Sewn in love: Nordhuses reflect on 52 years in business, 65 years of marriage

By Zach Jensen,

Not often does a good marriage and good business go hand-in-hand. But for Dwaine and Lorraine Nordhus, of Postville, it’s been a dream and a blessing. They have built and operated Suhdron Fabrics, located in Monona, for the past 52 years. And, for the communities they have lived and worked in, they  have helped build so much more than that. 

Suhdron Fabrics, the two-story building at 120 West Center Street in Monona, boasts a basement, ground level and upper level containing hundreds of different prints, colors, weaves and textures of fabric of all kinds and from all over. Also included in the Nordhus collection are oil paintings, antiques, nick-knacks, seasonal and holiday items and much more, and Dwaine said quilters come from all over North America to comb through their inventory.

How the business began was a natural fit for the couple. Lorraine said she liked the idea of owning a fabric store because she’d always enjoyed sewing.

“When I was growing up, I was real tall, and I couldn’t buy clothes that fit me,” she said. “So, I had to start sewing. And, Dwaine knew I liked to sew, so he encouraged me to go into the business.”

For their business, Lorraine does all the ordering and bookkeeping, and Dwaine said she’s also kept him out of jail all these years. “We love the business,” Lorraine said. “I love picking out fabrics to go together, to make a quilt, but mainly, it’s the customers that keep me excited about it.”

Dwaine added that he intended to refinish the building’s second story into a “quilters getaway”, but he never got around to it. And, as he said, “They have getaways for quilters everywhere now. They need a space to get together and have fun — and to get away from their husbands probably.”

“There’s a lot of work to be done up there yet — for someone younger than me,” Dwaine said. “Why I didn’t get that done up there is because she got me building houses. She loves to draw and design houses. She did all the architect work inside the house, as well as outside, and we built over 22 homes — every single one of them different.”

Dwaine emphasized that neither he nor Lorraine were wealthy when they were married, and it took more than just hard work to build their business.

“When we got married, I might have had $200,” he said. “I’ve worked ever since I was a kid. I mowed lawns, worked for H&H for 40 cents an hour. I worked at a gas station, creamery.” His biggest job up to that point paid him “a whole dollar an hour then”.

When Dwaine started working for the Rural Electric Cooperative, where he worked for 38 years, he bought Lorraine an 8 ft. x 18 ft. trailer house to live in as their first home together. Dwaine was later transferred to Postville, where the couple purchased a lot and started working on their first “dream home”. At the time, he was earning just $1.25 an hour as a lineman. 

“I was happy in the trailer, but she wasn’t,” Dwaine said. “The dream house was coming along, and the roof was on, and she said ‘I’m moving into the house with or without you!’ So, I decided maybe I better get it done.”

And, Dwaine added that none of anything he’s accomplished would have been possible, if it weren’t for his wife … and God Himself.

Dwaine remembers the day he met Lorraine as if it was just the other day.

“For some reason, I went to the theater, and when I came out, I saw this beautiful gal across the street and said ‘I gotta meet that gal’. So, I went and met her and found out she knew about me.”

It turned out that Dwaine had been dating one of Lorraine’s high school classmates in Waukon, but that didn’t stop either of them from getting to know each other.

“She got in trouble with her dad the first time that night,” Dwaine said with a chuckle, “because she didn’t come home early.” 

“It wasn’t too bad,” Lorraine laughed. 

“We went for a drive and were having fun, talking and getting to know each other,” Dwaine added. “We went together for a month or two, and ‘next thing I knew I gave her a ring, and I was engaged.”

But, the engagement was anything but easy. In fact, a short while after becoming engaged, Lorraine gave her ring back. “He was waving at other girls,” Lorraine said.

“I was out at Lake Huron, workin’ for the power company,” Dwaine recalled. “I got the guys I worked with lined up with girls. So, whenever I came to town, all the girls would call out ‘Hi Dwaine!’, so she got mad.” Lorraine thought Dwaine was acting like a “wolf”, as they used to say back then. But Dwaine assured her he’d been faithful, and he asked Lorraine to marry him again, and she accepted … again.

“I’d been with enough gals in my time that when I saw her, she was it,” Dwaine said. “She was worth every nickel. Years ago, I would have said she was worth every penny, so now, with inflation, I should say she’s worth every 10 dollars.”

The couple didn’t have a honeymoon after their wedding, but Lorraine said “it’s all been a honeymoon” ever since … a honeymoon during which the couple built an entire subdivision of houses in Postville and owned fabric stores in Decorah, Postville and Monona.

Monona Chamber and Economic Development Director Ardie Kuhse, who’s known the Nordhuses for about 50 years, said, “I promote them, because they’re a destination in this town. They’ve been so dedicated to their business for so many years. They’re a mainstay business here in Monona. They bring people in from all over because of their reputation and the wide variety of fabrics and other things they have, and they’re just such wonderful people.”

“They’re very giving, and they give back to the community,” added Postville City Administrator/Clerk Darcy Radloff. “Mr. Nordhus has been known to buy homes and do rent-to-own contracts with lower-income people. He’s provided a lot of opportunities for people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford a home. It helps with the housing situation every community is facing right now.

“To be like Dwaine, it takes someone who’s committed to the community, that’s for sure,” Radloff continued. “They’re both very community-minded and selfless.”

Suhdron Fabrics of Monona is now up for sale, and co-owner Dwaine Nordhus, 85, emphasized that he and Lorraine, his wife of 65 years, are selling the business — not closing it.

“Somebody up there loves us, because we wouldn’t sell the business, but our bodies say we need to,” Dwaine said of the business he and his wife built over the last 52 years. “And, we’re not quitting. We’re looking for someone to take over. It’s like we’re selling the inventory, and the building comes with it. Our hours are shorter because she and I can’t take it. But, we never kick anyone out like the big cities do.”

“Monona will miss them when they sell,” said Kuhse.  

Looking back on their lives together, including the fabric store, building the Nordhus Subdivision in Postville, building several “dream homes” for themselves, buying another home in Arizona and raising three children, it’s clear that Dwaine and Lorraine know at least two secrets of how to live a good life: The first being how to become financially healthy, and the second being how to be happy with one person for more than six decades. 

And, Dwaine said both of those virtues have one thing in common.

“That Guy,” Dwaine said, smiling and pointing up at God. “I’ve tried projects I didn’t talk to Him about, and they never turned out worth a hoot. None of this would be possible without Him.”

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