PALACE CITY PROFILE: Back to their roots, Wenande family finds growth
Palace City Profiles is an ongoing series of community members’ stories, introducing us to our neighbors and the individuals who live and/or work in Mitchell.
Nick and Laura Wenande weren’t sure they’d come home to Mitchell after being away for seven years.
“We kept our options open,” Nick said. “We were looking for the right fit.”
As it turned out, the right fit was here in Mitchell. Nick is an optometrist at Mabee Eye Clinic, and Laura is the photographer and owner of L.O. Imijri Photography & Design.
The Wenandes both graduated from Mitchell High School. Laura went to the University of Sioux Falls, where she studied art education and business, and played tennis. Nick attended Mount Marty College in Yankton, where he and his twin brother were both tapped to play college baseball. Nick graduated with his bachelor’s in biology and chemistry with a minor in Spanish.
Following their college graduations, Laura and Nick married and moved to St. Louis, where Nick enrolled at the University of Missouri St. Louis College of Optometry.
During his final year, Nick trained in six different optometric specialty clinics. When he completed his rotations, the family moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where Nick served three years as an Army optometrist. Their daughter, Emery, was born there, and two years later, their son, Adler. The kids are now 3 and 1, respectively.
Nick appreciated the lessons learned while he was in Oklahoma.
“I liked everything about the military,” he said. “In addition to working on my eye care skills, including specialty contact lenses, it was a wonderful leadership experience.”
It was during that time that Nick realized he enjoyed the business side of optometry, and he determined that he wanted to be an owner of his own practice in the future. During their time in Oklahoma, Laura continued to build her photography business, including frequent trips to South Dakota for weddings and other specialty sessions.
As Nick and Laura neared the end of their time in Oklahoma, an unexpected opportunity to join Mabee Eye Clinic arose for Nick.
“We both grew up with our grandparents as an important part of our lives,” Nick said. “We want that for our children, so this location and business opportunity made it the right fit for us.”
Since relocating to Mitchell last April, they’ve purchased a home as well as a building for Laura’s photography business. Their spare time is spent on the renovation of the building, which should be ready this spring.
Laura has been pleased with the demand for her photography. She incorporates video into some of her family and engagement sessions, which is a unique option in Mitchell.
“As a mom, I know that kids’ personalities change so fast,” she said. “To be able to capture a family interacting on video is a wonderful keepsake.”
She does some of her video work with a drone.
“I have my remote pilot’s license, so I can fly my drone to capture photos and videos that add an extra element to my sessions and wedding photography,” she said. “It has also opened up more commercial photography and video opportunities.”
Laura and Nick are both enthusiastic about the growth potential for their careers in Mitchell.
“There are so many new developments in eye care,” Nick said, adding that he’d recently received word of a successful $20,000 grant.
“The grant will allow our clinic to better serve our patients through enhanced training, efficiency and technology,” he said, adding that he also plans to introduce the latest technology and treatment methods to serve patients with dry eye, macular degeneration and glaucoma.
Laura anticipates continued growth in her business, as well.
“Having my studio will allow me to expand my clientele,” said Laura. “I love newborn and boudoir photography, and my new space will be perfect for those sessions and for client consultation.”
The Wenandes appreciate the quality of life in their hometown. For Nick, it’s hunting and fishing with his dad; for Laura, it means getting back to softball and tennis. As a bonus, they have discovered that there are many other young professionals who have also come home to raise their families.
“Some people think they have to go away to make it big, to be somebody,” said Nick. “But I think it’s important to serve the people who helped make you who you are.”