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‘Like a big family’

Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens

Independent living with a community feel, cooperative setup

If you talk to residents about what it is like living at Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens,  the  words “family,” “community” and “friends” will likely come up.

“We have such a good community feel here,” said Brenda Williams, manager. “It is like a big family.”

It is a close knit group, and becoming part of that family  takes place the day someone new moves in.

“My husband and I were living on the Mississippi River near Royalton,” said Linda Urbik. “When the work at our house got more than what we could handle, we decided to move here. When my husband passed away, even though I was fairly new here, several residents came to the funeral. The support was fantastic.”

Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens is an independent senior living facility nestled in a quiet, residential neighborhood just off Veterans Drive in the northwest corner of St. Cloud. It has 50 units in the three-story complex and offers 10 different floor plans, each ranging from 700 to 1,450 square feet.

“The location is perfect,” said Ken Wendinger, formerly of Cold Spring, who moved in about three years ago. “It is so close to so many things: medical care, sporting events, shopping and entertainment. We are pretty much 10 minutes from everything.”

What separates it from other independent senior living facilities is the cooperative living part of the formula. Residents buy a 1/50th share of the cooperative to become joint owners. They pay a monthly fee that covers the cost of operating and maintaining the coop, such as the mortgage, property tax, insurance, utilities, management and maintenance employees and a repair replacement fund, part of which is tax deductible. In addition, they pay for their own electricity, phone and cable, which has been recently converted to a low bulk-rate system. An optional indoor heated parking spot is also available.

“The concept of owning your own instead of just putting your money down the gopher hole was appealling to us,” said Al Hoffman, who moved in with his wife, Shari, about six years ago.

Realife 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 who govern the cooperative.

The cooperative rooms were designed with seniors in mind, with a raised dishwasher, raised toilet, step-in shower, reinforced towel bars, wide doors with level handles and 5-foot wide hallways with handrails. It is also a secure building. The facility 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.

The perks of being a cooperative, the ideal location, and the community feel all contributed to the decision for its current residents to choose Realife over other facilities in the area. Here are some of their stories…

Gloria Meidinger lived in Becker before moving to Mueller Gardens in 2006. She was one of the first ones to move into the facility after it opened.

“My husband had become disabled and we could no longer take care of all the maintenance at our house. This was the perfect place. It was close to the hospital and close to just about everything else we needed,” said Meidinger.

One nice change for Meidinger was having neighbors right next door or down the hall.

“We lived out in the country and it is nice to have a neighbor close by to help if you need something,” said Meidinger. “I really like having close neighbors.”

Ken Wendinger likes the social part of it.

“I was really looking for a place where I could socialize, and you can do that right here. We have potlucks, activities and lots of other things to do,” he said. “Many of us are also on committees formed here at the cooperative. I am on the wood shop, finance and garden committees. There are 13 committees in all. I enjoy being a part of those committees.”

Gordy Koring moved in about eight and a half years ago. He had lived in a lake home by Annandale, was retired, and was finding out that it was a lot of work. He is no longer right on the lake, but that hasn’t cut into his fishing time. “I can still fish, but I can go when I want and come back; and there is no work waiting for me when I’m done,” said Koring.

Gordy and his wife, Annette, also like the social part of Mueller Gardens. “We like to be around people, and we like the groups. This is a great spot for that,” he said.

Linda Urbik likes the activities available to residents.

“There is never a lack of things to do,” she said. “We recently started a new exercise program three days a week using a yoga DVD. I really look forward to it.”

Byron and Joanne John lived in the country on the south end of St. Cloud. They liked living there, but were ready give up the work of country living. They moved into Realife Cooperative nearly a year ago.

“This was the only place with a workshop, so that was a big plus for me,” said Byron.

“And we liked the idea of owning our own place,” said Joanne.

Joanne has also been impressed with the gardens on the grounds of Mueller Gardens.

“It is really beautiful in the summer,” she said.

“And it is everybody’s garden,” said Koring. “We all help ourselves to anything we need in the garden. The gardens are a big part of this place.”

Al and Shari Hoffman moved in six years ago. They had lived by the lake near St. Joseph and were ready to give up the yard work and maintenance.

“We really like to play cards and a lot of people play here,” said Shari.

Some of the cards played at Mueller Gardens include cribbage, hand & foot, 500, chort whist, and bridge, among others. One thing Al noticed right away were the walk-in showers, with added safety bars.

“We also love the heated underground garage, especially in the winter,” said Shari.

“And they also have a wash bay in there,” said Al.

Barb Keigan moved in about 18 months ago. She lived in Clearwater with her husband. When her husband passed away, she decided it was time to make a change. She has been very happy with the move.

“It has been very delightful here,” Keigan smiled. “You can do something just about every night if you wanted to. And if you don’t want to, that’s OK, too.”

When the residents were done telling their stories, one made sure to add one last perk that had not yet been mentioned. “We have the best manager in town!” The others all agreed.

If you would like to schedule a tour or learn more about cooperative living, contact Brenda at 320-258-3094 or email

Realife has an open house scheduled for May 29, from 1-4 p.m. Anyone interested in checking out the facility and learning more about cooperative living is encouraged to drop in.

To learn more about Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens, visit their website at, or stop by their Facebook page at

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