Michelle (Lee) Thompson '86

Michelle (Lee) Thompson '86
Sara Jacobson

When Michelle was in elementary school, Bev Oren, an MA parent who was also a friend of Michelle’s mother, encouraged sending Michelle to Minnehaha. Bev noted that Michelle had leadership abilities and shared that MA fosters leaders, so it would be a good fit. Her parents agreed and enrolled her in her 7th grade year. Her first day they dressed her in a little suit and pumps (with pigtails) which they still joke about now. Her parents began “priming the pump” at a young age!

A Perfect Fit

MA was a perfect match to help grow Michelle in many ways, including her leadership gifts. Classes were taught in depth and teachers were passionate about their subject matter. She had Janet Johnson for Honors English (“amazing”) and felt she completely understood how to write a great paper and use grammar correctly.  She knew her Bible and learned exegesis and how to take apart verses with the Book of John in President Nelson’s Honors Bible class. Jane Weigel was her math teacher and called out character traits in her life. Mr. Glenn made it clear in Civics Class that “your rights stop where someone’s start,” shaping political thought and constitutional understanding. Wendell Carlson was her counselor and encouraged her to press on for excellence. MA staff gave Michelle opportunities to lead, to express ideas and to form groups. She started Bible Studies, sang on the worship team, and often spoke in front of her peers.  “I cannot say enough about Minnehaha and how it really impacted me. It was everything my parents were hoping for.” College felt easy for her since high school had been so rigorous.  “We were--and are--a very close class that stays in touch.  I still have many good friends from my time at MA.” 

Education As Vocation

Today, Michelle is the founding parent, teacher and Head of School at Hand in Hand Christian Montessori, a pre-K-12th grade school celebrating its 20th year.  Hand in Hand has grown over the years to be the largest Christian Montessori School in the country, with 341 students on 2 campuses in the Twin Cities area. She also launched Nonna’s of Wayzata--a new version and application of Montessori-- in 2019 with Lisa (Hubers) TerHaar ‘88 and their spouses. At Nonna’s, they work with both infant/toddlers and those with aging and dementia. “This was a new concept--Christian Montessori on both ends--when we decided to put these groups together,” says Thompson.  “We first got requests for infant and toddler Montessori, then we fell into a Montessori for aging and dementia --and wondered if the two groups would work together.  I got excited about that!”  

Inspired By Grandma's Love

The Lord reminded Michelle of her Italian grandmother, whose house she often visited growing up, and she wanted to create a place that felt like her grandmother’s house.  “Every day when you went you were loved, hugged, and we made food together. Let’s make it like that--less institutional and more like family. Put the elders with the littles and see what comes of that.”  Michelle did a year of Montessori training for the aging to learn to apply the same Montessori concepts to aging as she had to children. “It is groundbreaking--we are the first in the country to do this.  No one has brought these ideas together in any one place.”  God brought she and Lisa together. Lisa knows the medical side and dementia prevention skills.   Michelle has background with children and running a school.  “When we found each other, we thought ‘God is doing this.’ There is a lot of awesome work that can be done when we do it together.” 

 “Nonna’s whole mission is to do small things with great love. We want to be great at ordinary life.  We cook together, eat, change diapers, live out our days….it is a regular day. The way we do it and the why of how we do it focuses on respect for the children and respect for our elders.  Montessori is based on that person-centered-ness.  To be able to do it in a systematic way for a business is special.  It is going to be a model to love people well and bring people into authentic community.  It has been a great ride--way beyond what I thought was possible.” 

To The Students

Michelle’s senior quote was from missionary Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”  Her advice for current students builds on that quote. “What you do for Christ lasts--that’s what matters most.  At the end of the day, that is what is still standing.  Don’t despise your youth or think, ‘Later on I will get it together.  Later on I will be a strong Christian.’ You can be a leader now for Christ.  Embrace it now.  MA wants to foster your spirituality and leadership. Take hold of it.  Don’t waste those years. Don’t think it will come later-this is your opportunity right now.”

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