A Long Circuitous Path: Arvid Munson

Arvid waits in the corner of Leroy’s like he is part of the décor, like he belongs, wearing a red and yellow plaid shirt and silver rimmed glasses, in the rustic Ephraim coffee shop.

“How will I know it’s you?” I asked when I called to set up the interview. Arvid replied, “Just ask whoever is behind the counter, they all know me.”

When I saw him, I knew.

He chats with another fellow while I get my coffee, says hello to another fellow when I sit down, and so it continues throughout our conversation:  every other person who enters the coffee shop smiles and greets Arvid in acknowledgment. Arvid sits relaxed, sipping his coffee while he describes his first encounter with the Door County peninsula. “It was 1970, that was all it took. We [his wife Lola and himself] came up with my brother-in-law, who was an etymologist studying the insects that were affecting the cherry trees.”

Officially, Arvid moved to Door County in 1994, though he and his wife purchased a small cottage in 1987 that they have since expanded for their retirement. He describes his journey to Door County as a “long circuitous path. We arrived from Virginia, but had lived in Madison for four years, France for a couple of years, Maryland for awhile, Oklahoma, and Iowa, where I met my wife on a blind date in Ames, during college.”

The career that took Arvid around the states (and the globe) included managing independent organizations that tested compounds for pharmaceuticals, such as chemicals found in food additives or implants. Now a retiree, one might expect Arvid to sit on the porch of his Door County cottage, reading maybe, and stopping into the coffee shop to visit and socialize now and again. After Arvid describes all the organizations he is affiliated with on the peninsula, however, I wonder how he even finds time to stop at Leroy’s for a cup of coffee.

“I always have to be active – you quit, you die.” He holds up one hand and his left pointer finger, saying, “There are six organizations I’m involved with, that I felt I could contribute to.”


“Costal Management,” Arvid says. “They tell the public basically what they can and can’t do. Airport Commissioner, I am not a flyer, just interested in things done right. Uh, the Ephraim Men’s Club, it’s a scholarship program. And the Ephraim Yacht Club, the sailing school for the children is wonderful. They teach 200 to 250 kids a year; it’s fun to watch them makes friends and learn to sail.”

“Now the two big ones,” he holds up two fingers. “The Clearing and HELP of Door County.”

Along with serving on the endowment trust committee at The Clearing, a folk school located in Ellison Bay, Arvid also teaches classes, including ‘Chair Caning,’ ‘Rush a Chair Seat,’ ‘Know Your Door County (Pubs), Parks, and Preserves,’ a class that includes lunch at a local pub and a visit to a park or preserve with a property expert, and ‘Wine Tasting.’ Arvid swishes the coffee in his cup to demonstrate, “I’ve gotten very good at describing tastes and scents, living in France really helped me hone in on my skills.”

“[The Clearing] is a great thing in the winter time,” he continues. “There is a focus of activities, over 100 classes taught by volunteers. There is a potluck every other Friday which is good for making new friends.” Though Arvid is a full-time Door County resident, he admits to needing a break mid-March to April when the “pleasantness,” as he describes it, “goes away.”

At another end of the spectrum, Arvid serves as a member of the board for HELP of Door County, an organization that provides assistance to abused women and children. “It is unfortunate that we have to have this organization,” Arvid says. “The organization has been around 30 years. Not many people even know that we have this; it’s not something people like to talk about, but it’s serious.”

His wife Lola also stays active on the peninsula. “She helps out with a philanthropic organization of women which gives scholarships and is active in The Clearing,” Arvid states, then smiles, “and she is one hell of a cook.”

The couple has two daughters, one living in St. Louis with her husband and children and another living in Dallas with her husband and children, and Arvid recalls the summers his granddaughters spent here between the ages of eight and 16.

“I like interacting with younger people,” Arvid says. “Don’t want to act too much like a 75-year-old. There is a shortage of young people on this peninsula.”

Over his 15 years as a Door County resident, Arvid has witnessed Ephraim change “drastically and very gradually,” as he describes it. “Looks like a quaint little village, but the road was narrower at one point and there were once three gas stations, three – one was even on the water side of the road. Well, of course that went.” Arvid laughs, drinks up the last of his coffee. I do the same, shake his hand and thank him for his time.

I walk away from the interview feeling inspired, and a bit lazy. Let’s review:  a 75-year-old retiree whose has lived all over the US and France helps manage the coasts, the airport, supports a scholarship program, a sailing school, teaches chair making and wine tasting, serves on the board for a very serious and necessary outreach organization, finds time for a cup of coffee at Leroy’s, oh – and another tidbit I find in my scribbled notes – he plays golf two or three times a week.

Suffice it to say, the Door County residents are fortunate to have such a passionate and generous individual amongst them.