Luan “Lu” Thomas-Brunkhorst thrives among other people. This is the perfect characteristic for a successful director of the Long Prairie Area Chamber of Commerce, a position Lu has filled since 2015.
“I feed off visiting with people,” she said.
Her smiling face and enthusiastic voice greet community members wherever she goes. It’s been this way since she came to Long Prairie 20 years ago this month.
Lu grew up in Pennsylvania. Her story is closely linked with that of her husband, Jürgen Brunkhorst. The two met when Lu was an exchange student in Jürgen’s hometown in Germany in the late 1980s.
Lu earned a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s, planning on being a German teacher who could also teach English as a second language. Having kept in touch with Jürgen, she moved to Germany in 1993. Jürgen was working as a hydrographic surveyor on the Baltic Sea. Lu was hired to teach ESL (English as a Second Language) to shipyard workers.
It was a serendipitous turn of events that brought the Brunkhorsts to Long Prairie in 1999. They were making a bicycle trip from Florida to Arizona while searching for a German-teaching position for Lu. The two best openings were in Las Vegas — and Long Prairie.
“I interviewed for both jobs,” Lu said. “Las Vegas was very impersonal. Here, I did six interviews. I met the principal, the counselor and many other staff members.”
Lu and Jürgen had been traveling in dry, arid areas of the country. They visited Long Prairie in early May when everything was green and it was raining.
“We were enamored with that. We thought, ‘This is so beautiful,’” said Lu.
In addition, Jürgen’s hometown in Germany was on Highway 71. Lu had studied in New York in a town on Highway 287.
“It was obviously meant to be,” she said.
Lu’s success as Chamber director is directly linked to her years of teaching.
“I got to know so many families in the community. Their parents own businesses, are active in the community and the students as adults are active in the city. Two of the chamber’s board members are former students. My name will always be ‘Frau Lu’ to many people,” she said. “I see former students at games, activities and events all the time.”
Chamber Board Chair Clara Vancura said, “Lu has been a great source of continuous optimism and encouragement for not only local businesses but the entire Long Prairie community. I have had the pleasure of knowing Lu since I took German from her in high school more than 10 years ago.
“When I returned home after college and I saw how much Lu was accomplishing through her work at the Chamber, I knew I wanted to be more involved. By harnessing the talents and hard work being done in the community, Lu continues to bring light and laughter to our little community with a big heart. We thank her for never slowing down and continuing to seek new opportunities for our local businesses.”
Ted Gray, city administrator for Long Prairie, said, “I have known Lu for many, many years. She is a family friend and I took German in high school. I was on the hiring committee for the chamber when she was hired. She gives 150 percent to every project she is a part of. The city is headed in a better direction and she is a big part of that. I cannot thank her enough for what she does, and I am looking forward to the future projects we tackle together.”
More than 100 businesses, individuals and organizations have joined the chamber since Lu took the helm. The total membership has nearly doubled.
What Lu thrives on most is what benefits the chamber and Long Prairie the most — all the connecting and communicating and networking. People.
Her smile and enthusiasm go a long way to making Long Prairie an even better place to be.
Congratulations, Lu, for being named Woman of the Month.