Tim, Laurie, and Kisarea Thompson have loved traveling to many countries and also living abroad as they have taught/studied at the Singapore American School in Southeast Asia for the past 15 years, but coming “home” to their duly named “Summerhill” heritage homestead is heaven for the family. And one can see why with the wide open spaces surrounded by nature and solitude, is in fact quite a contrast to their everyday life of crowds and noise in Singapore. The family very rarely leaves their acreage that has been in the Thompson name for about a hundred years north of Spillville once they arrive. Though, teenager Kisarea is very happy they have Skype so she can stay in touch with her friends.
The couple made a commitment to putting down roots when they purchased their acreage 11 years ago from Tim’s Uncle Oliver and family. In a year, after daughter Kisarea graduates from high school, the couple plans to live permanently on their acreage and retire from teaching in Singapore. In the meantime, every year they have tackled major projects.
Tim, a native of Spillville, is a high school physical education and health educator. Laurie (Uhlenhake), a native of Ossian, has been an art teacher, high school counselor, and now administrator. Kisara, who was born in Hawaii where the couple once taught school (among other places aboard), will be a senior in high school this year.
Tim and Laurie have a vision for their acreage. The family has worked hard each summer with a major project or even two completed almost every summer. They moved and sided a corncrib to be a garden shed (complete with porch and swing) recently, they also repurposed the old milk house into a green house using recycled windows and barn wood shelves, they have taken down the old barn when it couldn’t be salvaged and replaced it as an art studio/gathering place for holiday parties with a patio and fireplace overlooking the valley. They put in a pond below their terraces where they have an orchard; they put up a tree house years ago with swings that sometimes is used by Tim’s brother in the fall/winter as a hunting blind to name some of their projects. They are now working on repurposing the twenty foot silo into a patio which will give them a beautiful view of the valley from there.
As Laurie gives the tour, she remarks, “We are fortunate to have our acreage on a hilltop overlooking the Turkey River, so we always have wonderful breezes. With two terraces before the river, we have been able to create a wonderful orchard to include apple, pear, peach, cherry, and plum trees, besides grapevines, blueberries and raspberry bushes. In addition, there is a unique limestone root cellar, which we have yet to develop creatively.”
Laurie goes on as we visit one beautiful vista after another with her carefully creative designs, “As an artist, I have to have color everywhere. So, we have painted or sided all the buildings white, then have added Blue shutters (a favorite color combination from traveling through the Greek Islands) But as we often host family fourth of July celebrations, we have added red. So, not to be only red, white and blue, I introduced yellow, purple, and greens through flowers and décor. So, now a Rainbow color scheme has evolved, and will be painted into a barn quilt star pattern soon!”
“I have collected a few fond family items to decorate my garden areas, for example we have Uncle Bob’s old green bicycle with a basket of flowers leaning by our garage wall, as it reminds us of when we lived in Germany where bicycles often outside homes with fresh market filled baskets. My brother Jay made my treasured heart shaped flower basket holder as a surprise one year. Our daughter, Kisara has painted a birdhouse every summer since she was three years old, she is now 16, these are dated per year, and are proudly hung or displayed about the various buildings and garden areas,” Laurie explains. “We have a red painted wooden Amish swing on the porch of our new garden shed (the former corn crib recycled), purchased after visiting the Amish homesteads by Hazelton with my dad, Ivan Uhlenhake, before he passed away.”
As we wandered among the summer scented flower gardens, Laurie pointed out, “I was very happy to see that our family acreage had lily of the valley along the wooded tree areas, some lovely peony flower bushes, iris, hollyhock’s, and tiger lilies established. Otherwise, we have planted everything to include a maple tree lined driveway, roses, Asiatic lilies, various vines such as clematis, wisteria, trumpet vine, honeysuckle, and a large hosta garden (mostly shared from my mother, Mary Lou Schmitz-Uhlenhake’s landscaped areas) around our Norwegian designed barn. Like an Artist's canvas with colors added through garden flowers and decor to make a creative vision. I have created artistic settings in my gardens like the famous Impressionist artist, Monet, did at his home in France, so that I can paint my picturesque settings too.”
Each morning the couple rises early and enjoys coffee in their favorite spot watching the morning activities of nature unfold, from eagles to great blue herons flying over the Turkey River. They also have a colorful variety of birds that they delight in watching with their coffee and sometimes a kolache as they soak in the peace and quiet of the Iowa countryside. Many evenings finds them down their driveway to see the sunset.
As we watched the colors in the sky begin to change one evening recently, they reflected on how thankful they are for their supportive family, friends, and neighbors who help with the overall supervision and care of their “Summerhill” when they are not here, until one day soon they can permanently call Iowa home and maybe even turn their place into an artist retreat.