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As many ideas as the day is long

By Staff | Dec 11, 2019

TEDx Okoboji took place last Friday. I didn’t think I’d get to go, but I won a two-ticket giveaway. After confirming the members of my household were unavailable to attend, I chose a friend whom I thought would truly appreciate the event: not ask, “so this is just a bunch of talking?” or “what is TEDx anyway?” or “I don’t get it; what are we doing here all day?” Most of the time I love introducing my friends to new experiences: last summer I had two friends at a summer theater performance who had never seen a play before. This time, I wanted as a partner in this experience a person who would embrace it all and hold their own while meeting and talking to people there.

What is TEDx anyway?

Maybe you’ve heard of TED talks. In about 18 minutes, a person with a particular life experience shares an idea worth spreading. It’s an informative and often entertaining slice of knowledge in the areas of Technology, Entertainment, and Design. Past speakers have done live demos, given live performances, and told stories not heard everyday. TEDx is an independently organized TED event. Local leaders have a license from TED to put on a talk.

This was the Big Idea two members of the Okoboji young professionals had last summer, and by July they were taking applications. In full disclosure, I applied to be a speaker and was rejected at the speed of cobs of corn disappearing at Estherville’s Sweet Corn Days. It’s okay. Upon further reflection, my introductory video was terrible and my idea not really focused.

John Moore started out the day with a video that woke up anyone who was not firing on all cylinders by 10 a.m. The clip showed Moore dressed and made up like a cross between Prince and Russell Brand singing the part of Figaro from La Triviata. In his talk, “Making Drama from Drama: an opera singer’s life,” Moore spoke of a 21st century opera singer’s life, and how he travels from New York to Seattle to New Zealand to Europe for opportunities to lend his voice to a scripted, sung performance. His next gig is playing a Nebraska farmer in a new opera.

Kevin Grems was a speaker with an Emmet County connection. Grems is Assistant Professor of Game and Web Development & Design Programs at Iowa Lakes Community College. In addition to his talk, “Artificial Unintelligence,” Grems and a tech team set up a virtual reality station in the event’s venue, the Pearson Lakes Art Center.

Mary Skopec, Executive Director of Iowa Lakeside Laboratory, told the story of the lab’s founder and the connection of spending time in nature to human well-being. Skopec uses immersive education models to build the next generation of scientists and environmental leaders. Skopec was among the influences in the scientific life of 2017 Estherville Lincoln Central alum Kevin Dong, who continues high-level environmental science work at the University of Iowa.

Karima Rostom is a sophomore at Graettinger-Terril High School and moved to Terril from Egypt five years ago. She is bilingual English and Arabic. In her talk, “Self-Consciously Bilingual,” Rostom told a story of a hallway encounter in the seventh grade in which a classmate visibly withdrew from her when Rostom approached her. When asked why she was afraid, the student said, “Because you talk funny.” It was the single event with the most impact in Rostom’s experience as a new, young immigrant and caused her to wonder why people in the U.S. seem to have such a phobia of people speaking a foreign language.

Dr. Steven Meyer is co-founder of the STEMM Ministry based in Sioux City, and told the other side of a story U.S. Rep. Steve King told in Estherville last summer about bringing three Tanzanian children to the U.S. for orthopedic surgery after a serious bus accident in Tanzania. In his talk, “Miracle Maker You!” Dr. Meyer said we won’t likely experience miracles if we shrink from challenges and conflicts instead of meeting them head-on.

Barry Sackett is an attorney from the Lakes area with offices in Spencer. He’s 50 years old and on a quest to live another 50. He’s run every day for 10 years, recovering from alcoholism for 15 years, and practicing law for 26. In all these measurements, he compared reaching 50 years of a life that could extend to a century, to running a race of 100 miles, something he’s done several times. You reach 50 miles and celebrate the achievement a near half-marathon, then realize you must do it again. Sackett said the best support he’s found on the 100 mile trail was from fellow race-runners who acknowledged the difficulty he was having but held him accountable for finishing what he started.

Andrea Olson is organizer of another Iowa TEDx event and came to speak on “Why Data Doesn’t Change Minds.” Change leadership must involve much more than having the facts on why you are right, if you are. As a journalist, I love facts and data more than most people, and I have experienced first-hand that having the facts doesn’t tell the whole story.

Ryan Cunningham and Will Dible talked on “Blurring the Boundaries.” Founders of the No Boundaries program among Okoboji, Spencer, and GTRA schools, the two shared their obsessions with creating learning environments to empower students for the future and innovation in education. Many students involved in No Boundaries volunteered at the TEDx event.

David Thoreson is a familiar face and voice in Emmet County. He dove deep beyond his 70,000 miles across the world’s oceans and polar regions to “Follow the Water,” his talk about water quality as the root of everything else.

Rena Kirkland and Phil Kassel encouraged us to get gritty, claiming, “Building Grit Fosters Meaning in Life.” It’s not luck, privilege, or some ethereal thing that gets us through challenges and transforms failure to success. It’s grit the resilience to meet challenges head-on.

Tom Bedell’s talk “Seed to Song” chronicled his journey to save the earth through his acoustic guitar company by not using deforested wood in his guitars and encouraging other makers to do the same.

Tiffany Fisk, a Therapeutic Bodywork Practitioner in the Twin Cities discussed “Developing a Relationship with Pain.” Fisk understands the body as our autobiography and uses movement, bodywork and breath to increase a person’s function within their pain framework and put the client in control of their body’s story.

The talks wrapped up with Northwest Iowa Corridor’s own Kiley Miller. Miller is a familiar face, giving updates in Emmet County about our growth and possibilities. My observation of Miller is that he’s a purveyor of extroversion, never once a stranger. That’s not exactly true. When he moved to this area five years ago, he was a total stranger. Smiley Kiley brought tears to my eyes when he spoke of the fear and loneliness of attending an event and knowing no one. His talk was on a topic near and dear to many hearts in Emmet County, whether they approach it by loudly longing for the good, old days and wishing for it to be great again, or brainstorming solutions to help us grow or to make things great now for the people still here: “How Saving Small Towns Soothes our Souls.”

It’s yet unknown whether TEDx Okoboji will become an annual event. Organizers want that, but whether they will extend their license with the TED organization depends on the results of yet-to-arrive surveys for attendees. My hope is that Emmet County will become a larger voice at future events with several residents sharing their Ideas Worth Spreading.