How would you describe yourself?
A curious soul who worked in clinical mental health in Chicago for twenty-five years, raised sheep on a Vernon County farm for twenty years, and solo kayaked 650 miles of the Mississippi River at age sixty-eight. I like to believe I am an adventuresome person, helpful, impassioned, and empathic. I love to hear stories and get to know what others think about life. Curiosity. That’s what makes me tick. 

What is your biggest accomplishment?
Surviving! I have been in many edgy situations, some dangerous, others just risky or careless, in my seventy years on the planet, but all due to my own initiative, decisions, and circumstances. So yes, surviving is my biggest accomplishment. More traditional accomplishments include building and maintaining my private practice in Chicago for a quarter of a century, then likewise building and maintaining my sheep farm in the Driftless region for twenty years. I also feel that adopting my grandchild at birth and when I was forty-eight, raising them to adulthood, was a challenging and uncertain endeavor. But we did it together and are left with a multitude of memories, good experiences, and lots of love. Paddling the Mississippi River solo and writing a book about it during the following year are also on my accomplishment list. I survived all of it!

Have you read any good books?
Yes. I have read many. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier is an all-time fave. The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout (and her sequel Outsmarting the Sociopath Next Door), Brood by Jacki Polzin, Fox and I by Catherine Raven, and Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor – all powerful favorites. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh is a childhood and lifetime favorite. Anything by John Steinbeck. I have read several on toxic people, narcissistic abuse and survival, Watercolor Masterpieces by Anna Koliadych, and The Bible is another one I have studied and investigated in all sorts of ways over my lifetime, in just about every translation available.

Who is your personal hero?
My mother. My paternal grandmother. Mary, the mother of Jesus. Jesus. And Moses.

Do you have a life philosophy that you live by?
Of course, this has evolved over my maturing lifetime, but has always centered around truth. Arguing for it, standing up for it, suffering under it, sharing it, being shunned for it, trying to find it, and always loving it. It is quite strong and locked down now that I am an older person: to seek truth, embrace truth, love truth, hang onto truth, and help others find truth.

What do you like most about yourself?
My love of solitude and studying. My love of the Spiritual. My unbending heart even when it is being pummeled. My long-suffering.

If you could change the world, what would you change?
Obliterate deceit, narcissism, lack of conscience, and the human’s willingness to do harm.

What do you think is the meaning of life?
To love and embrace truth regardless of what it is.

Do you prefer working alone, or do you like working with others?
Absolutely, alone

What’s something that no one would guess about you?
I am not fond of humans (different from individual persons).

What is your deepest belief about life?
We are here for a reason, and if we miss that reason and do not live it out, we lose when it is over.

If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would it be?
Right here where I am. But I would want those who have died too soon to be there, too. My dad, my mom, and my grandmother, and Aunt Sally, and an old wise friend, Darla. All loving people.

If you could be doing anything, anywhere right now, what and where would it be?
Right here, at home, where I am. Resting, reading, walking, enjoying the day and my loved ones, carrying a history of exploration and tons of memories, loving many and some who were hard to love, making mistakes, some huge ones, but learning from them, letting go of regret, and loving myself.

What’s the one thing you wish you could have a do-over for?
Loving my mom differently, longer, more knowingly, and helping her through some of her hurts and challenges that I was not fully unaware of until after she died.

How do you work on yourself?
Constant assessment, looking deeper, trying not to look so deeply, praying, writing, thinking, and trying to learn from my life mistakes.

What’s one thing you’ve had to overcome in your life?
To realize and accept that I am not an extrovert even though I’ve faked it for years, fooling myself even, and wasn’t very good or comfortable at it. I was raised in my family and, of course, in our culture, to believe it was how I ought to be. Acceptance of that has been a game changer. Knowing the difference between introversion and timidness or fearfulness was a game changer as well, which helped me embrace my introversion. Also, I don’t have to love or rescue every human or lost dog, even though it is hard to resist.

How do you handle being in a bad mood?
I wonder about it, why I am in it, what caused it, how to overcome it, take an inventory of things in my days or life, drink some coffee, talk to my friend, remember good things, and work at letting it go.

Who is the most important person in your life?
My child, who is now an adult, but no less important to me.
My best friend.
Not in this order.

What did you learn about yourself from any of your previous relationships?
That I over-function, over-give, and over-expect, which is eventually painful in most cases, and it does not define love or help the other person come forward and be who they are to be. Loving does not need to be acted upon or felt full time to make it real and lasting.

What question do you always want people to ask you about yourself?
How are you? What has hurt you? How can I keep from hurting you? Can I do anything for you? Can I get you a cup of coffee?

What is your favorite music or song do you think a person should listen to at least once?
All types (excluding country or polka).
RESPECT. Tina Turner
Proud Mary. Tina Turner
Waymaker. Leeland
Free Indeed. Timothy Reddick
My Soul Longs for You. Jesus Culture
The White Album. The Beatles
Thriller Album. Michael Jackson

If you weren’t here running your business or doing the work you do, what would you be doing instead?
Watching people. Sitting somewhere. Observing. Staying in the moment.

How has this pandemic affected YOU or YOUR BUSINESS here in the Driftless?
It gave me just what I needed before I knew I needed it. Lots of home time. Fewer people. Isolation and solitude. Much time at home. Time with books.

What is another name you would give the Driftless?

What is your favorite season in the Driftless & why?
All seasons. I was raised in the Driftless and have loved the distinct and loud seasons.

Tell us of an experience /memory you had with Driftless lakes, rivers or waterways?
It was the solo kayak trip I took in 2022. I began up in the headwaters and ended in Dubuque, Iowa. This question is really what my book The Truth on Water is about. My experiences and memories of living on the river, on its banks, sandbars, and all that came with that. It is a large story with so much experience and memory that I can’t answer it here. But my book tells it fully and is available at local public libraries (specifically La Crosse and Coon Valley, Decorah, Iowa, and in local bookstores, on Amazon, and Barnes & Noble in both print and e-book, and I am always willing to donate one to someone who cannot buy one or access it otherwise).

Is there any place in the world you have been that reminds you of, or is similar to the Driftless?
I would say Germany, the hills, the green, the people.

What is your best childhood memory?
In my home, when I fell down the stairs at age three and, when I opened my eyes at the bottom landing, I saw my dad’s big shoe. He was reaching down to pick me up and comfort me. He died a few months later, so it has been a lasting memory of his good heart.

What are some of your favorite places to go for fun here in the Driftless?
The river and backwaters, any wild area in the ridges, and near water. I love La Crosse as a town and its riverfront. Walking anywhere in the Driftless. I love Wildcat Mountain, Grand Dad’s Bluff, Pikes Peak in Iowa, the many sloughs, and paddling down the Mississippi. I love to visit the locks and watch barges and other boats go through. It was a favorite as I paddled the river, and I had to kayak through the locks. All these things.

What are some of your favorite places to eat here in the Driftless?
Home. Great Wall, Viroqua. Senor Villa, La Crosse. Culver’s. Bean Juice, La Crosse. Modest places that become routine and familiar.

If you were to tell a friend to come and visit the Driftless Area, and they ask “Why” … What would you tell them?
I would probably have to say that I can’t answer it in words, that it has to be experienced, so that is why they should come. It is indescribable.

Are you a Cat or Dog person?

Are you an Early Bird or Late Owl?
Early Bird

If given the opportunity, would you go to outer space (moon, mars, space stations)?

What color socks are you currently wearing?

What skill or instrument would you like to learn or play?

What 1 message would you put in a bottle?
Don’t be selfish. Give your love away carefully.

What was your very first job?
Besides babysitting and shoveling and mowing, my first job was in the photography studio in my college, where I was the darkroom technician. Outside of college, my first job was as a store worker in the commissary at the nearby army base, where I drove a forklift, unloaded semi trucks, warehouses, stock, and greeted customers.

If any, what would be your dream job?
Writing. And delivering mail by kayak.

How / where did you meet your best friend?
I met her in Chicago through a work event. Years later, we reconnected and, due to a layoff at her 40-year career, she came to live with my grandchild and me, so she helped to raise them and became their surrogate grandmother. She remains in my home still as we both grow older, me at 70, she at 80, and continue to seek adventure in the Driftless area.

What does your dream vacation look like?
Being left alone at home! Maybe sometimes on a warm beach, walking, seeing the sun come up and go down, with nothing strenuous in between.

Tell us a short joke or punchline.
A person is handing a package to another person saying, “Here, take my pathology. I don’t want it.” It is a cartoon, although not too funny, but still very true. It is a favorite because it keeps me aware that this is what people do when they don’t want to be accountable. So they make other people take it and own it for them. The image of the cartoon helps me remain aware of this.

If you could learn another language, what would that be?

I Would Rather …
Live on a small boat

So, what’s your story?
I was born on the Iowa side of the Driftless. My thrice-great grandmother was Chippewa Indigenous, who was born in a covered wagon near what became Chicago, crossed the Mississippi River near what became La Crosse, and settled in northeast Iowa where my family spread and I was born in 1953 on a Christmas night. My twice great-grandmother, on my father’s paternal side, came from Germany with many other family members and settled in Bangor, Wisconsin but was courted and moved to northeast Iowa to raise our family. I remain here and return here because it is home. I think of it as my assigned or given place on the planet. My home place is deep within me, and I have never thought to move away from it. I have traveled the world and love to explore elsewhere but only with home on my mind. Left the Driftless for college in Chicago, and stayed there for a career over thirty years, but always came back home regularly. I moved back and have been here twenty-five years again and have retired to La Crosse. It is home, and I feel as though I can lie down and spread myself over the Driftless because it is so familiar and warm and historic to me and my family. It is just the place for me.

Tell us about what you do for work or your business, and how long have you been doing this?
I was a psychotherapist in my own clinical practice, working alone but with outside colleagues for twenty-five years. I moved back to the Driftless at forty-eight and bought a farm which my family and I turned into a meat sheep raising business. We stayed there for twenty years. I retired in La Crosse and I volunteer, explore, stay home, and visit with people and paddle the Mississippi and backwaters quite a bit. I just enjoy life here

Tell us about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career with your business.
Building and maintaining my clinical practice. Raising and selling sheep for meat in ethnic markets in Chicago and Minneapolis. I adopted my grandchild and raised them on the farm, and now I am there while they create their adult life. These are all the most significant. I paddled 650 miles of the Mississippi River, living outside and doing it alone, then spent a year writing a book, The Truth on Water, about the experience. That is also significant, but not as significant as the other things I mentioned.

Tell us about a recent project or problem that you made better, faster, smarter, more efficient, or less expensive.
I downsized from a twenty-acre farm in a 12-room farmhouse, with six outbuildings a half-hour drive from any town, to a very small, one-story, five-room home on a small corner lot in La Crosse where I can walk, drive, take a bus anywhere, or just not choose to stay home. Looking to simplify, reduce effort and tasks, make life more manageable and efficient, less expensive, less complicated and demanding, and so forth. I believe I accomplished it, but find that the world itself will make anything more complicated and costly, even simple things. But for the time and for me and my family, this is the best result in that area I could possibly have made. All our desires are met or are easily attained. Along with this comes fewer expectations of self, others, and the world; less obligation to be active or involved, and fewer distractions. Many things have become optional, which is a big part of simplifying and minimizing. I have issued the directive (whether or not followed) that I only want things in my home and on my property that are used. If not used or useful, they are given away or not purchased.

Tell us about one person that you’ve met, that stands apart from the rest, or has influenced you while here in the Driftless.
My friend, Darla, who died recently at age 80. She was a simple, deep, honest, giving, loving, self-regulated, self-sustaining, and humble person who did many very difficult and complicated things over her lifetime that many people would have said no to simply because it would be easier. We loved each other deeply, but did not have to speak of it. We demonstrated it in genuine ways – not putting upon each other unnecessary things, taking care of ourselves while trying to help each other, and being willing to receive each other’s help, loving and caring, sharing. It was a beautiful friendship. Our last words were on her deathbed when we told each other that we loved each other. She made mistakes in life like anyone and like me, but she was genuine, loving and helpful, and had a big heart. She stood by her decisions, devoted to the people involved, even after she realized it was not the best decision. Overall, Darla was a gift to me.

What do you wish other people knew about you or your business?
That truth is everything and if we deal with things and each other in truth, all other things fall into place, including disagreement, mistakes, forgetfulness, and so on. I also wish that others know once I commit, I am in. I do not go against what I agreed upon and committed to. But it is very difficult for me when others do the opposite.

Writing and Photos By Bobbi Rathert