The first friendly face many see upon entering Nisswa Elementary School is secretary Brooke Weinhandl.
Now in her second year as school secretary, Weinhandl has a passion for her job and her co-workers that isn't always easy to find.
"The kids, of course, make every day great because you never know what they're going to come and tell me," she said. "We have an amazing staff. There is not one person that is here that is not for the kids. It's amazing."
The Bismarck, North Dakota, native has spent most of the last 20 years in the lakes area, a place she fell in love with long ago.
"I came with a friend to spend the summer and ended up loving it and staying," she said.
Before making the permanent move to Minnesota, Weinhandl pursued a career in hippotherapy, where she worked to pair disabled kids with horses that served as therapy animals. She studied equine therapy in Texas for a year after high school and then moved back to North Dakota to work in the field. "Working with kids is amazing," Weinhandl said of her time in hippotherapy.
To this day she still has an affinity for equine. She visits the horses on her parents' farm in Bismarck every now and then and hopes to get one of her own soon.
After three years working with horses, Weinhandl changed directions completely and went to cosmetology school in Fargo. She used that degree to work at Image 2000 in Brainerd for three years.
"(Cosmetology) just seemed fun. I could be with people. I could be on my feet," she said. "I have to be around people; I'm a people person."
When her husband, John, got a job offer in Boston in 2001, the couple set out for the East Coast. But two years later, they made their way back to the lakes area and lived in Nisswa until this past May, when they moved to Pillager.
Weinhandl had her daughter in 2002 and then chose to be a stay-at-home mom until her son - now in sixth grade - started kindergarten. That's when she turned to Nisswa Elementary School, as she wanted a job that would allow her to be home with her kids during summers and holidays.
"I never heard anything negative about working for the (school) district," she said. "So it just seemed like a positive place to grow."
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"Parks and rec, the chamber - all those people that work in different buildings - we all touch base. Everybody knows what everybody is doing, and everybody's willing to help everybody here. So I just think the small community is so wonderful. I think everybody genuinely cares for everybody in Nisswa. ... If your kid is at Nisswa Elementary, they're at the best elementary school."
- Brooke Weinhandl, Nisswa Elementary School secretary
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Since 2010, the now-secretary has held several positions at the school. She was a teaching assistant and worked in the food services and early childhood offices. Weinhandl is grateful for all of those opportunities.
"It makes it super nice that I did work in food service for a little while because I can help a little bit on that end," she said, adding she can help parents better understand the lunch menu and the food services application. "You follow a path, and you just feel like I was at these different places obviously for a reason."
When the school's former longtime secretary, Kathy Olson, retired two years ago, Weinhandl said taking the job was a no-brainer.
The best part of working at the school, she said, is "getting to know the kids because they come in kindergarten and they leave in fourth grade, and you've seen them grow up."
The staff and the community also factor into Weinhandl's love for Nisswa School.
"Parks and rec, the chamber - all those people that work in different buildings - we all touch base. Everybody knows what everybody is doing, and everybody's willing to help everybody here. So I just think the small community is so wonderful," she said. "I think everybody genuinely cares for everybody in Nisswa. ... If your kid is at Nisswa Elementary, they're at the best elementary school."
Those are some of the reasons Weinhandl doesn't see herself leaving Nisswa anytime soon.
"I have to be here forever," she joked. "Or as long as they allow me to be, I suppose."
Outside of work, Weinhandl likes to be active outdoors, though she admitted free time isn't always easy to come by.
"I have a daughter in soccer and a son in hockey, so that's kind of my outside life," she said.