Lake Country Faces: Pequot Lakes Chamber director takes on more than one new role
Lakes area couple returns home as Nichole Heinen takes over Pequot Lakes Chamber director post
When Cory and Nichole (Bartella) Heinen moved back home to the lakes area after living for many years in Twin Cities suburbs, they didn’t fully expect the rapid-fire succession of life-changing events that soon followed.
The couple moved here full time a year ago. Less than a year later, Nichole Heinen became director of the Pequot Lakes Chamber of Commerce, the couple became first-time parents through adoption, and they moved into a new home.
Each of those major life events is a story on its own, which Nichole Heinen recently shared during an animated discussion in the Pequot Lakes Chamber conference room.
Heinen grew up in Pequot Lakes and Nisswa with her parents, Rick and Shelley Bartella, and brother, Matt Bartella. Her grandparents - Marv and Judy Koep, and Mayme and Vern Bartella - all lived nearby. She attended Pequot Lakes School when all grades were housed in one building.
She lived behind the school until age 12, where she enjoyed playing softball with her dad in the backyard and riding bikes with her friends without a care in the world.
Her family moved to Edna Lake when she was 12, and she graduated from Pequot Lakes High School in 2001. She recalls as a senior seeing kindergartners hauling milk baskets in the hallway for milk break.
“They loved seeing older kids. I just loved that school,” Heinen said.
After obtaining her associate’s degree at Central Lakes College, Heinen ventured to Bemidji State University where she became best friends with a girl from Brainerd.
“She said, ‘You have to meet my boyfriend’s best friend,’” Heinen said.
"I had to go to Bemidji to meet someone literally who lived four miles from my house."
— Nichole Heinen
That friend turned out to be Cory Heinen, who grew up on Round Lake and graduated from Brainerd High School.
“I had to go to Bemidji to meet someone literally who lived four miles from my house,” Heinen said with a laugh.
The couple ended up in the Twin Cities area, living in the northern suburbs for several years and then Savage for seven years while they carpooled to work in downtown Minneapolis. They chose the south side of the Twin Cities to live because they didn’t have to go far to find a lake.
“We loved the area because it felt like home,” Heinen said, noting the couple enjoys fishing, hunting, boating, snowmobiling and riding utility terrain vehicles.
At the time, she worked for Ameriprise Financial. When her mom, Shelley Bartella, became sick with cancer, Heinen took a year off work to come home to help her parents.
“I was so lucky to be able to take that time. When I was up here, it made me realize how much I missed the area and my family,” she said, noting both she and Cory have close-knit families.
"The one blessing that came out of COVID for us is that we could move back home."
— Nichole Heinen
After her mom died in 2018, the Heinens bought a cabin on Pelican Lake and traveled there every weekend.
“We loved it so much. We were like, why don’t we just move up here?” Heinen said.
The time wasn’t right, but then the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
“The one blessing that came out of COVID for us is that we could move back home,” Heinen said, because they could work from home.
They moved to their cabin in August 2020. A month later they bought a duplex as an investment property and lived there. After struggling with infertility for 11 years, they’d started the journey toward parenthood through adoption.
In December 2020, they learned they were matched with a birth mother in California. They’d been matched with the same mother a year earlier, but after having the baby the birth mother decided to parent her son.
“We’re meant to be up here, and nothing was going to happen until we got home,” Heinen said of returning to the lakes area.
While apprehensive when the same birth mother chose them again, Heinen said she and Cory were nervously excited as they waited for the child’s birth. At the same time, they found renters for their duplex, so they moved back to their cabin, and Heinen found out about the chamber director job and applied.
She was offered the job in early April, around the same time they learned the birth mom was having pregnancy complications. Thankfully, Heinen said, she was able to delay starting her chamber job. Instead, she and Cory packed up their two goldendoodles, Stella and Daisy, and drove to California, where daughter Amelia Michelle was born. She’s named for Heinen’s great-grandmother and her mom.
“We love to travel so it was an adventure for us,” Heinen said, adding they were able to work from California and she was able to drive the birth mom to doctor appointments and get to know her.
Amelia was born April 20, and the birth mom signed away her parental rights on April 24, which was the Heinens’ 11th wedding anniversary.
“We were like, this is meant to be,” Heinen said.
After staying home with Ameila until June, Heinen started her job at the Pequot Lakes Chamber just as the chamber’s two biggest events of the year - Stars & Stripes Days and Bean Hole Days - were approaching. It was “crazy fun,” she said.
She now looks forward to visiting with more business owners to learn about them and their businesses and to help the community she loves and has passion for. You’ll find her at the red chamber information building ready to welcome you with a big smile, or out and about in the community.
“I prefer to go out to them and say, ‘Hi, I want to see your place,’” Heinen said, saying then she can recommend businesses with a different type of enthusiasm because she’s been there herself.
Ready for some routine to return to life, Heinen is excited to tackle her new job, as well as to be a mom in the home the Heinens just moved into on Little Pelican Lake.
Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.