up-coming programs | on-going programs | past program highlights | announcements

Up-coming Programs

as of March 2011  - at various locations in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska

spring-quarter programming

Programs will resume, following the winter break.


On-going Programs

The Burr Oak Center's Big Blue House in Turin offers a pleasant site for retreats, small conferences/seminars, body-work weekends, reunions, etc. Reasonable prices allow even modest organizations or groups of people/families to rent utilize this furnished, fully operable house. Up to 15 participants and three facilitators can fit comfortably in its 5,125-sq-ft space, which boasts a three-bunk-bed dormitory, sofa beds, sleeping mats and standard beds, as well as three bathrooms (the master bath has a hot tub!). Attractive, new table settings for 18 and unlimited-long-distance telephone/internet access complete this setting as an effective base for programs or events, explorations of the nearby parks and cultural attractions—or simply a quiet get-a-away. For details, contact MichaelLuickThrams@yahoo.com. Thank you—and enjoy your stay!


Past Program Highlights

3-6 September 2010 - 5pm Friday (the 3rd) through a special End-o'-Workshop Grill Party on Monday evening (the 6th) at the Burr Oak Center's Big Blue House; Michael Luick-Thrams at admin@TRACES.org or 651.373.9673 hosted this event.

"Let the Hills Speak to and through You":

Writing Born of the Loess Hills

TRACES/Burr Oak Center Director Michael Luick-Thrams offered a 30-hour Labor Day-weekend writing workshop. After an arrival-evening introduction on Friday night, the 15 participants exchanged stories about the Loess Hills, then wrote and later shared timed “stream-of-consciousness” Reaction Pieces: how these unique hills have influenced us as individuals and as a people, what they mean to us, and how we'd like these fragile giants preserved for the future. Saturday and Sunday were devoted to morning hikes, followed by lead-in presentations by Dr. Luick-Thrams: topics covered included short natural as well as social histories of the Loess Hills, recent and present issues related to their sustainability, artistic and poetic reflections on their lasting legacy, etc. Then, small-group discussions preceded break-out sessions where participants—either alone or in teams—could journal, compose essays, or write articles (for publication or "jus' for fun"). On both afternoons participants could meet with Michael for feedback on their writing, before writings-in-progress were shared with the large group for others’ input, too. Monday morning provided a chance for a last, long hike in the Hills for inspiration or to simply commune with nature. In the afternoon participants shared their last-draft writings as a large group; that evening a concluding Grill Party sent everyone off on a happy note.



21 November 2009 - 11am to 9pm Saturday at various locations in Monona County/Iowa; Tim Houfek at icoach1954@hotmail.com or 402.663.4855 hosted this event.

site tours and Think Shop

Burr Oak's board members and supporters toured the Center's properties as well as others, for consideration as possible future projects, before meeting at the board chair pro tem's River Woods Farm home on the banks of the Missouri River for a Think Shop, followed by the first meeting of the new, Missouri-River-Valley-based board. A 7pm potluck preceded a chance to see a showing of the video The Real Dirt on Farmer John, about one Northwest Illinois farmer's struggle to convert his family's Century Farm into an organic, community-supported site.

8 November 2009 - 10am Sunday at the Weldon farm near Soldier/Iowa; Vicki Weldon at weldonv@witcc.edu or 712.884.2001/cell 712.251.4611 hosted this event.

pancake breakfast and fundraiser

Burr Oak Center board members and supporters met to socialize over a pancake breakfast, before focusing on ways to raise funds for the project, at this point primarily through grants.

16-18 October 2009 - 5pm Friday (the 16th) through lunch Sunday (the 18th) at the Burr Oak Center's Big Blue House, 22996 Larpenteur Road, Turin/Iowa 51040; Deborah Dotson at deborahd@gmail.com or 651.646.0400 hosted this event.

Quake & Work Weekend

Quakers from across the Upper Midwest (the Dakotas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa) were invited to spend a sociable weekend divided between working outside on the Burr Oak Center's acre+ site, in the two houses or with related administrative projects.
[see announcement #4 below]

11 October 2009 - 5-7pm Sunday at the Burr Oak Center for Durable Culture's Big Blue House; Sandra Hecht at sehecht@longlines.com or 712.428.4868 hosted this event.

Burr Oak Center for Durable Culture Open House

The Burr Oak Center's first Open House offered local residents a chance to walk through the recently renovated 1999-built "Big Blue House", see the dilapidated early-1900s "White House" awaiting conversion as a Green House Demostration Site, and pose questions or concerns about our project. [see announcement #3 below]

9-12 October 2009 - 5pm Friday (the 9th) through a special Columbus Day breakfast Monday (the 12th) at the Burr Oak Center's Big Blue House; Larry Plein at snowyspiritowl@yahoo.com or 563.495.0092 hosted this event.

the first Upper Midwest Men's Retreat

For centuries, men have ruled the Western world. For decades, women have made strides in taking leading roles in realms of work, politics, family life, art and culture. Now, as we face environmental degradation on a grand scale and the uncertain future that a global climate crisis entails, we men have to re-examine our roles, our goals and our lives. This retreat was a safe place to do that, in the midst of Loess Hills dressed in autumnal spendor. [see announcement #2 below]

20 September 2009 - 3-5pm Sunday at the Onawa Public Library, 707 Iowa Avenue, Onawa/Iowa 51040; Chamber of Commerce Secretary Ann Crawford at chamber@onawa.com or 712.423.1801 hosted this event.

"The Future is Ours": A Public Forum

Michael Luick-Thrams made himself available to meet with residents of Monona County and field questions or concerns they might have about the project in Turin. He also wanted to ask them for input in how they invision making the region a better, more prosperous place to live for everyone, now and far into the future. [see announcement #1 below]

13 September 2009 - 3-5pm Sunday at the Turin Town Hall, First Street (across from site of former grain elevator), Turin/Iowa 51040; Mayor David Poole at mocodp@longlines.com or 712.881.2261 hosted this event.

"Hello, Neighbor!": A Public Forum

Project Director Michael Luick-Thrams met with about a dozen Turin residents to field questions and concerns about the Burr Oak Center, as well as elicit from them ideas about how they'd like to see the community we share develop in the next years. [see announcement #1 below]



#1 | #2 | #3 | #4

announcement #4

Quake & Work Weekend in October: Upper-Midwest Friends invited!

Greeting, F/friends!

We live in tumultuous times! There's been enough longing for and talking about "change": now's the time to become (as Gandhi advised) "the change we want to see in the world".

TRACES is forming the Burr Oak Center for Durable Culture, a diverse project in the heart of Iowa's Loess Hills, focusing on organic farming, alternative energy sources and community building, with roots in values involving social justice and right use of resources. For details see www.TRACES.org/green

Having already shared our plans with Friends in Ames and Omaha, we are excited to invite Upper Midwest Quakers to attend our first "Quake and Work" weekend. Depending on their availability and abilities, Friends can arrive Friday evening after work, the 16th of October, or arrive on Saturday morning and stay over that night, or, as some already indicated they would, come for the day on Sunday, the 18th of October. On Sunday morning there'll be shared quiet time in the Big Blue House that the Burr Oak group recently bought, on a hillside lot in Turin/Iowa, of more than one acre. (Future goals include acquiring arable farmland nearby, as resources allow.)

Those coming to work may choose from the following tasks: interior house painting, light carpentry jobs (install trim boards & closet doors, etc.), grass/weed cutting or pulling, garden turning, planting, tree trimming, kitchen-cupboard oiling, carpet/floor laying, etc. We have a few basic tools, but encourage collaborators to kindly bring a supply of tools, too.

Friends can either "camp" at the spacious 1999-built "Big Blue House" (bring sleeping bags, pillows, mattresses, towels, etc., if possible) or pay for lodging at a B & B on a farm one mile (20-minute walk) away (http://www.country-homestead.com/); call 888.563.7455 to book.

Activities during free times might include: hiking or biking the beautiful Loess Hills, a campfire at night, bird/wildlife watching in the several hundred nearby nature preserves, etc. Local-architecture tours, Onawa Public Library or Iowa Theater visit, etc. For other ideas: http://www.country-homestead.com/activities.html

We will provide soups, stews and cereals; any donations of food or funds for milk, bread, fruit and other food, or prepared "potluck" offerings are welcome. To inquire or confirm, contact admin@TRACES.org.

We are making a national appeal via Friends Journal and other Quaker bodies to attract residents or interns, and anticipate on-going connections with Upper-Midwest Yearly Meetings, so see this as a "first step of a shared journey".


announcement #3

as appeared in local newspapers:

To the Editor: "Open House"

We had been planning on doing this later, when we were a bit further along in the process, but, because of the visits of some very curious neighbors, we've decided to adopt the ol' adage, "If ya can't beat 'em, join 'em!"

In the past three weeks, three locals have marched right into the house in Turin that the non-profit educational organization which I direct has recently bought. The first one simply opened the door, stomped halfway through the house by the time I intercepted him. When I asked "Can I help you?" he inquired, non-chalantly, "Did you buy it?"

"Buy what?" I asked back, clueless. "This place." "Yes, we closed on it two weeks ago tomorrow" -- to which he grunted "Oh", turned and headed for the door.

The second was a neighbor who stuck his head in the door one night while I was on the ladder, painting a living room wall, and began swearing at me, under the erroneous impression that we had bought a lot in Turin that he had designs on.

Then, there were the two elderly women who sat in the lower driveway one Saturday afternoon. I'd been in the back, tending the yard, so the place looked deserted. When I unexpectedly opened the garage door and we suddenly were face to face, they both looked shocked and self-conscious. "Can I help you ladies?" I asked, to which one replied, smiling nervously, "Oh, ah... um... we're lost!" to which I, incredulous, questioned "In Turin?"

Almost literally every day I see cars come down 230th Street, "cruise a loop" to scope out the transformation we've exacted on the abandoned white house there, and promptly leave again. Given that our project seems to have become Monona County's hottest tourist attraction at present, I've laughingly suggested to friends that we should charge admission and use the funds to finance the dilapidated white house's restoration...

Seriously, this incessant attention has spawned an idea: we invite the community to come see the work we've been doing here the past month, and pose any questions or air any concerns. From 5-7 this Sunday evening, October 11th, please feel free to stop by the blue house on the north edge of Turin's stretch of Larpenteur Road for an openhouse.

We look forward to getting to know our neighbors -- this time, warmly invited.

Michael Luick-Thrams


announcement #2

Columbus Day "Discovery Weekend":

Want to meet other men in a safe, quiet and beautiful environment?

Having just bought a large (5,000-sq-ft) house in the lovely Loess Hills (http://traces.org/green/loess-hills.html) we welcome you to join other men to enjoy social time, "sharing circles" and walks/bike rides/camp fires amidst the region's autumnal splendor, from late Friday afternoon 9 Oct., thru breakfast on Monday, the 12th. (Bring your own outdoor gear like bikes, etc., plus warm clothes, as the house may be cool at times.)

Sharing Circles offer us a chance to talk intimately about topics of mutual concern--which may include: our relationships with our fathers, coming-of-age experiences, dating and partnering, family, finding support, social issues, self-esteem, religion and spirituality, etc.

The accommodations (http://traces.org/green/photo-albums.html) will be rustic yet pleasant, the fare hearty but simple. To cover costs we ask each man to donate to a food fund. (There is a very comfortable B&B one mile up the road,with friendly hosts: to book a bed there go to http://www.country-homestead.com/). Food will be provided; alcohol is welcome (drunkenness is not!), but Bring Yer Own.

For details, contact Larry Plein at 563.495.0092 or to register email him at snowyspiritowl@yahoo.com; we encourage you to reserve one of the limited slots, if you wish to attend. (For directions: http://www.country-homestead.com/contact.html)


announcement #1

Press Release: for immediate release
contact: MichaelLuickThrams@yahoo.com at 712.353.6661

Burr Oak Center for Durable Culture launches Project in the Loess

Residents of Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska soon can learn about a new project aimed to decrease their energy bills by weatherizing homes and public buildings, secure affordable and reliable access to fresh foods, explore better nutrition and eating habits (especially for children and low-income individuals), facilitate better public health, and create rewarding jobs for local people.

Turin, IA residents and immediate rural neighbors are welcome to attend a public forum, where Burr Oak Center representatives will present related proposals, as well as invite local input. The forae will take place at Turin's town hall from 3-5 Sunday afternoon, Sept.13th; residents of Onawa, the rest of Monona County and larger region may attend a similar presentation at Onawa Public Library, 3-5 Sun., Sept. 20th. Organizers will host a public open house at their newly-acquired site in Turin on October 11th: plans will be announced.

Long enchanted by the region, Executive Director Michael Luick-Thrams and Project Manager Amy Kielmeyer recently moved to the Loess Hills to open the Burr Oak Center for Durable Culture. It will occupy a newly created living and learning space in Turin, featuring organic gardening, alternative energy sources and community-building projects. Instructors and interns will reside on-site.

The region's residents have long known Burr Oak's sponsor, TRACES Center for History and Culture, which documents Midwest WWII-era stories. Since 2001 TRACES staff have given several related programs in the Missouri River Valley (Omaha, Sioux City, Onawa, etc.). TRACES' mobile “BUS-eum” is famous.

After 20 years of researching WWII and serving as a “public historian” Luick-Thrams says “I can't focus on a past crisis anymore with good conscience. Given current crises—economic and ecological—I believe unless we take decisive, shared action, the world our children shall inherit will be much less worthy and safe than the one we've too long taken for granted.”

TRACES Board of Director secretary Ceceile Hartleib agrees. “The board unanimously voted last June to expand TRACES' focus, to include ecological and social-service issues, too, as we think the human race has reached a turning point. We must solve our major problems now, together, or it won't be possible anymore to take effective action.”

“It's simple math” explains Luick-Thrams. “Global population continues to increase, exponentially, while available petroleum reserves can only contract. As those two curves intersect, entire systems created since 1945 to run on 'cheap oil' aren't going to deliver. Our food comes mostly from California or Mexico by truck and is full of questionable chemicals.”

“The vast majority of cars contain one person in them” he adds, “so when the recession-fed drop in oil prices passes, we'll see folks scrambling again, to keep their fuel-inefficient autos filled with fuel. Besides: the planet clearly can't absorb our pollution.”

Staff at TRACES believe the increasing use of and dependence on petroleum since WWII has directly led to the erosion of rural life, not only in Iowa, but globally. Kielmeyer says “Rural population has fallen to a fraction of its 1920s peak; the quality of country life has declined.”

The Burr Oak Center will offer alternatives. Not only will some of its residents offer locally-grown organic produce to regional markets, but do so as a cooperative business venture, where the co-owning workers have more say, as well as stake, than in most businesses.

Also, it will work with civic groups, local governments and other bodies to involve as many people as possible in its goal-setting, daily operations and product delivery. This experiment in economic democracy is essential since according to some theorists, the economic models we've been using are failing.

A professional painter, Hartleib holds “Humans don't live on bread alone: art is the elixir of a rich life.” Thus, one special feature of the project is its conscious focus on art and culture.

“If you look at the old albums, many of our parents or grandparents were skilled singers or musicians, story-tellers, folk-dancers and the like” Luick-Thrams explains. “The 'two boxes'—televisions and computers—have rendered our young people too often unable to entertain themselves, let alone someone else. We will resist these trends, the best we can.”

Above all, the residents of Burr Oak seek to “live life slower—to have more time for our children, for each other, and for nature” according to Amy Kielmeyer. “We are talking about a shift of values here” she notes. “We can't solve problems created by our dominate ways of living from the past half-century, using the strategies of the past. Our current problems require new and creative solutions.”

“We're not interested in living on an island” Luick-Thrams maintains. “Right from the beginning, we want to invite the public to offer us its ideas, needs, wishes and concerns. We invite local people to work with us, to be partners in this exciting project. We can't reach this ambitious undertaking on our own. It'll take all of us, but we'll also share the rewards.”

Already now, the Burr Oak residents welcome their new neighbors to be involved, to assist or even co-organize gardening efforts, to aid the renovation of two new homes in Turin, to locate used equipment and furnishings, etc. “Our emphasis is community” says Kielmeyer.

To review Burr Oak's “Wish List” on its web site, or learn more about about the project's objectives and proposals, see www.TRACES.org/green.