Marsha Doyenne (Photos by Tom Parker)
No Place Like Home
A common perception is that when young people graduate they leave town and never look back, swapping parochial backwaters for the glitz and glamor of big cities. They disappear Out There, by which rural folk mean the greater world, a distant city or a megalopolis stitched to a coastline. East or West, they’re one and the same. A smaller number, a fraction really, head Over There, which once meant Great Britain and Europe and countries with strange names and languages nobody at home could speak; and an even smaller number slip off Down Under, which is about as far as one can go from Kansas and still remain on the planet.
Marsha Doyenne, formerly of Concordia and now again of Concordia, has seen and lived them all. And after roaming the globe in search of career opportunities, she gave it up and came home.
“I don’t make decisions like most people do,” she said. “I go with my heart. It’s all intuition.”
Having spent 25 years in the international software market, eight of which were lived in Australia, Marsha learned invaluable lessons not only about business and life but also about relativity. Small town does not necessarily mean provincial, she realized—and in cases where it plainly did, well, it was up to her to change it.
It was a lesson she applied immediately after returning to her hometown of Concordia to take over three stores owned by her mother, Peggy Doyen. “We may live in a small town,” Marsha said, “but that doesn’t mean that we have no access outside our area.” In other words, she wasn’t going to live without those essential items she’d discovered beyond the Kansas borders. The world really was a small place.
During the five years since moving back, Marsha has put that principle to work first in Essentials, a natural-foods store and more, and now in Country Cousins, a quilting and fabric shop. The two stores occupy three buildings at 114-118 W. 6th Street in downtown Concordia.
Essentials came first. After extensive research and a fair amount of trial and error, she realized that the market wasn’t in organic products, but what she called “free-from things.”
“We evolved into the largest gluten-free food provider in the region,” she said. That’s expanded to include products for people who are sensitive to milk, eggs, corn, soy and other things. For example, people with milk allergies can find goat milk cheese and ice cream, rice milk yogurt and rice milk, almond milk, hemp milk and water buffalo yogurt. In addition to food, the store stocks a complete line of homeopathic remedies, vitamins and supplements, and gluten-free personal care products. Essentials also stocks a wide array of religious items and gifts, books and Bibles, kitchen gadgets, cookbooks, Himalayan salt lamps, essential oils and Kansas products.
Country Cousins, which she took over two years ago, stocks sewing supplies and high-quality fabrics—over 4,500 bolts of fabrics, in fact, including quilting and fashion fabrics, making it one of the largest such stores in the Midwest. Many of the fashion fabrics can be found in the Coldwater Creek and Lands End catalogs. Other inventory includes wool and wool blends, flannels, slinky travel knit, spandex, linen and more.
The amount of inventory is staggering and almost unheard of in a small community. But then, Marsha takes the world view, with a lot of creativity thrown in.
Still, it wasn’t a completely painful-free process relocating from Australia to Concordia. “I had difficulty adjusting,” she admitted. “I’d never lived in a small town before. In a big city you’re anonymous. There’s none of that here.” There was also that matter of her name change. While living in California, people seemed to have a great deal of difficulty pronouncing her name correctly. Marsha decided to opt for “Doyenne,” a play on words for a term meaning “a leading or senior woman in a group or society.” Business-wise, it was a plus. And suddenly, for no explainable reason, people were able to enunciate her name. “I can’t explain it,” she said.
However, when she went to get a Kansas driver’s license the clerk’s office was not nearly as accommodating as was the judge in California. To straighten it out she had to go before a Kansas judge and explain how her last name went from Doyen to Doyenne. Rather than changing it back, she kept the French spelling. She also kept her Australian citizenship (along with her American citizenship), not because she’s planning on moving back anytime soon, but because having once been in the world she now finds herself changed. Partly it’s a matter of being an optimist and partly a sea-change from constant worldwide travel to a stationary existence in the heart of the nation. It’s a drastic transformation, and that she’s been able to not only manage it but find success in entrepreneurial enterprises is a testament to her creativity and work ethic.
At times she still hungers for the outside world. She loved California and Australia and sometimes feels like Kansas is simply a way station or a temporary outpost. For now, though, it’s where her parents are, where home is, and she's content to globalize her small share of it.
“It worked out,” she said. “My story is still being written.”