Prairie Oaks Institute

cultivating the earth, rejuvenating the spirit


Board of Directors

Chris Johnson, President, St. Peter

Wendy Caldwell, Vice President, Belle Plaine

Ben Hilding, Secretary, New Prague

Kathy Farmer, Treasurer, Belle Plaine

Board Members

Kim Devine Johnson, St. Peter

Grace Corbin, Minneapolis

Tom Morgan, St. Paul

Doug Thomas, Henderson

Executive Director

Dana Melius, St. Peter

Dana Melius joined Prairie Oaks in 2019 as the organization’s first Executive Director. He stepped down as Regional Managing Editor for Adams Publishing Group March 30, 2019, serving in several roles for APG, including management and reporting positions for the St. Peter Herald, Le Sueur County News and Waseca County News. Dana is an award-winning columnist, political and investigative reporter.

Dana previously served in several nonprofit management roles, including the former Minnesota Alliance for Progressive Action (MAPA), originally co-founded by the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone. Dana was serving as MAPA’s co-Executive Director in 2002 during which Wellstone and others died in a northern Minnesota plane crash. Dana is also a former board member and past president for the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless. He also currently serves on the board of the Arts Center of Saint Peter.

Dana and his late wife, Kim Melius, have six children and eight grand-children.

Board Member Biographies

Chris Johnson is proud to be co-founder (with Kim Devine-Johnson) of POI.  Much of his work here grows from the same roots as a nearly 30-year career in teaching, mentoring, speaking, writing, facilitation, and consulting.  He is the principal of the Milkweed Group, LLC, whose mission is to create safe, courageous spaces that nourish inner wisdom, sharpen clarity of purpose, and fuel capacity to live and lead for a better world.

He has been active with state, regional, and national projects around issues of  vocation, calling, and purpose; life transitions; leadership development; personal, social, and ecological sustainability; experiential learning; civic engagement; and spirituality in life and work.  He’s a Circles of Trust® facilitator in association with Parker J. Palmer and the Center for Courage and Renewal, and facilitates several Courage retreats at POI (and elsewhere) each year.

Originally from a dairy farm-family of six kids, he’s now a proud parent (with Kim) of their three children and lives in St. Peter.

Ben Hilding is a native of Hudson, WI, where he graduated from Hudson High School in 2006.  After graduating from Hudson, Hilding went on to Gustavus Adolphus College, where he graduated in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts in Religion. He and his wife, Alicia, both went on to Luther Seminary where they each received their Masters of Divinity degrees, and are now ordained pastors in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Ben and Alicia Hilding moved to New Prague in September of 2017 after serving together at Calvary Lutheran Church in Alexandria. They are now co-pastors at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church of New Prague.

Ben believes in the importance of community engagement, responsible leadership, and service to the world. He has been working on a Masters of Arts in Leadership degree from Augsburg University. He and Alicia are proud parents of two daughters.

Kim Devine-Johnson is co-founder of Prairie Oaks Institute (along with husband Chris Johnson), having grown up on the century farm that became the Prairie Oaks farm campus. Mother of three, she works as a pediatric physical therapist at Pediatric Therapy Services, Inc., Mankato, Minnesota. She is an active member of her church and community. Environmental stewardship and conservation practices are an important focus for Kim, along with nurturing what makes her heart sing and supporting others to do the same.

Kathy Farmer is a senior technology manager focused on technology adoption and process with an eye to developing positive models of human/machine interaction.

Kathy believes Prairie Oaks is bringing together people and organizations that share a common vision of building systems and communities on a human scale and preserving our natural environment.

Deane Peterson is recently retired. Married to Diane for over 35 years with three adult sons. Spent the last 27 years in Education Finance with St. Peter Public Schools as the District’s Business Manager, focusing on budgeting, state and federal compliance, Food Service Director and Transportation Director.

Interests are biking, kayaking, cross country skiing, tennis and family. Other community interests have been Kiwanis, Church of St Peter Administrative Council, St. Peter Chamber and various other K-12 related organizations.

Tom Morgan is Professor of Leadership Studies at Augsburg University. He holds a Ph.D. in Educational Policy from the University of Minnesota, an M.S. in Economics from the University of Oregon and an MBA in Finance & Operations Research from the University of Denver. He has served as a member of the Steering Committee for the Faith in the City Collaborative since its inception in 1999 until 2012 and serves on the Boards of Seeing Things Whole and Select Learning Resources.

Tom has over 35 years of teaching experience and has extensive experience in institutional planning, facilitating professional development workshops and the design and implementation of new programs. He designed and launched Augsburg’s first graduate program, the Master of Arts in Leadership. Prior to working in higher education, he worked doing research and grant writing in health care. He has lived in the Twin Cities for the past thirty years. Tom is married, has one daughter, and thinks about riding his recumbent bicycle. He holds a private pilot’s license, enjoys woodworking and is an avid walker.

Grace Corbin is from Grantsburg, WI, a small town on the Wisconsin/Minnesota border. She graduated from Augsburg University in 2017 with a degree in Youth and Family Ministry. She has spent the last two years in Lutheran Volunteer Corps, living out her passion for environmental justice in her role as Environmental Organizer at the Minneapolis Area Synod office.

She is passionate about connecting congregations with the tools and skills they need to work on creation care in their congregations and communities. In her free time she enjoys being outside, reading, and being with loved ones.

Wendy Caldwell is Executive Director of Monarch Joint Venture, a nonprofit organization which is a partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, businesses and academic programs
working together to protect the monarch migration across the United States. More than 85 partners from across the U.S. are working together in an effort to conserve the monarch migration. Wendy’s knowledge and passion helped Prairie Oaks launch its first-ever “Monarch Walk” in 2019, utilizing POI’s sprawling campus with educational stops telling the story of monarch migration throughout North America.

Doug Thomas is an entrepreneur and former teacher, and was the founding Executive Director of EdVisions Schools from 2000-2012. Doug was also a founder of the Minnesota New Country School and the founding president of EdVisions Cooperative, the affiliated teacher professional practice cooperative. He also spent ten years as Southern Minnesota representative for the Center for School Change at the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota and served as a board member of Le Sueur-Henderson Public Schools for four terms.

Doug is a strong advocate for small public schools, teacher leadership and innovative learning strategies and has a special interest in sustainable community development. He earned a B.S. in Secondary Education from Bemidji State University and a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership from Minnesota State University-Mankato, where he taught a graduate course in educational reform and leadership for 10 years.

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