Beautiful people: A global ambassador for resiliency and love

My friend Lois has become a global ambassador for resiliency and love. She is living, smiling, winking proof that life’s second act can be as rich and full as its first.  

Last week, Lois greeted her 12th host student, the lovely Juliette from Belgium, and the two immediately commenced on a whirlwind tour of Wisconsin’s hot spots — a hot air balloon rally in Seymour, a dip in Lake Michigan from Kohler Andrae State Park, a cruise on the famous sternwheeler Chief Waupaca, and dinner at the Wheel House.

Since she began hosting students in 2011, Lois has embraced her role as mother/friend/tour guide/counselor. From the moment she greets them at the airport (with a friendly, handmade sign) she cheerfully shuttles her students to their activities, prepares and enjoys meals with them, and invites them to experience all the joys of Midwestern life.

As a result, she has formed lifelong bonds with all of them. In fact, earlier this summer, Lois officiated a wedding for Sohyun Gim, the South Korean student she hosted in 2011.

“We had a ball,” Lois said. “I had her family at my house for five days and we all pitched in to make the wedding really beautiful. I just loved it.”

Lois and her daughter Ellen, a teacher who now lives in Madison, have traveled the world visiting the young women Lois has hosted. They’ve been to South Korea and Japan. They even crossed the border into the DMZ of North Korea in 2013.

“I wasn’t afraid at all,” Lois said. “I found it fascinating.”

Lois carried that same joie de vie with her when the two traveled to Columbia in 2016 to visit host daughter Camilla.

“Everything there was just beautiful,” she said. “I never felt unsafe. Just loved and truly taken care of.”

This summer, Lois and Ellen watched the World Cup Semi-Final in France with Marie, an exchange student she hosted in 2013, and her family.

“It was funny because four years ago, Marie, her family and I watched the World Cup Final at The Bar in Appleton, and this time we got to watch it together in France…and France won!” Lois said. She and Ellen also visited her son Stephen and wife Kaleigh in Romania.

“We all four visited Clara, a student I hosted in 2016, in Switzerland too. What a great summer! Three weeks in Europe, Three countries,” Lois said.

Lois’ spirit of adventure and boundless capacity to love would be admirable in any circumstance, but particularly given the potentially stifling conditions under which she has thrived.

“I started hosting after the darkest period in my life,” Lois said.

Her then-husband Tom suffered a terrible mental breakdown in 2005, requiring massive medical and psychological intervention. Though he has found peace now, Tom’s journey back to mental health took a financial and emotional toll and the marriage ended in 2010.

“I never thought I’d divorce,” she said. “I truly believed in all of the marriage vows I took.”

Fortunately, Lois decided to be proactive in her grief and loneliness, and she agreed to host Sohyun in 2011, which led to Eiko, from Japan, and Yeon Soo from South Korea in 2012, Seo Young from South Korea (Yeon Soo’s cousin) and Marie from France in 2013, Seo Jin (SeoYoung’s sister) and Camila, from Columbia, in 2014, Seo Jin again in 2015 along with Christine from China, Jiyun (for her sophomore year at Fox Valley Lutheran) from South Korea, Clara from Switzerland and Nikka from Russia in 2016, Jiyun (for her junior year at FVL) in 2017 ,and Jiyun (for her senior year) and Juliette from Belgium this year.

“I never thought I’d say I have a great, great life but I do,” Lois said. “My life is rich and full and busy.”

Note: Lois would like me to mention that most of the students she has hosted have been through the Global Education and Services at Fox Valley Technical College. They are always looking for good host parents. If you’d like more information, please contact Julie Melnarik at 920-735-2443 or melnarik@fvtc.edu. Lois also has hosted students from Fox Valley Lutheran High School and for more information about that program you can contact Monica Uhlenbrauck at muhlenbrauck@fvlhs.org.

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This is Lois and her wall of fame, pictures of all the young women she has hosted through the years. It’s a pretty full wall (and an equally full life) but there’s always room for more.

Lois’ Facebook page is a joyful tribute to her busy, adventurous, generous, happy second act. With her permission, I borrowed a few photos so you can see for yourself.

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