg, George Ilstrup, Steve Mattson, Martha Lind, Ken Palmer, Tim Mlodozyniec, Ryan Tischer, John Heino, Nicholas J. Narog, Steve Sola, Dennis O'Hara, and Stephanie Irwin.

Martha Lind was received a Top Photographer award for having more than a million views of her images.

Top Photographers 2+ million

The Top Photographers with over 2 million views included Mike Mayou, Hayes Scriven, Matthew Pastick, Adam Bjornberg, Jeffrey Doty, Nathan Klok, and David Schauer.

Nathan Klok was runner-up of the most views for 2023 on DD, with over 4 million.

Special Trophy Awards

Additionally, some special awards were new this year:

Scott Bjorklund was recognized with the Burst Mode Award, recognizing his burst in contributions going from just a few in 2022 to over 30 photos featured in 2023, with over 1 million impressions.

Scott Bjorklund won the Burst Mode Award.

Mike Mayou was granted the new Hot Shoe Award, recognizing the hottest new contributing photographer. His images were seen over 2 million times.

Mike Mayou won the Hot Shoe Award.

David Schauer was given the f/1.4 Award, recognizing his highest exposure on Destination Duluth with over 6 million views of his images.

David Schauer was unable to attend was recognized as the winner of the f/1.4 Trophy for most views of his images on DD.

And the night’s top honor – a new lifetime achievement award called the Blue Moon Award - was given to Dennis O’Hara, the owner of northernimages.com and duluthharborcam.com. Dennis was a pioneer in website photography, having started his photography website in 1992, just 3 years after the World Wide Web was created. People from all over the world appreciate his Duluth Harbor Cams, that feature live-streams of ports and points of interest from Bayfield to Duluth to Grand Marais.

Dennis O'Hara is well-deserving of the Blue Moon Award for his lifetime of northland photography.

Summing up a Great Year

Now in its 11th year, Thoreson is pleased to wrap up another great calendar year with Destination Duluth and looks forward to what 2024 might bring. Above all, he remains profoundly grateful for DD’s hardworking photographers and the warm reception Destination Duluth continues to receive. "Each Like, Comment and Share is meaningful, as people take a moment to appreciate the wonders of Duluth and the North Shore," Thoreson states.

About the writer

Andrea Busche is a Duluth + regional freelance writer and small business owner. She is credited with over 1,000 bylines in local print and digital publications. She has been a frequent contributor to Destination Duluth since 2017.

Back to Top

Community Foundation Celebrates 40 Years

Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation Celebrates 40 Years of Making an Impact

The staff of the Community Foundation celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Community Opportunity Fund. Photo submitted.

Here in the Northland, we are blessed to be surrounded by many people – and organizations – who care. The Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation (Community Foundation, for short) is one notable example.

Founded in Duluth in 1983 by Kay Slack (the former President of the United Way) and Richard Burns (an attorney), along with several other dedicated individuals, the Foundation exists for the sole purpose of serving our community.

The Community Foundation’s explicit, three-pronged goal is to “Provide grants that finance good work in our region, scholarships to further the education of people of all ages, and leadership on important community issues.”

The Foundation, located at 324 West Superior Street, Suite 700, is staffed by a team of 10 and governed by a 13-member Board of Directors. To date, the organization has given out a whopping $72 million in grants and scholarships to individuals and organizations in our community.

Shaun Floerke, Richard Burns & Kay Slack reminisce about Community Foundation history. Photo submitted.

Past beneficiaries have included the YMCA, CHUM, Men as Peacemakers, Boys & Girls Club, Steve O’Neil Apartments, and many more. In fact, “You’d be hard-pressed to find a non-profit that the Foundation hasn’t helped in our region,” noted Community Foundation President and CEO, Shaun Floerke.

What they Do

The Community Foundation exists to help others. Through various funds – the largest of which is their Community Opportunity Fund – Community Foundation provides grants to 501©(3) non-profits, school districts, libraries, and some government entities.

The foundation also provides a variety of scholarships. Over 80 scholarships are available, which help students enroll in two-year and four-year post-secondary programs and study a variety of trades.

In 2023, the Foundation gave nearly $800,000 in scholarships to more than 125 students.

Amber Burns is promoting scholarships at Mesabi East High School. Photo submitted.

While the Foundation focuses on giving in the Twin Ports community, its geographic area includes seven counties in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota, five counties in Northwestern Wisconsin, and seven Tribal nations. The Foundation does grant work throughout this area, working with donors and nonprofits throughout. The Community Foundation also has affiliates to assist in Cook County, the Apostle Islands, Two Harbors, and Eveleth.

The Community Foundation is funded 100% through philanthropy. “This is often through folks giving gifts through estate planning and people thinking about their legacy,” Floerke explained. “But, there’s generosity everywhere.”

Looking ahead to 2024, the Foundation is focusing on the themes of opportunity, belonging, and resilience. Special consideration will be given to applicants whose applications align with these themes. “Transformational grants” – for entities who emphasize collaboration and partnerships - will be another focus.


As President and CEO, Floerke described himself as the “connector and collaborator” for the Foundation. One of Floerke’s other significant roles is to oversee the Foundation’s investments to ensure they grow in perpetuity.

Shaun Floerke is President and CEO of the Community Foundation

Interestingly, Floerke is a former attorney and a former judge in Minnesota’s 6th Judicial District. He left his career in law behind in 2021 to work for the Community Foundation.

Floerke developed a heart for the people who passed through his courtroom during his tenure on the bench. Yes, they made mistakes. But many of them were also hurting deeply.

As a judge, Floerke created several initiatives to help people who were struggling. For instance, he founded South St. Louis County DWI Court, South St. Louis County Safe Babies Court, and the Duluth Domestic Violence Restorative Circles process. These initiatives, sometimes referred to as “treatment courts,” help address people’s problems to help them turn their lives around and stop the criminal cycle.

Floerke knows that a simple hand up can make an immense impact; both for individuals, and for the community at large. His career change to the non-profit sector reflects Floerke’s desire to help on a broader scale.

“I loved the judicial work, but knew I wanted to do something to create opportunities for people in a different realm,” he said. “In the courtroom, I’d spend my time thinking about how to help people thrive. It was super rewarding.

Carl Crawford of the Unity Fund committee and Shaun Floerke announce a funding milestone that advances African heritage communities. Photo submitted

“But now, I get to look out my window and think about how to help Duluth-Superior thrive,” he added. “I get to think more broadly about thriving - for a whole community.”

Floerke and his wife, Sara, who works as a learning coach, have five children: Merit (29), Connor (27), Cole (25), Curran (23), and Mercedes (20). They also have a pit bull named Rory.

Floerke is originally from southern Wisconsin. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he earned his undergraduate degree in history. He earned his JD from the University of Minnesota.

Shaun and Sara moved to Duluth in 1996 and have become passionate about the area. “I’m a hopeless Duluth evangelist,” he said with a chuckle. “On airplanes, in hotels – anywhere I am, I talk about Duluth.”


Floerke shared that the most moving part about his role at the Community Foundation is witnessing our community’s generosity. “That’s been one of the coolest things for me – meeting folks who care so deeply about our community and watching people thrive,” he shared.

“In this role, I can introduce people to giving back,” he added. “And, I’ve been really honored to witness the generosity in our region.”

To learn more, please visit dsacommunityfoundation.org.


Back to Top
Show More Stories

Your Path to Duluth

Website Brought To You By:

  • Essentia Health
  • City of Duluth Minnesota
Other Supporting Partners
© 2024 Destination Duluth