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Maple Lake woman starts new business . . . after retirement

“I don’t think I’m that interesting,” protested Becky James. The artist and entrepreneur talked about her life modestly, apparently unaware of how captivating the highlights seemed to me: 20 years working for the Minneapolis Police Department, a romantic wedding in Key West, building a new home (and doing much of the work) on the site of her family cabin in Maple Lake, learning new art forms and winning awards for them, and starting a new business after retirement.

She was sitting in the store she established seven years ago in Maple Lake. It was surrounded by beads, bracelets, necklaces and stained glass, much of which were made by Becky herself. On the wall hung a small bag with a sewn-on leather patch, proclaiming her to be “New Artist of Merit.” It had been presented to her by the Renaissance Festival in 2009. Bags and purses made by Becky are in one cabinet, while another corner contains a small lamp with a stained glass lampshade, which Becky also made. Beads are set out in small containers on top of cabinets made by her husband, Bill. Becky purchases many of the beads for resale, but also sells some that she makes herself.

“I guess I’ve always loved to do crafts,” she said. “I used to make all my kids’ clothes when they were little, and then I got into other things.” It was her husband’s Christmas gift of a grinder a few years back that got her excited about stained glass. After learning the basics, she entered a contest and won 3rd place. Then she began making large stained glass windows and at one point, entered craft shows and sold her work. She made a custom window for the sidelight next to the front door of her home in the Twin Cities, but unfortunately had to leave it behind when they sold the house. When they built the new home in Maple Lake, Becky got to work and made a stained glass window for the living room.

Becky and Bill met while they both worked at the Minneapolis Police Department – he in forensics and she in administrative positions.  Becky worked in both the Training Department and the Bomb and Arson Unit. In the Bomb and Arson Unit, Becky was exposed to some of the more heinous crime stories that most of us only read about in the newspaper or see on the news. Although often she was removed from personal involvement with the crimes, one of the detectives she supported made a point of taking her out to view each crime scene, giving her a more complete picture. “Bill’s position was much more interesting,” said Becky, “doing CSI-type stuff to cars.” In fact, he was responsible for conducting forensics tests on vehicles, such as what is sometimes seen on CSI.  When Bill and Becky first met, Bill had been in charge of the Minneapolis Police Department’s forensics garage since 1991.

After dating for a couple of years, Bill and Becky were married in the Florida Keys, a favorite vacation spot. Marathon Key was their home base, where they had stayed in a houseboat during one of their visits, and where they enjoyed a cabin stay for their honeymoon. While each of the islands in the Keys has its own special appeal, for Bill and Becky, Key West was the main attraction. They loved spending time in Mallory Square, considered “the heart” of downtown Key West, where it is a tradition for locals and tourists alike to gather each evening to watch the sunset.

After their marriage, Bill and Becky lived in a Twin Cities suburb for a few years, both continuing to work for the Minneapolis Police Department. But when Becky’s family cabin in Maple Lake became available, Bill and Becky felt pulled to make a lifestyle change.

Becky had grown up going to the family cabin all her life. When she was a girl, the cabin, which her grandfather had built in the 1940s, was a wonderful retreat for Becky and her extended family. Many of her favorite childhood memories include swimming with her cousins in the lake and sliding down the hill by the cabin with a piece of cardboard for a sled. One time, Becky remembers, she jumped into the lake and got bitten by a snapping turtle. “Ever since then,” said Becky, “I always wear my water shoes when I am in the water!”

After her father passed away, the happy memories of the cabin threatened to fade away when Becky’s mother felt she could no longer take care of the cabin. Keeping the property in the family was important – so Bill and Becky decided to purchase the seasonal cabin and build a year-round home on the lot.

The James’ hired a contractor to pour the insulated concrete basement and build the shell of their home. Then Bill and Becky went to work on the interior. They painted, installed flooring, stained and installed trim pieces, and laid tile, taking over where the contractor left off. Still commuting to work in the Twin Cities, Bill and Becky lived in a trailer parked on the property while they worked to get their home ready to move into. It was November by the time they were able to move in, remembered Becky. “And it was getting pretty cold in the trailer by then!”  It was a relief to be in their home, but the work was not yet done. So Becky and Bill continued to work the on finishing touches while living in their home.

Within a year or so, Becky retired from her job with the Minneapolis Police Department. She expected to spend her free time continuing to work on the lake home. But it didn’t take long before her love of arts and crafts began to tug at her. Soon she was making stained glass pieces, as well as creating enameled copper jewelry and working with metal clay. She began doing more beading, even learning to make her own beads. Eventually, she realized how far she was driving to purchase supplies.

“I looked around and found that there wasn’t a bead shop for 30 miles,” said Becky. “So, I started my own.” That was the beginning of Becka Beads.

Becky’s bead store was established in 2006. In 2007, Becky decided to become involved in the Renaissance Festival. She applied and was admitted to the juried craft show. At the Renaissance Festival, which is open on weekends from late August through September, Becky focused on demonstrating metal clay and enameled copper jewelry. It was the Renaissance Festival which gave her the award for “Best New Artist of Merit,” which she still displays in her shop.

By 2010, even with help from family, Becky found that working at both the Renaissance Festival and the shop in Maple Lake became overwhelming. She sold her building at the Renaissance Festival and concentrated on Becka Beads, as well as continuing to finish up projects at home.

With Becky’s many interests taking so much of her time, it stands to reason that the work on the lake home is not quite finished. She and Bill love their space, but “I’d like it even more if it were finished,” says Becky. They continue to work on things as they have time. They laid the tile for their fireplace surround in the living room, even creating a mantelpiece above the hearth, using a piece of black walnut from a tree that they had to take down. Bill is now finishing an additional bedroom in the basement. And yet, projects continue to be added: After digging a pond in their yard and populating it with fish, Becky now has plans for a fairy garden by the pond.  And after that, well, “who knows?” she said.

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