California native Tina Foster knew from a young age that she wanted to live in Nisswa one day.
Always an avid reader, Foster said: "I was the kid who walked to school reading my book. I literally came up here and thought, 'I've fallen into a storybook.' There were lakes, trees, blue sky."
She emphasized how different the landscape was from where she was growing up in the Los Angeles area, where cities meet cities and smog was thick.
"This place is heavenly," she said of Nisswa.
Foster and her brother first ventured to Minnesota when she was about 8, when her stepmother brought them to Highland Park (St. Paul) to meet her parents. They had a cabin up north.
"I absolutely fell in love with the lakes area. They had a cabin on Little Bass Lake by the Y Store (Merrifield area)," she said. "Those were the best two weeks of my summer."
She had the "distinct pleasure" of going to Nisswa and remembers the Totem Pole, skating rink and a drive-through at the A & W Restaurant.
"It was a magical place to me," Foster said.
But it took many years before she finally landed in Nisswa full time and discovered volunteerism.
Her father worked in the printing industry and was ready to open his own business when Foster was in junior high school. Their family talked about where he should open the business.
"I said, 'Minnesota.' I wanted to live in Nisswa," Foster said.
Her father opted to stay in California and Foster worked for him during the summers since age 14 before joining him full time when she finished high school. When her father closed his business around 1992, Foster had options.
"I realized I didn't want to stay there," she said of California.
She moved to Eagan to help her aunt with her three infants, and ventured up north again with her now ex-husband, whose family had a home on Gull Lake. Foster didn't realize then that Gull Lake was synonymous with Nisswa. When driving north, she recognized Paul Bunyan Land, at its former location at Highways 371 and 210, and realized where she was.
She lived in the Twin Cities and had a home on Roy Lake before finally moving to Nisswa permanently with her daughters, Chloe and Sophie, in 2005.
"I was meant to be here," Foster said with a laugh, saying mosquitoes have never bothered her.
She began volunteering right away, first as a coach for her daughters' softball and soccer teams through Nisswa Park and Recreation. Coaches were needed, and Foster thought, "Why not?"
Then one day Penny Stumvoll - who lived nearby and was a Nisswa Women of Today member - let her dog out and it ended up at Foster's house. Foster returned Stumvoll's dog and noticed she was all dressed up. She learned it was for the Nisswa Women of Today Fashion Show, and Foster immediately signed on as a member.
She was assigned to fundraising and gathering donations for the fashion show.
"My heart was full - no one was turning me down," Foster said. "I was blown away."
Foster has volunteered with the Nisswa Winter Jubilee for the past nine years, Run for the Lakes Marathon, and she and her daughters have volunteered at the Frozen Fore pancake breakfast. She served on the Nisswa Chamber Board for six years, and was a Nisswa City Council member.
She realized she would have loved to volunteer in California but the opportunities never presented themselves.
"What a way to get out of your own circle and expand opportunities in life," Foster said, whether that's meeting new people, finding a new job or having a fun adventure. "Volunteerism in this community has been absolutely amazing."
While homeschooling her daughters, Foster brought them with her to volunteer events and made them part of the educational curriculum.
"It couldn't have been a better fit with how and what I was trying to teach my kids," she said.
Now that her daughters are grown, Foster decided to get her real estate license and works for Positive Realty in Nisswa.
But she's still volunteering her time to her community - "Being a volunteer is part of who I am," she said - and enjoying life in Nisswa.
Living the first part of her life in California, she never saw high school friends after graduation until she discovered Facebook.
"Here, you have to be careful what time you go to Schaefer's (Foods) or the post office," Foster said with a laugh, because you encounter so many people you know.