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OPINION: Not just a number

EDITOR'S NOTE: Palace City Profiles is an ongoing series of community members' stories, introducing us to our neighbors and the personalities that call Mitchell home. If you have suggestions for individuals or families with a great story, please ...

Dr. Jessica and Kyle Claussen and their children, Sibyl and Warren. (Submitted photo)
Dr. Jessica and Kyle Claussen and their children, Sibyl and Warren. (Submitted photo)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Palace City Profiles is an ongoing series of community members' stories, introducing us to our neighbors and the personalities that call Mitchell home. If you have suggestions for individuals or families with a great story, please contact Jacki Miskimins at 996-1140.

It wasn't easy to get here, but it sure is easy to be here.

Jessica and Kyle Claussen ultimately came to Mitchell in 2013. That move capped off nearly a decade of pursuing their educations and sometimes-long-distance relationship, from Nebraska and North Dakota through southern California, Missouri and Boston (they met at a wedding in Florida).

It was a dizzying timeline, made easier to navigate by a clear family compass: "It's about what you value," Kyle says. "What you prioritize."

Jessica, originally from Spearfish, is an ophthalmologist with Avera Medical Group Ophthalmology; Kyle is an attorney and partner at MorganTheeler LLP. With so many other places to compare to, the couple were thrilled to find everything they were looking for in Mitchell.

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During Jessica's last year of ophthalmology residency, the couple started looking for a place to call home. They knew they wanted to be closer to their hometowns; so they based the search in Minnesota, South Dakota and Missouri. Then they searched for cities that needed both an ophthalmologist and legal services.

"We were looking for something smaller," Jessica said. "It was easy to think about, 'Oh, let's go someplace where we can go to the theater every night' - but even if we could, would we? No. So you look at what you do day-to-day. What do we want on a daily basis?"

Before long, they were both interviewing in Mitchell.

"I didn't know much about Mitchell," Jessica admitted. "Growing up, it was just someplace we drove through on the way to Sioux Falls. I didn't even know Mitchell had a lake until we interviewed here."

She was thrilled, then, to discover how safe and friendly the community is - and that she could still enjoy the beauty of South Dakota's outdoors.

Especially compared to the Los Angeles suburb where Jessica completed medical school, adjusting back to a smaller community was "interesting."

"There's no traffic at all," Kyle said. "My drive to work is four minutes - that took some getting used to. I have friends practicing law that are gone before their kids are up in the morning, and they don't get home until 20 minutes before the kids go to bed."

Jessica agrees: "Life is just easier here. Compared to friends and co-residents we knew, they deal with commutes and pressures that just aren't a factor here."

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And yet, the Claussens have found their careers just as satisfying and fulfilling as anywhere else - and bristle at the idea it would be otherwise.

"It's important that people realize you can have good jobs, and good services, that aren't in the cities," Kyle said. "Eye care in Mitchell is just as advanced as in more metropolitan cities. Legal issues here are more ag-related, but just as complex, important and challenging."

In some cases, the Claussens have found that Mitchell's smaller nature has actually been a boon for their work. Two years after her medical residency, Jessica was elected president of the 6th District of the South Dakota State Medical Association.

"When you're in a small community, you're opened to positions that you would never do elsewhere this early in your career," she said.

Of course, their lives revolve around far more than work. The couple have two children, Warren and Sibyl, and are increasingly active in the community. In addition to her role with the State Medical Association, Jessica is a counselor with the South Dakota Academy of Ophthalmology, works with Dakota Wesleyan University students on preparing for medical school and occasionally plays piano at Northridge Baptist Church. Kyle serves on the boards for the Mitchell Area Safehouse and Habitat for Humanity and plays in the Recreation Center's basketball league. When the weather allows, they go golfing with their kids; and on top of a few half-marathons already completed, they plan to run in the Las Vegas Rock 'n' Roll half-marathon in November.

"We enjoy the Corn Palace concerts, go to some DWU games, but mostly we're just raising kids," Kyle said.

And that is perhaps the reason they love their new home so much.

"People care about you and your kids, even if you don't know them personally," Jessica said. "It's been nice getting back to genuine, nice people. In a smaller community like this, you're not just a number in the midst of a bunch of people. You're part of it."

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They may not be from here originally, but the Claussens have come home.

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