Stoughton Courier Hub – 1/28/2016
In her element
Diebel has knack for writing, paddling, collaborating
Unified Newspaper Group
Inertia, Lynne Diebel joked, is part of what has kept her in Stoughton for more than 40 years. But the 67-year-old is anything but motionless.
When the ice thaws this spring you’ll likely find her canoeing area waterways. And then she might write about it.
In the last decade, Lynne has authored five books about paddling trips she’s taken with her husband, Bob, spanning thousands of miles throughout Wisconsin and her home state of Minnesota.
Her connection with a particular body of water – the nearby Badfish Creek – and contributions to other local causes led the Hub to choose Lynne as the 2015 Citizen of the Year.
As the organizer of the Friends of the Badfish Creek Watershed, Lynne plays a prominent role in the protection and improvement of the creek (which flows past Oregon and into the Yahara River east of Cooksville) from environmental and recreational standpoints – not that she would take the credit.
Those who have collaborated with Lynne through volunteer organizations or writing projects say she has a positive, can-do attitude and leads through quiet, hard work.
She is also unassuming, which was evident when the Hub notified Lynne of her nomination and selection as Citizen of the Year.
“To be honest, I felt like, ‘Me?’” she later said. “There’s so many people who do so many amazing things for Stoughton, but I’ve enjoyed tremendously being part of this community and being involved in it.”
Some may know Lynne from her time as an educator. From 1989-98 she was an English teacher and yearbook adviser at Stoughton High School. After retirement, volunteered at Kegonsa Elementary and helped a group of Kosovar refugee kids learn English.
Although Lynne loved teaching, she’s admittedly a perfectionist – which can exhaust a person. She’s also self-assured, so she knew she needed to try something new.
“I’m really glad I had that time in my life, but I’m also glad I moved on,” she said. “It was a process of learning about myself.”
Like a meandering river, Lynne naturally goes from one thing to the next when the timing feels right. Her talents and passions have often merged while dabbling in other local organizations on her journey.
Over the years, she has held volunteer positions with the Stoughton Holiday Fund as the publicity chair and the Friends of the Stoughton Public Library as the newsletter editor.
Aside from her involvement with the Friends of Badfish Creek Watershed, Lynne is a member of the River Alliance of Wisconsin and Entre Nous club. When needed, she and her husband are also substitute drivers for Meals on Wheels. And to help break up the winter solitude, she has taught a writing workshop in Stoughton each January for the last four years.
She is also a proud member of the grandparents’ club, which means she’ll soon be phasing out the small art business she co-owns so she can spend more time with family and friends.
“I’ve done (all of these things) because I’ve really wanted to. I can say that without reservation,” she said. “Even when I changed course, it doesn’t mean I didn’t like what I was doing.”
Scan through Lynne’s impressive resume of published books, presentations and community service activities and you’d spot a single bullet point modestly placed next to each project.
She simply lists herself as the Friends of Badfish Creek Watershed “planning committee chair” since 2007; and while that’s true, it doesn’t begin to describe her many-faceted role as a water advocate.
And her efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.
One of Lynne’s local colleagues in conservation, James Danky, nominated her for the Citizen of the Year award with a primary focus on her contributions to the watershed.
A faculty associate with the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Danky lives in Stoughton and has known Lynne for years through membership with the FBCW – a chapter of the Rock River Coalition.
“Many people can see the importance of a mountain stream or a wild river, but it takes a special person to see what could be when it comes to the Badfish,” he wrote in his nomination letter.
Danky cited grants Lynne has written that have helped control – and perhaps someday eliminate – invasive plants such as the aggressive Japanese knotweed near the bridge on Riley Road. She has done stream monitoring to measure the creek’s water quality, helped organize paddling outings and recently has been involved with building a canoe landing near Old Stage Road, with plans for a picnic table and informational kiosk.
The creek has also been improved through Lynne’s leadership and the partnerships she has been integral to forming and solidifying, he said, including getting the county to designate the watershed as a wildlife area. Danky lauded her work with Boy Scouts, SHS ecology students, local hunters interested in habitat restoration and farmers and landowners looking to reduce runoff.
Of course, the reward in taking care of the creek is getting to navigate its waters, and Lynne said it’s especially fun to paddle the 6-mile stretch between Cooksville and the Yahara.
“It’s quite scenic … (and) there is a lot of wildlife,” she said. “It’s a challenge because of all the winding turns that it takes, and also because of the overhanging trees that sometimes have to be portaged or slid under.”
For Lynne, the allure of the water is more than just paddling. She enjoys supporting efforts to improve the watershed health alongside other concerned citizens.
“With the Friends of Badfish, the people who are willing to give their time to a little stream,” she paused. “It’s a gratifying thing.”
A natural fit
Lynne found someone to share her love of nature with, but it took a little while for the stars to align.
Lynne and Bob attended Northwestern University from 1966-70, but they have no memory of each other aside from vaguely thinking they were in a Shakespeare class together. They both stayed in Evanston, Ill. after graduating, and a couple of years later they met while living on different floors of the same apartment building. Wedding bells soon followed.
When Bob found a job in Madison, they searched for an affordable place to live and moved to Stoughton in 1974. And they’ve never left.
Since 1977, they have been enjoying life just a block away from the Yahara River in a house built in 1913 by Norwegian immigrants Andreas and Olga Kvalheim.
Even though some of their kids are scattered out of state (James, 36, in Minnesota and Anne, 33, in New York), Stoughton is still considered everyone’s home base. Matt, 42, is nearby in Madison, and Greg, 39, lives just upstairs in his parents’ refinished attic.
And while this place has been a constant in her life for so long, Lynne is constantly moving – usually by canoe.
“My husband and I have always loved paddling,” she said. “One of the first things that we bought when we had a little extra money after we were married was a canoe.”
The couple’s “team” attitude toward companionship extends beyond paddling in tandem; it has also unfolded through various writing projects.
Writing with passion
Lynne said her transition from teaching to environmental writing happened in sort of a “circuitous route” in 1999, after Bob sold his engineering business and she started to branch out into other projects, including writing.
Her most recent book, “Crossing the Driftless: A Canoe Trip Through a Midwestern Landscape,” was published in March 2015 and was the culmination of a 12-day, 359-river-mile paddling trip she took with her husband from Faribault, Minn. to Stoughton.
Lynne said paddling upstream and writing about the “very personal” journey was very satisfying.
“It was one that we did to connect these two places that mean a lot to us,” she said. “It was also about the rivers themselves, and that involved a lot of research.”
She and Bob have also written two Minnesota “Great Trips by Canoe and Kayak” books, which were huge undertakings.
“You can’t canoe and kayak 3,000 miles without really kind of enjoying it,” she said wryly. “And one of the joys of doing this sort of thing (canoeing) is meeting all of these interesting people.”
Those types of books led Lynne to an even greater interest in rivers and helped prepare her for future projects.
She has written two Wisconsin “Green Travel Guides” with Pat Dillon, who said she’s “truly never met a more gracious, positive and quality worker” than Lynne, “or anyone who is more willing to help.”
Lynne follows her instincts but she is not a follower. And in the process of facing a challenge, she learns something new about herself.
For instance, she’s also picked up photography – another reason for her to go outside – following a collaborative book project with Oregon resident and fellow SHS colleague Jann Kalscheur in 2013.
“ABCs Naturally: A Child’s Guide to the Alphabet through Nature” was the catalyst for the friends to launch their own small business in 2010. Wild Alphabet continues the same idea of taking pictures of objects in nature that resemble letters or numbers, which people can pick out to form words or names so they can be matted and framed.
Kalscheur said Lynne has “a positive, can-do attitude,” and “if she agrees to help with a project, big or small, short-term or long-term, she’s all in … she makes things happen by giving freely of her time and talent.”
Lynne and Kalscheur still sell their work online, but they will no longer be spending their summer weekends at arts and craft fairs.
Lynne understandably wants to make the most of the good weather, and her grandkids are sure to keep her active when she’s not paddling.
Henry and Charlie are her two “little squirts” in the Twin Cities, and she spends a few days a week in Madison baby sitting her 18-month-old granddaughter, Cora, who is “full of fun and giggles.”
“It’s an exciting adventure,” she said, revealing that, yes, a children’s story is in the works.