Sara Koehler redesigned Family Handyman

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 10, 2010 - 9:12 PM

She also excelled at music. Two days before her death from cancer at 43, she went sledding with her daughter.

Sara Koehler

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Three years into college, Sara Koehler found herself with a difficult choice to make. She could either stay the course and continue her studies in the field of graphic design, or switch and become a music major. Graphic design won out, and readers of Family Handyman magazine were the beneficiaries.

Koehler was design director for the magazine, which featured photographs and articles on home remodeling, repair and maintenance, and decorating ideas that is published 10 times a year by the Reader's Digest Association. She arrived at Family Handyman about six years ago and helped redesign the publication to give it a cohesive look and feel it had not had in decades, said Ken Collier, the magazine's editor-in-chief.

Koehler died of cancer Dec. 27 at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park. She was 43.

"Not only was she a talented designer, but she understood that graphic arts are about communicating," Collier said.

"She understood that a lot of our readers are regular people, so she kept the design real. She was one of the best hires we have had in many years."

Koehler's handiwork was seen on the covers of the magazine, which has a circulation of 1.3 million and is read by 4 million people, according to associate editor Mary Flanagan. But her work was equally present behind the scenes where she supervised a team of six and encouraged creativity.

"She wanted to see people succeed and draw the best out of those she worked with," Flanagan said. "She was always full of great ideas."

Koehler had been artistic since growing up in Charles City, Iowa, and a career in graphic design was a natural fit, said her husband, Scott, of Eden Prairie. She was an equally talented musician, and was first-chair violinist for her high school orchestra. She was playing in the Iowa State University Orchestra when as a junior the director told her, "We need you to be a music major." She stuck with design and earned her bachelor's degree in 1988 and later earned an MBA from the University of Dayton, her husband said.

Before arriving at Family Handyman, she had been design director for magazines published by the Meredith Corp. in Des Moines, Iowa.

Koehler was an avid bicycler and on several occasions participated in the Des Moines Register's annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). She enjoyed mushroom hunting, aerobics, hiking and cross-county skiing. She also enjoyed sledding, a favorite winter activity she did with her daughter, Sophie. They last went sledding at Staring Lake Park in Eden Prairie just two days before she died.

She also was passionate about animal rights and donated regularly to animal shelters and programs, the family said.

In addition to her husband, Scott, and daughter, Sophie, Koehler is survived by her mother, Ann Schneckloth of Charles City, and a sister, Margo Farnsworth of Oakham, Mass.

Services have been held.

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