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Guest Column: Why I Love Albert Lea

By Leah Stadheim

Leah Stadheim lives in Albert Lea with her husband, Seth; two daughters, Kaitlyn and Taylor; and two bonus children, Vayda and Ledger. She works at the Shell Rock River Watershed District and enjoys the outdoors, classic cars and writing. 

A city girl living in a small-town world — sounds like the plot of every Hallmark movie my daughters have ever watched. That’s me, though. I was born and raised in St. Paul, just a few miles from our state’s Capitol. I love city life: the busyness, the noises, the diversity, the options and even the traffic! So, when given the opportunity to move to Albert Lea in 2013 with my two daughters, I was nervous. How would we adapt to small-town living? Will we meet any friends? And most importantly, where am I going to get coffee?

My fears quickly subsided after we moved into our first home near Sibley Elementary on the southwest side of Albert Lea. They say people are your best asset to small-town living, and we were welcomed by the best! Over the years, these neighbors grew into family as we babysat each other’s kids, enjoyed backyard bonfires, gathered for block parties and celebrated holidays together. My husband, Seth, and I even got married in our backyard with most of our neighbors in attendance. 

Unlike a big city where people often keep to themselves, I’ve learned that socializing is very important to life in a small town. While I’ve definitely had to step out of my comfort zone and introduce myself to people, there are so many opportunities to do so in Albert Lea. While working for the Shell Rock River Watershed District, I get to collaborate closely with the best co-workers. These lake lovers take pride in our community, and it shows in our ever-improving lakes. This job has also afforded me the opportunity to meet and work with other amazing community leaders like those on the Lakes Foundation of Albert Lea, Freeborn County, city of Albert Lea, the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce and the Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau. My daughters’ schools have proved to be another great resource to meet people. Albert Lea schools are filled with excellent educators, selfless coaches, friendly kids and welcoming parents. Both of my girls (and bonus kids!) have created lifelong friendships here, and as a parent, that makes my heart happy. Finally, Albert Lea has lots of coffee options! While I’m partial to a big cup of Kwik Trip’s house blend (a special shout-out to the staff on Front Street), there are so many cute coffee shops around town to meet friends at.    

So besides the usual perks to living in a small town — lower cost of living, less crime, quicker commute to work, and more space — I love Albert Lea for the people. People who smile and hold the door open for each other, people who invest in the future by starting a business here and people who volunteer at community events and festivals. Albert Lea is a successful community because of the people who are proud to call it home. 

And when I really miss the sights and sounds of St. Paul, I’m only an hour and a half away!