Downtown Grafton site seen as more inviting to massage students
When word started to spread that New Frontiers Children’s Center was moving into the former Blue Sky massage school in Grafton, many in the community presumed the school had simply closed.
The real story is considerably more involved.
Last fall, after more than three decades in the business, Karen Weigle — dean of Blue Sky School of Massage and president of the Blue Sky Foundation — was looking to retire.
Weigle sold the buildings on Port Washington Road that housed the school and a retail site. She also sold the school’s Green Bay facility.
The school itself was purchased by three employees with longtime connections.
They are Dawn Koller, director of operations for the past 15 years, Nick Jacoby, director of student relations, and Tiffany Yttri, director of education.
Jacoby and Yttri are graduates and instructors at Blue Sky with their own private massage practices.
Collectively, they formed Achieve Inc. The ownership team chose the all-inclusive name Blue Sky School of Professional Massage & Therapeutic Bodywork to take advantage of the school’s name recognition.
“Rather than see the school close, we took on the responsibility to continue its 31 year legacy of massage therapy education, graduating respected, talented therapists in the field,” Koller said.
In addition to keeping the Blue Sky name, the student roster was retained.
“We looked at the move as a fresh start, an opportunity to return Blue Sky to its earlier roots in Grafton,” Koller said.
“To develop new directions and expand our presence in the community.”
Part of that redefining process involved moving to a new location at 1236 13th Ave.
The site is not nearly as spacious as the Port Road building, but offers students ready access to such downtown amenities as riverside parks, coffee shops and dining spots.
“Frankly, when we moved here we thought there would be a problem with parking but that hasn’t been the case,” Koller said.
“What we have found is that if people miss the building, they have to drive all the way around the block because 13th Avenue is a one-way street.”
Finding the school will be easier soon, when new signage is in place.
The school itself features one large classroom, along with three nicely decorated treatment rooms where students can practice their new massage techniques.
Although the new owners chose not to continue the In Good Health retail store that had been part of the Port Road location, a smaller Blue Sky Wellness Store has been incorporated into the new setting.
The store, which is open to the public, is managed by Cheri Knuth and offers massage oils, lotions and aromatherapy items.
“We eliminated a lot of the excess inventory that wasn’t selling,” Koller said.
Although the school offers classes and seminars in a variety of topics, training massage therapists remains the primary mission.
It is also a field that is in need of more practitioners, Koller said.
“Massage therapy is a growing field in the allied health profession,” she said.
“The field needs people — people who want to help others while developing a rewarding, lucrative career. Our program is just short of a year for full-time students or two years for part-time students.”
Graduates of Blue Sky’s medical intensive track complete 850 clock hours and eight weekend seminars.
Koller said the demand for massage therapists has grown in recent years, even when the recession cooled much of the economy.
“When the economy fell, the number of people wanting massages increased but the amount of people wanting to become massage therapists decreased,” she said.
Koller said Blue Sky graduates practice around the world, including students just starting in their work lives as well as those longing for more meaningful second careers.
“Once trained and licensed, you decide what you want to do,” she said. “If you want to work for someone else, open your own business or do a combination of that. If you want to work full-time or part-time, it’s all in your hands to decide.”
Image Information: A CHANGE IN OWNERSHIP has given Grafton’s Blue Sky School of Professional Massage & Therapeutic Bodywork a new perspective. Above, massage student Leann Frank (left) chatted with Director of Operations Dawn Koller in the school’s classroom. The school recently relocated from a building on Port Washington Road to 1236 13th Ave. Photos by Mark Jaeger