By Dave and Joyce Lasecke
It’s with heavy hearts that we share the news that Lola Fredrickson, our friend, our family member, our
company co-founder and namesake, passed away recently after a rough battle with cancer.
Although the three of us co-founded Fredrickson Learning, Lola was the true foundation of the
company. We started Fredrickson in 1985 after the three of us were laid off from a small consulting firm.
Lola assured us that we could make it as a company “as long as we just treated people right—everyone
we work for and everyone we work with.” This fundamental value has guided the behavior of every
Fredrickson employee to this day.
Lola retired from Fredrickson in 2015 after 30 years of serving as our CEO and mentor. In the years up
until her illness, she remained just as busy as ever with numerous causes. Most notable was the role she
had establishing the Minnesota chapter of Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS), an
organization that provides scholarships and other support for students at top US research universities.
Lola also served as an activist pushing for elder care reform.
Fredrickson’s early offices
Our first “office” was the living room of Lola’s small apartment on Franklin Avenue. We shared this
space with Lola’s three cats. This actually turned out to be a great work environment—it’s hard to get
too stressed about writing proposals, paying bills, etc. when you have a kitty sleeping on your shoulder.
Toward the end of our first year, we were ready for a real office. Lola found us a cool space for rent at a
renovated building in the warehouse district of downtown Minneapolis. We loved it, up until the point
that a “gentleman’s” club moved into the building next door. Then things got a little awkward–
especially when we had clients come for a visit—so we moved on.
Our third office turned out to be a long-term move of more than 20 years. We had space in the top floor
of the Textile Building, also in the warehouse district. Over the years we had the pleasure of being in the
same building with two hip restaurants: Chez Bananas, and the original Pizza Luce. Tuesdays were the
days that Pizza Luce roasted their weekly supply of garlic; the odor coming up the elevator shaft was too
hard to resist, so Tuesdays also usually meant pizza day in the Fredrickson office.
Another highlight of our time in that building was being able to watch both the I-394 extension, and the
Twins baseball stadium, being built. Most of the land for those two structures used to be occupied by
railroad trains and unsupervised parking areas. It was pretty amazing having a front row seat to two
enormous construction projects and seeing the total transformation of that area take place.
The Fredrickson Fleet
When we started the company, we were all pretty much broke, which you could tell by the vehicles we
owned. Dave had an old pickup truck that was full of dents and bruises; Joyce had a Monte Carlo with a
terminal case of rust; and Lola—Lola had what was probably thee most iconic car in Minneapolis. To
begin with, it was a Gremlin. A purple Gremlin. If you’ve never seen such a beast, google “purple
But it wasn’t just any purple Gremlin. One morning a delivery truck backed into the front end of the
Gremlin while Lola had it parked at her apartment. This led to a few complications:
- One of the headlights was loosened from the impact, and when Lola drove over any bump, the headlight would pop out and dangle from its wire like an eyeball hanging by the optic nerve;
- The front hood was crumpled up into a snarl; and
- The hood’s snarl had a gap that meant anyone could reach into the gap and pop open the hood.
It didn’t take long before some local street entrepreneurs discovered that they could slip a hand in the
gap and open the hood. Within a few days Lola had two car batteries stolen. To remedy the situation,
Lola’s handyman father installed a large gold padlock on a large gold chain into the car’s hood, so that
you couldn’t open the hood until you unlocked the padlock.
The end result was a vehicle that fit right into the punk rock scene at that time: a snarling purple
Gremlin with a padlock and chain through its lips and an eyeball that popped out and dangled.
We all felt that the biggest mistake we ever made was not taking a group photo with the three of us
wearing business suits, standing in front of our vehicles—the original Fredrickson Fleet.
Lola was the main reason we succeeded as a company in the early days. She had connections in the Twin
Cities, and within a short time she was able to land projects for us at B. Dalton Booksellers and 3M.
These were great projects: enough to help us pay bills and buy groceries for a few months, and to have
some breathing room while Lola scouted for other opportunities.
In the spring of 1986, a colleague of Lola’s asked her for advice on how to handle a major problem she
faced at her workplace—a large insurance company in Minneapolis. The company’s expenses were
running high because employees lacked consistent procedures and proper training. Lola explained to her
colleague the steps she would take to turn the situation around. Next thing we knew, the three of us
were sitting in the company’s boardroom with all the top executives, including the CEO, while Lola
presented her remedy for their situation. Keep in mind that we’d only been in business for six months at
The execs bought into Lola’s solution, and we were hired for what led to more than three years of
steady work for us. We also needed to hire our first employees to help with the work volume. And our
work had a real, measurable impact for our client: the Vice President who was our main stakeholder told
us after the first year that our work had already saved the company over a million dollars.
Probably the hardest thing for a small business is getting buffeted around by the economic winds. In our
history, we’ve seen and survived four recessions: the first was in the early 1990s, the 2 nd was the dot-
com-fueled meltdown in the early 2000s, the 3 rd was (shudder!) the Great Recession, and the most
recent was the COVID downturn.
These were anguishing times. Losing our business and our livelihood was a real possibility. The three of
us spent many tense hours huddled together, reviewing our finances, our options, and our contingency
plans. Lola was our rock through all of this, and she stepped up each time as the company leader to
share our plans with our staff and to convey the optimism of better times ahead.
Maybe the most important thing we learned from Lola is that believing wholeheartedly in something
can make it come true.
The roots of our communities
In the days before the World Wide Web, professional development and networking happened at local
and national professional organization meetings. Thanks to Lola, we were active members of the Society
for Technical Communication. Each year, she encouraged someone at the company to submit a paper. If
the paper was selected for STC’s Journal, the person would present at the conference. We collectively
presented about needs assessment, online help systems (when they were new!), and cost estimating.
Through STC, Lola became friends with other tech comm business owners and thought leaders. For
about 5 years before the Roundtable, she organized Master Classes led by thought leaders, open to
employees and clients, led by these leaders. These were day-long sessions on topics such as business
strategy, visual communication, simple language, and user experience design.
Several years later, we launched the Corporate University Roundtable. Some of you were founding
participants! A corporate university was the organizing principle for workplace education–LMSs came
later. Lola was adamant that the Roundtable meetings be a chance for participants to speak with and
learn from each other. You know this community group as the Roundtable for Learning Leaders, and
over the years Lola connected many community members to each other.
The Fredrickson Fleet, part 2
About two years ago we were thinking back on our early days, and ruing the fact that we had never
taken a picture of the three founders dressed in suits, standing in front of their jalopies (as described
earlier in this blog). And then a wonderful, wild idea came to us: what if we found a caricature artist who
could recreate the photo we wished we had?
Well, we did find such an artist, and you can see the result below. We had two copies made, and gave
one of the copies to Lola last year for her birthday present. It was a warm time, sharing laughs and