Staff Blogger: Josh Hildenberg, Journalism/Creative Writer Intern

Ellen Venema & Michelle JohansenAs if there weren’t enough new and exciting things at Lakeside this summer, there are now two new Rhein Center staff members to welcome when you return– Michelle Johansen and Ellen Venema.

Neither of these ladies are new to Lakeside, so you may even recognize them.

Johansen first caught the Lakeside bug in 2004 when she stayed at the Idlewyld Bed & Breakfast with her husband, Bill, and two sons, Bobby and Zach. After that, the Johansen family was hooked.

Yearly, Johansen has returned and taught classes at the Rhein Center. Why has she come back every summer since? Reasons familiar to most of us; she feels a great sense of community and peace.

Her younger son has even said, “It feels just like heaven here.”

When she spends time at Lakeside, Johansen likes to “read down by the lake, walk in the mornings, bike in the afternoon, sail, play in the park, go to MGM or God Squad, visit with friends, go to the show at Hoover in the evening, and anything else that looks interesting” – a real testaments to all the different things to get involved with at our Chautauqua.

As the new Rhein Center Coordinator, she has big plans for everyone’s favorite place to indulge in the arts.

Johansen is implementing evening classes at the arts center, so there are even more chances to get creative and learn something new.

She says that there will be an emphasis on what she fondly calls “family art” some days and “adult art” on others. Family art will give family members of all ages the opportunity to come together and create something meaningful.

Venema has been coming to Lakeside with her family most of her life, and has even lived and worked here before. Now, she’s back as the Rhein Center Assistant Coordinator.

While working at the Rhein Center last summer, she met students of all ages who had been coming to Lakeside for years, but had never visited the arts center and taken classes.

Venema hopes to spread the creativity and love of art at the Rhein Center to everyone she can and to “bring even more variety of fun arts opportunities to people who want to try something new.”

She loves to learn new things, especially when it comes to the arts and humanities.

Last summer at the Rhein Center, she enjoyed the opportunity to try out new techniques in her art.

A fun fact about Venema that begs for detail is this: “I once spent a summer in the woods cooking gourmet French food for hundreds of children.” Questions? Go visit her at the Rhein Center this summer and ask about it!

Here are a few more fun questions we asked Johansen and Venema. Feel free to answer them yourself in the comments below.

Q: If you were stranded on an island but could pick one meal to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Johansen: It would have to be something Indian because I love Indian curries. I would choose samosas with tamarind chutney for an appetizer, followed by vegetable biriyani with yogurt cucumber sauce, and finally, rice pudding with cardamom for dessert, and green tea to drink.
Venema: Turkey, potatoes, green beans, nectarines and chocolate.

Q: If you were an item in the fridge what would you be and why?
Venema: The bag of shredded coconut that lives a quiet life in the back until you need it again and are thrilled to find it there. Sweet, a little nutty and always there when needed.

Q: If you could have a meal with any person who would it be and why?
Johansen: If I could share a meal with any person today it would have to be Pope Francis because he is such a shining example of how to live a beautiful Christian life. Being in the shadow of his presence, would be so inspiring and humbling at the same time.