Michelle Weisen comes home to stay
Editor's note: This story is part of Faces A to Z, a series highlighting familiar — and not so familiar — faces around Goodhue County. Learn more about the series and how to get involed here, and check back to the A to Z page for stories, history lessons and Q&As.
Love of family — and her hometown — brought Michelle Weisen back to Red Wing after decades spent in Florida and on the East Coast.
Now, she says, "I couldn't imagine living anywhere else. It just suits me."
Weisen, the daughter of Don and Mary Felmlee, grew up in Red Wing and spent her early years attending parochial school. She planned to attend Villa Maria Academy, but a fire sparked by lightning destroyed the main building.
Instead, she went to Red Wing High School, where she made lifelong friends with others in the class of 1974.
She married David Hotchkiss, also of Red Wing, and they moved to Florida, where son Ian was born. She and Hotchkiss are no longer together, but Ian visits regularly from his home in California.
Her son shares her love for all things Red Wing.
"It's like Red Wing is a part of him," Weisen said. "He loves how this community is like a big family."
Weisen attended college in Miami, earning her degree in English and Victorian literature, then teaching for a time until moving to Philadelphia and teaching at the University of Delaware.
"For a while I started writing," she said. Because of an interest in autistic children, she wrote lesson plans and worked with a couple to create a book for autistic children titled "In My Own World."
Her son, who has a video production company, made the book into a short film with the same title. "In My Own World" is still available as an app.
Weisen also created a short series of Victorian novels for young people, "Lavinia's Window" and "Lavinia's Heart."
The stories, she said, were a reminder to girls that they have the power to make change — to be proactive and not just reactive. "We need to remember who we are," she added.
About three years ago, Weisen decided it was time to come home.
"I was missing family," she said. "I was getting older." She moved to Rochester, but "It didn't feel like I was home," so about a year ago made the move to Red Wing. Now she's fixing up a 1925 craftsman style home on the East End.
The neighborhood knows her as the lady who fills the "book box." Her father made her a Little Free Library when she was in Rochester and she decided to bring it with her to Red Wing. Weisen does her best to keep it filled. Westerns and children's books are especially popular in her neighborhood.
She began making connections in Red Wing before moving here. Attending a Kiwanis meeting with her parents, she reconnected with high school classmate Robin Wipperling, director of the Pottery Museum of Red Wing. The museum had just acquired a large collection of pottery and papers.
"I just love working with old documents," Weisen said — something she discovered while doing research in college. "I wanted to be the one to piece (the pottery history) together."
Ever since, she has been spending about 20 hours a week as a museum volunteer and archivist.
"This is my family," she said — "all the people that work here and volunteer here. I love them! Family isn't just blood."
Her volunteer role has expanded. Among other things, she is now deeply involved in oral histories.
Weisen has also been doing some volunteer work with the archives at the Goodhue County Historical Society. "I'm a hands-on person," she explained. Working with documents is something she simply enjoys.
Connecting with the county museum brought her in contact with the GCHS's annual event involving another of her passions: vintage jewelry.
She always has an eye out for interesting pieces that she gives to her nieces, Weisen explained. "I want them to appreciate how things were made and how beautiful things were in the 1920s and '30s," and later decades as well.
When she and dog Elmo are at home relaxing in the TV room, she's most likely to be watching documentaries. You'd never guess based on her background, but Weisen is a faithful watcher of the series "Finding Bigfoot."
"Sasquatch — That's my big thing," she said. "My son wants me to write a screenplay about Sasquatch."
It just might be her next project.