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


Hansi Johnson


Destination Duluth’s purpose is to educate and inspire people about the quality of place of Duluth, Minnesota, thereby shaping the city and region’s positive growth.

Chester Bowl brings the community together

Year-Round Family Fun
Duluth’s Chester Bowl Belongs to Everyone

Chester Bowl, a 117-acre park, is an oasis of fun, entertainment, sports, and play in the middle of the city of Duluth. Their vision statement is “To promote sustainable, quality programs for all Chester Bowl Park users in a healthy and safe environment.”

Executive Director Dave Schaeffer is responsible for fundraising, grant writing, partnerships with similar organizations and PR/Marketing. Before starting with Chester Bowl in 2014, he worked for the Great Lakes Aquarium and Mentor Duluth.

“My wife, daughter and I live just at the edge of the park. I feel lucky to be able to walk to work. No matter the time of the year, the park is always busy,” said Schaeffer. “Chester Bowl belongs to all of us.”

Sam Luoma, Chester Bowl’s Program Director, born and raised in Duluth, recalls coming to Chester Bowl to snowboard when he was in high school. He started at Chester Bowl as a volunteer, joined the Board of Directors in 2008, and came on as Program Director in 2014.

“The Park can be enjoyed on so many different levels—for its beautiful waterfalls, trails, playground, ski hills, year-round activities and so much more,” Luoma said.

Chester Bowl ski facilities are geared toward families. Photo by Loll Designs.

With their three full-time employees and over 60 part-time employees over the year for various programs, they seek to promote healthy living through a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities. Providing year-round programming and events for people of all ages, they are “creating a true community of park users in a peaceful, respectful environment.”

According to their website, “The Chester Bowl Improvement Club (Chester Bowl) began in 1980 and established as a State of Minnesota non-profit 501(c)(3) in 1982 to support programming for the thousands of users of the park.”

Approximately 10,000 people take advantage of Chester Park every year to play softball and soccer, hike or ski its cross-country trails, walk their dogs, enjoy a picnic by its creek, use its playground equipment, or dry land train (for skiing, but without snow).

Winter Central

Best known for its alpine hill and its youth downhill ski program, with a double chair lift and a 175-foot drop, Chester Bowl is able to handle up to 960 skiers and snowboarders per hour.

“I love seeing parents learning to ski themselves and to see them enjoying time together at Chester Bowl with their kids,” said Schaeffer.

Other fun winter activities include free small group lessons, Freestyle Fridays and an Alpine Race Series. With a season or day pass, children and adults receive a chair-lift pass, and take part in lessons or other ski programs.

Many kids learn to ski at Chester Bowl. Photo by Jeremy Kershaw.

Pass options include day passes for children and adults, Minnesota 4th grader passes, and partner organization passes from Spirit Mountain, Mont du Lac, Giants Ridge, Lutsen, Mount Ashwabay, or Mount Ski Gull that give participants lift tickets at Chester Bowl.

Season passes for this current season were: Individual Season Pass- $80 (plus $100 volunteer deposit & tax); Family of 2 Season Pass- $160 (plus $100 volunteer deposit & tax); Family 3+ Season Pass- $200 (plus $100 volunteer deposit & tax)

Each family paying a volunteer deposit of $100 are then responsible to complete 6 or 12 volunteer hours (depending on the amount of equipment rented). By completing their volunteer hours and returning their rental gear, individuals or families get their deposit back and are eligible to be among the first to get signed up for equipment fittings before the next year’s season.

Chester Bowl’s equipment rental model is to rent gear out for the entire season, with renters able to use the equipment at Chester Bowl, as well as at any other hills.

Scholarship Program

For those families who cannot afford season passes and rentals, partial or full scholarships are available. Every request is approved. Chester Bowl’s goal is never to let a family’s financial situation interfere with their ability to ski or snowboard.

Over 100 families each year are able to participate because of the scholarships, and about 15 percent of the program fees are covered by those scholarships. Scholarship funds are raised through Fall Fest gate donations, other events, fundraisers, personal and business donations, and grants.

Last winter, Chester Bowl awarded $32,500 in winter scholarships to over 100 different families, and they awarded $18,550 in summer camp scholarships.

Volunteers Make the Difference

“We are so lucky to have so many volunteers who give thousands of hours all year to help us to run our programs and to maintain the park. Whether it is selling concessions, doing hill cleanup, or helping to run one of our programs, our volunteers, including our Board members, are here to help,” said Schaeffer.

Summer Days at Chester

Things at Chester Bowl are hopping year-round, not just in the busy winter season. During the summer months, they operate the Chester Bowl Day Camp. Their unofficial motto is that “we promise to return your child tired, happy and dirty.”

With a daily capacity of 84 campers, nearly 200 different children ages 6-12 attended at least one of their programming days last summer.

Camp runs Mondays through Thursdays for 10 weeks of summer. Families can sign up for whatever number of weeks works for them and can choose from campsites of Lower Chester, Middle Chester, and Upper Chester.

The day camp takes advantage of the park’s natural environment, while also sponsoring field trips to locations such as other City and State Parks and the Duluth Public Library.

Another summer favorite is the Chester Creek Concert Series, in partnership with the City of Duluth. Offering free Tuesday night concerts with a lineup of popular musicians and a food truck onsite at Chester Bowl, people can enjoy seeing friends and neighbors and sharing beautiful summer evenings.

Tuesday's summer concert series fills the park with music, laughter, food and neighborhood bonding. Photo submitted.

Fall Festival

The Fall Festival organized by Chester Bowl is tremendously popular, with over 130 vendor booths. Festival goers enjoy the live music, food, fresh produce  and locally-made crafts.

In 2022, with their 37th annual Fall Festival, they raised almost $9,000 for their scholarship fund.

Thousands attend the annual fall festival at Chester Bowl. Photo by Dave Schaeffer. 

Fall Camp

Chester Bowl is offering Fall Camp over MEA break again in 2023. Following the same model as summer camp, Fall Camp is based on a philosophy of nature play, positive social interaction with peers, teen mentors, and adult staff, and immersion in nature.

Camp is open to children who are at least 6 years old OR are currently enrolled in kindergarten, up to 7th grade. Full and partial scholarships are also available for the Fall Camp.

Party at the Chalet

The Thom Storm Chalet at Chester Bowl Park is a great location for birthday parties, graduation parties, small weddings and other group activities. The basic rental rate is $75 for the first hour and $25 per additional hour. Non-profits looking for a space for meetings or retreats can also use the Chalet for $15 per hour.

The main Chalet space seats up to about 50 comfortably, with the most common seating configuration using the three long folding picnic tables The space also includes a small kitchen prep area (fridge, freezer, sink, microwave, and counters, but no stove or oven).

Peace in the Park”

Chester Bowl is founded on their “Peace in the Park” guidelines based on the guiding principle “that everyone has the right to participate in our programs in a safe, peaceful, caring environment where each person is respected. We believe in resolving conflicts without yelling or fighting and being a place where everyone can feel comfortable and safe . . . We expect the people in our programs to welcome each other, watch out for each other and demonstrate caring towards each other.”

Parents Speak

One Chester Bowl parent said, “There are so many wonderful stories to share about Chester Bowl, but they all boil down to one thing: community. Everybody is friends at Chester Bowl, everyone’s a winner at Chester Bowl, and everyone looks out for each other at Chester Bowl. Chester Bowl, and programs like it, strengthen our community and our relationships with one another.”

Aaron R., another parent, stated, “I love so much about Chester, and I'm so grateful for the place, the staff, the people, and the work of the CBIC. I don't know how else to say it, but it is so huge in my heart. If you ever want to watch me get teary, get me started on the kind of community I see there and feel a part of whenever I'm there. I've never seen anything like it, and wish every kid in the world had the chance to grow up in a place like this.”

For more information, call (218) 724-9832 or visit their website at chesterbowl.org

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Elevate Your Story with Story North Productions

Kevin Jacobsen

Elevate Your Story with Story North Productions

Between parenting, business, and life, husband and wife duo Kevin Jacobsen and Annie Harala spend the majority of their time together. But they wouldn’t have it any other way. Together, the couple owns Story North Productions, a Duluth-based, full-service video production company.

Kevin Jacobsen and Annie Harala are co-owners of Story North Productions.

Each spouse brings a unique and vital set of skills to the business. Jacobsen, a former news anchor and news director, provides a keen creative eye, along with most of the technical skills required, including editing, filming, and writing scripts. Harala, meanwhile, has a lengthy background in PR, with significant experience in community organizing.

Melding their talents into creating a video production business simply made sense. “My career, all along, has included helping people feel connected to communities; connected to one another,” Harala said. “And then I met Kevin in 2013, and we really connected over storytelling.”

Jacobsen is always on the hunt for meaningful connections, too. “As a former news anchor, I try to always be attuned to what’s happening,” Jacobsen added. “Storytelling is all around us.”

In marriage, as well as in their work, Jacobsen and Harala rely on one another to fill in what the other lacks. “Having Annie provide an - almost outside set of eyeballs - before I send a video to a client is great,” Jacobsen noted, before adding with a chuckle, “Typically, she’s always right.”


Many locals will recognize Jacobsen as a former news anchor and news director for local news affiliate KBJR. But many people don’t know his interesting life story.

“My parents are from Denmark and moved to the United States in 1982,” he shared. “I’m an only child. I grew up outside of New York City, in the Hudson Valley area.”

Jacobsen initially became interested in journalism in his youth. “There was a giant blizzard in New York in 1996,” he explained. “There was no school, and I was home for the day. I was watching the news and kept flipping back and forth to the Weather Channel. I kind of fell in love with it.”

Later, Jacobsen took a video production and filmmaking course in middle school and eventually created a local TV news magazine. At age 15, he landed an internship with a local TV news station, Regional News Network, and was hired part-time at age 16. His first big break was to interview NBC meteorologist Al Roker and create a news story about Roker’s new book.

Jacobsen attended Lyndon State College in Vermont, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism. He moved to Duluth in 2008, when he was hired at KBJR. There, he worked as an anchor from 2008 – 2016 and was later promoted to news director of CBS3 and KBJR. He served in this role from 2017 to 2021.

Today, Jacobsen maintains dual citizenship between the U.S. and Denmark. “When other kids went to Disneyland, I went to Denmark,” he said. “It’s always been a destination throughout my life.” The couple even enjoyed a belated honeymoon in the country in 2016.

Harala was born and raised right here in Duluth, the daughter of a single, schoolteacher mother. She and her brother were raised near Chester Bowl, and Harala graduated from Duluth Central High School. She later attended St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota, and earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations, with a minor in English.

After moving back to Duluth in 2008, her career took some interesting zigs and zags. “I worked for the Duluth Y, running their AmeriCorps program and managing grants,” she explained. “Then, I worked for the Community Health Board, where I managed grants to support health equity in rural communities. I served on the Duluth School Board from 2018 – 2021, and I worked for Northland Constructors from 2018 – 2021.”

Most recently, Harala was elected to serve as the First District Commissioner for the St. Louis County Board, taking the place of long-time commissioner Frank Jewell, upon his retirement. Her term is scheduled to run through 2025.

Story North Productions

A mutual love of storytelling and making connections led to the creation of Story North Productions, which opened in June 2021. Together, the couple creates corporate overview videos, TV commercials, tourism content, brand stories, and testimonials for their clients.

From their website:

“Story North Productions is a Duluth, Minnesota-based full-service video production company serving Minnesota, Wisconsin and beyond. More than just great video, we are storytelling experts driven by passion, creativity and helping our partners succeed. From concept to the final edit, we specialize in video content that engages and inspires audiences and gets results. The content we produce can be seen on television, websites, social media, and in board rooms.”

Right now, Harala and Jacobsen are the company’s only regular, full-time employees. However, they recently hired their second part-time production assistant (pulled from the Upper Midwest Film Office’s talent pool), and also utilize a variety of part-time independent contractors to create video content. Harala shared that they are pleased to be the only woman-owned video business in the region.

Story North utilizes a variety of types of equipment to do its work. This includes cameras, drones, teleprompters, and a variety of audio and lighting options.

Story North serves mostly businesses, including corporations and non-profits. A few of their well-known local clients include the DECC, Northwoods Children’s Services, Northland Constructors, First Witness Child Advocacy Center, Safe Haven Shelter and Resource Center, Lake Superior College, and Kern and Kompany.


While most of their projects take place in our region, they will also travel. The couple has visited places like Akron, Ohio; Atlanta, Georgia; and the Twin Cities for projects.

Since opening, Story North has been in high demand. Thus far, the business has completed about 150 projects, with many more in various stages of development.

Destination Duluth

Interestingly, one of the first organizations to help Jacobsen promote his work was Destination Duluth. “Kevin started honing his craft through Destination Duluth with his sunrise pictures, and I watched him just ignite with excitement,” Harala said.

Since that time, he has connected and continues to engage with, a variety of other Destination Duluth photographers and videographers. In 2022, Kevin’s photos and videos featured on Destination Duluth’s Facebook and Instagram pages had over 200,000 views.

Exciting News

Story North Productions has been a successful endeavor thus far. It recently pivoted from a home-based, virtual business to having a dedicated office. Today, Story North can be found on the 7th floor of the Dewitt-Seitz Marketplace building, located in Canal Park.

Jacobsen and Harala also shared that they are excited to roll out a brand-new initiative: their Video FAQ Toolkit. “Usually, corporate FAQs are in text format, but we are helping companies create them in video format,” Jacobsen explained. “This will really help boost their marketing.”


In addition to their professional endeavors, both Harala and Jacobsen have served on a variety of local Boards over the years.

The couple also recently celebrated expanding their family: they went from zero to four children in a matter of months. They now have custody of two teenagers and are fostering to adopt two young children. “We have quite a unique family,” Harala noted.

The couple also have a mixed-breed dog, Rory, and a cat named Misse, which is Danish for “kitty.” The family lives in Duluth’s hillside neighborhood.

In their spare time, the couple loves to spend time together and as a family. “We love time by Lake Superior – throwing rocks, and just being tourists in our own backyard,” Harala said.

They enjoy attending a variety of local events, including Bentleyville, Duluth-Superior Pride, Juneteenth, and more. A perfect evening would include watching ships in the harbor from the vantage point of the Boat Club’s outdoor patio; preferably with a delicious cocktail in hand.

Small Business Pride

Jacobsen and Harala have much to be proud of with their new business, which they have built from the ground up. “I’m most proud of our grit,” Harala said. “It wasn’t easy to jump in, but it’s led to some really great stories being told. And I’m really proud that we can do this together.”

“I’m so proud of the work we do,” Jacobsen added. “And, the fact that our clients refer us to others via word of mouth. The work speaks for itself, and we really enjoy helping businesses tell their stories.”

Ultimately, Story North has some concrete goals in mind. “We want to continue building strong relationships with our clients and telling stories that are compelling and unique,” Harala said. “And maybe we’ll even create a documentary or two someday.”

“We want to keep our business on the smaller side, but we want to get better at what we do,” Jacobsen added. “Mostly, we want to continue to be a good partner from beginning to end.”

To learn more, please visit storynorthproductions.com.

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Radisson's iconic revolving restaurant gets a 1960's makeover. 

Corbyn Jenkins

Apostle Supper Club
Cuisine with 360° Duluth Views

The best view of Duluth's harbor and hillside has made the Radisson's restaurant a Duluth destination for over 50 years. Photo by Corbyn Jenkins

At the Apostle Supper Club, perched at the very top of Duluth’s Radisson hotel, it’s tough to say which is the bigger star of the show: the food or the views.

Featuring menu items like cheese fondue, chicken fried lobster, fillet mignon, beer steamed mussels and good old-fashioned fish fry, the Apostle describes its menu as “A place where classic dishes are deconstructed and reimagined with a sense of comfort and adventure.”

And, the views are simply extraordinary. The entire restaurant rotates 360 degrees, providing stunning views of Duluth’s harbor and hillside.

The Apostle is intended to look like a late 1960’s era, Palm Springs supper club. “It’s a mid-century modern restaurant, based off a Palm Springs supper club. The Radisson was built in the 1970, and we wanted to embrace that architecture,” co-owner Brian Ingram explained. The restaurant is painted in bright, vibrant colors – mangoes and blues – and every piece of furniture was custom-made for the space.

The restaurant decor is similar to when the Radisson opened in 1970. Photo by Corbyn Jenkins

“The restaurant sits on a giant, rotating floor,” explained Brian. “It’s kind of like a mechanical lazy Susan. We can speed it up or slow it down, but one full rotation takes about an hour.”

Ingram co-owns the Apostle – which opened in January 2022 - with his wife, Sarah Ingram. There are actually a total of eight establishments, mostly in the Twin Cities metro area, all under the umbrella of “Purpose Restaurants.” (More on this entity later).

While Brian is the owner of Purpose Restaurants, Sarah is the founder/president of another of the couple’s initiatives, Give Hope MN, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Purpose Restaurants donates 3% of total sales to Give Hope MN to help address food insecurity.

For the Ingrams, giving back to the communities they serve is a big part of what they do.


Duluth’s Apostle Supper Club serves breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner.

False Eyedoll Tiki Lounge is on the first floor and is open from 4-10 pm most days, offering dinner and late-night snacks.

The Apostle’s cuisine is on the finer side, featuring items like steaks, seafood, and lamb. “We like to do a modern take on traditional supper club food,” Brian shared.

The Apostle Supper Club offers fine dining in a stunning Duluth setting. Photo by Corbyn Jenkins.

“A lot of supper clubs would have lobster; we just do lobster in a fun way. We serve chicken fried lobster that is hand-breaded lobster tail with tempura batter, served with melted chive butter and Hollandaise sauce. It’s food people are familiar with; just served in a unique way.”

False Eyedoll, Brian shared, offers “More approachable food – burgers, chicken wings, things like that.” Both establishments offer a variety of beer, wine, and unique cocktails to suit every palate.


Sarah Ingram is a lifelong Minnesotan who grew up in Dayton. Brian grew up in Alaska. Both husband and wife enjoy shared passions for the culinary arts, along with helping the less fortunate.

Brian and Sarah Ingram, owners of the Apostle Supper Club. Photo by Corbyn Jenkins

Brian got his start at his aunt and uncle’s establishment, Flip’s Flyin’ Coffee Shop, located in Homer, Alaska. “I grew up cooking for family and friends and it became my passion,” he explained. He earned a culinary certification from the Anchorage Career Center while still in high school.

From there, Brian moved to San Francisco, where he worked for Skates on the Bay – a restaurant known for its fresh seafood. He later worked as a chef for many well-known companies, including MGM Resorts, Brinker International (owner of Chili’s, Maggiano’s Little Italy, and others), and helped open restaurants in places like Paris and Singapore.

Sarah attended culinary school for a time, and also earned a cosmetology degree. In addition to her work with Purpose Restaurants and Give Hope MN, she also does hair and makeup for weddings and other special events. She is passionate about helping others; and in particular, men and women who are victims of sex trafficking.

The couple met in 2012 when they were both working at New Bohemia – a craft beer and sausage bar - in northeast Minneapolis. The Ingrams currently live in St. Paul.

Purpose Restaurants

In 2019, Brian Ingram started Purpose Restaurants. On their website, the Ingrams share, “Because we believe everything good starts with a meal, we founded Purpose Restaurants, and our non-profit organization, Give Hope MN. The mission of Give Hope MN is to bring the community together to provide support and serve those in need.” As noted, Give Hope MN donates 3% of total sales to address food insecurity.

Today, just three short years later, Purpose Restaurants includes eight establishments:

  • Hope Breakfast Bar - in St. Paul and St. Louis Park
  • The Gnome Craft Pub in St. Paul
  • Hope Express at Gillette Children’s Hospital
  • Apostle Supper Club - in St. Paul and Duluth
  • False Eyedoll Tiki Lounge - in Duluth (on the first floor of the Radisson) and St. Paul.

A few other Purpose establishments are being planned right now, with more details to be announced soon.

Personal Interests

As noted, the Ingrams currently live in St. Paul. But one of their goals is to purchase a home in Duluth. “We keep talking about moving to Duluth,” Brian said. “We both love skiing and we have a boat.”

The couple are also adventurous “foodie travelers.” Their adventures have included many international locales. And Brian visits Turkey about every 90 days, where he volunteers at the Gospel Culture Café. Together, the Ingrams have a blended family, which includes son Ethan (20), daughter Maya (19), son Banks (2), and two cats, Frenchie and Rizzo.

The Ingrams are both passionate about giving back. Sarah remains deeply committed to helping victims of sex trafficking. And Brian serves on the Board of Directors for the Children’s Hospital Association.

Together, the couple, through Give Hope MN, fed people through the COVID-19 pandemic at their Hope Breakfast Bar. They also set up a small grocery store and community kitchen in the Twin Cities to help address food insecurity.


Looking ahead, the Ingrams are excited to plant deeper roots in Duluth. “We want to get embedded in the community, and would like to find our niche, having students learning the culinary craft from us,” Brian said. “We also want to work with teens battling homelessness.

“Another thing we want to look into is how we can get more intentional with buying local ingredients and learning more about local farmer’s markets,” he added.

The couple loves Duluth; for Brian, it reminds him of home. “Seeing all the people converge on Duluth and the waterway reminds me of Homer, Alaska,” Brian said. Our favorite parts of Duluth are just walking downtown and people-watching.”


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2022 Contributing Photographers Honored

Matthew Moses

The 3rd Annual Celebration of Photographers was held at the Great Lakes Aquarium.

Photos By Matthew Moses

In a humid, dimly-lit setting, amongst ducks, fish, snakes, and many other species of cool critters who thrive in these conditions, Destination Duluth honored and recognized its beloved content creators with its 3rd annual Celebration of Photographers. The event took place Monday, January 16th, 2023, at Duluth’s Great Lakes Aquarium.

Great Lakes Aquarium St Louis River room.

The program was designed to honor and award 80 of the 300 featured photographers in 2022 who achieved more than 100,000 views of their images.

Photographers with 100k to 1 million received an award certificate folder that included a Duluth/Lake Superior sticker created by SJ Nielsen.

Lake Superior/Duluth sticker by SJ Nielsen was given to photographers achieving 100k-1m views.

Photographers who had over a million views of their images were given “Top Photographer” awards including the last of Nielsen’s Duluth Alphabet print.

Artist SJ Nielsen holds her best-selling Duluth Alphabet, which was retired at the end of 2022. Top photographers were given the last remaining prints. Learn more about Nielsen here.

In attendance were Destination Duluth’s photographers, staff, and Board of Directors, along with their guests. Destination Duluth’s sustaining partners were also well-represented at the event.

Jay Walker, the Aquarium’s Executive Director, kicked off the evening by welcoming guests with opening remarks. Walker also had the privilege of drawing a guest ticket for the evening’s first door prize – a long-sleeved Aquarium t-shirt and free passes to the aquarium.

Jay Walker, Executive Director of the Great Lakes Aquarium welcomes guests.

Several other prizes were given out through the evening, too, with the grand prize being a stay at the South Pier Inn.

Purpose and Vision

Throughout the course of the evening, the event successfully honored DD photographers, while also providing a refresher on DD’s purpose and vision.

“Our purpose is to educate and inspire people about the quality of place of Duluth, thereby shaping the city and region’s positive growth,” noted DD Managing Director, Jerry Thoreson, who stressed the organization’s mission of inspiring people to #befromDuluth.

Referring to DD’s content creators and the photos they enthusiastically share, Thoreson added, “A picture is worth 1,000 people, and they are coming here – in droves.”

Thoreson also reiterated DD’s core values, which include intentionality, positivity, and genuineness.

The evening was led by Jerry Thoreson, Managing Director of Destination Duluth.

Event Details

Before the celebration even began, photographers were given a unique opportunity to nab some highly unique content for their portfolios; the Aquarium opened its doors early for guests who wanted to participate in an optional “photomeet.” For two hours, guests were allowed to roam freely around the Aquarium, exploring and snapping photos of the exhibits.

A social hour was provided from 5:30 – 6:00 pm, followed by a delicious Italian dinner catered by Valentini’s, a staple in the Northland since 1934. The night concluded with the evening’s formal program, held in the Aquarium’s St. Louis River Space.

Award-Winning Photographers

David Schauer received Top Photographer honors with over 4 million views of his work which centers on ships that sail the Great Lakes.

Sandi Larson who captures images of her daily hikes is the founder and director of Hike Duluth.

Local physician Stephanie Irwin earned Top Photographer ranking with 1.3 million views of her photos.

Adam Bjornberg, who moved to Duluth during the pandemic has quickly become a Top Photographer.

New to DD in 2022, Brian T Johnson lives in the cities, comes to the North Shore often to capture its beauty.

Best-selling author of the book "The Twenty-Ninth Day", Alex Messenger is also a skilled photographer.

Special Guests

As noted, a variety of guests were in attendance, including over 100 photographers and DD’s Board of Directors. With some recent personnel changes, the Board now consists of member and DD co-founder, Branden Robinson, along with Beau Walsh; Dennis O’Hara; Jane Pederson Jandl; and Thoreson.

Additionally, several of DD’s sustaining partners were represented and thanked, including:

  • Great Lakes Aquarium
  • Duluth-Superior Symphony Orchestra
  • Lake Superior Railroad Museum
  • Grandma’s Marathon
  • Duluth Playhouse
  • Lake Superior Zoo
  • North Shore Explorer MN
  • North Shore Scenic Railroad
  • Visit Duluth
  • North Shore Explorer MN
  • DECC


Throughout the evening, Thoreson provided some striking 2022 statistics.

  • 246,000 followers on the DD Facebook and Instagram pages
  • 6,000 posts featured over 300 photographers
  • A record-shattering 91 MILLION views of DD content (an average of 250k a day)
  • An additional 7 million impressions were recorded by Visit Duluth from shared DD content


Co-founder Branden Robinson shared the results from the recently completed survey of DD followers. Of the 579 respondents:

  • 80% live outside of the 50-mile region of Duluth
  • 63% of those who have visited stated DD was influential in their decision to visit Duluth
  • 21% of those who have relocated to the region stated DD influenced their decision.


While statistics are great, the true purpose of the event was to honor and thank DD’s dedicated photographers, who wake up incredibly early, stay up late, and put themselves in some pretty precarious positions to capture the perfect shot.

These artists capture the quality of place offered to those who choose to #befromDuluth.


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Native Duluthian Returns Home at Last

Charles Howard Smith

Destination Duluth's
Photographer Profile Series
Charlie Smith

After being born in Duluth in 1983 and residing here until 1989, the twists and turns of life brought Charlie Smith elsewhere.

After his parents’ divorce, Smith, along with his mother, Linda Popkes, and his brother, Tim, moved to South Dakota – the home of the boys’ new stepfather. Later, college, followed by a few career hops, kept him away as he matured into adulthood.

But his beloved hometown was never far from his mind - and heart. “Growing up, Duluth was always our vacation spot,” he said. “Duluth has always been a staple in my life. Going over Thompson Hill was, and still is, a thrill for me.”

Smith finally moved back home to Duluth in 2014, which brought him a sense of peace, and the comforting feeling of home. Since then, he has experienced success in all areas of his life. Today, he is a photographer (many of his compelling images have been featured with Destination Duluth); a Duluth Transit Authority (DTA) bus driver; a homeowner; a dog dad; a volunteer; and got engaged at Glensheen and married at Gooseberry Falls State Park.

Charlie proposed to his girlfriend Britney at the Glensheen 2021 Fall Photomeet. –Photo by Glen Blaszkiewicz

Smith recently opened up about his journey and shared his story with Destination Duluth.

Returning Home

After graduating from high school in Estelline, South Dakota, Smith attended a year of college at South Dakota State University. As a young man, he struggled to find his niche.

“I bounced around on the eastern side of South Dakota until I turned 30. There was just no stability,” he said. “I was living out my 20s, trying to figure out my life. During that time, I changed oil, was a bouncer at a bar, sold cars, changed tires, and built kitchen cabinets.”

He continued, “While selling cars, I landed a job at a wholesale driving company where I’d be driving a semi-truck, and I came to Duluth for a vacation. But, when I returned to South Dakota, I found out the job had been given to someone else, and my roommate was selling his house and moving. So, I was basically going to be both homeless and unemployed.”

After doing some soul-searching, Smith said a bittersweet goodbye to his family in South Dakota and returned to Duluth in 2014. Thankfully, his father, Dale Smith, still resided in Duluth, along with much of Smith’s extended family, providing Smith with a built-in support system in his old hometown.


After settling in, Smith found work building cabinets and later worked as a certified nursing assistant (CNA). He soon discovered, however, that his real passion was in the world of photography.

“The invention of the smartphone with a camera was really what sparked photography for me,” he shared. “I started out with a Blackberry Flip Pearl, and seemed to have an artistic eye, along with an eye for lighting and angles. I could make a simple cell phone shot unique.”

A wall of sea smoke made for a dramatic arrival of Edgar B. Speer to Two Harbors. –Photo by Charles Howard Smith Photography

Smith’s photography, along with his small business (professionally, he uses the name Charles Howard Smith Photography, in homage to his heritage; Smith was named after his grandfathers, who were both WWII veterans), continued to improve and grow.

Today, Smith’s specialties include images of landscapes, wildlife, and the northern lights. He often travels up the North Shore, chasing down the perfect shot; often requiring a rope and cleats to reach his destination.

Aurora display from just outside Charlie's home in Morgan Park. –Photo by Charles Howard Smith Photography

While Smith is happy to share the details of his current equipment (he has upgraded to a Nikon D850, and a Nikon D500 for wildlife shots), he is reluctant to give out his secret locations. “I would just say that the Arrowhead Region of northern Minnesota is good, and Boulder Lake Reservoir is a good place to start,” Smith said with a chuckle.

Smith sells his photography through the website SmugMug, which is linked from his Facebook page. Recently, he sold over 100 calendars, which feature Smith’s images of a moose in a pond, the northern lights, Bentleyville, and other unique photos.

His photography has been a great addition to Destination Duluth’s online presence, too; he has had over 100 images featured on their social media platforms since 2016, with over six million views of his photos.

Lake Superior Sunrise in Tofte, MN. –Photo by Charles Howard Smith Photography.


When it comes to advice for other budding photographers, Smith likes to keep it simple.

“The best camera is the one you have on you,” he shared. “You don’t need all the fancy equipment to get started. Use a cell phone. Just capture the moment.”

Career and Family

In addition to his photography, Smith works full-time as a bus driver for the DTA. His routes take him all over Duluth; from downtown to UMD; from the mall area to Lakeside and Gary.

Another special interest is his volunteer work. Smith volunteers time around the holidays to dress up as Santa Claus for the residents at Viewcrest Health Center. “I just love doing it,” he said. “There are some folks there with dementia or Alzheimer’s, and you can just see the memories flooding back.”

Charlie loves playing Santa. –Photo by Glen Blaszkiewicz

Smith and his wife Brittney own a home in Duluth’s Morgan Park neighborhood, which they share with their three dogs. Eventually, the couple hopes to purchase some acreage near Two Harbors and add children to their family.

The Draw of Duluth

After several years away from his hometown, Smith is glad to be home. “The Lake, along with the beautiful views, was my biggest appeal to coming home,” he said. “It just becomes part of your soul; who you are. I love how you can drive while staying in Duluth, and see trees, waterfalls, wildlife, and hike on the Superior Hiking Trail. And, the people here are so nice and really embrace winter.”

The South Pier Lighthouse is surrounded by Lake Superior "Sea Smoke" –Photo by Charles Howard Smith Photography

Speaking of people, Smith also noted his gratitude for the good friends he’s met through the pursuit of photography in Duluth, including Randy Wolf and Jeff Doty.

Ultimately, Smith hopes to continue honing his photography and growing his business. He shared, “My goals and dreams are to build my photography enough so I can retire early and go exploring.”

To see more of Charlie's photographs and order prints, go to his Smugmug site or Charles Howard Smith Photography on Facebook 




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Called to the Lake

Distillers Emily and Joel Vikre

Emily and Joel Vikre explain at their Vikre Distillery site, “We never planned to become distillers. But one frigid January night, Lake Superior, vast, majestic, mysterious, called us with a bidding we could not refuse. ‘Come,’ she whispered to us. And we knew we would.”

As they describe it, they came here from Boston in 2012 as “a Norwegian girl who dreams in flavors. And an American boy who distills dreams into reality” to “a town still hiding rumrunner's tunnels from Prohibition and a lake so compelling, people tattoo its outline on their bodies.”

Emily at the Vikre bar. Photo submitted

Emily is a native Duluthian who graduated from East High School and went on to Carleton College earning a degree in Biology. Moving to Boston, she took a job as the Boston Children’s Museum Health and Fitness Education Program Coordinator.

She went on to receive her MS in Nutrition Communication from Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts - and her Phd in Food Policy and Applied Nutrition also from Friedman.

Emily is a nationally recognized food and drinks writer, blogger and food photographer, who has been a regular columnist for the James Beard award-winning site Food52 and contributed to many other publications, including Lucky Peach, Minnesota Public Radio and Norwegian American Weekly.

She has also written a book, “Camp Cocktails, Easy, Fun, and Delicious Recipes for the Great Outdoors!, and her latest "The Family Camp Cookbook."

Joel built much of the furniture for Vikre and now works as a craftsman and builder with Tilt Town Fab and Cedar and Stone Nordic Saunas. Photo submitted.

Joel built much of the furniture for Vikre and is now working full-time building custom saunas as a partner in Cedar and Stone Sauna.

He was born in Nashville, Tennessee, and grew up in Spokane, Washington. He went to Dartmouth College receiving his undergrad degree in ecology and then went on to medical school. He received his MS in Health and Medical Science. He became more interested in anthropology, non-profits and working on hospitals at the organizational level.

Deciding to leave medical school because he wanted to focus on global health initiatives, he helped to start two internationally acclaimed non-profits that fight HIV-AIDS and promote water sanitation in parts of Africa.

Joel recalls learning about rudimentary distilling from a grandmother in a mud hut in a Kenyan village, who made some moonshine called “Tears of the Lion.” He explained, “The process wasn’t very scientific, but I liked the taste.”

Emily and Joel met through mutual friends in 2008 when they both came back to Duluth for a wedding and reconnected in Boston where they then were both living and working. They “eloped” in 2010 and had their Duluth wedding in 2011.

One fateful night, in 2012, the couple was visiting Duluth and Emily’s parents, Lise Lunge-Larsen, children’s writer and storyteller, and Dr. Steven Kuross who practices with Essentia Health in hematology and oncology.

The four of them had a discussion about distilling, wondering with all the craft beer companies popping up, why no one had pursued distilling spirits locally. With their science backgrounds, Emily and Joel began researching spirits and distilling, talking about what it would entail and where they would live to pursue it.

“After lots of discussions, when we decided to go ahead, we thought, ‘Why live anywhere else?’ It felt like it was a perfect gift from the Lake,” Emily said.

“This move came at a good time for us, and it was a great decision. We both wanted to be rooted to a place,” Joel added.

Vikre is located near the Aerial Lift Bridge. Photo submitted.

They found space for the distillery in the shadow of the Lift Bridge in the Paulucci Building in Canal Park. It took them a year to raise the finances, buy and install equipment, and jump through all the other big logistical hoops, before they could open their doors.

“Opening a distillery was a big lift, and we had a lot to learn to understand the business,” noted Joel. They were licensed to start operating in August of 2013, and their first distillery products (three gins) were released in February of 2014. They also opened their on-site cocktail room at the end of 2014.

They have a “Drink less. Drink better” philosophy of alcohol use. Producing boreal gins, a Scandinavian distilled spirit called aquavit, whiskey, rye and a bar master series of liquors, Vikre has received numerous awards including from Wine Enthusiast, Good Food, and San Francisco’s world spirits competition.

Emily noted, “We don’t have any major new products coming in the next few months. We released three canned cocktails plus three liqueurs in the past two years though. We are also launching a sweeping brand refresh this spring.”

With Joel’s job taking up much of his time, Emily said, “I’m generally acting as solo CEO of the company now, while still also taking an active role in new products, marketing and sales. We have a fantastic team of directors leading production, finance and the visitor experience working with me.’

They typically have forty employees, which has fluctuated a bit seasonally and with the COVID closures when they had some temporary layoffs.

Running a for-profit business has brought some social and ethical considerations to the forefront for the couple. At their website, they note, “From the inception of Vikre Distillery, our goal has been to take our funny little business, in this industry that is not known for its conscientiousness, and strive to create a model where we use our business to support the community and the environment.”

They pay their employees a living wage and work hard to create a positive work environment. They both note that it is important for them to give back to the community by supporting a variety of area groups and donating to local causes.

One important initiative was to give away at no cost and later selling at a reasonable price, a 70 percent alcohol solution hand sanitizer. They gave sanitizer to other organizations as well, including the Duluth Police Department, some area grocery stores, and to CHUM homeless shelter. The sanitizer is still available at their onsite shop and on their website.

Nearly everything that the Vikres do brings them back to the beautiful shores of Lake Superior, and for their business, using the sparkling cold water of the Lake and wild botanicals including juniper, cedar, and spruce from the Northwoods.


Emily, Joel, Espen, and Vidar Vikre. Photo submitted.

Joel describes Duluth as “the coolest community I have ever seen. I have fallen in love with it here. The multi-generational family connections and the rituals of family are all so special. I enjoy feeling being part of a ‘village.’”

“I have loved reconnecting with old friends who have also come back, and meeting new people and making new friends,” added Emily.

Emily has also enjoyed area arts organizations and is on the Board of Directors of Loon Opera. Joel is the President of the Board of Directors of the St. Louis River Alliance. And they both take all the time they can get with their sons Espen (9) and Vidar (5), soaking up every outdoor experience they can as a family in every season.

“I loved growing up here,” said Emily. “It is such a wonderful place to live. The trails, the parks, skating, skiing, biking, the time with the kids here now is so special. The access to nature is unparalleled.”

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It’s a Perfect Duluth Day!

Perfect Duluth Day


Perfect Duluth Day logo.

Perfect Duluth Day (PDD) is likely the most popular cultural and event website in the region. Using social media, and staff and contributors’ magazine-style journalism, PDD is best known for its detailed calendar of events and its blog. The stories and photos on the PDD website include a wide variety of subjects including Duluth-centric news and current affairs, history, art, music, outdoors, restaurants and more.

Founded in 2003, PDD’s current partners are Cory Fechner, Brian Barber, and Lawrence Lee. About their history, President Lundgren said, “We had Duluth’s version of Facebook before Facebook even existed. We started really small, without advertisers, and just selling t-shirts and bumper stickers to cover expenses.”

Paul Lundgren, President and Partner of Perfect Duluth Day at a Glensheen event. Photo by Lissa Maki.

Nearly two decades later, the site has grown incrementally in size and scope. Their revenue today is comprised of 80 percent advertising and the rest in donations.

A collage of early photos from the Perfect Duluth Day website. Photo submitted.

According to Google Analytics, about 1,700 people (or "users") visit Perfect Duluth Day 1.25 times on an average day for a total of 2,175 daily visits (or "sessions").

The average visit consists of 1.75 page views for a total of 3,800 daily page views. In a full year, that amounts to nearly 1.4 million page views.

Check the Date!

With everything from lutefisk dinners in church basements to elegant ballets and concerts at the DECC, Perfect Duluth Day’s Calendar is a go-to place to keep people in the know about all kinds of events happening locally.

PDD’s primary territory is the area that extends 15 miles from Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge. They list events throughout the North Shore, Iron Range, Carlton County and parts of its neighboring counties, and the South Shore region of northwest Wisconsin.

Events farther away, if they are related to the Duluth region, are also sometimes included, such as bus trips from Duluth to Valley Fair, and festivals in places like Minneapolis or Madison that feature Duluth bands.

According to their site, the best way to submit event info is to fill out the “Submit an Event” form found at the site. They also accept news releases sent to calendar@perfectduluthday.com. Because they receive so many news releases, they don’t always get to them all.

Their top categories of events include comedy, food and drink, fundraisers and charities, outdoors and recreation, seminars, lectures, and classes, games and hobbies, musical concerts, plays and many more.

“We’re very proud of the events calendar. We give more events more coverage and in more detail than anyone else,” said Lundgren.

Blogs, Essays, Features and More

PDD’s blog is a place for people to share information and viewpoints about the area’s history, culture, current events and hot topics. Some strands are controversial, some quirky, and others are great spots for people to ask and answer questions.

Hundreds of registered users, having a variety of interests and varied fields of expertise, offer their views on the site’s blog, covering a potpourri of topics. Recent discussions focused on climate, works of art, the history of local buildings and gift guides.

An eclectic list of past tags and comments run the gamut: the Lift Bridge, album releases, bicycling, literature, drone videos, Duluth songs and mystery photos,

According to Lundgren, they have some paid staff writing content and the rest are registered contributors who can comment and react to the comments of others.

The Perfect Duluth Day team gathered at Enger Tower. Photo by Lift Off Aerials

In addition to the blog, PDD also publishes essays, features and does some news reporting. Lundgren added, “ We have even beat other sources to some area news.”

Internships Offer Journalism Experience

Since 2012, PDD has offered internships to UMD students who help with calendar production, news reporting, blog reporting, photography and video production.

These two-credit internships are given to qualified college students in writing studies or journalism programs — and sometimes other fields of study. Prospective interns can find more information on how to apply on the website.

More Perfect Days Ahead

Lundgren noted that he is excited about the continued growth of Perfect Duluth Day. “We are also looking forward to the celebration of our 20th anniversary in June of 2023.”

For more information on Perfect Duluth Day, to sign up to be part of the blog or to check their calendar for upcoming events, visit perfectduluthday.com




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BalsamWreath.com & Duluth Flower Farm offer locally-grown decorations

Duluth Flower Farm offers Locally-Grown Balsam Wreaths, Christmas Trees and Decorations

Brook and Derek Hoffbauer, co-owners of rural Duluth-based Duluth Flower Farm, are your typical hard-working farmers. Together, this married couple, along with their four children – Donna (17), Deegan (15), Dane (13), and Dottie (8) - operates five greenhouses and two farms, which are spread across five acres.

The Hoffbauer family. Photo balsamwreath.com

Here, the Hoffbauers grow a wide variety of dahlias, peonies, and many other flowers, along with plants, fresh fruits, and veggies. Duluth Flower Farm operates a new year-round storefront featuring a garden center, gift shop and florist in Superior at 821 Hammond Ave, across the street from Dan's Feed Bin. In November and December, they use fresh evergreens to create nature-inspired wreaths and a wide variety of holiday decorations. They also sell their wreaths and ship them anywhere at balsamwreaths.com. Balsam Fir is the most popular tree species used for Christmas trees and wreaths. Duluth Flower Farm’s hard-working designers create many wreaths, winter porch pots, kissing balls, gnomes, garlands, and more.

Duluth Flower Farm / balsamwreath.com sell all sizes of wreaths and Christmas trees at their pop-up shop across from Dan's Feed Bin in Superior. -Facebook photo.

Farmer Doug

Derek’s father, “Farmer Doug” Hoffbauer, a long-time farmer and well-known vendor at local farmer’s markets, has been an astute mentor for the couple. “Doug has taught us everything we know,” Brook shared, adding that Derek’s mom, Lois, also inspires her about farming and family.

Educating his family and the community is a big part of Doug’s legacy. “It’s important to him that the kids know where food comes from,” said Brook. “Our kids participate in farmer’s markets, and with planting, harvesting and production. And Donna, our new driver, can now deliver local freshness. The kids have been selling since they could see over the counter. They’re learning both math and business skills.”

Together, multiple generations of Hoffbauers share the load of growing, harvesting, and selling their products. And, the philosophies behind how they farm – including using ethical, sustainable growing practices, selling products that grow well in our local soil and climate, and abiding by the phrase “grown, not flown,” also continue the legacy Farmer Doug started over 35 years ago.

Year-Round Operation

As any good farmer knows, there is a season for everything. While Duluth Flower Farm operates year-round, they strive to use what is local and in-season. If they cannot grow it themselves, they support other farmers when possible.

Spring on the farm brings annuals, veggie starts, hanging baskets, blueberry plants, strawberry plants, potted arrangements, and the kids help with collecting Farmer Doug’s maple syrup. In the spring at the Garden Center, they offer a full nursery, perennials, annuals and garden designs. With summer comes a wide assortment of fresh veggies, along with Duluth Flower Farm’s highly-popular dahlias and peonies, and about 100 other flower varieties.

Fall is the season for pumpkins, squash, gourds, apples, and Farmer Doug’s pick-your-own pumpkin patch. The Farm has a presence at a variety of local fall festivals and harvest fests.

Winter is when the evergreen business picks up. Balsam Fir is the most popular tree species used for Christmas trees and wreaths. Duluth Flower Farm’s hard-working designers create many wreaths, winter porch pots, kissing balls, gnomes, garlands, and more. They also ship their balsam wreaths from Balsamwreath.com, a website Derek created in college.

Besides the family, Duluth Flower Farm also employs several people. In the summer, they usually have four designers and two harvesters. During winter, they maintain a crew of about 20 people, who handle designing, shipping, harvesting, and other tasks.

Weddings, Funerals and Everyday Flowers

Duluth Flower Farm provides full floral services for funerals and weddings and also offers “just because” bouquets. “We offer a full design or a DIY option – we can pick the flowers with your event in mind and you can create your own wedding or event flower arrangements,” Brook shared. The design team is available and ready to work with couples and special event requests to bring their vision to life.

When it comes to weddings, they believe your wedding florals should be an experience that includes what is local and in-season at the time of your celebration. “We always start with what we grow,” Brook added. “We try to use what is fresh and in-season. If we don’t have it, then we partner with other farms. And if we can’t get our items locally, then we will use our full florist capabilities.”

Where to Purchase

The Duluth Flower Farm garden shop is now open year-round at 821 Hammond Ave in Superior.  They grow for many florists who support local farms, and they enjoy selling their products at Duluth’s Whole Foods Co-op stores. They maintain a presence at the Duluth Farmers Market, located at 1324 East 3rd Street, throughout the spring and summer.

Their shipping crew will ship many wreaths nationwide, from Balsamwreath.com. Duluth Flower Farm still has plenty of fresh centerpieces for the holiday season, available now.

And, a country farm stand held at Farmer Doug’s (3361 Lindahl Road), is open through much of the growing season, selling flowers, veggies, and more. The farm stand successfully operates using the “honor system.”

Most Rewarding

Being a farmer is incredibly hard work, but it isn’t without its rewards. Brook shared a story about a customer with a unique request, and a bittersweet backstory.

“We had one customer come in with a request for a uniquely-shaped Christmas tree to remember her late son by, and she shared their memories together around that tree. Each year we bring that tradition to life for his mother. We are honored to be invited into the stories our customers share with us, and it brings us such joy to be able to design with their stories in mind.”

“It’s also rewarding for us to teach the next generation about what’s local and in-season,” she added. “We want people to know what’s available locally, and to be inspired by nature. We also support and produce wreaths, swags and garland for several youth groups and school fundraisers. We are proud to help so many groups in our community!"

Where to Purchase

The Duluth Flower Farm is now open year-round at 821 Hammond Ave in Superior. Call 218-409-3061 for the florist shop. Visit balsamwreath.com to have a holiday wreath shipped anywhere to a friend or loved one. For their floral arrangements and services, go to duluthflowerfarm.com

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Shane Bauer Making Grandma’s Marathon Run - Community Leader Profile Series

Shane Bauer - Making Grandma’s Marathon Run

Shane Bauer, Executive Director of Grandma's Marathon

Every June, the Northland is abuzz with excited runners, their families and friends, and local residents, who all take part in what has become the premier annual activity and kick-off to summer in Duluth, Grandma’s Marathon. 2023 will be the 47th annual run, with this year’s weekend of activities scheduled for June 16-17.

According to their website, “The race was started by a local group of runners in 1977, and has grown from just 150 participants its first year to now one of the largest and best-known marathons in the United States. Widely regarded as a world-class event with small-town charm, the race now welcomes more than 20,000 participants each June and brings close to $21M of economic impact to the region.”

Grandma's Marathon Starting Line. Photo grandmasmarathon.com

At the helm of this ambitious endeavor since 2015 is Executive Director Shane Bauer. He succeeded Scott Keenan, the founder of Grandma’s Marathon in 1977, who led the event as Executive Director for 37 years.

Bauer is not from the region originally but moved to Duluth in 1990 from North Dakota. He earned his degree in Design Technology with a minor in art from Bemidji State University.

Shane’s wife Jenny is a dance teacher of 23 years, mostly at Madill Dance Center and now in local preschools. She also works at the Duluth Airport.

Their daughter Hartley is a freshman at Rochester Institute of Technology in NY for Design/Illustration and is also a nationally recognized rock climber. Son Brock is a sophomore on the Denfeld track team who also likes curling.

Shane Bauer with his wife Jenny, with their daughter and son, Hartley and Brok. Submitted photo.

Artist, Entrepreneur, Event Coordinator, Grandma's Marathon

Shane worked as a graphic artist for the DNT until 2001, when he was hired as the Design Director and Expo coordinator at Grandma's Marathon. He and his wife also started a design business called Laughingstock Design in 2007, and opened a store called Happy Space in 2010.

His work in the community included establishing Art Jam for kids and working on the annual WDSE art and writing contest. Bauer also started the Twin Ports Bridge Festival in 2011. The event was a pep rally for humanity under a different theme each year (mental illness, water conservation, etc.). He had to end the Bridge Festival in 2015 when he took the Executive Director job at Grandma’s.

When he applied for the position, Shane was motivated by a desire to use his skills for Duluth. “At Grandma’s, I thought it was the best place for my contribution to the community,” Bauer said. “It has been my goal to set plans to deliver an extraordinary running experience for people from all over the world, and help kids to be active and conscious of living a healthy lifestyle.”

Quick to deflect credit from himself, Bauer added, "It’s a team effort that requires a completely different set of tasks each day. I work with a staff of nine full-time, year-round, plus a few part-time helpers and seasonal staff leading up to marathon weekend.”

He explained that every single day includes planning for the big marathon weekend. The next year is already being planned prior to the previous year’s event. Any remaining time is spent on all their other events throughout the year, including their Young Athletes’ Foundation which has given more than $1.3M back to the region's kids through grants, scholarships and more.

The Young Athletes Foundation is a Grandma's Marathon initiative. Photo from Young Athletes Foundation Facebook Page.

Bauer is also pleased about the international connections of Grandma’s including leadership with their sustainability initiative. He added, “We’re a member of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and our Program Director just returned from the Sport Positive Summit in London. We’re a signatory of the UN program and that’s where the carbon-neutral goal comes from. This is the first year that participants from all over the world can buy carbon offsets for their travel to Duluth in our registration process.”

He said, “On a more personal note, we also paid for all of Wesly Ngetich’s kids' schooling in Kenya over the years after he was killed by a poison arrow during the conflict over there in the earlier 2000s. He was a two-time champion of Grandma’s.”

Bauer credits the community, volunteers and sponsors of the race who are essential to making all the events surrounding the race work. “We are proud of the support from the community and the reputation of our events as a result of that support. Our volunteers are quite literally the heart of the event. They are the reason runners love to come here year after year. And Grandma’s Marathon weekend is impossible without their help.”

He explained, “Along with our volunteers, many of our sponsor relationships are decades long, and some of our sponsor contacts are like family. A majority of the budget each year is from registration, and sponsor support is by far the next biggest piece of the pie that allows us to put on a world-class event.”

“We are always looking for improved activities and events each year. For this summer, one focus is the Friday festival for kids/Whipper Snapper Races  Other goals are improvements in the broadcast of the race with our partners at WDIO and Townsquare Media, and also looking at improvements to the post-race experience,” Bauer added.

For more information about Grandma’s races and activities, visit their website at grandmasmarathon.com or visit their Facebook page.








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The story of the "Duluth Alphabet" by Artist Sam Nielsen

Art by SJ Nielsen

The story of the "Duluth Alphabet" by Artist Sam Nielsen
Last Chance to Buy - Before Image is Retired Forever

Artist SJ Nielsen with a print of the Duluth Alphabet. Photo submitted.

From “Canal Park” and “hungry seagulls” to “Va Bene” and “Zenith Bookstore,” there are a handful of words and phrases that simply encapsulate the essence of Duluth.

Local artist Sam Nielsen has captured this sentiment beautifully with her iconic Duluth Alphabet – an eye-catching print based on a watercolor painting she created in 2019. In it, she has selected and illustrated a Duluth-centric word or phrase to correspond to all 26 letters of the alphabet.

The print has become an epic success. Since its creation in 2019, the image has sold over 2,800 copies.

After three years of plentiful demand, however, Nielsen has decided it’s time to retire the print. She’s offering one final opportunity to buy the Duluth Alphabet: from December 1st – 6th, 2022.

You might be wondering why she would retire such a prolific piece. In her words:

“It was a pretty special experience that something so personal and sentimental to me was embraced by the entire community. The Duluth Alphabet was born from my wanting to live here and the fact that I have found so much peace here. And, it’s been my best-selling item. But I feel like it makes it more special to only have it around for a while.”

The Duluth Alphabet Print is available in 8x10, 11x14, and 16x20 until Dec. 6. Order at Art by SJ Nielsen

Love Affair with Duluth

Nielsen is originally from Redwood Falls, Minnesota. But her family visited Duluth often, and it was always her dream to live here someday.

“I grew up coming up to Duluth frequently to visit my aunt and uncle, Brenda and Daniel,” she explained. “I’ve wanted to live in Duluth since 1st grade. I told my mom that I was going to live in Duluth, in a yellow house. I’ve always felt at home here in every single way.”

Nielsen accomplished this goal about six and a half years ago. After graduating from Minnesota State University – Moorhead (MSUM), she landed a part-time job as an art teacher at Cloquet Area Alternative Education Program. She and her husband, Andreas – who is originally from Denmark – now live in the Denfeld neighborhood. Andreas works as a software tester.

In addition to being a full-time artist, Nielsen stays at home with the couple’s two children, Soren (2), and Maja (6 months). The Nielsen family is rounded out with their Boston Terrier, Rudy.

Living here has been the realization of a lifelong dream for Nielsen. “I never thought of moving to Duluth as a possibility,” she said. “But I really feel like we are supposed to be here.”


Nielsen initially thought she would pursue music as a career. As an accomplished saxophonist and piano player, she thought she’d be a music teacher. But she also spent her childhood immersed in art. Her father was an art teacher, and he encouraged her pursuits in that direction.

She decided to pursue art education as her college major. “I wanted to be an art teacher, but I had no artistic skill whatsoever,” she said with a laugh.

During one of her first college-level art classes, though, one of her assignments was to fill an entire sketch book with drawings. “I stumbled on the art of urban sketching, and that was really a stepping stone for me,” she said. Her passion for art truly took off from there.

Today, Nielsen is a watercolor painter and urban sketcher. She creates and sells watercolor paintings, prints, stickers, bookmarks, enamel pins, coloring sheets, and has even created a Duluth Alphabet puzzle, making her iconic print into an activity everyone can enjoy. Her watercolor images are charming representations of things that inspire her; many are images of trees and other natural scenes.

In addition to her own website, artbysjnielsen.com, Nielsen’s products are sold in a few local establishments, including Hucklebeary, Duluth Pack, and North And Shore. Nielsen is also still a teacher. While she has left the traditional classroom setting behind, she teaches art courses on Skillshare, which she jokingly calls “the Netflix of creative learning,” and is a published author. Her book, “5 Minute Watercolor,” is available for purchase on Amazon.

Reason for the Alphabet

Prior to creating the Duluth Alphabet, Nielsen was working on some vinyl stickers based on her original paintings. “I don’t really remember there being an ‘a-ha moment’ with the Alphabet,” she said. “I had been creating a lot of vinyl stickers and used some of those images in the Alphabet.

The Duluth Alphabet Print is available in 8x10, 11x14, and 16x20 until Dec. 6. Order at Art by SJ Nielsen

“At that time, we were also trying to get pregnant,” she added. “And I thought a Duluth Alphabet would make a great decoration for a kid’s room. Really, I wanted to capture the area in a fun and whimsical way that would appeal to tourists and locals alike.”

After launching her art business in 2016, Nielsen released the Duluth Alphabet in 2019. She did no build-up and no promotion. But once people saw it – and Destination Duluth began sharing it – it became an overnight success.

For Nielsen, the connection with Destination Duluth became a huge blessing in her life. “I had known of Destination Duluth, and I very much admired them,” she noted. “When they shared the Duluth Alphabet and provided a link to my website, that had a massive impact on sales. I really felt like I had a ‘fangirl moment,’ because I admired them so much.

“I had never experienced sales like that before,” she said. “It really helped me realize that I can do big things.”

The Duluth Alphabet Print is available in 8x10, 11x14, and 16x20 until Dec. 6. Order at Art by SJ Nielsen

Not a Tourist Anymore

Now that Nielsen is living in her beloved adopted hometown, she feels like things have really come together in her life. She has a career she loves. She and Andreas love bringing the kids to Canal Park, Park Point, and many other well-loved locations. Together, the couple loves board games and soccer. And, Nielsen can also often be found at local cafes and restaurants, casually making sketches.

Her love for Duluth has even been a little contagious; Nielsen’s parents, Wade and Mary Margaret Mathers, moved to Duluth last summer.

She described the feeling of finally being a true Duluthian. “I know Canal Park is mostly a place for tourists, but it has a sentimental feeling for me since we always went there when I was a kid,” she said.

“And still, when we go to Canal Park in late fall, I say to my husband, ‘Isn’t it fun that this is the time most people leave, and we get to stay? We aren’t tourists anymore. It’s a very surreal thing.’”

Where to Purchase

The Duluth Alphabet will be available to purchase - for the very last time – from December 1st – 6th, 2022. Three print sizes are available: 8x10, 11x14, and 16x20.

Orders can be placed on Nielsen’s website, artbysjnielsen.com, and they will be shipped. Free shipping is available, using the code DULUTHABC. Nielsen will also be selling the prints at the Duluth Winter Village, held December 3rd – 4th.

“I feel like it’s time to close this chapter,” Nielsen said of the Alphabet’s final farewell. “I’m ready to close this door and see what’s next.”

The Duluth Alphabet Print is available in 8x10, 11x14, and 16x20 until Dec. 6. Order at Art by SJ Nielsen


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