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The opportunity came earlier than planned, but Mimi Dane ’77 has never looked back.

Alumni Profile/Finding Joy at Flying Horse

The life of Mimi Dane ’77 has been peppered with choices that may seem unconventional, risky or even extreme. But she is confident about each bold decision that led to her current professional role as CEO of Flying Horse Farms, a camp in Ohio that brings joy to seriously ill children and their families. “I have not regretted it for a moment,” says Dane. “It’s the most transformational work one can do.”

Dane was born in Florida and grew up near Milwaukee. She calls her path to St. Norbert College “an odd one.” She spent a summer during high school in Arequipa, Peru, and fell in love with the culture – and, with a Peruvian boy: “I decided when I was a senior that the only school I wanted to go to was St. Norbert College because there was an exchange program in Peru, specifically Arequipa. It was the only place I applied!” After she arrived at St. Norbert, the Peru program was canceled. “It didn’t make a difference, because I fell in love with the school,” says Dane.

Dane, an English major, loved the small classes and sense of community she found on campus. She was active on the College Activities Board and a member of the Dirty Hippie Club (now defunct). After graduating, she went to Western Michigan University to pursue her master’s degree, then her Ph.D. in English. “I was two chapters into my dissertation and realized I did not want to spend the rest of my life teaching freshman English, and the job market was horrible,” Dane remembers. She pulled the plug on her Ph.D., and enrolled in law school at The Ohio State University. “Everybody told me that there would be a day that I would regret not finishing my Ph.D.,” says Dane. “I am still waiting for that day to happen.”

After completing law school she clerked for a judge in Philadelphia – a “most remarkable experience” as she fondly recalls, then began a 21-year career with Squire Sanders (now Squire Patton Boggs), eventually becoming a partner at the law firm. “I loved the practice of law as a trial lawyer,” she says.

But Dane’s career took a surprising twist after close friend Cindy Lazarus recruited her to serve on the board of Flying Horse Farms. The camp and its mission felt personal for Dane. She had lost her teenaged nephew to cancer. “When you have a child with a serious illness, your life is defined initially by the diagnosis, the treatment,” Dane explains. “Then Flying Horse Farms comes into your life, and now the whole shift as a family is about wellness, and a child having an opportunity to be a child. At school they’re the kid with cancer, the kid who’s had a heart transplant. But at camp, they’re the kid who caught a fish, who hit a bulls-eye.”

Lazarus soon approached Dane about succeeding her as CEO. “I was thinking, when I turned 60, I would retire from law and do something in the nonprofit world,” says Dane. “But the opportunity came earlier.”

Dane told her husband about the offer, and the couple decided to take some time to think it over. “I changed my clothes and I went out and did a five-mile run. I came back and said, ‘You know what, honey – we’re doing this!’ ”

Dane became CEO in 2011. Today, Flying Horse Farms serves more than 800 children and family members each year, offering life-changing adventures at no cost to campers. It’s the first camp in the Midwest to become a full member of the SeriousFun Children’s Network, founded by Paul Newman.

“My [former] colleagues at the firm say I have this glow about me,” says Dane. “It’s changed me. It’s made me more focused on the joy of life every day.”

July 3, 2015