Tag Archives: Julie Sudbeck

Paradise In The Midwest

Photography by Provided

Some migratory Omahans make a tradition of flocking north to the freshwater oasis called Okoboji. This historic, former Native American encampment and hunting ground turned settler outpost and sport-commercial fishing haven in northwest Iowa features natural, glacier-carved lakes and plentiful beaches.

Okoboji, a 200-mile meander from the metro, has been an Iowa Great Lakes resort area for more than a century. Arrival of railroads in the early 1880s connected Dickinson County’s lakes region to the outside world as never before. Hotels stores, boatyards, and other attractions sprang up, catering to train and steamboat travelers. The Okoboji Store dates back to 1884 and Mau Marine, which used to be called Wilson Boat Works, has operated since 1884.

The lure (then and now): pristine waters, plentiful fishing, and getting away from it all with friends and family. Okoboji has survived high and low water levels, floods (including the Great Flood of 1993), droughts, the Great Depression, world wars, and cultural shifts.

Patterson Cottage, built late 1800s. Became known as “The Haunted House.” No longer standing.

Parasols and two-piece swimsuits gave way to Raybans, bikinis, and shorts. Big band swing bowed to rock ’n’ roll. Instead of transistor radios and hard-bound books, sunbathers now sport smartphones and Kindles.

As the area gained popularity, homes sprouted and amenities grew in this Great Plains getaway. A steady stream of cars follows I-29 or Highway 71 toward tranquility on any weekend during the summer. The area includes a chain of six lakes and 70 miles of shoreline that welcome about 1 million visitors annually.

Water sports abound. Beaches and docks attract sunbathers. Picnics, backyard barbecues, and house concerts lazily unwind. Campsites and nature trails offer roughing-it adventures. Local locales offer amusement, from roller coasters to theatricals. Plentiful dining spots and bars complete the scene.

Many making the pilgrimage own lake houses there, thus making them part-time Okobojians. In the post-war era, parents of the baby-boom generation built small cabins. As those baby boomers came of age and made money themselves, they bought the smaller homes and remodeled them or tore them down for new homes. The part-timers mix easily with “originals” and “old-timers.”

Denny Walker of Omaha long ago fell under Okoboji’s spell.

“There’s a real charm to it. You drive past cornfields and all of a sudden you get up to Okoboji and you’re struck by the beauty of it—the lake coves, the oak trees lining the shores, the clearness of the water, the clean beaches.”

Walker’s enchantment goes back to family vacations as a kid. He now shows his children the magic.

“My dream was to have a home in Okoboji, and now I’m living my dream,” says Walker, who built a cottage-style lake house with a big screened-in porch a decade ago.

His ’Boji fever sometimes starts before the season. Walker has hosted a “launch party” in Omaha at the hangar for his business, JetLinx, with Okoboji vendors and wares, as a season warmup.

He’s also among pilgrims with deep stakes who give back by serving on local boards.

“I’m really involved in the community up there,” Walker says. “It isn’t a job for me, it’s a passion, it’s a love for Okoboji.”

He is involved with beautifying the area and growing the art center’s endowment.

He also leads the fundraising campaign for the three-phase, $12 million restoration of the Arnolds Park Amusement Park. The first phase was completed last year, with more parking and upgraded bathrooms. The Maritime Museum expansion is nearly complete. The Iowa Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame will be upgraded. And the historic Roof Gardens is slated to be restored next.

Floete Mansion became the Okoboji Club. Built in 1911, destroyed by fire 1951.

The vintage Arnolds Park Amusement Park celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2015, and it continues to serve nostalgic fun with its traditional midway, classic rides, wooden roller coaster (The Legend is one of the world’s oldest wooden roller coasters, built in 1930), and Nutty Bars (the first Nutty Bar stand opened in 1945) much to the delight of all—including Omaha transplant Morris Caudle, who is watching a new generation experience the park with fresh eyes.

“My grandchildren, ages 12 and 14, announced to me [on Easter] that they had saved up their money so they can buy a season pass to Arnolds Park,” Caudle says. A 2018 season pass ranges from $90-$160. “They were really excited…I was really pleased.”

Caudle splits his time between Charleston, South Carolina, and the Okoboji home he built in 2007. Before building a home, he kept a condo at Okoboji. He’s board chair for the art center, which, he says, “is a major part of the community with its robust programming all year long.”

Omahan Julie Sudbeck comes from a family with roots going back four generations in the Iowa Great Lakes of Okoboji. Sudbeck grew up around the family business, White Oaks Bait Shop, which her parents bought in 1974. Julie herself worked as waitress at Koffee Kup Kafe at age 14, riding a moped to the job, and the next year as a “gas jockey” when her father was the general manager of Wilson Boat Works.

She and her parents moved to Omaha in 1987, but by 1989, they secured a summer place up north. After it flooded in 1993, the family rebuilt. Family members come from near and far to gather, often for long, lazy weekends before heading back to work and activities in Omaha. Julie can even take her great-nephews to the Koffee Kup Kafe for grilled ham and cheese or BLT sandwiches like those she once served to patrons.

Summers in Okoboji are a time for them to renew familiar bonds with shared activities.

Tudor House, Des Moines Beach. Still stands.

“It’s very rare somebody goes off to do their own thing,” Sudbeck says “It’s more like, ‘What are we all going to do?’ And that’s just it—we make the plans together, and we want to. That’s what it’s constantly about—the lake and your friends and family. You just can’t replace it.”

Speaking of their place on the lake, Sudbeck explains, “Where we live, there’s a whole shoreline of family dwellers. It’s their children and grandchildren. Everybody has a houseful. That is the common denominator—friends and family.”

Years of escaping to the lakes have fostered strong feelings of attachment to Okoboji. Sudbeck’s kids have never known summers without it.

“My children would be devastated if we didn’t have the lake house,” she says. “It’s a huge part of their life. I don’t think they’ve missed a Fourth of July in Okoboji.”

Caudle likes the rituals that accompany life there.

“Our lake season typically starts with the melting of West Okoboji, usually in mid-March or early April,” Caudle says. “Lake gulls show up for a feeding frenzy, joined later by white pelicans. It is a challenge to time our arrival just before the lake ‘turns over’ to see this spectacle of nature. As the days start getting longer and warmer, the opening process begins. Each family member has duties, and it is a race to see who gets their checklist completed first.”

After that, daily rhythms set the schedule. Caudle also appreciates the therapeutic value of the place.

“Old-timers feel there’s a magic to bathing in the lake. I do that from time to time. It’s a good cure for a mild hangover,” he says, adding, “I don’t need my blood pressure medication when I’m at the lake immersed in that tranquility.”

That laissez faire attitude transfers to even the most basic of needs. Dinnertime could be anything from a backyard barbecue with the family to a progressive dinner between many lakeshore residents.

Like Denny Walker, Caudle says he’s “made it a point to befriend the locals, understand their priorities, particularly the environment.”

Those priorities and those friends are part of how Okoboji keeps its charm. It’s a step back to a simpler time, and, after three decades of engaging in activities and making friends, Caudle says he and his wife “are more than just ‘summer people.’”

As far as Caudle’s concerned, Okoboji will be in his family for generations to come.

“That’s the plan. We would like our grandkids to have their grandkids to enjoy the things we do there.”

Same for Walker, whose kids and grandkids already relate summer and holidays to time in Okoboji. He can’t imagine a better sanctuary: “It’s a trip back in time. It’s a wonderful family place filled with memories.” 

Visit vacationokoboji.com and arnoldspark.com for more information.

This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.



Business-Momming from Home

July 22, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Leah Lukowski taught in the Omaha Public Schools district for five years before she decided to stay home with her son, Caleb, and her daughter, Erica. “I’ve been home for three years now,” she says. “My husband, Lukas, and I weighed the benefits, and it was kind of a no-brainer.”

Last September, however, Lukowski stumbled upon an idea for a small business that she could run from home while watching her kids. Her brother, a local acoustic musician, had mentioned how he wanted to book more shows but was struggling. “Most musicians have day jobs, so it’s hard to get seen,” she explains. “And private events usually have a hard time getting in touch with musicians for hire. That’s when my brain started ticking.”

Leah Lukowski, owner of Omaha Musicians Live.

Leah Lukowski, owner of Omaha Musicians Live.

Lukowski did some research, finding several websites listing musicians for hire around the country, but she never found one specifically for Omaha musicians. That was the impetus for Omaha Musicians Live (OML).

Not only does Lukowski provide listings of local musicians, she also schedules their gigs with bars, restaurants, weddings, and corporate and private events. From home, she is able to handle contracting, work with clients on music selections, and recommend appropriate soloists or groups. “It’s just like event planning, only just the entertainment side,” she adds.

She works about 30 hours a week, not including attending the events, which she often does to help the musicians. But that’s because OML is all about customer service. She even follows up with clients after events to make sure things went smoothly or to see where she can improve her services.

Lukowski handles contracting, work with clients on music selections, and recommends soloists or groups.

Lukowski has been running Omaha Musicians Live (OML) for about a year.

OML has kept her fairly busy. In fact, she’s currently managing Midtown Crossing’s Street Vibes concerts, which run through October. But working for herself has its advantages. “I set my own schedule, coordinate with my husband so that one of us is always with the kids, and am able to be home if one of my kids gets sick and needs to leave school.” Eventually, she’d love to expand OML with a storefront and a staff.

Still, like all moms, she worries about how much time she’s giving her kids, even though she is home with them. “I think there’s always a conflict between business and raising your children. It’s a constant struggle,” she says.

Sometimes, that struggle can even be something as simple as just being able to work with clients without the kids interrupting, says licensed esthetician and mother of three, Joy Sakalosky.

“It would be easier if I had an office to go to [because] working from home has its distractions,” she adds. “But you really can’t beat the commute of just walking downstairs and not having to pay rent!”


Joy Sakalosky, owner of Via Mia Spa.

Sakalosky has been running Via Mia Spa, a state-licensed, in-home spa since 2011, providing waxing, skin-care services, and makeup artistry to a clientele mostly consisting of other moms “because they know they can bring their kids along, if needed.”

She always knew she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. “I did try part-time when my oldest was born, and even that was too much time away from him for me. My husband, Todd, and I eventually worked it out so one of us was always home with him.” By the time she had her second child, she was a full-time mom, doing freelance work for a cosmetic company.

When her oldest started kindergarten, however, it got Sakalosky thinking about what she would do while her kids were in school. “I wanted to have the flexibility to go on field trips and volunteer in their class activities, but I wanted to do what I had been licensed to do. We were outgrowing our starter home anyway, so we decided to look for a house that would accommodate an in-home spa.”

Via Mia Spa is a state-licensed, in-home spa that provides waxing, skin-care services, and makeup artistry.

Via Mia Spa is a state-licensed spa in Sakalosky’s home.

Like Lukowski, Sakalosky is glad to run a business she loves and still have the opportunity to raise her kids from home.

“That’s why [working from home] is great,” says Megan Filipi, who makes personalized albums for her business, Quote Ya! “It’s flexible and convenient. I can work when I need to and still pick the kids up from school or go to their activities.”

Filipi worked as an RN for a while before deciding to stay home with her kids, Aidan, Lucy, Jack, and Maeve. “I couldn’t imagine caring for someone else as an RN while someone else was caring for my child. So after the first two kids, my husband, Aaron, and I chose the stay-at-home plan.”

Megan Filipi, owner of Quote Ya!

Megan Filipi, owner of Quote Ya!

Quote Ya! actually came about after Filipi received requests for personalized mementos. “We did our own personalized guest cards at our wedding, and it was such a hit. Guests loved writing to us, and we loved reading their sentiments. It is so much more personal than a guestbook filled with signatures. And then we kept hearing from people about those cards, so we created a business based on that experience.”

The albums Filipi makes are for (but aren’t limited to) weddings, funerals, showers, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, new babies, and retirements. “Customers purchase albums, which come with cards specific to the occasion. Then, guests can write quotes, thoughts, feelings, or draw pictures on the cards so the moment is captured forever.”

The best part for Filipi is that her business allows her to be creative and relaxed. “I’m able to laugh, have fun, [and] spend time talking and reminiscing about favorite quotes and experiences with my customers. No one is watching over my shoulder, telling me what to do…[I’m] on my time.”

Filipi had personalized guest cards at her own wedding, which gave her the business idea.

Filipi had personalized cards at her own wedding, which gave her the idea.

Both Filipi and Julie Sudbeck, owner of vintage store Hunt and Found, have it easier than most stay-at-home moms turned business owners because they have online stores that reach more customers across the globe.

“The benefit of having the online shop is I may not be working, but the shop is always open, and shoppers are always shopping it,” says Sudbeck, who has been a stay-at-home mom for 21 years now.

“It was my decision to give up my career to stay at home with my kids,” she says. “We were fortunate that we could afford it financially.” Sudbeck and husband Chad have four children: Madison, Alexa, Sydney, and Blake.

Julie Sudbeck, owner of Hunt and Found.

Julie Sudbeck, owner of Hunt and Found.

Sudbeck describes the beginning of her business as more of a journey into her passion for decorating rather than a “Hey, let’s start a business!” kind of thing. “I always had my nose in decorating magazines, trying to see what was new in the decorating world…I would often admire the fantastic, old, vintage, one-of-a-kind furniture or décor, wondering where in the world they are getting these items.”

She got her answer one weekend while at her lake house in Okoboji. The weather was cold, so she decided to venture to her first flea market. “There I stood in a vastness of old suitcases, wood crates, chipping painted furniture, rusty metal—exactly what the magazines had in their designer rooms.”

Besides her love of decorating, one of the main reasons why Sudbeck started her business was because her mom had just passed away from a brain tumor. “I was facing an enormous void in my life, and I knew a distraction was needed.” A month after her mom’s passing, Sudbeck sat down and created her shop on Etsy, as she had collected a rather large inventory of vintage items.

Sudbeck's most avid vintage customers are from Australia.

Sudbeck’s most avid vintage customers are from Australia.

Hunt and Found has done well, too. “I sell to decorators, wedding planners, restaurants, wineries, magazines, photographers, movie sets, productions companies…I can offer vintage at what is considered high-priced for the Midwest at an affordable price to someone living in New York City.” Sudbeck says her most avid customers are from Australia. “They love American vintage!”

Mostly, she loves working from home because she can work as little as a couple hours a week to as many as 40. “Thanks to technology and my iPhone, I can answer e-mails or quote shipping while sitting at my son’s orthodontist appointment…daughter’s tennis lessons…while the kids are swimming…I really like the option of running a home business.”