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‘I couldn’t be any happier’

Realife offers quiet, secure cooperative living in St. Cloud

Joking that the regular playing cards are too small to see, some of the residents brought out the giant playing cards for a game. Cards and other games are played often at Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens. Photo by Scott Thoma

When Joan Ellens was looking for a place to move into after her husband passed away, she didn’t need to look any further than Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens of St. Cloud.

“We had a lake home outside of Cold Spring,” she said. “When my husband died, it was lonely there by myself.”

So Ellens looked at a lot of other places, but they just didn’t seem like a place where she could fit in comfortably in her senior years.

“I felt I needed big rooms and an office,” she said. “Realife was exactly what I was looking for. I moved here almost three years ago and I couldn’t be any happier. The people are so friendly here and are always helping one another. It really feels like a community here.”

Realife Cooperative is “Our little piece of the country nestled in a quiet neighborhood” on the west side of St. Cloud.

“It’s so pleasant and quiet here,” said Ken Wendinger, who has been living at Realife Cooperative for nine years. “It’s close to town, but there is also a corn field close by, so it has both a city and country atmosphere.”

Because this 50-resident, three-floor complex is a cooperative, the residents own their own “home within a home”, and are allowed to make any changes to their home, within reason.

“If they want to paint their rooms, they can,” said Brenda Williams, the Housing Association Manager since the complex opened in 2006. “It’s their home, and they are free to do what they want to make it comfortable and enjoyable.”

Realife tenants, Edie Lesnick (left) and Joan Ellens (right) enjoy a sun-splashed day in the garden area. Photo by Scott Thoma.

A housing cooperative is a form of multi-home ownership. The cooperative is its own not-for-profit corporation, solely owned and operated by the residents. There is no “higher-up” that maintains ownership of the community and sets all the rules. Realife Cooperative is owned collectively by its resident members, who elect a board of directors that provide direction to a management staff.

“When a unit becomes available for sale, those currently living here have the first choice to purchase it,” said Williams. “Someone might like a smaller or larger place than they are living in now. The units are all different.”

Realife Cooperative 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 about a move, even before retirement, and get on the reservation list,” Williams said.

Residents also volunteer to be members on various committees, such as Grounds/Landscape, Finance, Library, Garden, Building, Marketing, Kitchen, Entertainment, Security and more.

“It’s nice to have a say in the things that go on here,” said Mary Jane Brewster, who moved into Realife Cooperative in January with her husband Roger. “It’s just like making your own decisions on things in our homes that we lived in before we moved here.”

Realife Cooperative came highly recommended to the Brewsters by her sister and brother-in-law, Judi and Kerry Kupferschmidt, who also reside there.

“We lived southeast of St. Cloud and it wasn’t as much fun taking care of our place anymore,” said Brewster. “So my sister and her husband suggested that we live here because they lived there and really love it.”

The Brewsters knew almost immediately that Realife was the place they wanted to be.

Tenants (left to right) Ed Zinniel, Al Hoffman and Gordy Koring are busy making various projects in the workshop. Contributed photo.

“My mother died in May and some of our cousins came to the funeral from Texas and needed a place to stay,” she said. “They were able to stay in the guest room here. Judi fixed meals for them and we co-hosted them.

“And we got a mess of (sympathy/inspirational) cards from residents here even though I hadn’t lived here very long. The people living here are so friendly and supportive of one another.”

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.”

The one thing Brewster felt she would miss about leaving her house was her garden.

“But I was able to have a small garden here,” she said. “It’s just perfect to grow a few things. I like getting dirty and watering and weeding the garden.”

While Dorothy Haus, one of the original charter members, was retrieving her mail, she was asked what she liked most about living at Realife Cooperative.

“I wouldn’t have been here this long if I didn’t like everything about it,” she said with a smile.

And Connie (Henry) Sellnow, a resident for the past two years, enjoys living at Realife so much that she recently got married in the Great Room to Steve Sellnow.

“We’re both widows,” she said. “(Steve) sold his house in St Cloud and we will live here. It’s such a nice place and the people here are so friendly.”

June Berry, a tenant at Realife Cooperative, celebrates her 94th birthday. Contributed photo.

There are 22 original charter members currently living at Realife.

“There is always a lot of things to do here, said LuBell Kendall. “And when we participate in things together like playing cards, watching a movie, or just visiting over coffee, we get to know each other and that’s why we are like a community here.”

“When I first came here, I never thought I would learn everyone’s name,” laughed Brewster. “But with all the activities we have, we all get to know each other. We have a Fun Friday event in which we all bring hors d’ouvres and our beverage. The men all sit on one table and the women on another. It’s a riot. We have so much fun.”

Reallfe Cooperative will hold an Open House from 1-4 p.m. on Aug. 23. 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, 2 bath, den, 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.

Edie Lesnick weeds the raised vegetable garden behind Realife. Photo by Scott Thoma.

“Each owners also gets a storage space,” Williams said. “We also have raised dishwashers and raised dryers here in case someone here has a bad back.”

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

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 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday thru Thursday, or from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Friday. Or email or visit their website at

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