Guest column: Celebrating the women who make southern Minnesota region thrive

Published 8:45 pm Friday, March 24, 2023

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Guest column by Tim Penny

March is Women’s History Month, which is both a time to look back at the incredible accomplishments of women in the history of our country, but also a time to celebrate women who are doing amazing things today. At Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, we know that there are countless women who make our region thrive. I’d like to take a moment to highlight several of these women today.

Tim Penny

At SMIF, we work with female entrepreneurs every day through our training programs and business financing options. One of our more recent loan clients is CannonBelles Cheese based in Cannon Falls. In 2012 Deann Lufkin and her friend Jackie Ohmann started experimenting with making cheese which eventually gained enough momentum to turn into a business once their friend Kathy Hupf, a dairy expert, became involved. Their cheese has won awards and they even opened up a coffee and ice cream shop several years ago in downtown Cannon Falls. SMIF provided a Small Enterprise Loan to help pay for marketing for the cheese company which they were able to use to expand their markets.

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Through SMIF’s early childhood work we have partnered with many women leaders in the field, many of whom are either educators or child care providers. Stacy Boysen, a child care provider from Pine Island, has worked with SMIF many times to provide trainings to other providers in our region. It is clear from these trainings that Stacy is both a positive role model and a mentor to many others in the profession. She has a wealth of information to share, which ranges from standard health and safety education, to more nuanced information about the importance of self care, and ways to incorporate healthy snacks into a child care business.

SMIF also works with many women who are leaders in their communities, especially through our 31 community foundations. Liz Krocak, and her daughter Maggie Grimm, are two women who come to mind who have been very active in Montgomery through their community foundation. Liz was instrumental in making the community foundation a vehicle to help people when the pandemic began. She applied for the matching grants that SMIF offered during that time to support local businesses and the local food shelf. The Montgomery Community Foundation also received a Small Town Grant to support the local farmers’ market which Maggie and Liz are both very involved in.

This small list of women leaders in our region just barely grazes the surface of the vast number of women we know who are making a difference in the lives of southern Minnesotans. Their innovation, their knowledge and their leadership are truly incredible. We are proud to know, and partner with, the many women who make this region thrive.
As always, I welcome your comments and questions. You can reach me at or 507-455-3215.

Tim Penny is the president and CEO of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. Penny represented Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1982 to 1994.