From your co-chairs

Portrait of Jeff & Jone Riester
As I write this, we’ve just experienced a very special moment in Björklunden history: On Nov. 17, representatives of Lawrence University and the Door County Land Trust gathered together at the lodge to mark the signing of a conservation easement to forever preserve and protect from development much of the Björklunden property. President Mark Burstein wielded his mighty pen on the necessary documents, to applause from Boynton Society members, Lawrence staff and other friends who have worked diligently for several years to make this important commitment happen.
You’ll see much elsewhere in this issue about the Björklunden conservation easement, including Rick Peterson’s detailed article about how this came about, its key terms and conditions, and why it fits so well with Lawrence’s approach to stewardship and community development at the university’s northern campus. The article features Mark Breseman, director of Björklunden, whose steadfast commitment was key to this milestone preservation achievement. There were lots of people involved with this work, including of course our new partners at the Door County Land Trust. But Mark's persistent effort and advocacy were the glue that held the process together. Thanks, Mark—those of us who love Björklunden owe you yet another debt of gratitude and appreciation!
Jone and I didn’t get to the lodge nearly as much as we hoped in 2016. We’ve promised ourselves we’ll do better next year. By all accounts it was a wonderful summer at Björklunden, and the school year activity is even more vibrant this academic year. It couldn’t happen without your generous support, for which we again extend our heartfelt thanks.
Enjoy this issue of the newsletter, and have a happy, healthy start to the new year!

Jeff Riester ’70
Co-Chair, Boynton Society

Lawrence, Door County Land Trust sign conservation easement

by Rick Peterson, Lawrence associate director of communications

Mark Breseman ’78 was an 18-year-old college student who had just completed his freshman year at Lawrence University when he first discovered the beauty of Björklunden, a then-pristine 325-acre parcel of lakeside Door County that had been bequeathed to the Appleton college in 1963. It was the summer of 1975 and Breseman was hired as the property’s first student “grunt” to help the groundskeeper with general maintenance.

“I was completely enthralled with the place,” Breseman remembered. “I would spend off-work hours walking the trail along the Lake Michigan shore, going up into the fields to sit in the trees or on the rocks along the lakeshore just enveloped by its sense of pure tranquility. Björklunden left an indelible imprint on me.”

Fast forward 41 years and Breseman looks excitedly to creating similar touchstone moments for future generations of Lawrence students. Since 1997, when he returned to his alma mater as director of Björklunden, Breseman has served as Lawrence’s chief steward and cheerleader of the estate, which has grown to 441 acres since he first stepped foot on it.

He also has been at the forefront of efforts to preserve and protect the natural beauty and ecological integrity of the property. That work culminated Nov. 17 with a grant of conservation easement signing ceremony at the Björklunden lodge between Lawrence officials and Door County Land Trust representatives. The agreement secures 305 acres of the estate from future development that would degrade the conservation values described in the terms of the agreement.

“My dream has long been to have as much of the Björklunden property put in conservation easement as possible so it would never be sold for development,” said Breseman. “The agreement sends a clear message to the Door County community that Lawrence is not going anywhere. We’re going to be here forever and keep this wonderful property in its beautiful, natural state.”

Representing 10 percent of the DCLT’s total conservation easement acreage, the Björklunden easement is the organization’s 70th protected parcel and its largest in the past five years. It includes the most shoreline of any of its conservation easements.  

“A decade ago, a seed was planted by a visionary group of leaders from Björklunden, Lawrence University and the Door County Land Trust,” said Terrie Cooper, Door County Land Trust’s director of land programs. “Now that seed has come to fruition with Lawrence entering into a conservation easement with the DCLT to forever protect 305 acres of the Björklunden property from future development or subdivision. 

“Björklunden’s conservation easement protects in perpetuity more than a half mile of Lake Michigan shoreline, boreal forest, migratory bird habitat and wildlife habitat, and an expanse of open space along Highway 57 south of Baileys Harbor,” added Cooper. “The partnership with Björklunden sets a precedent for other conservation-minded organizations and is such a gift to the Door County community and future generations. The Door County Land Trust is honored to assist Björklunden and Lawrence in realizing their vision and upholding forever the terms of their conservation easement.”

The onetime summer retreat of Donald and Winifred Boynton of Highland Park, Ill., Björklunden vid Sjön—Swedish for “Birch Grove by the Lake”—was bequeathed to Lawrence in 1963 by the Boyntons with the understanding it would be preserved in a way that would ensure its legacy as a place of peace and contemplation. Winifred Boynton referred to her beloved summer residence as a place “far removed from confusion and aggression, it offers a sanctuary for all.”

“Our agreement to preserve natural habitat at Björklunden underscores our commitment to Donald and Winifred Boynton, who generously gave us these lands close to 50 years ago,” said Lawrence president Mark Burstein. “We are grateful for the partnership we have established with the Door County Land Trust that makes this agreement possible.”

Michael Cisler ’78, a member of the Lawrence Board of Trustees and chair of its buildings and grounds committee, said the easement agreement between Lawrence and the DCLT ensures Björklunden “will always be the sylvan setting that the Boyntons treasured.”

“The easement also connects Lawrence to the larger Door County community with a shared commitment to the conservation of our natural resources, the preservation of our cultural past and a responsibility for a sustainable future,” Cisler added. “The arrangement secures wild spaces that will forever be a valuable part of the quality of life and appeal of northeast Wisconsin.”

According to Drew Reinke, land protection specialist for the DCLT, the protected property contains a variety of habitat types resulting from Lake Michigan’s influence. 

“A long list of terrestrial species inhabits the property, and the shoreline serves as critical stopover habitat for migratory birds,” said Reinke. “Its forest is one of the most southern extents of boreal forest in Wisconsin with mature to near-old-growth characteristics. This large tract of land can easily be identified by boaters on Lake Michigan, as it is the largest block of forest just south of Baileys Harbor with no development.”

Lawrence has conducted an adult, non-credit summer seminar program at Björklunden since 1980. The construction of a new lodge in 1996 opened up the property to additional weekend seminars for Lawrence students. During the 2015–16 academic year, nearly 2,000 Lawrence students, faculty, staff and guests participated in a weekend seminar.  

Stephanie Vrabec ’80, a member of Lawrence’s Board of Trustees and current president of the board of the Northeast Wisconsin Land Trust, said protecting the property in its natural condition provides unique open space to support Lawrence’s educational mission.

“The Björklunden property is a place where students can ‘retreat’ to learn and grow,” said Vrabec. “It is a working laboratory space for those who gain inspiration and learning from nature. Setting aside conservation land of this significance shows a commitment to long-term environmental sustainability.” 

A land trust provides the most common way to protect the conservation values of private land. With approximately 5,000 acres nationally lost to development every day, Vrabec says the establishment of the Björklunden conservation easement “is the right thing to do.” 

“Beside preserving the property in a natural state forever, the benefits of conservation lands extend beyond the property boundaries,” said Vrabec. “This agreement underscores our commitment to honor the intentions of the Boyntons and demonstrates our commitment to protect Door County's incredible natural history and unique environmental quality.

Why I like teaching at Björklunden

by Jack Rhodes, film studies scholar

The other day a former participant from one of my Björklunden summer seminars forwarded a New York Times article on the current film project of the director Martin Scorsese, along with the accompanying comment that she would never have read this long appraisal of any film director without having had the film classes at Björklunden these last two summers. The Björklunden experience had, she said, opened her eyes to the possibilities of film as an art form.

This incident reminded me of other similar testimonials that have come my way during the past eight years of leading Björklunden seminars focusing on the films of the Classic Era (1927–1968). A favorite instance came from a class member in an early seminar on Westerns, who announced in the first session that he was exclusively interested in the movies as forgettable entertainment and that he would resist any and all efforts at deeper analysis of films, classic or otherwise. On the final day of that weeklong seminar, the class assignment was to rank the five films we had studied in considerable depth. “Who wants to go first?” I asked. This same gentleman enthusiastically began: “I do. I think Red River is the best of all these Westerns, and I have seven reasons for my choice.” He proceeded through a sensible list of clear criteria and made his case to the applause of fellow class members.  

I do not cite these examples to boast of my own abilities as a teacher but rather to describe the learning environment Lawrence has created and nurtured at Björklunden, which thrives today as a model for lifelong learning. Both of the former students in these illustrations were, in my view, engaged in genuine learning because they were moved by the spirit of enlightened, enjoyable, intellectual inquiry that permeates the lodge, the grounds, the woods and the shoreline that comprise Björklunden. When I ask former students what they believe to be memorable about their own experience, they invariably begin by mentioning the ambience of Björklunden and the creation of a relaxed atmosphere where all are welcome and where all can learn from each other. I have heard them call Björklunden a retreat, a refuge, a special place, a beautiful spot, a learning center. They also call it a place to make new friends, a place to learn from great teachers, a place to broaden horizons and a place they are always eager to revisit.  

Certainly Björklunden deserves all of these accolades from its enthusiastic lifelong learners; Glenda and I, having both enrolled in at least one seminar since 2007, enthusiastically endorse the observations of our fellow students. But I’d like to add a few words from the perspective of a Björklunden instructor: It is restorative, stimulating and intellectually challenging to teach in this special environment. The summer seminar participants are enthusiastic, committed and friendly. They are here because they want to be here. They bring a wide variety of expertise and experience to the class, and they bring out the best in every seminar leader. They seem genuinely interested in supporting the Lawrence students and staff members who, in turn, are interested in supporting their learning experience. From a teacher's viewpoint, both teaching and learning conditions are nearly ideal.

For both teachers and learners, in my view, Björklunden is a place of intellectual possibility, a spot where ideas emerge and sharpen and take shape. It is indeed a place that one is eager to revisit. As I write this observation in the late fall of 2016, I’m reminded of the words of Robert Frost, who published his famous poem Birches 100 years ago. Although Frost was describing the birch trees of New England, he might as well have been thinking of our own birch trees at Björklunden when he wrote in 1916:

So was I once myself a swinger of birches,
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it ....
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.

All those of us who know and cherish Björklunden can agree how special it is, year after year, to “then come back to it and begin over.”

The year of 2016

by Bailey Koepsel, assistant director of Björklunden

2016 will be the year I tell stories about for decades. It was an overwhelming 12 months, to say the least, but my first season at Björklunden was incredibly rewarding! The adjustment to go from full-time college student to joining the workforce was eased by the helpfulness, patience and understanding of Mark Breseman ’78, Mark Franke, Kim Eckstein, Steve Martin and Björklunden’s fantastic summer 2016 student staff. 

I loved meeting participants and hearing their stories; how long they had been attending seminars, why they started visiting Door County and how they stumbled upon this magnificent property. A few participants even knew my grandparents! Talks of my college experience and pending nuptials dotted the conversations held in the great room and dining room. That type of interaction and the warmth with which I was welcomed was remarkable, and it made this newbie feel right at home.

On Sept. 10, Brady and I tied the knot with a little bit of rain but a whole lot of love. Even though we weren’t able to get married in the Boynton Chapel, we did stop by to get some pictures! It was undoubtedly a perfect day, and we sincerely thank everyone who wished us well!

As the summer slipped into fall, staff assistant Andy Plank ’15 departed for Nashville, Philip Clark ’15 joined the Björklunden family and preparation for 2017 began. From scheduling seminars to deep cleaning, everything was tackled successfully before the season wrapped up at the end of October. In November, Lawrence University’s custodians visited for a few days to polish floors, wash carpeting and make Björklunden the best it can be! A few weeks ago, volunteers came to decorate the lodge for Christmas; now all we need in Baileys Harbor is some snow!

Nearly 700 people attended Björklunden seminars during the 2016 season, and I sincerely hope everyone (and more!) will return for a fantastic 2017 summer seminar series. Take a look in the newsletter to find the 2017 lineup!

Introducing Philip Clark ’15

by Philip Clark '15

Hi! I’m Philip Clark, the newest member of the Björklunden staff. My main responsibility is to run all onsite aspects of the student weekend program. As a 2015 graduate of Lawrence, I participated in multiple Björklunden weekends and am happy to now be offering the same services I received. I never realized the preparation it takes to feed 80 students, but Steve is here to guide me through! I find it a pleasure to work in the kitchen and am grateful for the students who come and help each week. The weekdays find me either helping Steve in the kitchen or Mark Franke with a project.

I cannot believe my luck at the timing of the job—just as I got here, the Cubs ended their century of defeat and won the World Series! I began in September and the fall seminar season was in full swing. As luck would have it, as the Cubs began their playoff journey, Steve Landfried’s seminar, “Talkin’ Baseball,” began. After a dramatic come-from-behind victory, I found a few members of the class who watched the game and shared my excitement. I’m glad the seminar was here that week.

Growing up in Omro, Wis., winters will be nothing new. However, I look forward to exploring Door County. I have already found some wonderful hiking trails; Door Bluff County Park in Ellison Bay is one of my favorites, but I know Björklunden has its own treasures. The chapel has always intrigued me and I look forward to learning more of its history. I am happy to continue to be part of the Lawrence community and consider myself fortunate to be part of the wonderful staff here at Björklunden.

Director's column

by Mark Breseman '78

With a huge sigh of relief, the intricate puzzle is finally complete. Even after 20 years of putting together the annual Björklunden seminar series, it is no less complicated. Start with a blank slate, 16 weeks and 36 seminar slots, and then put a bunch of names dates and topics into the blender, mix them up and see what happens. It is obvious to the longtime seminar attendees there are many repeat presenters. Those are the folks we line up first—lock in their dates and topic, and then the real sorting begins. There are always many more interested seminar leaders than can be accommodated. We try to give Lawrence faculty members their preferred dates and of course we run into difficulties with filling the fall schedule since those folks still teaching would not be available at that time.
Another wrinkle that comes into play nearly every year is there are people who cannot determine their schedule as early as we would like. We try to get them to commit by early September for the next year, but that is not always possible for some of our busy presenters. Then, when they do finally commit, it can cause a bit of reshuffling and we have to rely on the good nature of some of our more time-flexible presenters to make it all work.
There are also some programs that take up the entire week on their own. Tritone Jazz Fantasy Camp has been coming for nearly 20 years to enliven the lodge with wonderful jazz music for six days. We also have a relatively new program, the Door Kinetic Arts Festival, that is starting its second year in June, but we have high hopes of it becoming a landmark program for Björklunden and Door County.
It is always rewarding to experience the response to the announcement of the upcoming seminar season. So many of our participants make it a priority to pick out their seminars as early as possible. They have found their favorite instructors and do not want to miss out! We love the lifelong learners that attend multiple seminars. Many of our local residents attend two or more seminars every year, and last year we had a couple stay in the lodge for four consecutive weeks. That is the current record, but we would be happy if it were someday broken!
I can’t take much credit for doing all the hard work to actually put the schedule on paper. This was our new assistant director Bailey Koepsel’s first experience at putting the seminar program together and she was quite the bulldog, tracking people down and getting them to commit to a particular week. She would then get them to complete the all-important follow-up details, such as seminar title, topic and their bios—not to mention getting those pesky contracts signed! Bailey then compiles all this information and oversees the transformation into the finished product. She works closely with the graphic designers at Lawrence to put together the wonderful brochure. She’s also responsible for posting the expanded brochure online. Once the brochure is out in the world, Bailey’s day is filled with phone calls, emails and faxes from all our eager seminar participants wanting to register for their must-take classes.
This is an exciting time of year for us as we receive these seminar registrations from many old friends. We are also excited to make new friends as folks sign up for their first seminar(s). Bailey and I look forward to welcoming all of you to multiple seminars next summer!