WILLMAR, Minn. — After being pried from its mooring nearly two years ago, an ornate turret that once graced a corner of one of the oldest homes in Willmar, Minn., will now serve as a place of solace, inspiration and healing for women who are learning to live a sober life.
Built on stilts with the look of a treehouse castle, the 270 square-foot structure was recently completed as part of the growing Project Turnabout campus on Seventh Street Northwest.
“It’s a quiet, meditative spot that will service the whole campus,” said Mike Schiks, retiring CEO of Project Turnabout.
An important part of the recovery process is for people to “take some time to center themselves,” Schiks said.
The quirky, inviting, charming alcove that includes the original turret, as well as an additional newly constructed interior space and an outside deck, is officially called the Helen Jenness/Doris Cogelow Space Center.
It will provide important space for women in the program to center themselves.
Project Turnabout’s addiction recovery service, which is primarily located in Granite Falls, Minn., has supportive programs in Willmar, including services just for women.
A sober living house called Cheri’s Place is in a large, remodeled historic home previously known as the Hulstrand house. Next door, Project Turnabout purchased the existing townhouses and recently broke ground on a 16-bed residential outpatient center where another historic house once stood.
The iconic red house, originally built by the Jenness family about 150 years ago, was demolished in February of 2018.
But before the once-grand house was razed, local curmudgeon and world-renowned woodcarver Fred Cogelow embarked on a mission to remove the second-story turret from the house with the goal to turn the gabled tower into a place for women who are part of the Project Turnabout program.
It was not an easy task.
After Cogelow spent weeks prepping the turret so it could be wrenched away from the walls of the old house, the mission was completed on a cold day in February when volunteers and a piece of heavy equipment finally wrestled the domed turret from its perch and placed it on the frozen ground.
That’s when Cogelow’s work began in earnest.
A stickler for saving items with history and a story, Cogelow worked to preserve as much of the original round turret as possible, including the floor-to-ceiling windows that, he said, will give people the “same sort of pleasantly distorted impressionistic view that their predecessors had over a century ago.”
The sun-filled turret makes up about one-third of the total square footage of the building, which includes a lower square addition and short set of interior stairs.
Everything used to construct the building — such as the repurposed wood, stained glass window, an unusually skinny door, light fixtures, stairs, newel posts and wood pieces that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle to create a wall that’s more like a piece of artwork —came from someplace.
And Cogelow knows exactly where everything came from and can tell you when and how the treasure was secured and repurposed for this project.
Cogelow has a long hand-scrawled list of names of where he got the materials. Many of his treasures were found in old homes, farms, estates and tree groves of family and friends. He sent a later text regretting that his original list failed to give credit to the estate of his Uncle Mearl and Aunt Leanne Nelson.
That attention to detail is part of the charm of the Space Center.
Duaine Amundson, chairman of Project Turnabout board, praised Cogelow’s vision and talents to preserve a piece of the community’s history.
“That was part of the appeal, to preserve the history, and thanks to Fred, he saw it through,” said Amundson. “We’d never have been able to do this without Fred Cogelow.”
Cogelow can’t, or won’t, say how many hours he invested in the project.
Schiks said Cogelow donated more hours than they could ever reimburse him for.
Cogelow gives credit to his wife, Doris, for being patient while he spent hours away from her. “She was a big supporter.”
That’s why Doris’ name is included in the title of the building, though he hadn’t told Doris about the title, hoping she would read it in the newspaper.
Cogelow said he wanted to honor Helen Jenness for rising above adversity, which he hopes will serve as inspiration for women seeking sobriety with Project Turnabout. Jenness, who lost the family home in the Depression, went on to own and operate a gift shop in the old Lakeland Hotel in downtown Willmar.
“It’s a good model of perseverance,” said Cogelow, who said the purpose of the Space Center is to give women “some space” for meditation, yoga, being creative, or whatever they need to help them on their journey to sobriety.