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‘It’s really a beautiful place’

By Scott Thoma

Residents enjoy spending time in the fenced-in patio area. Left to right: Residents Dorothy Zeug, Marna Ambuehl and Amy Schaefer. Photo by Scott Thoma

Some people like living in the city and some like to be in the country. At Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens, residents get the settings of both worlds.

Set in a residential area west of St. Cloud, Realife Cooperative is nestled among tall pine trees that make you feel as though you are in a wooded area away from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

“When I saw this place, it looked like home,” said Marna Ambuehl, who is an original charter member at Realife Cooperative. “I was impressed with the manager and how things were run here. There are also a lot of wildlife around here. It’s really a beautiful place.”

For those that want to venture out and shop, dine, visit a museum or go to a beauty salon, those types of things are all nearby, too.

“It’s a very appealing setting,” said Mary Lee Kragenbring, who has lived at Realife for 11 years. “There is a lot of acreage, gardens, prairie grass like a country setting.”

Gordy Koring, left, works on one of his wood carvings while fellow resident Al Hoffman looks on. Photo by Scott Thoma

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

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

This cooperative is a form of multi-home ownership. Realife Cooperative is its own not-for-profit organization, solely owned and operated by the residents who live there.

There is no one to oversee and set rules of the cooperative as owners. Realife Cooperative is owned collectively by its resident members, who elect a board of directors that provide direction to a management staff.

The residents can volunteer to be members of various committees at Realife Cooperative to give them a better understanding and have more control of things within the cooperative. These committees range from Grounds/Landscape, Finance, Library, Garden, Building, Marketing, Kitchen, Entertainment, Security and more.

Amy Schaefer and Floyd Stockinger pose by the metal sign that was donated to the Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens. Photo by Scott Thoma

“The people here are all so nice,” said Floyd Stockinger, who has been a resident here for eight months. “That’s the one thing that is most important to me.”

When a unit becomes available for sale, residents currently living at Realife Cooperative have the first choice of purchasing it.

“Someone might like a smaller or larger place than they are living in now,” said Williams. “The units are all different.”

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/television package.

Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens is located in a quiet, residential area. Photo by Scott Thoma

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

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

Currently, there are 22 original charter members living at Realife Cooperative.

“We’re like a family here,” said Amy Schaefer, a seven-year resident. “We get to know each other and look out for each other. You never feel alone here and you always feel secure.”

There are 10 different-sized floor plans and modern amenities to make life comfortable and convenient at Realife Cooperative for those 55-and-older.

The residents often enjoy spending time in the spacious garden and leisure area behind the cooperative. Seated, left to right: Residents Mary Lee Kragenbring and Dorothy Zeug. Standing, left to right: Resident Amy Schaefer, and Housing Association Manager Brenda Williams. Photo by Scott Thoma

“The size of the apartments appealed to me,” said original charter member Dorothy Zeug. “And there is no maintenance, so I really liked that. I’ve been really happy here.”

Dwight Bergquist has been doing the maintenance and housekeeping at the cooperative for the past four years.

“It’s a lot to keep clean, but Dwight does a great job,” said Williams. “The place still looks brand new. Even the fire marshall said one time that he has never seen a garage that clean. The man can’t sit still. He always finds something to do.”

Williams encourages young seniors to think about a move even before retirement, and get on the reservation list at Realife Cooperative.

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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