Inspired Woman Magazine

The Women of the Frances Leach High Prairie Arts and Science Complex

L. to R.: Karen, Beth, Lilliana, Amber Rae
L. to R.: Karen, Beth, Lilliana, Amber Rae
Editor’s note: Every organization housed at The Frances is run by a female Executive Director. Our children and our community benefit greatly from the countless hours they put in each week. I had the opportunity to sit down with all of the women and hear about their passion for what they accomplish each day.
My favorite quote from the session: “We don’t make any money, but we’re happy”

Karen Traeholt, Central Dakota Children’s Choir

Karen Traeholt was a choir director for fifteen years, and while attending regional and national conventions she would see youth choirs performing. “I always thought Bismarck would be the perfect size community to have something like that,” she said.

She came up with the idea for Central Dakota Children’s Choir (CDCC) when she was participating in the Chamber of Commerce Leadership program in 1998. “I took the class when I was president-elect for the Junior Service League,” she explained. “Every participant had to have their own project. I planned to put together a blueprint and just hand it in.”

However, while Traeholt was working on the project, surveying and contacting people, she was repeatedly asked, ‘when is it starting?’ She decided if she could get a board of directors together, she would take it and run. She did, she ran and CDCC was born. That whole process was an awakening for Traeholt, who admits it was not typical for her to jump right into something. “I have broken through my comfort zone many times over the years (with CDCC),” she said. “And, my daughter teases me – ‘Gee mom, I never knew anyone who created a job for themselves.’”

DSC_0618In July of 1998 CDCC hired their first director, Teri Fay, who is currently the program’s Artistic Director and conducts the Bel Canto and Angelica choirs. The first choir consisted of 65 members, grades four through six. Today CDCC has five choirs, second through twelfth grade, and 350 students in Bismarck and recently started a choir in Dickinson for grades four through six.

Traeholt’s main responsibility, and biggest challenge, is fund raising. “The challenge to raise the kind of income I have to for the choir every year is a constant battle, but it is also like a big puzzle that I like to figure out,” she said. “A lot of people do a lot of good things for us.”

The most rewarding part of her job is seeing the doors CDCC opens. “I can think of a girl that was accepted, one of the last to make the 5th & 6th grade choir. By the time she graduated high school she was getting many of the solos, went to college on a music scholarship and has performed some opera. We have had a couple students that have gone into opera and we have had four students from CDCC in the group Six Appeal (currently two), and they just performed at the Sugar Bowl!”

Traeholt also plays alto saxophone with the Community Band, the Wind Ensemble and helps out the Symphony when they need one. She said performing keeps the juices flowing and makes her motivated to do the best for the kids. “I have expanded my horizons far beyond what I ever expected.”

To celebrate their fifteenth year, CDCC had commissioned Tom Porter to write a commemorative piece for their Spring Concert, May 17 & 18 at the Belle Mehus Auditorium.

For more information, contact Karen at: or 701.258.6516. To donate to CDCC, visit their website: or mail to 1810 Schafer Street, Suite 4, Bismarck, ND 58501.

Amber Rae Bernhardt, Dakota Stage/Shade Tree Players

While Amber Rae Bernhardt was growing up in Bismarck she had absolutely no interest in the performing arts. In college she enrolled in theatre because she disliked sitting in lectures. “I took an acting class and realized I could go to school, have these really cool experiences, learn this craft and I never had to sit in a desk,” she said. “Theatre changed me.”

After college, Bernhardt co-founded Theatre B in Fargo and spent a few seasons with them. She then moved to Chicago, working in arts and entertainment PR/marketing for many years. “I came back to Bismarck to spend the summer with my grandparents before starting grad school at the University of Chicago for social work,” she said. “I stayed here and got this job instead. It is fun to bring some of what I got to see and experience in Chicago, to this world.

One of the things Bernhardt has tried to do is pull Dakota Stage/Shade Tree back into a collaborative. “I didn’t want to just ‘get by,’” she explained. “It was more effective to open conversation and work together, to see Dakota Stage/Shade Tree as a tandem organization. The result has been cool, creative growth.

Bernhardt has also pushed to have new people involved, eliminating some of the burn out factor while bringing new ideas, new talent, and new energy to the organization.

stp 4She talked about Shade Tree: “One of the great things Shade Tree has done is to open the doors to any kid that wants to participate. We give kids a chance to grow and learn with the experience. I wish I would have known about it when I was a kid because I think I would have benefited sooner from the opportunities – as far as my confidence, teamwork and friendships. Just come and be yourself and we will accept you.

We incorporated a technical theatre program three years ago, that we hoped would attract more of the ‘shy’ kids. There is no production at the end, but they get to design a set, paint scenery, pick out costuming, design make-up and lighting, play with the light and sound board. It has been successful, attracting boys and girls of all ages.”

Funding is always a challenge but Bernhardt feels what is more important is community support. She said it is a huge challenge to encourage people to take a risk on something new.

And the rewards are many. “Getting to play for a living is its own reward,” she said. “It is always exciting. I play for a living, I create art. And, watching people – whether it is the parents, audience members, or the performers producing the play – watching their faces and seeing that it moves them in a real way is incredibly rewarding.”

For more information or to donate, contact Amber at 258.4998, or visit

Liliana Norby – THEO Art School

When Liliana Norby retired from the government she decided it was time for her to play. “I needed something that would allow me to drop off my daughter, Sarah, pick her up and just be a mom,” she said.
The Frances had become an outlet for Sarah to go to Gateway to Science and THEO classes; she became a member of one of the choirs. Initially Norby worked part time at Gateway to Science as the Communications Coordinator. When Eileen Walsh left as Executive Director of THEO, she asked Norby to fill in until they could find someone to fill the position.

In early 2011 Norby was offered the job as Executive Director. She initially gave herself a year with a mission and a goal. One of the first things she did was meet with her partners at The Frances and principals at the elementary schools where THEO holds classes to see if there were any issues that needed to be resolved. There were a few, and she resolved them. “For me, it’s about customer service, the kids are my customers,” she said. “I love art, I want to share the love of art. I want this to be a nuturing environment. My priority is the kids. Every time I get an idea for a new class, camp or workshop I think, ‘what would the kids like?’ I also want to make sure they are learning all about art and the artists.”

One of the first things Norby did was start the THEO Art School Art Attack Camps. She decided to take advantage of Spring Break and give kids something to do. She thought maybe ten kids would sign up and ended up with thirty-five!

photo1Then she started weekly art camps in the summer. Over 300 kids showed up. In 2012 the Art Attack Summer Camps attracted 560 kids. “They don’t do art all day,” explained Norby. “We have field trips and do other activities as well.”

She has also started classes for adults. ‘Art Uncorked’ is one of the newest and very popular for ladies night out.

THEO’s annual fundraiser is the Garden Walk. Norby tripled the attendance last summer by making it an actual walk – instead of driving around town looking at individual gardens, she designed the event around a neighborhood.

Every Friday you will find Norby at Seeds of Hope, looking for all kinds of art supplies. She accepts all kinds of donations, even old record albums. (Used to make bowls).

“I breathe THEO Art School,” said Norby. “I wake up in the morning thinking, ‘what am I going to do next?’ My whole journey with THEO Art School has been very humbling and rewarding. I am not tired yet, I have a long ways to go.”

For more information or to donate, contact Liliana at 222.6452, or visit

Beth Demke, Gateway to Science

Beth Demke has been with Gateway to Science since the beginning. Frank Koch, an associate professor of Chemistry at BSC was the brain child behind having a hands-on science center. He started having family chemistry days, and it was the positive response from those events that was the caralyst for opening up at Gateway Mall in November of 1994. “He brought together a group of scientists, one of whom was in Junior Service League,” Demke explained. “The scientists put together the exhibits, sometimes literally drawing the plans out on napkins, and the Junior Service League figured out how to staff it, what hours we should be open and set up accounting – the administrative types of things. All of us were volunteers at the beginning and I was hired in December of 1995.”

Gateway to Science was the first group to move to The Frances, in January of 2005. “We were kind of the lead organization in putting together a combined arts and science center,” Demke said. “We knew we couldn’t be in the mall for very long.”

They develop most of their exhibits in-house. Some are put together in the garages of their developers, who are all volunteers. Others are purchased. Demke gets grant money and looks for retiring, traveling exhibits. When they get older, they are more affordable.

Demke wears a lots of hats, but probably the two biggest things she does are promotion and fund raising. “When Frank comes in with his plan on a napkin, I’ve got to know where the money is going to come from,” she said.

Her position has gradually worked into full time and right now it is officially 35 hours a week. “I work more than that,” said Demke. “That is the nature of non-profits. You have to have a passion for what you do, and I do, I have a passion for this. It’s important to me and to our community that we raise science literacy. We need more kids to get involved in science, math and technology and engineering. They are the problem solvers. What we do is pretty important, we are helping to train the problem solvers. Take a look at the problems we have had in our community in the past few years: the growth, the flood, road conditions. Who do they call first? They call the engineers – the men and women who know how to solve the problems.”

Gallery 14The center hosts a lot of field trips and Demke had seen an increase in groups from out of town. “We have had groups from as far away as Minot, Dickinson and Williston,” she said. “We now have 16,000 visitors a year. When we were in the mall we had about 7,000 and it is in the same amount of square footage. The plan has always been to get physically bigger. There are a lot of things we don’t have in the gallery. We have real brains, but we don’t have anything on oil or energy development, the science that goes on in our community. We also want something on river management, so people can try some of the theories they think might work.”

And don’t let the name frighten you. “Sometimes I worry with science in our name it scares people away,” said Demke. “It is really all about discovery, learning how the world works. And it’s fun! The most rewarding part of my job is seeing the light bulb go on, you’ve seen the cartoon with the ‘ah-ha’…I get to see that everytime kids are in here, and I love that. And, it’s not just kids, I get to see that with adults, too.”

For more information contact Beth at 258.1975 or You can contribute online at or send donations to Attn: Beth at 1810 Schafer Street, Suite 1, Bismarck, ND 58501-1218.
Gateway to Science and Central Dakota Children’s Choir will participate in Giving Hearts Day on February 14. This is a one-day, online opportunity for donors to contribute to their favorite charities. The event is administered by Dakota Medical Foundation, and this is only the second year that Bismarck charities were invited to participate. More information can be found at

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