Laura Slown lives in a South City St. Louis house that’s perfectly sized for a mother, a daughter and their dog. She has her “dinky” family for the everyday, visits her sister’s five children when she wants a little adventure, and sees her entire extended family a few times a year (they have to rent out a town hall for the occasion). As for those in-between sized families? Well, where’s the fun in that?
Growing up on a homestead in rural Illinois, the agriculture lifestyle is still a big part of Laura’s multifaceted identity. Her parents split early, and both became happily remarried. Her mother’s new husband happened to be a farmer; he, along with his brother, currently have a farming operation near Champaign-Urbana where they grow corn, beans and rotation crops like sorghum and alfalfa. At one point they had 200 head of cattle. Dang, that’s a lot of cows and cow smells.
As our Production Manager at Paradowski, Laura’s work with Monsanto has tickled her mom and stepdad. He’s been invited to Monsanto headquarters for tours and focus groups on his own accord. While Laura never would have sought out a company that does ag marketing on her own, she can’t help but notice how sometimes, stuff oddly comes full circle.
The farmers I know are dirtier, wrinklier and grumpier.
Laura is quick to note that the farmers she knows are a bit more rough and tumble than the ones she sees in advertising. Her life’s farmers wear stained shirts with a big X bleached on the back from their overalls. In fact, she says her stepdad lives in overalls.
When Laura talks about her stepdad, her voice sparkles with affection. He is a hard worker, the guy she turns to for advice and a big inspiration. She and her daughter, Louisa, often drive the couple hours to be around her sister, her five kids, her mother and stepfather, and her grandmother who lives with them on the farm. While the kids run around the barn and ask a million questions, Laura tries to find time to steal away and ride in his tractor. He’s not one for big groups, she says, but we have great conversations one-on-one.
“It’s interesting to hear all the data he’s managing, things he has to do and the cumulative decades of farming experience. He keeps this awesome daily journal where he jots down basic facts. He always records the rainfall, then a 2- or 3-sentence synopsis of the day. We planted these fields. Louisa was here. Kids are visiting. Sometimes there’s a small reference to his personal life. Went out for dinner. I told my mom, someday I’d love to have those calendars. They’re just a very clear record of his life.”
Laura was the first person in her family to graduate college. There had been a longstanding tradition of going and leaving after a few years because a degree wasn’t a tangible achievement, but working in a factory and getting a salary was. But Laura went to Illinois State because her mother had told her since she was a kid that college was the place you went to grow up and grow better. And, that’s where her best friend was going. A recovering English major, she graduated with a degree in history with a minor in geography.
She ended up working for two years at the research division of a drug and alcohol rehab center. Assisting researchers doing pioneering work on teens struggling with addiction, her progressive worldview grew stronger.
“Working with kids not that much younger than me whose parents had prostituted them for drugs, or a boy who was forced to live in a dog crate. Here I was, a college grad with this great job. Then here they were. And we all looked the same.”
Inspired to take hold of the advantages afforded her, Laura decided to go back to grad school. Her college advisor told her to follow what moved her, and everything would fall in place. So she went to Southern Illinois Carbondale to get her Masters in History. During her second year, she worked with a professor to edit and give feedback on a travelling journal. Through this first career step, she applied to and attended a Scholarly Publishing Program at Arizona State. For those interested, that was a year and a half of intensive Chicago Manual workshops, learning hot type press so they were able to print, classes on plagiarism and all aspects of publication from a university-level perspective.
Next came the move to Chicago for a gig with Houghton Mifflin. After a short stint there, Laura moved to St. Louis to join her then-partner, and got a job at a higher ed science/medical publishing house. This job was more like a project manager role, because she was managing production from manuscript all the way to printed book. As a history buff, creating these books was the ultimate achievement.
After six great years in that position, Laura took a job in the scientific research department at Missouri Botanical Garden, but quickly anticipated a shrinking book market and knew it was time to move on. “You know how you’re supposed to be able to reach the president in 6 calls? That’s what I did when I wanted a new job. I called the person with the most connections who worked in the same field and could sort of help me leverage my experience in publishing in another industry.” It turned out that the person she called was starting his own marketing firm. So there Laura transitioned her skills while working from home. And through a contact there, she learned about our Production Manager opening at Paradowksi.
During her interview, our president, Gus, only talked to her about “life stuff.” She was sold.
Having experienced all walks of life, Laura is focused on giving Louisa the chance to see it all for herself. That’s one of the biggest reasons they visit their extended family so often. Louisa is about to turn 9 and is right in the middle of two girl cousins. Which means she has to navigate what to do when one person is left out. “When we go there, she gets right in the pile of kids and figures out how to fight and still get along.”
At the big family events where they use the church lawn for an easter egg hunt, Louisa can see good examples of all kinds of happy family arrangements. And with 24 cousins who have 30 kids, there’s ample opportunity. “People open up their garages, set up folding tables and bring food. I hope she gleans that it doesn’t matter who your family is as long as you love each other.”