Paying it Forward
As many of you probably know, it was over twenty years ago that a businessman named Deak Swanson took a chance on me and built my studio’s first building.
Deak, who had a thriving construction company, had been the “Festmaster” of Oktoberfest in 1996, the year I was Miss La Crosse. As we rode together on parade floats, I would tell him about my dream to own a dance studio. Now I’m not sure if he really thought I could do it, or if he was just tired of hearing me talk about it, but one day he asked me, “Are you serious about opening that dance studio?”
“Yes!” I replied with enthusiasm.
“Then meet me at Marge’s Cafe at 5:00am tomorrow,” he said.
That meeting led to a handshake deal, which led to the first building for Misty’s Dance Unlimited, which after all this time, has led to our NEW building.
It still astounds me today: Deak said YES. Yes! He knew I was passionate and willing to hustle, but he also understood I was new to entrepreneurship. He saw great potential in me and said yes, I’ll help you start this dream. The rest is up to you.
If you had asked me back then if I knew where that mentorship would take me, I would have never guessed the tremendous long-term ripple effect Deak initiated with his generosity.
From our students and their families, to our MDU team, to the community at large, I’ve been able to invest in others because Deak invested in me. I still feel his positive influence today; he was right by my side at our new building’s groundbreaking!
Now the extra-cool part of this is that I get to pay it forward.
Less than a year ago, I met a young business owner, Stephanie Helmers, who was in a tough situation with her landlord and needed to move locations. At the time, we were preparing to open our new facility, the International Performing Arts Campus (which houses MDU). I knew we would be searching for tenants to join our rental space.
Stephanie and I hit it off immediately. There was no doubt in my mind that if her business, Zen and Pow Studio (a fitness and wellness studio) needed a new home, we could make it work. And so we did!
Zen and Pow Studio is now one of our tenants, and I couldn’t be prouder of Stephanie and this decision. She reminds me of myself 20-plus years ago—except with even MORE excitement (and experience)!
When I walk past Zen and Pow and I see Stephanie hard at work, I am filled with such JOY for her. Entrepreneurship can be a rocky road, a roller coaster, an overwhelming journey. But she is grinding it out with grace. She is putting in the effort and will reap the rewards.
It’s amazing—this full-circle situation, to have once been the mentee and now the mentor. To see what is possible when one person invests in another and has faith in them to do well.
I know for me, not just in the early days but now too, making Deak proud was extremely important. Not too long ago we had breakfast together and he said, “Misty, I made a lot of investments in a lot of people, but you were my best investment.
You are like the daughter I never had.”
Let me tell you, the gratitude I felt was IMMENSE. Not just for the kind words, but for Deak’s belief in me, STILL to this day. It’s awe-inspiring. He visited me at the studio again just this week. Our next breakfast date is in the works.
I can think of no other way to thank Deak so deeply than to continue to pay it forward. If we all choose to pay honor to those who helped us on our paths, and we salute their belief in us by believing in others, then I know our communities will continue to nurture gifts and talents that thrive and make a positive impact.
And so I ask, how can YOU pay it forward? Where can you take a chance, shake a hand, and change the world?
Let your influence be felt. We are all better for it.