Cooperative living in quiet St. Cloud neighborhood

Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens is an independent senior living cooperative located in St. Cloud. Contributed photo

There is no such thing as a second chance to make a good first impression.

At Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens in St. Cloud, the majority of the current occupants say they were immediately impressed by the units, the amenities and, above all, the family atmosphere when they were searching for a place to live.

And that type of camaraderie was never more reinforced than when Linda and the late Conrad Urbik were contemplating a move from the house they owned four years ago.

“Conrad had health issues, and staying in our home got to be too much for us,” said Linda. “But he never liked any of the places that I wanted to look at. Then I found (Realife Cooperative) on the Internet, and he told me to check it out.”

Linda visited and fell in love with the place right away and urged her husband to take a look for himself. So when Realife Cooperative later had its annual Open House, Conrad made the trip with his wife to St. Cloud and agreed that they should be put on the waiting list.

“When one of the units became available, (Conrad) thought there must be something wrong with it. So he called the owner,” Linda noted. “Conrad was a retired police officer, and the man who owned the unit was a retired St. Cloud police officer. After they talked for about 20 minutes, my husband was convinced that we should move here.”

But before the Urbiks got settled in, Conrad passed away.

Realife members return after taking a trolley ride with St. Cloud mayor Dave Kleis. Contributed photo

“Several of the homeowners here went to his funeral, even though we hadn’t even moved in yet,” said Linda. “And they had only met him a few times. But that’s the kind of people that live here. They genuinely care for one another just like a family.”

Four months later, Linda moved into the unit.

“Before Conrad passed away, he told me he wished we had decided to move (to Realife Cooperative) sooner,” she said. “He really enjoyed meeting the people here.”

Housing Association Manager Brenda Williams noted that when a unit owner has passed away in the past, several of the other owners attend the funeral.

“We fill up half the church,” she remarked. “It’s a close-knit group.”

Built in 2006, this 50-resident three-floor complex west of St. Cloud offers 10 different-sized floor plans and modern amenities to make life comfortable and convenient for those 55-and-older.

“We encourage young seniors to think of a move, even before retirement,” said Muriel Keil, one of the original charter members of the cooperative. “This lifestyle allows for being employed, while being a comfortable place to come home to at the end of the day.”

When Keil was told about the cooperative coming to St. Cloud by a friend, she attended a meeting that explained what would be involved in owning a unit.

“The meeting started at 1 p.m. and by 3 p.m. I had signed up,” she said. “And I have absolutely no regrets 12 years later.”

Gordon and Myrna Hurttgam are relatively new to Realife Cooperative, having lived there for only six months.

A group of Realife members toured the state Capitol in St. Paul. Contributed photo

“We liked the place right away and decided to be put on a waiting list,” Myrna told. “There was an opening in three months. We like everything about it. We don’t have to do any repairs on our home or yard work. What’s not to like?”

“We couldn’t be happier,” said Gordon. “It’s a beautiful place with friendly people.”

Kerry and Judi Kupferschmidt were living in a lake home in northern Minnesota but felt they were too isolated from others.

“We wanted to be around people,” Judi said. “We found this place online, and we loved the gardens and the nature aspect with the grove of trees. And each time we visited, the people weren’t ‘fakey’ friendly. They were genuinely friendly. They were very welcoming.”

“At our home at the lake, we would have to worry about the trees being blown down in a storm or something like that,” said Kerry. “And if we had moved into an apartment, there wouldn’t be a place for a workshop like they have here. This is just perfect for us.”

One of the misconceptions of the cooperative is that since each resident is based within the confines of the complex, much like an apartment or senior living facility, owners have restrictions on what they can change or replace in their unit.

But cooperative homeowners can make any changes they want, just like any homeowner. And they can have up to two pets in their unit.

“If they want to paint their rooms, they can,” said Brenda Williams, who has been the HOA manager since the complex first opened. “It’s their home, and they are free to do what they want to make it comfortable and enjoyable.”

Potential homeowners can choose from the following floor plans:

• 1 bedroom, 1 bath, 702 square feet

• 1 bedroom, 1 bath, 852 square feet

• 2 bedroom, 1.5 bath, 1,067 square feet

• 2 bedroom, 2 bath, 1,179 square feet

• 2 bedroom, 2 bath, 1,202 square feet

• 2 bedroom, 2 bath, 1,213 square feet

• 2 bedroom, 2 bath, 1,239 square feet

• 2 bedroom, 2 bath, 1,362 square feet

• 2 bedroom, den, 2 bath, 1,391 square feet

• 2 bedroom, 2 bath, 1,452 square feet

Unit features include: individual heating/cooling system, 36-inch doorways for easier wheelchair and/or walker access, lever door handles, large bi-level islands, dishwashers, step-in showers, comfort-height toilets, patios/decks, and an included phone/Internet/Direct TV package.

“Each owner also gets a 4-foot-by-6-foot storage space,” said Williams. “We also have raised dishwashers and raised dryers here in case someone has a bad back.”

Also included within the cooperative for unit owners to use at their convenience is a large outdoor garden and leisure area, a spacious patio area with two gas grills, arts and craft room, seven laundry rooms, heated parking with car wash bay, wellness room, wood shop, library/activity room, fully equipped kitchen with large dining area, and a guest suite.

Three members of Realife check out the flowers they planted. Photo by Scott Thoma

A housing cooperative is a form of multi-family home ownership. The cooperative is its own nonprofit corporation, solely owned and operated by the residents. There is no “higher-up” that maintains ownership of the community and sets rules. Realife Cooperative is owned collectively by its resident members, who elect a board of directors that provide direction to a management staff.

And unit owners volunteer to be on various committees that include Grounds/Landscape, Finance, Library, Garden, Building, Marketing, Kitchen, Entertainment, Security and more.

“My wife (Donna) and I saw an ad in the paper for this place,” said Don Alm. “We were looking to sell our home in St. Cloud because we just couldn’t take care of it anymore. We went to a luncheon meeting and then decided to move here.”

Donna passed away in July 2005, but Don went ahead with the decision the couple made and moved into Realife when it opened in May 2006.

“Everyone is so supportive here,” he said. “From day one, I’ve never been disappointed that I moved here. It’s a great group of people.”

Committees organize activities, such as a morning coffee/social time, movie night, happy hour, exercise class, various games, a poetry group and much more.

Some of the unit owners find their own form of entertainment, too, when it’s too cold outside. Some will walk the long hallways for exercise, while one owner rides bike in the large car garage.

Or, in June Berry’s case, she enjoys using the knitting machine set up in her spare bedroom.

Berry and her late husband, Ken, purchased a unit 11 years ago. Ken taught art to other occupants for a couple of years before he passed away.

“That family atmosphere is one of the main reasons we wanted to come here,” said June. “It is a very warm and friendly place. The beauty of it is that it’s my own place, and I can do what I want.”

Unit owners also live in a safe and secure building that is within close proximity to shopping and eating establishments, medical facilities, golf courses, and places of worship.

The cooperative’s peaceful and serene location makes it another selling point.

“We call it ‘Our little piece of the country nestled in a quiet neighborhood,’” Williams noted.

Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens is located at 6670 Northwood Lane in St. Cloud. For more information or to schedule a tour, call 320-258-3094 between 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Thursday or from 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. on Friday. Or email stcloudcoop@usfamily.net or visit their website at www.realifecoopmuellergardens.org.