Lisa Kivirist and her husband, John Ivanko

'Inn of the Sixth Happiness'
Lisa Kivirist (S89) hopped off the fast track to start a B&B inn with her husband.
Lisa Kivirist (S89) was set to follow a straight, upward trajectory in her career.

After majoring in communication studies at Northwestern, she landed a job in the account management training program for client service and accounts at Leo Burnett, one of the largest advertising agencies in the country. But the adventurous Glenview, Ill., native found that conformity did not satisfy her.

After three years at Burnett, Kivirist left to find her bliss. Eventually, in 1997, she found the perfect answer: She and her husband, John Ivanko, opened Inn Serendipity, a bed-and-breakfast establishment near Browntown, in southwestern Wisconsin.

"Parents, co-workers and the media tell you what is expected of you at different stages," she says. "It takes a lot of confidence to go out on your own.

"After I had been [at Burnett] a couple of years, I felt I was turning into a cookie-cutter corporate clone."

Hardly the case these days. Kivirist not only uses her 100-year-old farmhouse for the B&B but also for many other endeavors, which include writing, speaking to schoolchildren on environmental issues and running workshops on a variety of alternative topics. She and Ivanko became interested in starting a B&B because of their love of travel, experience with B&Bs in the Midwest and interest in sharing a home and lifestyle with others.

"Our goal was to find a turn-of-the-century farmhouse and retrofit it using environmental technology, while still retaining the character of a traditional farmhouse," she says.

Hardly your run-of-the-mill B&B, Inn Serendipity has a 1960s' feel about it, with two "themed" guest rooms to inspire creativity, a solar water-heating system, five acres of organic farmland, tiles made out of recycled auto windshields and wood-stove heating.

Guests can rent the "music room" or the "writing room," and they can relax outside in a handcrafted Guatemalan hammock, sipping lemon balm iced tea or raspberry wheat ale and nibbling organically grown veggies. One departing guest thanked the innkeepers for "a beautiful glimpse into ... peace and tranquility."

But for all of Kivirist's current satisfaction, she would never give up the time she spent working on the 9 to 5 shift. "I don't regret going to Burnett and using the corporate experience as a jumping-off point," she says. "You just have to keep the bigger vision in mind."

Although her life in Wisconsin appears about as far away as one can get from the concrete jungle, Kivirist has not forgotten her yuppie brothers and sisters still caught up in the rat race. Her book, Kiss Off Corporate America: A Young Professional's Guide to Independence (Andrews McMeel, 1998), is a resource guide to following one's dreams.

In the book, Kivirist states clearly that she understands how hard it is to make a U-turn on the career path. At the same time, the guide is persuasive about how fulfilling such changes can be.

She and her husband are hard at work on another book, a combination cookbook-memoir of their transition to the quieter life. It will feature recipes from their hearty vegetarian breakfasts — made with fresh produce from the garden and eggs from their chickens — and other delectable items such as fruit smoothies, good for boosting energy.

"The opportunity to change is inherent in all of us," Kivirist says. "We just need to decide to follow our dreams."

— Cherise Bathersfield (J99) in Spring 2000 Northwestern Alumni Magazine