Overseth has turned her home into a real conversation piece
Angie Overseth of Parkers Prairie has an eye for color and a gift for arrangement. Her home on the north end of town is an exhibit of themed rooms sprinkled with whimsy and delight. She pulls out all the stops in decorating for the holidays. Her Christmas tree, holding 500 ornaments, is a sight to behold. But the antique wood cook stove in her garage is her most prized possession; it saved her life. Born near the beginning of the Great Depression in south central Minnesota’s Le Sueur County, Angie weighed only three pounds. The eighth child of a family wracked by poverty, she was tiny, not from prematurity but more likely from her mother’s malnutrition and frailty. Her mother died when she was ten days old. Her father was unable to care for her along with her other siblings and on a cold morning he wrapped her up and took her to a neighbor. “The neighbor put her 14-year-old daughter in charge of me,” said Angie. “She told her to line a shoebox with soft cloth, put me in it and put me in the oven. I guess I was blue with cold but crying, so she also warmed some milk and fed me with a dropper.” Wood heated ovens were not the same as modern appliances and their gentle heat revived not only human babies but farm animals, too. Angie survived a rather desperate beginning and when whooping cough raged through southern Minnesota later the same year, taking 50% of its victims, she overcame that, too. Perhaps her strong will to survive and knowledge of this story of her early months has carried her through the 81 years of challenges and triumphs. It doesn’t, however, explain her creativity. Angie was raised by her aunt and uncle whom she called Mom and Dad. “When I was a little girl I was younger than the other kids in the family and a loner. I wanted attention. They’d tell me to go out and make mud pies.” After hearing that suggestion one too many times, she thought, “Okay, I’ll go out but I’m not making pies. I’ll make macaroon cookies.” She mixed up the requisite mud, but added pine needle “coconut” and disassembled pine cones for the “corn flake” coating. The mud macaroon story typifies Angie’s life: finding unconventional ways to make her life interesting. As a teenager, Angie dreamed of being a singer with a big band. Her family protected her from what they saw as a lifestyle that would lead her astray and though there were money bonds that could have paid for voice lessons, they refused to cash them. She earned the title of Halloween Queen by selling the most buttons the year she graduated from Sacred Heart School in Waseca. After high school, she married Maurice W. Courtney and had eight children, four boys and four girls. They lived on a farm near Janesville and then on a dairy farm in Wisconsin for 16 years. It was during those child-rearing years that she began to decorate the rooms of her home by themes. Her home was a must-see at Christmas so she opened it up for community tours, even raising money for the local parochial school by billing it as “Christmas in the Country.” Newspapers have featured Angie’s work at different times over the years. One recognized the clever way she worked the first letters of her husband’s names in registering the family farm as “Milky Way Court.” Though Angie and Maurice were involved with the farm, family and community, even encouraging six other couples to attend an Arthur Murray dance school with them and five couples to attend a University Extension program that taught progressive farming practices, by the early 1970s Angie found herself in the middle of a divorce. “It was a hard mental situation,” she remembers. “I read an article that said during tough times go back to your childhood; do what you enjoyed back then.” Angie had enjoyed making things and threw herself into embroidery and quilting to ease the stress in her life. After marrying Bob Overseth, they moved to Montana where Bob managed a commercial feedlot holding 3,500 head of cattle. Angie took care of the animal hospital, a job she found to be very rewarding. Angie is full of stories of her life on the Wisconsin farm, living in Montana, on a reservation in North Dakota and assembling the themed rooms in her home in Parkers Prairie. Her first book, Alfie and Pink Lemonade, tells many of them through the voice of her Shi Tsu, Alfie. Under her pen name Angie O’Verseth, Angie received a certificate from the 15th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. “President Truman said you have to make lemonade from the lemons in life. I’ve made a lot of lemonade,” she said, and made it “pink” with her colorful personality. She has another 40 stories written for her second book. She said it’s a daunting task to write a book but her doctor told her to just write a page a day; before you know it, you’ll have a book. She’s looking for a publisher. Along with lemonade, Angie has made one of the most unusual homes and yards in the region. “You gotta have something to do,” she said by way of explaining the extraordinary undertaking of creating a gingerbread themed kitchen and pantry, a European dining and living room, Victorian bathroom, bedroom and sitting room, a glitzy black and white New York main bathroom, a penguin themed spa room, and in a nod to whimsy, paintings and photos of covered bridges in her hall. Along the way, she displays a collection of prints of “Blue Boy” and “Pinkie,” her handmade doll houses, a collection of ceramic trains and houses and so much more that requires more than a cursory glance to absorb. “It was a lot of fun. It’s not work when you enjoy it,” she said. “I told Bob that when I ran out of wall space I was going to do the ceilings,” and she’s done that, too. From a floral print canopied bed to ceiling mobiles and pictures on the ceiling of the sitting room, Angie has decorated the whole house. The entire yard has also been scrutinized by her discerning creative eye. From potting sheds to a miniature mill with a working waterwheel and pond, the yard exhibits themed sections: “Having a Bad Hare day ,” “Wild Things,” “E-I-E-I-O,” “Southwest,” a bird house lane, a patriotic vignette and her most recent project, a repurposed entertainment center which displays things from the sea. A blue striped beach towel and sand represent the sea and beach. A collection of lighthouses complement the dolphins, fish and other sea creatures which comprise the arrangement. “This is one of my favorite projects because I did so much mental work on it,” said Angie. Pat Hartfiel, Angie’s neighbor and friend, has helped with many of Angie’s projects. “She made the wooded part of the yard look like a park.” “Angie’s Courtyard” is on the north side of the yard. Surrounded by a teal fence and bold pink gate, it was designed last year to celebrate a significant birthday, as a hand lettered sign announces, “Angie is 2-40s.” Another sign over her service door proclaims Angie’s philosophy of her special home: ’Tis a wee bit of heaven.” It’s her goal to share her creative God-given gifts to bring joy to others. She and Bob both served on the board of directors for the Ottertail-Wadena County Community Action. Unleashing her creativity has also helped her overcome the losses in her life: three sons in accidents, her husband to Alzheimer’s, and other friends and family. After Bob died she pulled herself out of mourning by redecorating the dining room. “You gotta do something,” she said and it refers to filling time but also overcoming life’s difficulties. Angie’s one wish is that after she’s gone whoever buys the house will keep the home and yard, everything, as it is; keep it as a gallery/museum. But that’s not likely to be any time soon. She has plans to use it for quite a while yet. She is also planning to open her home for tours. Adults only; by reservation. It’ll be a terrific opportunity to hear Angie’s many stories from her. You’ll start with the family history room and move on through the house. But be sure to ask about the wood cook stove in a corner of the garage. She has quite a story to tell about that.