How values shape Edwards Smith Construction

Photo courtesy of Edwards Smith Construction

Photo courtesy of Edwards Smith Construction

By Shane Richard Bell

Staff writer/Coeur d’Alene Press


Integrity is the mortar between the stones of Edwards Smith Construction’s foundation, a company that has dedicated itself to the service of others for more than 20 years. Jim Edwards started building homes in North Idaho in 1983 and formed Edwards Construction in 1994; Andy Smith joined the company in 1997 and the two formed a partnership in 2008 as Edwards Smith Construction LLC.

The main goal for Andy Smith and Jim Edwards, principals of Edwards Smith Construction, is to first understand what clients value before presenting the options available to them. That understanding comes from talking to clients about their vision, tastes, values and budget.

Edwards and Smith pride themselves and their business on funneling the knowledge of a client’s needs into the very substance that results in pride of ownership, whether that is a remodel, a commercial project, or a high-end luxury home on Lake Coeur d’Alene.

“We align a client’s goals with their values,” said Smith. “And clients have a lot of goals – a home where they can feel safe with their family and know the roof is not going to leak, a home that is going to perform in North Idaho’s climate, a home that is going to hold its value and look good. We are building homes that will stand the test of time. The attention given to the core structure, mechanical systems and water management should always be filtered through this philosophy.”

“And to us, every project is an art form, balanced by the harmonious communication between builder, designer and client,” said Smith.

Before any blueprint of a home is rendered or a foundation is poured, Edwards Smith Construction has a proven process through which a client clearly defines the conditions on which a project is built.

“There are thousands of options. Our job is to understand what makes you tick, what makes you excited, whether that’s a countertop, a style, a color palate or textures. That is the service we provide,” said Smith.

It begins with a conversation.

Edwards and Smith offer a process where a vision and plan are forged, and includes a signature tour of completed projects.  “We want people to see for themselves the kind of quality, detailed craftsmanship and precision with which every project is executed,” said Edwards.

“Clients need to see and feel the difference in a home built with attention to detail to understand why our approach is better than the standard in the industry,” adds Smith.

“We serve our clients,” said Smith. “If you do everything right from the beginning, you put your clients first and put yourself and profits second, everyone will succeed. Through referrals your business will grow, and you’ll be rewarded.”

“Our promise is a passion for perfection,” seconds Edwards.

Unfortunately many builders make decisions through the filter of money, says Smith. “For us, decisions are filtered through what is best for the client first, what is best for the structure second, and third, what is best for the company. That is the bottom line.”

To ensure that process comes to fruition, Edwards Smith Construction implements a technique called “enhanced value engineering,” which they define as a combination of technical expertise, plus experience, which will develop the best economy for a particular function. “We don’t just build the project ‘per plan’ as most do,” said Edwards. “Our team is on a continual search to find the best value in the process of achieving our client’s highest goals and maintaining the integrity of the design.”

Clients shape Edwards Smith Construction’s reputation.

“Prospective clients are encouraged to call us any time for client recommendations,” said Smith. “We can readily provide those for you.”

Client Cheryl Shields is grateful for the people of Edwards Smith Construction who made her dream home on Sanders Beach a reality. “The craftsmanship of your team is unequivocal and the finest we have ever seen anywhere. We are so proud of our home and honored to have had you build it for us,” said Shields. “In our opinion, they are the finest builders around.”

Smith is quick to add that it’s a team effort. “It’s a huge team. We can’t do it all by ourselves, and the day we think we can is the day we need to get out of the business. It’s absolutely a team approach. Our job is to coordinate caring people with high-level skills to put together a piece of functional art reflective of the client’s goals.”

Smith says he can spot immediately if a home was built with care and craftsmanship or not.

“You can feel it. There is an absolute difference in the feeling of the home,” said Smith. “Our homes feel the way they do because the goals of the team – client, designer, builder and tradesmen – are aligned with the client’s values. We experience the journey with you every step of the way, from the first meeting to the moment we hand you the keys to your dream home.”

Photo courtesy of Edwards Smith Construction

Photo courtesy of Edwards Smith Construction

Photo courtesy of Edwards Smith Construction

Photo courtesy of Edwards Smith Construction


Kids being kids

Unplug and Be Outside program gets children off the couch

Garret Elder, 10, positions himself between the ball and other players during a game of broom hockey Tuesday at Frontier Ice Arena in Coeur d'Alene.

Garret Elder, 10, positions himself between the ball and other players during a game of broom hockey Tuesday at Frontier Ice Arena in Coeur d’Alene.

By SHANE RICHARD BELL/Staff writer/Coeur d’Alene Press

Instead of playing a golf video game, kids are learning the sport on a golf course. Instead of playing tennis on the Wii in a dark living room, kids are running across an open court in the sunshine. Instead of an app, device, or screen showing them how to do something, kids are doing it for themselves.

Get outside. Learn something new. Enjoy being a kid and being around other kids. This is the formula for the second Unplug and Be Outside program, taking place in Kootenai County today through Saturday.

Children and their families can choose from almost 60 free activities – including Yoga, broomball, Zumba, ice-skating and fly tying classes – during what is spring break for many students.

“We all work together to offer these free activities for one week to our community,” said Josh Oakes, Recreation Coordinator of the Post Falls Parks and Recreation Department.

Blue Cross of Idaho sponsors the statewide program, which relies on local organizations to provide many of the resources that fuel program activities. In North Idaho, the program is collaborating with more than a dozen organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Club of Kootenai County, Peak Health and Wellness Center, the Kroc Center and the Frontier Ice Arena.

The program aims to “empower all Idahoans to lead healthy lives by developing a sense of place in the Idaho outdoors.” Oakes, who discovered the Unplug and Be Outside program at a recreational conference in West Yellowstone, sees the impact technology is making on children, citing that children are spending an average of 30 hours per week watching television or playing a video game.

Growing up in southeastern Idaho, Josh Oakes experienced that sense of place for himself.

“As a father, I am really passionate about this program. I want my kids to have the same experiences I had as a kid,” Oakes said. “We were always camping, biking, hiking and cross-country skiing.”

He wants other families to find that place, too.

“There’s a lot of people in our community that do not have the means to do all of these activities. Many can’t just sign up for martial arts or broomball. Many don’t even know these services are available. So people can experience those things for free,” Oakes said.

And if that person ends up loving martial arts, that’s an open door for them, Oakes said.

Last Saturday, the first day of the Unplug and Be Outside program in North Idaho this year, was a launch pad for this week’s events.

Aiden Meyers, 9, of Coeur d’Alene, helped teach the “Archery Instruction with CDA Bowmen” with his father and sister. More than 70 people showed up to the free event.

“I kind of felt responsible,” Aiden said. “I taught them how to hold the bow still and don’t put your arm way in so the string will hit it. I have been shooting for four years now. When I hit the target, I give everybody high fives and I feel like I am getting better every time.”

“He’s doing really good,” said Aiden’s dad, Mark Myers. “He’s probably going to trophy this year in his winter league. His sister is a deadeye, too. Shortly after the kids were leaving, Aiden put up a balloon to shoot but before he could shoot it, his sister shot the balloon from clear across the room,” Meyers said.

Mark’s marksmen were among six other “range masters” who aided in teaching participants archery skills.

“The kids and parents were really excited,” Meyers said. “You could hear the parents in the background, saying, ‘Good job, honey, great shot.’ It was great. When the kids would hit the targets, their faces would just light up.”

“The CDA Bowmen did a really good job with them. There were a lot of smiles,” Oakes said. “And at the exact same time Real Life Ministries was having a huge Easter egg hunt. People were parking down the road by Ziggy’s (Building Materials).”

Of all the benefits the program offers to others, Oakes can pinpoint the program’s greatest reward to him.

“I would say the most rewarding part of my job is when you spend two to three months putting together a week of events like this – all of the details, the meetings, teams, locations – and then, there’s this moment on opening day when all of a sudden the activities start, and all of the kids are playing and running around, and you realize you were instrumental in putting all of that together.”

For a complete schedule of this week’s Unplug and Be Outside events, visit

The skin game- North Idaho Dermatology flourishing


NIBJ writer/Coeur d’Alene Press

Dr. Stephen Craig founded North Idaho Dermatology of Coeur d’Alene in 1999 with a small office and one part-time nurse. His dream, from the very beginning, was to help heal people.

Today North Idaho Dermatology has helped heal  between 60,000 and 75,000 patients across the Inland Northwest, with offices in Coeur d’Alene, Sandpoint, Liberty Lake, and Moscow.

“Serving the people of the Coeur d’Alene area is the best thing I have ever done,” said Dr. Craig.

“Dr. Craig feels like the reason he was sent here was to heal people,” said Chief Operating Officer Aaron Nicholes, who describes himself as the “engineer shoveling coal and tightening bolts” for the comprehensive medical and cosmetic dermatology practice. “He is committed to healing others, as all the providers are.”

More than 60 professionals comprise the North Idaho Dermatology staff, including four full-time dermatologists and four midlevel providers (nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant), as well as five full-time cosmetic specialists.

“One of my goals was to offer a full-service dermatology clinic,” said Dr. Craig. The headquarters for North Idaho Dermatology, located at 2288 Merritt Creek Loop in Riverstone of Coeur d’Alene, fulfills Dr. Craig’s goal of providing patients a center with every dermatologic therapy possible.

On an average day, North Idaho Dermatology treats 80 to 100 patients. That amount doubles to 200 on a busy day. Even so, NID makes it a priority to regard every patient on an individual basis.

“We try hard to make this place feel like family, with our employees and patients,” said Nicholes. “Everyone’s been to the doctor where they feel like they’ve been a number, like they’ve been shuffled through a system.”

Creating a strong culture of excellence where every staff member cares for each patient, says Nicholes, avoids the scenario where patients feel they are another name on a medical chart.

A patient, identified as “C.N.” from Coeur d’Alene, seconds the sentiment: “Your entire staff loves what they are doing. Everyone was happy and smiling and very chipper. I never felt like I was ‘just another patient.’ I was very impressed how patient-oriented NID was, and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. How often can you say that about a doctor’s office?”

Nicholes believes North Idaho Dermatology is a vital service to the community.

“Medicine is one of the last things people cut,” said Nicholes. “We take care of skin cancers. That’s our main business. When someone is looking at their budget, deciding not to go to the dermatologist to have a follow-up on their cancer is probably the last thing to get cut. They’re going to cut their groceries before they cut their health.”

Early detection and eradication are their utmost objectives.

“That’s what we do all day,” said Nicholes. “There is never a day where we don’t discover and diagnose a cancer that someone didn’t know about before they walked in.

Saving lives is a common but extraordinary event.”

Many patients bring in gifts of gratitude- a plate of cookies, flowers, fruit, a handwritten note- following a successful surgery. But early diagnosis is the best prescription for success.

People should receive a full-body skin check once a year, recommends Nicholes, explaining how skin cancer can grow anywhere- behind your ear, on your scalp, or under your hair.

Sometimes it’s too late. “I’ll tell you a sad one. One young mother in her early 20s came in and thought she just had something funny on her, a discoloration of her skin. It was melanoma and it had spread. Within weeks she was gone, she left behind a husband a baby.”

NID wants to reach those people through the rippling effect of strong communication. “There is just constant communication here. The collegial atmosphere– they are friends, they like each other, use each other and refer to each other. We have lots of meetings and training sessions– as much as just in the hallway, on-the-fly communication as well.”

The communication shows.

“It’s the best place I’ve ever worked,” said Nursing Department Administrative Assistant Nancy Loken. “And I’ve worked a lot of places.”

I’ve never been able to say I love my job, and I love my job,” continues Loken. “I love the environment. I love the people I work with; I love the camaraderie and the team work all the way up to Dr. Craig who doesn’t set himself above us. He’s a part of us.”

“They are my family,” agreed Amy Hart. “We have a good time, we get things done, we take care of our patients. It feels, as a single woman, a secure and stable place for me to be and still continue to grow in my personal life, like buy a house and be a mom to my two chocolate labs.”

When employees and patients are happy, Nicholes feels he’s accomplishing his job.

“If we’re doing that and providing services and we’re profitable and can continue to operate, so that not only people can get cured of their cancers but other employees can feed their families and pay their mortgages, everyone wins,” said Nicholes.

Growth comes from multi-faceted marketing, Dr. Craig said.

“We use the newspaper. It has a really good ability to build top of mind awareness. We have an ad that’s a banner,” chimed in Nicholes. “We do lots of new marketing- mobile marketing, text messaging, Facebook contests, and all kinds of social media. We like to try new stuff as well- health fairs, barbecues, and speaking appointments.”

Patients see the difference. Interns see the difference. Employees see the difference.

“People watch what we do and how we do it,” Loken said, “and they’re in awe of it. Patients will say, ‘Everybody seems so happy here and it’s genuine.’ What you see is what we are. It’s like a family. When good things happen, we are there, and when bad things happen, we are there.”


Children apply classroom lessons to real world assignments

Fourth-graders from Athol Elementary celebrate completing the Coeur d’Alene Press’ Design an Ad program on March 5.

Fourth-graders from Athol Elementary celebrate completing the Coeur d’Alene Press’ Design an Ad program on March 5.


By Shane Richard Bell

Staff writer/Coeur d’Alene Press

Blake Garcia, a fourth-grader at Athol Elementary, could not get Carrie Underwood out of his mind. All he could think about while at school was the glamorous country star and how he’d be hearing her sing live that very night in Spokane.

So when Coeur d’Alene Press representatives Nicole Choquette and Tiffany Morrett presented the Design an Ad program to him that day, it was no surprise the first person he wanted to design an ad for was Carrie Underwood.

Unfortunately for Blake, the country star was not one of the advertisers his class was commissioned to create an ad for in the Coeur d’Alene Press’ Design an Ad Contest, which challenges elementary through high school students to individually apply classroom lessons to the real world by designing their own ad for a North Idaho business.

This year, 1,800 students like Blake participated in the program, drawing support from 28 schools, 47 teachers and 105 businesses.

“Because we get the Coeur d’Alene Press in the classroom, they are interested in the community newspaper,” said Blake’s teacher, Danielle Scott. “The Design an Ad program really opens them up to a world they didn’t know about.”

Pizza parties offered to every participating class as well as three cash prizes (1st place- $200, 2nd place- $100, and 3rd place- $50) also provide students a real-world incentive.

Bryson Mari, another fourth-grader in Danielle Scott’s class, was at first more excited about the free pizza party than the assignment.

“I didn’t really want to do it at first because it seemed like a lot of work,” Bryson said. “But in the end, it was a lot of fun and I learned a lot.”

Danielle Scott could see the program’s results in her students.

“It was cool to watch them because it’s a higher-level assignment,” she said. “They really have to think about the business, and it’s probably one they’ve never been to so they have to research the business and find out where it’s located. They even went on to Google maps to see what the places looked like. They had fun once they got into it.”

Every student is given the opportunity to make his or her own contribution to that business, the advertiser, and the greater community through the Coeur d’Alene Press.

Grace Gregory, 9, was particularly excited about drawing pictures and looking up information for her ad.

“It was really fun, and yes, I totally learned something,” Grace said.

“The Design an Ad program opens their minds to the possibilities of life,” said Scott. “If they’ve never been exposed to it, it won’t be something they’d even think about.”

Last week Danielle Scott spoke to her students about the importance of direction in deciding one’s career field.

“I asked my kids, ‘Where do you see yourself going? It’s good for my kids to have goals to think about. And the more they’re exposed to, the more choices they will have.”

The greatest lesson most kids learn isn’t something they expect, she said.

“It’s problem solving. That’s the big direction we’re going for, is teaching kids how to solve problems, and where the careers are going to be, because we don’t even know about some of the jobs that will be out there when they’re looking for jobs,” she said.  “And that’s what they had to do for the Design an Ad program. They got this information and they had to learn about what to do with it.”

‘Warrior on Wheels’

Laura Cohen, 25, laces up her quad skates before a practice for the Snake Pit Derby Dames at Skate Plaza last Thursday.

Laura Cohen, 25, laces up her quad skates before a practice for the Snake Pit Derby Dames at Skate Plaza last Thursday.


Staff writer/Coeur d’Alene Press

Laura Cohen admits that it might seem like she has multiple personalities.

One part likes to shop at farmers’ markets, practice Yoga, write lyrics, and discuss mythologist Joseph Campbell.

The other part of her is raw, rowdy, and socially rasping. It’s a side that craves intensity and adrenaline.

This side, she attributes to her Viking heritage, something she doesn’t apologize for; each is equally part of who she is.

She was born and raised in the Windy City. But her nomadic side has carried her from North Carolina to Hawaii and, most recently, Coeur d’Alene, where she moved for an executive’s assistant job at Quest Minerals Consulting in December 2012.

Moving here, she didn’t know anyone except for her boss, John Ryan, the CEO of Quest Minerals Consulting. Her education is in art and wilderness therapy, but when Ryan offered her a position in Coeur d’Alene, she couldn’t say “no” to a new adventure.

“I live in the gray areas,” said Cohen.

She’s determined to get to know people. In January, she saw a flier for roller derby that sparked her interest.

Squeezing on a pair of quad skates, she headed for the center of the track.

It was her first introduction to the Snake Pit Roller Derby Dames at Skate Plaza in front of 30 of its members. The only caveat was that she’d never skated.

Then she was flying.

“I’m a warrior on wheels now,” said Cohen.

Something sacred, even primitive, a side of her that’s always existed, clicked. They invited her to play on the team.

After undergoing rigorous training and a written test, Cohen graduated from the “fresh meat” training program, and will soon play her first “bout,” a roller derby match.

“They really want to be there,” said Cohen, speaking of her team. “They play to win.”

Meeting for practice every Thursday and Sunday, the Snake Pit Roller Derby Dames are divided into smaller teams: the Diamondback Girls, the Hissfits, and the all-star team, the Venomous Vixens.

Gaining momentum, the group competes across the Northwest, from Spokane to Seattle.

The sport is predominately played by women, although men’s derby teams are sprouting up across the western world, particularly in the U.S. and Australia.

Becoming popular during the Great Depression, roller derby was originally spearheaded by women as a spectator sport with a strong emphasis on entertainment. In the background, men had secondary roles as coaches and referees.

“A lot of it’s watching the intensity and fun,” said Cohen. “There is an element of dress up, of derby couture — that’s a phrase I just coined in the moment.”

‘Derby couture’ means every player gets to create an alter ego, a character born of imagination, with a different name, style and personality.

“If we were to break that down, it’s different for each person,” said Cohen, “Essentially it’s like one part sexy, one part badass, and one part strong Amazon feminist.”

Derby, for many women like Cohen, unleashes the unknown.

“When I started I felt like this little deer, and then I was like, ‘No, I have potential. I’m gaining the foundational skills.”

Cohen says they’re a tribe.

“It’s a team sport; we are looking out for each other,” she said. “I was happy to find the community in derby. It’s like a family.”

As such, they reach out to the community as well. On March 9, the Snake Pit Roller Derby Dames plunged into Lake Coeur d’Alene as an effort to raise money for the Special Olympics.

The team crosses generations and stereotypes, but many of Cohen’s teammates are mothers. “I saw this hard hitter one day at a match, and then she was rocking her little baby,” said Cohen.

“I thought, ‘Wow, it’s an outlet to break out of social norms, and have that kind of dichotomy in one’s personality where you can be really caring, respectful, and sweet and the other side is a badass, rebellious, can’t stop me, can’t touch me.”

Derby takes conviction.

First a player must overcome the fear of getting hurt, says Cohen. Then it’s all about learning the technical skills and the rules of a sport that most do not grow up watching or playing.

“I just want to be that unstoppable person,” said Cohen.

Laura Cohen, left, races her own teammates on Thursday leading up to the St. Patrick's Day match, "Hit Me I'm Irish," which was held Sunday at Skate Plaza.

Laura Cohen, left, races her own teammates on Thursday leading up to the St. Patrick’s Day match, “Hit Me I’m Irish,” which was held Sunday at Skate Plaza.

Roller derby is a competitive contact sport, played between two teams of five players each on a circular track traveling counter-clockwise. The two main positions in roller derby are blockers and jammers.

Jammers break through the pack and score points by skating past the opposing team.

The blockers simultaneously play offense and defense. Meaning, blockers stop opposing jammers while helping their own jammers move through the pack through “whipping.”

“Whipping means pulling or pushing the jammers, and the jam is over either when it is called off by the lead jammer, or when a set period of time is reached, such as two minutes,” according to

“Laura has overcome a lot of stuff,” said Snake Pit Roller Derby member Kari Glessner, also known as ‘Push’N Daisies’ to teammates. “Laura is awesome; she’s a go-getter. And she’s got a great spirit and energy about her that she brings to the team. We’re happy to have new people join the team.”

“Laura?” exclaims “fresh meat” coach Bekah Mandersheid. “She’s totally gung-ho and willing to try anything. She’s extremely athletic. She graduated from my program and is ready to play with the big girls.”

Coach Mandersheid says Cohen is “determined and enthusiastic. When I am standing or talking to the team about doing something, she’ll listen while also doing push-ups and sit-ups. She’s go-go-go, non-stop.”

Derby is a place that leads Cohen to many other places.

“It gives me a warrior mentality of not letting myself get down for any reason. People in derby skate past all the beliefs and limitations of something being hard, of not being good enough, and they do it,” said Cohen.

In that place, alongside her teammates and opponents, Cohen sees herself.

“‘Warrior on wheels’ is the right of passage, which always occurs in me. It’s a human interest story, because we all have it. So I saw derby as this huge calling to me.”

Her greatest passion is to always follow these adventures, whether she’s swimming in a waterfall in Costa Rica, snowshoeing at Fourth of July Pass, fire dancing, mushroom picking, feeling the breath of an Asian Elephant on her palms in India, or playing a piano in the back of a pickup truck with friends.

She wants to once again teach wilderness and art therapy to children, adolescents and adults. Her dream is to build a healing center with a home and free-range farm in the wilderness. The refuge would be a place of permanence, dedicated to the many levels of one’s healing. It’s a dream she’s always, in some way, working toward.

In fact, this weekend she’s headed south, through the undulating hills of the Palouse, in search of what could be that very place.

“The road to paradise is a muddy one,” said Cohen. “I want to feel closer to the land and closer to community. I’m interested in empowering people creatively.”

It’ll be a rest stop, a quiet corner in a chaotic world, where anyone close enough to the silence can listen to the whispering rights of passage.

Weddings at Blackwell offer inclusive, North Idaho wedding experience

Photo courtesy of Urban Rose Photo

Photo courtesy of Urban Rose Photo


By Shane Richard Bell

Staff writer/Coeur d’Alene Press/Bridal Expo 2013

She stood near the rounded windows in her wedding gown, in the same spot where brides have stood for more than a hundred years; her veil delicately covered her face and wrapped around her shoulders and arms.

When she looked out the second story-window of the Blackwell Hotel in downtown Coeur d’Alene on Sherman Ave., Amy Plass saw her fiancé, Martin Plass, dressed in a gray suit with a silver bowtie, taking pictures with his groomsmen and family under the large maple trees that turn red in the autumn.

“That is the moment I remember most vividly,” said Amy Plass. ‘That was the epiphany when it struck me that it was really our wedding day.”

She knew in that moment the Blackwell Hotel was the right place to celebrate her wedding on Sept. 8, 2012.

The Blackwell Hotel. Photo courtesy of Urban Rose Photo

The Blackwell Hotel. Photo courtesy of Urban Rose Photo

Since last summer, the Blackwell Hotel has intimately hosted more than 20 weddings and other various events, with groups as small as 10 people to as big as 250. This summer will be their biggest season yet. Unique and luxurious, the Blackwell Hotel offers an unparalleled accommodation experience.

Martin and Amy Plass fell in love with the Blackwell Hotel for a variety of reasons.

“We used the Blackwell Hotel as ‘home base’ for our wedding weekend. We used it as a reception venue and for lodging for our family and bridal family that came in from out of town,” said Amy.  “Most of all, we liked that we could rent the place to ourselves for the entire weekend.”

The Blackwell Hotel can accommodate every stage of a wedding celebration, from the rehearsal dinner to the wedding ceremony and reception to the after-party. A large and enclosed backyard with lush grass and flowers suits a marriage ceremony or reception exquisitely. A gazebo, a private garden, and a hot tub that fits eight are also available for wedding guests.

The Hotel is four blocks from Lake Coeur d’Alene, with easy access to the region’s finest dining, shopping and activities. “We liked the fact that it is really close to town and Cd’A’s nightlife. All of us could walk everywhere. We loved the character and charm of the house and the history behind it,” said Amy.

Photo courtesy of Urban Rose Photo

Photo courtesy of Urban Rose Photo

As a wedding ‘home base,’ the Blackwell Hotel boasts a full-service kitchen, laundry facilities, dining rooms, seating rooms, bedrooms, and a media room complete with a flat screen T.V., shuffleboard and pool table. The stunning Blackwell Hotel is an elegant blend of century-old architecture, tall doors, spiraling staircases, and custom-framed windows that shed light on all of the Blackwell’s newest additions of modern décor and local fine art.

It’s a place of history and style, of richness and flair; the Blackwell Hotel is not only a place but an experience.

Amy Plass recommends the Blackwell Hotel to anyone and everyone: “The staff went above and beyond. Before the wedding I was worried about my grandma getting around at the reception and I had mentioned it to the staff. The day of the wedding I saw them get her wine from the bar, and offer her an arm when she was getting up from the table. They took such great care of her, and I am so grateful.”

Blackwell Hotel wedding packages are cost-effective and tailored to a bride and groom’s requests, merging all the needs of a wedding into one intimate and memorable place.

For a tour or for wedding package information, call Lizz Hoy at (208)-765-7799 or e-mail her at Information can also be found on our website,

Photo courtesy of Urban Rose Photo

Photo courtesy of Urban Rose Photo

A fall to grace

JEROME A. POLLOS/Press Mike Vredenburg works with Jake Allstot, a physical therapist assistant, in using legs braces and supports to gain mobility Monday at St. Luke's Rehabilitation Center in Spokane.

Mike Vredenburg works with Jake Allstot, a physical therapist assistant, in using legs braces and supports to gain mobility Monday at St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Center in Spokane.

Accident paralyzes Cd’A man’s legs, but spiritually, he’s alive and kicking


Staff writer/Coeur d’Alene Press

He didn’t know where he was. He didn’t know what had happened. All he knew was that he couldn’t feel his legs.

“I was scared out of my mind,” said Mike Vredenburg.

Moments before he was standing in the middle of a world where everything seemed so still, the deep wilderness in winter.

He absorbed every detail of every moment.

But now he lay across a berm between a cat track and a hill, his body folded over the snow.

He’d flown 30-35 feet off a jump that collapsed on take off, and landed directly on his head, knocking him out and slamming his back against the snow.

When he came to his senses, when he looked down at his limp legs, he knew he was paralyzed.

He and his friends were snowboarding and snowmobiling in the remote wilderness near Oroville, Wash., a small town close to the border of Canada, where they were staying at a friend’s cabin for the weekend.

Daniel Vredenburg, Mike’s brother, and good friend Daniel Howard were there when Mike crashed.

It was around 1:30 pm on Saturday, Dec. 29.

His brother ran a mile and half back to the cabin, through the deep snow, to call for help.

He knew the only way his brother could be reached was by snowmobile.

Howard comforted Mike in the meantime. He did everything a good friend would do in that moment. Soon a circle of friends from the cabin formed around Mike.

“He’s freezing. He’s shaking,” said friend Ashley Howard. “We all prayed for him. All of us just started singing spontaneously together and the peace of the Lord was so tangible there. You could feel it. There were angels. I have never experienced anything more supernatural in my life and it was the moment of strength we all needed,” Howard added.

“My hands, which were cold, became so hot, so I placed them on Mike and prayed and sang.”

In that moment, surrounded by the faces of those who loved him, Mike’s mindset changed.

JEROME A. POLLOS/Press. Mike Vredenburg's family and therapists have attributed his recovery to determination, focus, positive outlook and faith. "I think the sky is the limit for Mike," said his physical therapist Sarah Gross. "We're hoping to see him come back and be a part of our support group, to come and inspire young people like himself."

Mike Vredenburg’s family and therapists have attributed his recovery to determination, focus, positive outlook and faith. “I think the sky is the limit for Mike,” said his physical therapist Sarah Gross. “We’re hoping to see him come back and be a part of our support group, to come and inspire young people like himself.”

“I felt God come and say, ‘I have you, everything is going to be OK.’ All that fear left and a peace came; I knew God had me,” Vredenburg said. “It hasn’t left since that moment.”

Two and half hours, later paramedics arrived on snowmobiles. They carried him out using a sled and took him to the nearest hospital, North Valley Hospital in Tonasket, Wash.

It was 5 p.m., three and half hours after the accident.

There, the medical staff realized Mike needed surgery and they planned an immediate transfer to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane.

They were told weather conditions would prohibit any flights to Spokane, forcing them to drive six or seven hours with Mike in critical condition.

His friends prayed for the 20-minute needed break in the weather to fly to Spokane.

“All of a sudden five seconds later the doctor was like, ‘Well, we got a window,’” said Howard. “It cleared up just a small path for just that little time frame they needed to fly him to Spokane.”

He was admitted to Sacred Heart where he was operated on the following day.

The blow of the impact fractured his spine bone at the waist level, shoving fragments of bone into the central canal through which the spinal cord sends messages from the brain to the lower body. The bone fragments then pinched the spinal nerves, resulting in paralysis of the legs.

His surgery served a two-part purpose: It removed the bone fragments from the spinal cord and fused the vertebrae together, using hardware to stabilize the spine and prevent further injury to the spinal cord.

“Right after surgery the doctor made it a point to tell me that I’d never walk again,” said Vredenburg.

Mike doesn’t buy it.  “I totally believe that God’s going to heal me, but in his time. Whether it’s tomorrow or in 25 years, I will walk again,” he said.

His friends in Coeur d’Alene didn’t know how to react initially.

“When we found out, we were just shaking. It’s shocking. It’s horrific,” said Mike’s close friend, Ania Majdali, 27. “But Mike, not for one second, has displayed any sort of hopelessness or fear or lack of trust in God. It’s been the opposite. It forces people to be full of faith, full of hope, fully trusting and Mike’s leading the charge. He’s just pulling us along.” 

Vredenburg, 25, was born and raised in Coeur d’Alene. He was a dynamic soccer player for Coeur d’Alene High School and received a full-ride soccer scholarship to NIC. Before his accident, he was serving tables at Applebee’s in Coeur d’Alene and coaching sports at the Kroc Center.

When he wasn’t serving hungry patrons, he was serving other people. He and his brother led a Bible study every Wednesday night, as well as a discipleship house in Hayden where they reside with six other Christian men. Pursuing a life of how Jesus lived is a first priority for them. He is an active member of New Life Community Church and the Altar Church of Coeur d’Alene.

Rehabilitation Dr. Vivian Moise of St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute has overseen Mike’s recovery since he transferred to the center from Sacred Heart on Jan. 3.

“Michael progressed further than average and faster than average,” she said. “He’s done what most of our patients with a similar type of spinal cord injury accomplish in 2 to 3 months, in one month.”

Dr. Moise contributes his progress to his physical state prior to the accident and to his ability “to work no matter how much it hurt or how tired he was.” “He worked his butt off. He pushed, he fought, with motivation to the nth degree.”

Her voice rises with excitement at the mention of Mike Vredenburg. “He is in the cream of the crop, A+, ace level,” she said. “Mike is tied for first place with maybe one or two other patients I’ve worked with over the last 26 years,” said Dr. Moise. “He makes us love our job. It’s like, yes, this is why I am doing what I do.”

Mike’s accident, his story, is one of great faith. And that story, he believes, is meant for others. “Mike is doing more ministry right now laying on a bed paralyzed than most people do in their life,” said Ashley Howard, who estimates that at least 200 people have visited Mike in Spokane since the accident.

When he was in the ICU at Sacred Heart, they had to rotate different visitors every two minutes. His closest friends slept on the floors and chairs of the hospital’s lobby for almost a week.

Sometimes the visitors encouraged him; sometimes he encouraged the visitors.

JEROME A. POLLOS/Press Using a beach ball during a therapy session with Allstot, right and physical therapist Sarah Gross, Mike Vredenburg focuses on keeping his balance and learning how to use a different set of muscles to perform tasks following a spinal cord injury.

Using a beach ball during a therapy session with Allstot, right and physical therapist Sarah Gross, Mike Vredenburg focuses on keeping his balance and learning how to use a different set of muscles to perform tasks following a spinal cord injury.

Mike doesn’t hide his faith. He prays nightly for the hospital’s staff and patients, for his friends and family, for his enemies.

One doctor saw a handmade card for Mike with Jesus on it, and remarked, “I don’t believe in him, but he certainly believes in you.”

Mike drank French press coffee with the nurses and opened up to them about his story. They, in return, confided in him about their lives and their struggles.

On other nights, Mike and his friends, sometimes 25 people, gathered in the hospital’s lobby to play worship music and sing together.

“The nurses and other patients just really love it,” said Vredenburg. “One of them told me, ‘It changed the atmosphere of work, that it became really peaceful and spirit-filled.’ Those were her words.”

“You can lose hope, hope for the future and what life is going to be like. So worship is one of the ways I show the staff and patients that because of my hope for Jesus, my hope never runs out, it never goes away.”

Even with extensive physical therapy, visits from family and friends, and an ever-growing social media presence, Mike finds time to be still.

“I would love people to know that no matter where you find yourself in life, no matter what happens, it doesn’t change that God’s good and he’s for you, not against you. He wants nothing but the best for you and he has dreams and plans over your life that are bigger and greater than your own,” he said.

After a month of hospitalization, Mike was discharged Jan. 29.

“Is Michael going to be a successful human being in the world, have a career, have relationships, have a family, have children, make a difference in other people’s lives, have a purpose in the world, do whatever he wants to do with his life?” asked Dr. Moise. “Yes.

“Another question is will the spinal cord heal and will he walk again? I also believe the answer to that is yes.”

The odds aren’t good. Only 3 percent of patients with a complete injury, like Mike’s, will walk again, said Moise.

“Miracles happen and those are the 3 percent you know about,” she said. “Research has come so incredibly far for curing spinal cord injury that I know in my head and in my heart and not just, oh, spiritually, but intellectually from the status of research that there is no question that in Michael’s lifetime, at least partial, maybe complete recovery of those injured spinal cord nerves is going to happen.”

Mike spoke to Dr. Moise about how much his faith determines his future.

“Maybe he’ll make a bigger difference in the world or in other people’s lives,” said Moise. “Or maybe he will be in the situation of totally changing a person’s life or saving someone’s life that he never would have known had he not been in a wheelchair.”

Mike admits his life is radically different.

What used to take him five minutes to do takes 25 minutes. What he used to do effortlessly takes the most amount of effort imaginable. What he used to acknowledge he now cherishes.

“Before the accident I was so wrapped up in life, working, and responsibilities,” said Vredenburg. “The biggest eye-opening thing as far as life after December 29th, it that it’s not so much about me anymore and it’s more about other people.”

JEROME A. POLLOS/PressUsing leg braces and forearm crutches, Mike Vredenburg works on his upright mobility less than a month after he suffered a spinal cord injury in a snowmobile accident. "I haven't seen a patient progress as fast as him in 10 years," said Jake Allstot, a physical therapist assistant.

JEROME A. POLLOS/Press  Using leg braces and forearm crutches, Mike Vredenburg works on his upright mobility less than a month after he suffered a spinal cord injury in a snowmobile accident. “I haven’t seen a patient progress as fast as him in 10 years,” said Jake Allstot, a physical therapist assistant.



Do you want to help?

Join Michael Vredenburg for “A Night For Mike,” a silent auction fundraiser on Friday, March 22 at the Kroc Center. Tickets are limited and can be purchased by sending a check for $35 addressed to “Mikey V’s Recovery Fund” to C/O A Night for Mike, P.O. Box 658, Hayden, Idaho, 83835. Donate online and listen to Mike V’s video blogs at




Choose the right attitude



Staff writer/Coeur d’Alene Press

Magnetic people live with a young heart.

They light up your life. They draw you in with their presence. Naturally you crave what they already possess.

They’ll tell you it’s not a secret, though.

They are aware of but not defined by their age. They rise above their bodies and fill their weathering temples with all of the gifts of a young child.

My dad is one of those people. He is the perfect person to start off our 2013 Young at Heart publication, which includes articles and local event calendars for seniors striving to live with a younger heart.

My dad was born in 1946 but he acts like he was born in 1989, the year I was born.

When he fell off a roof and broke his leg in five places, he recovered by training for a marathon on a three-wheeled, hand-operated bike. He won that race, placing first at the Tucson Marathon with a time of 1:53.

He then completed another marathon on foot, and then another.

When he got skin cancer, he received treatments and invested in giant sunglasses.
When probed about his condition, he made jokes. He laughed. He told people he’d been in a bar fight. He told one woman a wolf had attacked him.

Some strangers believed him. They laughed together.

When he had eye surgery, he laid low, read dozens of books, and caught up with friends. When he could see well again, he went skiing and played his guitar for children at the Kroc and for elderly folks at Ivy Court.

His secret is choosing to live with a young heart, every day of his life.

Minimum wage, maximum debate


Christopher Paul shows Sue Williams of Coeur d’Alene an opal ring for sale at the Golden City Loan and Pawn shop.


North Idaho Business Journal writer 

As millions of Americans watched the ball drop in Times Square, 10 states and two cities officially raised their minimum wages on January 1. 

Idaho was not one of those states.

In fact, Idaho’s state minimum wage matches that of the federal minimum wage at $7.25 an hour. A tipped employee in Idaho makes $3.35 per hour.

Washington and Montana, Idaho’s neighbors, pay their tipped workers more than twice as much per hour than Idaho.

In Montana, for a tipped employee, the minimum wage is $7.80. In Washington, a tipped employee earns $9.04 per hour, and a non-tipped employee, $9.19 per hour– the highest minimum wage in the nation.

“I would not be in favor of an increased minimum wage, but I would be willing to have discussions about increasing the minimum wage,” said Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene.

Malek acknowledges North Idaho’s economic troubles, unemployment, underemployment, and the obstacles small and big businesses face.

“Some people are stuck in minimum wage jobs that have more potential than what the market is currently offering them, but I don’t think putting a stranglehold on businesses is what’s going to solve the problem,” said Malek.

Steve Wilson, President and CEO of the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce, follows a similar school of thought as Malek and does not follow the logic of lawmakers in Washington state who voted to raise their minimum wage.  

“They somehow artificially decided that nine dollars an hour [$9.04] is the minimum wage for a restaurant employee in Liberty Lake. I would rather have the government stay out of that and have the marketplace set it’s own wage at the prevailing rate,” Wilson said.

Wilson describes himself as a “pure and laissez-fare economist.”

“Across the board, to throw more money at a workforce and expect productivity to go up, is an invalid assumption,” said Wilson. “I might as well tell you, the less government involvement in business, the better. You’re going to legislate people out of business.”

Idaho has maintained federal minimum wages since 1991. “Since then, the minimum wage increased in three 70-cent increments — to $5.85 in July 2007, $6.55 in July 2008 and $7.25 in July 2009,” wrote Alivia Metts, a regional economist for the Idaho Department of Labor, in her January 2011 Idaho Employment Report.


The question remains: Is the Idaho legislature’s reluctance to enact a higher minimum wage preventing a more prosperous future for Idahoans or curtailing a strain on an already trembling sector of business owners?

Christopher Paul of Coeur d’Alene knew exactly how he felt in response to this question. 

“You have all of Idaho servers making an hourly wage of $3.35 per hour,” said Paul, 21. “If Idaho raised the minimum wage, waiters would stop commuting to Washington for work. We’re losing workers and money. If you don’t have thriving workers, you don’t have a thriving economy.”

Paul got his first job in Coeur d’Alene when he was 18. He’s worked his way up every rung of the North Idaho service industry––– bagging groceries, collecting carts, bussing tables, and serving meals.

Now Paul is managing Golden City Loan and Pawn of Coeur d’Alene and devising a plan to open up his own business.   

“If you were to raise the bar on our minimum wage, you’d see productivity and quality in the work force increase,” he said. “Any lawmaker has to consider the fact that the Idaho worker is not motivated because we have such a low minimum wage.”

Darius Ross, contributor to the American Forum and managing partner of D Alexander Ross Real Estate Capital Partners, cites an intriguing fact on the history of minimum wages in the U.S.

“The year 1956 is so long ago that most Americans, including me, weren’t even born yet,” writes Ross. “Yet, our federal minimum wage is just $7.25 while the value of the 1956 minimum wage is $8.46 in today’s dollars. That’s no formula for economic success.”  

Raising Idaho’s minimum wage has yet to become a legislative conversation or priority.

“Of course, we have yet to do that,” said Jimmy Farris, a Democrat who lost to incumbent Raúl Labrador for the U.S. Representative for Idaho’s 1st Congressional District seat last November. 

“My question, what exactly is their reason for opposing it?”


Jimmy Farris.

Farris, who “definitely plans to run again in 2014” for political office, considers opposition to an increased minimum wage moot, when Idaho’s per capita income in 2011 ranked 49th in the nation at $32,881, according to the Bureau of Business & Economic Research.

Only Mississippi ranked lower.

“I really encourage us to think about why Idaho lawmakers are satisfied with the bare minimum, across the board,” said Farris.

Farris rejects any notion of increased wages damaging businesses and the economy.

“What Idaho lawmakers are telling you is that they are willing to protect the business owner but they are not willing to protect the average Idaho citizen who spends money in those small businesses, which keeps the doors open and in return, helps the overall economy,” said Farris.

Farris argues wages determine our economic competitiveness.

“Could we at least get competitive? As all of these states around us progress, we are falling behind,” he said.

Farris is dismayed by Idaho’s poor rankings in the most pertinent categories.

“Given the fact that our education system performs pretty poorly,” said Farris, “do you think companies are going to bring their business here and put their kids in our public schools?”

“How can we say that we are trying everything we can to make life for Idaho citizens better? That should be our goal. That should be the goal of our lawmakers,” said Farris. “And a simple thing we could do is raise the minimum wage.”

Metts, the regional economist for the Idaho Department of Labor, said higher wages provide benefits across the board. 

“If Idaho could become more competitive with its wages overall, not necessarily just minimum wages, it would help attract an even more skilled work force, gain competition with neighboring states, reduce labor turnover, and increase productivity, which will overall increase economic activity,” said Metts.


Building the American Dream

How one young professional’s vision impacts North Idaho’s housing market


North Idaho Business Journal writer



Age: 24

Job: Mortgage loan officer at Goldwater Bank NA Mortgage Division.

Family: “Wife, Robyn Novotny, 22. She is so loving and passionate. Mom and dad, Bruce and Christine. Brothers: Richard, Lance, Tristan, and Nathanael.”

What’s a great book you’ve read recently? “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”

What’s your favorite weekend activity? “Snowboarding at Lookout or Silver Mountain.”

Who do you look up to most in the Cd’A business community?
“My boss, Josh Martin.”

What famous person do you look up to?
“Bill Gates. He’s been so successful and so generous.”


Steve Novotny loves to make his clients’ dreams come true.

“The American dream is to buy your own home and own a piece of real estate,” he said.

“And that’s what I do. Financially speaking, I walk people right up to that American dream and say, ‘Here you go, here’s the keys to your first home.’ It’s just the greatest feeling in the world,” said Steve Novotny, a mortgage loan officer of Goldwater Bank NA Mortgage Division, located in the Riverstone Village at 2065 W. Riverstone Drive.

While in the market of the American dream, Novotny’s found a big dream for himself and an even bigger dream for his hometown.

His dream, one loan at a time, one person at a time, is to build Coeur d’Alene’s housing market into a vibrant and profitable industry, benefiting the region’s economy and every individual willing to work toward buying a home.

As soon as Novotny could work, he did. He mowed lawns in his neighborhood, made house repairs with his dad, and soon got his first job busing tables. He worked his way up by being a server and eventually became a car salesman.

In the whirlpool of a floundering economy, while also attending NIC as a business major and working at Coeur d’Alene Honda as a car salesman, Novotny pinpointed the ideal job that fit his interests and needs.

“I like sales, I like people, and I wanted to be involved with the real estate community in some way,” said Novotny. “So I kind of winged it.”

‘Winging it’ led to an interview with Branch Manager Josh Martin and a job at Goldwater Bank as a mortgage loan officer.

Despite a cut of 145 mortgage and non-mortgage loan officers in Kootenai County between 2007 and 2011 according to the Idaho Department of Labor, Steve was hired right on the spot at the end of 2010.

“It was a great moment for you to come in if you’re willing to work hard and do the job right, with honesty and integrity, and to stand out from your competitors,” said Novotny.

“In order to stand out, you have to let everyone know how good at communication and customer service you are. You also have to be honest. I want everyone to have a reason to come back and do business with me.”

Novotny was named the top volume producer in 2012 for Goldwater’s Coeur d’Alene and Priest River branches.

“He is a great lender and leader,” said Debbie Inman, a longtime North Idaho real estate agent. “I have nothing but great words for him. I’ve been a Realtor for 15 years and he is the best lender I’ve ever had help me with my clients.”

“He is going to go far. He answers his phone; he returns phone calls, and he is very knowledgeable, professional, and caring.”

Karen and Jerry Schomer, customers of Novotny’s, can attest to Inman’s comments.

“I highly respect him,” said Karen Schomer.

One instance really impressed her. The Schomers needed to sign time-sensitive documents but were in the middle of a family get-together. “Steve just drove right over so we could sign the documents,” Karen said. “He then read all the paperwork upside down, sitting across from us, so we could read along, and make sure we were aware of every detail.”

“To me it doesn’t matter what size the loan is– I treat every customer the same,” Novotny said. To me it is not the size of the loan but that they are my customer.”

Novotny is drawing out-of-state customers as well.

Recently he received a phone call from a couple in Kansas wanting to buy a second home in Boise.

They were worried about the overall process, but the same day they called Novotny about the loan, he got back to them with an end to their worries. Here’s how Novotny recalled the conversation:

“Great news: I’ve got a clear-to-close on your loan, so we can close tomorrow afternoon,” Novotny said.

“If I were there, I would kiss you right now,” the woman said.

“Oh, thank you,” Novotny replied, laughing. “It’s been a pleasure working with you.”