Michael Schreiber: Co-steward of Frank Lloyd Wright designed Meier House – A Personal Interview

What do you do here in the Driftless for work or business?
I’m a writer, teacher, and (with my husband Jason Loper) co-steward of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meier House in Monona, Iowa.


Let’s Learn More About Michael

What is your biggest accomplishment?
I’ve written one book, co-authored another, and am now nearing the finish line on a third (solo) book. While those are very gratifying accomplishments, I’m even prouder of the work I’ve done for over 20 years mentoring young people with autism and other developmental challenges. Any new cognitive or communication or social skill I’ve helped any of them attain is far more rewarding than anything else I could ever hope to accomplish.

Have you read any good books?
As a matter of fact, I’ve not only read a good one recently, but I co-wrote it! (Shameless plug alert…) It’s called This American House: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Meier House and the American System-Built Homes, co-written with my husband Jason Loper, about our remarkable historic house in Monona, Iowa, and the incredible little-known history we’ve uncovered. It’s a tantalizing true tale set right here in the Driftless! (Did I mention this is a shameless plug?)

Who is your personal hero?
Auntie Mame (see next question)

Do you have a life philosophy that you live by?
To quote Auntie Mame, my favorite character from my favorite movie: “Live! Life’s a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!”

What do you like most about yourself?
My curiosity and persistence. In combination, they’ve gotten me into a lot of good trouble.

If you could change the world, what would you change?
Besides wishing for world peace, like every other beauty contestant does? (This IS a beauty contest questionnaire, right?) In all seriousness, though: just some solid peace, starting right here in America. We may think or believe or worship or love or look differently from each other, but we’re all in this together, right? And together we make an even greater whole and impact than any one of us standing alone and apart can for us all, right? So as a start, why don’t we go back to those incredible Biblical teachings about loving and not judging each other? Just a thought from a would-be beauty contestant.

What do you think is the meaning of life?
That each and every one of us human beings is a unique and wonderful creature. We’re here to live and love to our fullest ability, and to leave nothing unexplored, inexperienced, or unexpressed that we want to explore, experience, or express, as long as the intention always is to have a positive impact on ourselves and on others, no matter how big or how small that impact is.

Do you prefer working alone, or do you like working with others?
A little from Column A, a little from Column B.

What’s something that no one would guess about you?
That I’m a lifelong, rabid fan of Little House on the Prairie. Also (you want more?), I was born and raised in Fargo, North Dakota. Miraculously I somehow escaped the wood chipper, but not entirely the accent. I also still love a good buffet, ya betcha! (You thought I was kidding about the accent?)

What is your deepest belief about life?
I’ll refer you back to the wisdom of Auntie Mame: life is a banquet, so why be a sucker and not get your fill of it?

If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would it be?
Anywhere but on the wrong end of a wood chipper, and I’m good.

If you could be doing anything, anywhere right now, what and where would it be?
Sitting in a beautiful old movie theater watching a silent 1920s Buster Keaton movie to the accompaniment of a Mighty Wurlitzer organ.

What’s the one thing you wish you could have a do-over for?
This questionnaire! But too late now…

How do you work on yourself?
Nothing beats breathing: taking some deep breaths to recenter and regroup, and to then face whatever inner or outer issues that have come my way with a much calmer body and mind. Whoever came up with that air mask policy for airplanes – you know, “Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others” – should go down in history alongside Socrates and Plato.

What’s one thing you’ve had to overcome in your life?
With life comes loss, and I’ve been dealt some tough ones, but that good, nourishing banquet of life keeps getting served every day no matter what, so isn’t it better to keep taking your seat at the table for as long as you can?

How do you handle being in a bad mood?
Breathing (see above). When that fails, a glass or two of scotch or wine and an evening indulging in old movies on TCM.

Who is the most important person in your life?
My husband, Jason.

What did you learn about yourself from any of your previous relationships?
I plead the fifth.

What question do you always want people to ask you about yourself?
I think this questionnaire has just about covered it, except perhaps what my favorite movie is. But to that question, you likely won’t get the same answer from me twice.

What is your favorite music, or What is your all time favorite song, or What ‘one’ song do you think a person should listen to at least once?
Anything and everything by Cass Elliot (a.k.a. Mama Cass), and/or anything and everything by Rufus Wainwright.

If you weren’t here running your business or doing the work you do, what would you be doing instead?
I can’t imagine – I actually love what I’m doing. Though I do sometimes fantasize about owning a beautiful old movie theater and showing (and watching) old movies all day. That sounds like heaven.

How has this pandemic affected YOU or YOUR BUSINESS here in the Driftless?
Being physically disconnected from friends and family, along with curtailed travel plans to see them, has certainly been challenging. But one positive outcome of being homebound is all the progress we’ve been able to make this past year in our continuing work on the Meier House. More of the original (but painted over) woodwork and windows have been stripped and restored, walls have been painted, and some exterior maintenance tackled.

What is another name you would give the Driftless?
Home? Yes, that works. Home.

What is your favorite season in the Driftless & why?
Summertime, when the fields move with the wind like rolling ocean waves to a soundtrack of native birds and bugs.

Tell us of an experience /memory you had with Driftless lakes, rivers or waterways?
A few summers ago, as we crossed over the Mississippi on a grocery run into nearby Prairie du Chien, we were astonished to discover a massive steamboat docked at St. Feriole Island. It was a cruise ship operated by the American Queen Steamboat Company – we had no idea that river cruises were a possibility! How enchanting! Ever since, our imaginations have been captivated by the thought of someday hopping aboard and riding the river, like an overgrown Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn – but in style, of course!

Is there any place in the world you have been that reminds you of, or is similar to the Driftless.
The Driftless is incomparable.

What is your best childhood memory? (Preferably here in the Driftless)
While I didn’t grow up in the Driftless, my best childhood memory is remarkably connected (wait for it!). When I was a kid, my extended family celebrated every 4th of July at the farm of my Great Aunt Myrtle in Litchville, North Dakota, very near the old family homestead. Much reminiscing would happen about our family’s history, and I was all ears, my imagination sparking by tales told of pioneering life on the High Plains. (Remember, I’m a lifelong Little House fan…) Another great aunt, Ethel, would travel up each year from a mythical place called the Driftless, which seemed a place beyond any I could imagine out on the flat landscape of North Dakota. Fast forward to my surprise many years later when, shortly after we bought the Meier House here in the Driftless, I discovered that Great Aunt Ethel was now living in a nursing facility near her beloved summer cabin on the Mississippi, just a half-hour away! I began routinely visiting her. She was nearing 100 and suffering from dementia, but her memory about her childhood remained crystal clear. She was the last surviving member of that generation of the family. I cherish the short amount of time I got to spend with her, listening to her memories of life nearly a century ago.

What are some of your favorite places to go for fun here in the Driftless?
Antique malls and thrift stores! We’re avid seekers of unique pieces of vintage furniture and fixtures, and have a regular circuit we hit all over the area. We also love walking the trails at the many scenic state parks throughout the Driftless, especially at Pikes Peak State Park alongside the Mississippi in McGregor, IA.

What are some of your favorite (non commercial) places to eat here in the Driftless
For breakfast: Treats on Bridge Street in Elkader, followed by a stroll through the nearby Turkey River Antique Mall. For lunch: a delicious sandwich from either Magpie Café and Coffeehouse in Decorah or Simply Café in Prairie du Chien. For dinner: either the famous pork tenderloin sandwich at the St. Olaf Tap or the amazing pizza from TJ’s in Monona.

If you were to tell a friend to come and visit the Driftless Area, and they ask “Why” … What would you tell them?
Come for its unparalleled natural beauty and friendly locals, and to enjoy our hospitality at the historic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meier House!

Are you a Cat or Dog person?

Are you an Early Bird or Late Owl?
Neither, I’ll stick with Monkey

If given the opportunity, would you go to outerspace (moon, mars, space stations)?
Only if I can take my Monkey

What color socks are you currently wearing?
White, with a picture of Bert on one sock and Ernie on the other. I kid you not.

What skill or instrument would you like to learn or play?
A Mighty Wurlitzer organ, so I could accompany screenings of silent movies in my fantasy movie theater.

What 1 message would you put in a bottle?
“Help!” But it really depends on the bottle. If it’s an empty bottle of a very fine single malt scotch or a great wine, then my message would read, “Please return with refill ASAP.” Otherwise, “Help!”

What was your very first job?
Washing dishes for wedding and funeral receptions in a church hall, which resulted in my having dishpan hands by the age of 12, which resulted in the end of my aspirations of being a top international hand model. I could’ve been a contender! Alas. I’m sorry, world.

If any, what would be your dream job?
Apart from being an international hand model? Oh, right, too late for that. I’d say I’m all good – I feel very unfortunate indeed to be doing what I love.

How / where did you meet your best friend?
We were summer camp counselors together. Our lifelong bond was formed over a passionate discussion of some now-obscure 1990s indie bands we discovered we both loved. Eventually, another counselor called our attention to the fact that while we were engaged in bonding, two campers we were supposed to be keeping an eye on were engaged in a fistfight! Oops.

What does your dream vacation look like?
It looks like Paris, or perhaps a quaint English village, or a geothermal spa in Iceland, or a cool pool on a hot day in Palm Springs.

Tell us a short joke or punchline.
In Mary Poppins, during Uncle Albert’s gravity-defying, laugh-loving tea party on the ceiling, Bert (a.k.a. Dick Van Dyke) says, “I know a man with a wooden leg named Smith.” Uncle Albert innocently replies, “What’s the name of his other leg?” Makes me giggle every time, though it still hasn’t gotten me airborne.

If you could learn another language, what would that be?
French. And Monkey.

I Would Rather …
Live in a tree house