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Preserving, enhancing a classic

St. Cloud man brought historic home back to life

By Bill Vossler

When Dean Borgmann installed a five-and-a-half foot round stained-glass window in the second floor of his garage in his back yard, the neighbors thought he was building a church, the 78-year-old St. Cloud resident laughed. Doing that might not have been a surprise, as the unusual is common to him. Like buying a house built in 1896.

Dean Borgmann displays his 5/12-foot round stained-glass window in the back of his garage. Photo by Bill Vossler

“In 1976, when I was 33, I viewed 30 houses, and the real estate agents said I had no interest in buying a house. I said ‘You’re just not showing me what I want.’”

His house hunt fell to a friend at work who did real estate on the side. “He called and said he had found this house for me.”

As soon as Dean entered the house, he was sold, seeing metal tiles on the 11-foot-high ceilings, and a beautiful sliding door. “It didn’t have what really nice houses of the era have, like built-in cabinetry. But I knew I could be comfortable with it.”

The next morning the agent called to apologize, because the house had already been sold. Dean was devastated. “Fifteen minutes later he called back and said the owner wanted the buyer to live in the house, and the other people wanted it as a rental. So I got the house.”

Which meant Dean had work to do.

“I had to redo the 60-amp electrical grid wired for light bulbs and radios to 200 amps, enough power for this size of a house. I took out some calcium-caked pipes, too.” He also added three rental bedrooms in the attic. “But living with a lot of people coming and going didn’t suit me.”

That changed when Darlene Krapp moved into one of the rentals. “My life had changed, and I planned staying only two months while I looked for something else,” she said.

But the front yard filled with lots of flowers in varied and unusual pots needed work. She had grown up with flowers and planted them at her own house.

“I’ve always enjoyed digging in the dirt and weeding. Sometimes I’ll come home from work and something will pop out at me, and another day something else will pop out. Every season the flowers change. To me it’s amazing what mother earth does. Doing these flowers is fun, and totally enjoyable.”

Dean said he likes to have Darlene there. “It’s comfortable with just the two of us here with plenty of room. I trust her, and she’s become a friend. I prefer it quiet and peaceful, and she’s very helpful, which is good for me.”

Darlene said, “Living at Dean’s house felt like an awesome comfortable and relaxing place to be.”

Darlene Krapp, who rents a space at Dean’s house, likes to weed and plant and take care of the flowers. He bought all the newel posts at a garage sale, and constructed the front of the porch with them.

Which Dean didn’t mind at all. “I buy different pots and she fills them with flowers. I don’t tell her to do the work, but she does it, removing dead buds and making them look good. Every day. Lots more time in spring planting and in the fall deciding which plants and seeds to save and bring in, like the nicer and more expensive ones, like Mandevilla, and colocasia, among others.”

How many pots? He has no idea. He laughed, “No matter how many pots you have, you keep looking for new ones and then sell old ones in a garage sale.”

His flowers span the growing season so people always have something to look at. “First the peonies look good, then the iris, and lilies, and unusual ones like castor beans or amaranth. Then something else comes up.”

Dean’s love of flowers came through his father, who worked eight hours a day as city clerk of Sauk Centre. His dad came home to their 40-acre hobby farm, milked eight cows by hand with his sons, and still took time to have a flower garden. “I walked around the sidewalk and smelled the flowers, and we had a one acre vegetable garden, so I’ve always been interested in planting and taking care of things. My brother Harold and I would weed a row every day.”

Darlene added, “Now what’s most important is seeing the flowers put a smile on the faces of people walking by. Making someone feel better is all that matters.”

The house was built in 1896 by Richard Ladner, the 11th mayor of St. Cloud. “He had a large family, and built the house with an upstairs apartment for his mother, I was told.”

Dean’s jockey statue in the front yard remember horse-drawn carriages that discharged their passengers at the door, then circled the drive to the carriage house in the back, near an orchard, now neighbor land.

“Vehicles were small, and the garage had ample room for vehicles of the time,” he said. “But I wanted a bigger garage, and had a friend help me build a two-story garage in back of the house, with the five and one-half foot round stained glass window.”

He gets along fine with his neighbors. “I think they appreciate someone taking care of an old house that otherwise might be ruined. It takes work, especially the yard because of all the flowers, but Darlene does so much. I’ve been retired for 23 years, and work on the yard in the summer, while winters I put up Christmas decorations that draw people.”

This jockey representing horse carriage days greet people at Dean Borgmann’s house.

Dean is a collector, beginning with apartment furniture which he decorated while attending St. Cloud State University, which attuned him to items from the 1890-1920 era. “I‘ve never figured out why I appreciate that time period. Maybe because when I started with the furniture, pieces from that period were still around, with burled walnut still looking good, or old Victorian dressers. A dozen years later you could find similar furniture in stores, but it did not have the craftsmanship or wood of the time period. Ones that resemble them look kind of cheap, and I don’t want them.”

He also collects stained glass windows, currently only four of them. The first piece came when he was at SCSU, when stained glass was very collectible and valuable. “Some people were stealing some from churches and houses.”

Answering a newspaper ad, he found the owner removing the stained glass from his door. “I was there at the right time, talking to him, and he sold it to me. When I picked it up he said several people had offered to pay more than I had, but he said we had a deal, and we were going to keep it.”

Dean found the round stained glass window at a country church sale in southern Minnesota. “I didn’t have any way to bring it back. So I tied it to the top of my old Pinto car. I hated risking injuring the window on top of the car, but there was no other way to do it. So I did it.”

Another of his collections is of small wrought iron bicycles that hold flower pots.

“The first one was a big three-wheeled bicycle I really liked, for a dollar at a garage sale. Something like that at that price is a treasure.”

He figures once he has three things like bicycles for flower pots, that means he’s collecting them.

Flowers at Dean's house.

His book collection consists of 5,000 volumes, and began while he worked at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud. “I’ve always attended garage sales, and rarely pass one up. When I see a bargain that I like, I’ll buy it. I kept seeing these books for 10 cents each at garage sales all over the state, and knew some of the prisoners would like them.”

After filling out the proper forms, he sold the books to the state for the same ten cents each. “I was the prison librarian, so if I saw a book was reasonable, I bought it for the prisoners. I stocked some prisons with whole truckloads of books.”

In the process he found books for himself, including a now-full cabinet of author-autographed books. “My biggest find was a book for 50 cents, and when I looked it up, found it was worth $13,000. There are still about four available in the United States. It was written by a guy in Buffalo, Minnesota, and is a rare book.”

Another collection is his 10 cent Dell small magazines. He has 33 of the 36 in the group, and those three are some of the most difficult items for him to find.

“All of mine are in really fine condition, and the ones I’m missing can sell for up to $1,000 each. So I’m still looking to find one of those that is good shape but isn’t real expensive. I bought some of those online and didn’t pay very much, but that was early before they became collectibles.”

His oldest parts of his collections include books, one from 1860, and a bed from about the same time. “It’s hard to find that exact bed today.”

Dean has added unique touches to his home including this alligator-turtle water fountain. Photo by Bill Vossler

Another of Dean’s collections is of birdhouses. “I do feed the birds, and I like watching them come to the water ponds in front of the house. In the spring I watch the houses to see what birds are coming and going into the houses. They are works of art created by an artist. It’s intriguing to see what the artist used to make a house. More than half of them are signed, and Darlene bought some of them, and I bought some at a garage sale.

He says he’s running out of space. “I’m going to have to stop,” he laughed.

Some of Dean’s favorite areas inside the house include the oak wainscoting and sliding doors. Dean was told that the doors were originally built by the craftsman carpenters inside the house, and are very heavy. A larger second set between the living room and kitchen is off the rack, but can’t be fixed without going into the wall.”

“People come in the house and say there’s so much stuff. But I have everything in its proper place. So furniture and space and colors and everything has to fit for me in the rooms. I’m really living in them, and changing them from time to time. I always add something and take something away.”

When Dean bought the house, the previous owners had been cleaning and getting rid of lots of things.

“It had been a rental for years, with things still left in the attic and basement, so I said, ‘Don’t clean anything. Here’s $50, and I’ll take care of everything.’ Things that they would have thrown away I‘ve used, like oak pieces, like the fretwork in the bay window. That was in the attic, and I knew where it went, so I put it up and it fit right in.”

This large sliding door helped sell Dean on buying the house. It closes tightly so the room could be used for private discussions or suitors.

Dean put a lot of money into the 18-room house to make it livable, including insulation.

“When it was cold out, the house was cold inside, so I completely insulated everything with mostly triple-pane insulated glass, and a pot-bellied wood stove in the basement to heat the house if I want extra. So it’s more comfy now.”

People often thank him as they look at his yard and house. Sometimes, they also give him presents, like bags of candy, and notes on his door if he isn‘t home.

He said he does all this not for himself, but for other people. “The kids enjoy it. They’ll walk by and say, ‘Dad, look at that alligator.’ So it’s fun to sit on the porch and hear the comments and see people enjoying themselves.”

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