In November 2016, the Lyons Vineyard was donated to a new Island nonprofit by Tim and Julie Lyons. While the Lyons were searching for the right owner, five people connected with each other through their shared interest in Washington Island and sustainable living; from diverse backgrounds in education, entrepreneurship, and land stewardship, Sue Dompke, Margaret Foss, Laurel Hauser and Russell and Alessandra Rolffs began a conversation about agriculture and sustainability and now form the board of directors of Gathering Ground: Planting for the Future.
The Current Board
Jessica Dennis, Science teacher, Island School
I grew up in a very small town in Central Wisconsin. Due to family farming and parents who were avid gardeners, I have always had an interest in sustainability and fresh produce. My husband and I moved to Washington Island so I could live out my dream of being a science teacher at Washington Island School. I teach middle school and high school science in addition to third and fourth grade math. My husband and I have three little people and I look forward to working with them to develop a love for gardening and the outdoors. During my time with the school, I have developed a dream of being a part of developing a school forest. Recently, I’ve joined the Gathering Ground board to build a stronger connection between the grounds and our school; so far the students have loved every activity we’ve done!
Sue Dompke, Treasurer of Gathering Ground, Owner of Sweet Mountain Farm
I graduated from Marquette University with an MBA and bring to Gathering Ground my 18 years’ experience as a corporate controller. I have worked in the electrical distribution and promotional marketing fields. I currently own and run Sweet Mountain Farm on Washington Island. It’s never too late to reinvent yourself. Working continuously for other people for 30 years, I started my own business at age 51, to indulge my entrepreneurial instinct, my love of the outdoors, and my desire to make a difference. I own Sweet Mountain Farm, LLC, an apiary on Washington Island that breeds Russian honey bees and builds northern white cedar beehives. The niche micro-farm grows bee friendly plants, raises chickens, produces Made to be Clean natural soaps and deodorants, and taps sugar maple. The farms educational outreach includes hosting field trips, hands on field days, farm tours and presents to bee clubs across Wisconsin.
I am inspired by the commitment, enthusiasm, and strong work ethic at Gathering Ground. I am grateful working alongside farmers, to have the benefits of eating healthy food, and to surround myself with community members who want to insure the vineyard and its beautiful location is sustainable.
We all have, as a community, a role to play in creating a sustainable environment. Working with Gathering Ground reinforces my belief that a few committed individuals can make a difference in preserving our heritage as growers. It’s a passion to teach sustainability and hand down love and respect for the land. Gathering Ground facilitates community dialog, educates, equips, and values the next generation of growers and producers.
Margaret Foss, Educator at the Island School
Margaret was raised in the city of Chicago, attending both public and private school there, and enjoying many cultural and political opportunities while growing up. Her main preoccupation at the time was ballet, and she spent many hours training at several studios. During her growing up years, Margaret was also very lucky to spend summers on the island, making friends, working in local establishments, and coming to love the land, water and local community. When she and her husband Kirby decided to marry in 1982, the island became her year-round home. Margaret then traded her toe shoes for dirt between her toes, when she discovered a passion for growing flowers.
In 1984, Margaret joined the teaching staff at the Washington Island School. She has taught in various capacities there ever since. She and her husband raised their daughter on the island, sending her first to the Washington Island Preschool, and then the Washington Island School. Nurturing children as they grow is Margaret’s greatest joy.
Margaret recently became a grandmother to little Clara Nikolai, the latest addition to her family tree. She anticipates retiring from teaching in the near future, in order to concentrate on her family. The creation of Gathering Grounds affords her a new opportunity to leave a lasting legacy for all of the island’s children in the form of education about sustainable practices. Margaret thinks of all this as the “cycle of life,” and is thrilled to be a part of an organization that hopes to help preserve the island for generations to come.
Jean Kokes, Hotel Washington Owner
Steve Lynch, Retired Art Teacher
Alessandra Rolffs, Secretary of Gathering Ground, Freelance Writer
Alessandra is a poet, PhD student at UWM, freelance writer, educator and farmer. She wears one hat, a sun hat, in all of these roles. She grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the midwest in 2008 to get her Master of Fine Arts from Indiana University. Since then, she’s progressively moved north: Chicago, Milwaukee, and now Washington Island.
Alessandra loves being outdoors, on the water, and working in the garden; she loves writing, teaching, and she loves things that overlap. She’s excited that so many of her loves come together at Gathering Ground. As secretary she not only takes notes at board meetings, but runs the Gathering Ground blog and helps develop educational programs.
Russell Rolffs, President of Gathering Ground, Hoot Blossom Farm