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‘Best kept secret in town’

Build friendships, build equity at Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens

There are a lot of housing options for seniors. But Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens offers something that separates it from other independent senior living facilities. Not only does it take away the worries and hassle of maintenance, but it also allows you to build equity over the years instead of just paying rent.

“We are the best-kept secret in town,” office manager Brenda Williams said, citing Realife’s secluded location and the unique senior housing concept. “We are the only one in the St. Cloud area.”

Located in a quiet, residential neighborhood just off Veterans Drive in the northwest corner of St. Cloud, Realife Cooperative is a 50-unit, three-story complex that offers 10 different floor plans of one-bedroom, two bedrooms and two bedrooms plus den, ranging from 700 to 1,450 square feet.

Residents buy a 1/50th share of the cooperative to become joint owners. They pay a monthly fee that covers the costs of operating and maintaining the co-op, such as the mortgage, property tax, insurance, utilities, management and maintenance employees and a repair replacement reserve fund, part of which is tax deductible. In addition, they pay for their own electricity, phone and cable and optional indoor heated parking.

Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens is a limited equity cooperative, which is designed to control the price of its units so they don’t fluctuate with the rise and fall of the real estate market. Residents, who are in effect their own landlords, have more control than people who rent because they elect a seven-member resident board of directors that governs the cooperative.

The cooperative was designed with seniors in mind, with a raised dishwasher, raised toilet in the master bathroom, step-in shower, reinforced towel bars, 36-inch-wide doors with lever handles and 5-foot-wide hallways with a handrail, which makes it great for walking the halls for exercise.

The building has two elevators and common areas for member use, including a fully equipped great room, a library, activities room, fitness room, wood shop, fireside lounge, craft room and a guest room. The cooperative offers independent living, not assisted living. Residents are able to bring in any services they may need, including home healthcare, cleaning service or Meals on Wheels.

“We want you to be able to age in place and remain as independent as possible so that you won’t have to move to assisted living or a nursing home,” said Williams.

The cooperative setup was a selling point for many of the residents, but it is definitely not the only selling point. Some come for the quiet and beautiful neighborhood setting. Others moved in to take away the burden from their children of having to find a senior living facility.

“We wanted to make our decisions on selling our house and finding a place for us to live,” said Shari Hoffman. “We didn’t want to wait too long and then have our kids have to deal with it.”

Don Alm, who lost his wife a year before he moved in, was one of the first to join the cooperative when it opened in 2006.

“It opened on May 1, and I moved in on May 5,” he smiled.

After his wife passed, Alm decided it was time for him to move into a senior living setting. He especially liked the idea of buying instead of just renting.

“I came here, and I liked what I saw,” he said. “There are lots of activities and great people here. I haven’t regretted my decision (to move here) once.”

Alm is appreciative of the support he has received from his fellow residents, going above and beyond when times got tough.

“The love and care we have here for each other is tremendous,” said Don Alm. “I have been hospitalized several times over the years, and the people here are so caring. I have been so impressed. I’m very fortunate to be here.”

Maureen Unger likes how it is so easy to travel. “You just close your door, and you can take off to wherever you need to go as you please.”

While there are no meals provided like some senior living facilities, there is no shortage of food at Realife. The residents plan special meals often, and many of the residents chip in to help with the buying, preparing and eating of the meals. They even do mini-fundraising dinners to help with special projects at Mueller Gardens.

“There is lots of good food here,” she said.

Jim Wolter moved in 2006 from Cambridge. He and his wife moved to the cooperative because she suffered from Parkinson’s disease.

“We wanted to be closer to medical facilities, and this was a good fit for us,” he said.

His wife died about two years after they moved in.

One of the most recent new residents, Barbara Keigan, moved into Realife Cooperative in September. She had been living in the country near Clearwater. When her husband died, she decided it was time to move to a place that required no maintenance.

“Another resident invited me here to take a look, and I loved it,” said Keigan. “I signed up and moved in. I really like the socializing part of it. There are a lot of activities planned, potlucks and even church services here. I have made a lot of new friends here.”

Keigan was also drawn to the level of security provided.

“It is very secure,” she said. “Everyone feels very safe.”

And one thing she doesn’t miss at all is the maintenance she had with her house in the country.

“I really enjoy that part of it,” she said. “I didn’t have to go out in the winter if I didn’t want to. That was nice,” she said. If you would like to schedule a tour or learn more about cooperative living, contact Brenda at 320-258-3094 or email Realife also has an open house scheduled for Friday, June 20 from 1 – 5 p.m. Anyone interested in cooperative living should stop by and check it out.

To learn more about Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens, you can also visit their website at

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