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Resident-owned, independent living at Realife

Realife Coooperative at Mueller Gardens

    Are you looking for an independent senior living option without the worries and hassle of maintenance? And how about an option that allows you to build equity over the years instead of just paying rent? This is what Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens is all about.

    Located in a quiet, residential neighborhood just off Veterans Drive in the northwest corner of St. Cloud, Realife Cooperative is a 50-unit, three-story complex that offers 10 different floor plans of one-bedroom, two bedrooms and two bedrooms plus den, ranging from 700 to 1,450 square feet.

    Residents buy a 1/50th share of the cooperative to become joint owners. They pay a monthly fee that covers the costs of operating and maintaining the co-op, such as the mortgage, property tax, insurance, utilities, management and maintenance employees and a repair replacement reserve fund, part of which is tax deductible. In addition, they pay for their own electricity, phone and cable and optional indoor heated parking.

    “We are the best-kept secret in town,” office manager Brenda Williams said, citing Realife’s secluded location and the unique senior housing concept. “We are the only one in the St. Cloud area.”

    Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens 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 that governs the co-op.

    The cooperative was designed with seniors in mind, with a raised dishwasher, raised toilet in the master bathroom, step-in shower, reinforced towel bars, 36-inch-wide doors with lever handles and 5-foot-wide hallways with a handrail, which makes it great for walking the halls for exercise.

The building has two elevators and common areas for member use, including a fully equipped great room, 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 co-op wants you to be able to “age in place” and remain as independent as possible so that you won’t have to move to assisted living or a nursing home.

    The cooperative setup was a selling point for many of the residents, but it is definitely not the only selling point.

    “It is such a quiet and beautiful neighborhood,” said Shari Hoffman, who has lived at Realife with her husband, Al, for about four years. “You can do as much as you want or as little as you want here,” said Al Hoffman.

    For the Hoffmans, a move to Realife was important because they did not want to put the burden on their children when it came time to pick a senior living facility.

    “We wanted to make our decisions on selling our house and finding a place for us to live,” said Shari Hoffman. “We didn’t want to wait too long and then have our kids have to deal with it.”

    Don Alm, who lost his wife a year before he moved in, was one of the first to join the cooperative when it opened in 2006. “It opened on May 1, and I moved in on May 5,” he smiled.

    After his wife passed, Alm decided it was time for him to move into a senior living setting. He especially liked the idea of buying instead of just renting.

    “I came here, and I liked what I saw,” he said. “There are lots of activities and great people here. I haven’t regretted my decision (to move here) once.”

    Alm is appreciative of the support he has received from his fellow residents, going above and beyond when times got tough.

    “The love and care we have here for each other is tremendous,” said Don Alm. “I have been hospitalized several times over the years and the people here are so caring. I have been so impressed. I’m very fortunate to be here.”

    Marna Ambuehl was living in Silver Bay when the idea of moving into a senior living facility first came to her mind.

    “My husband had passed away, and I was living in a nice home in Silver Bay by myself. I wanted to live with people. When you live by yourself, you are all by yourself. I was lonely. I decided I wanted to move closer to family. I have a daughter who lives nearby so we started to look around here.”

    Marna visited a few places with her daughter and when she walked into Realife, she knew right away…

    “I told her, ‘This is where I want to be,’” said Ambuehl.

    Maureen Unger and her husband, Tom, moved shortly after Realife opened its doors in 2006. Tom, who was instrumental in getting the facility built where it is, died about a year later. Maureen has been impressed with a lot of things, but her favorite part of Realife is the people.

    “There are so many nice people here,” she said.

    Maureen also likes how it is so easy to travel. “You just close your door and you can take off to wherever you need to go as you please.”

    While there are no meals provided like some senior living facilities, there is no shortage of food at Realife. The residents plan special meals often and many of the residents chip in to help with the buying, preparing and eating of the meals. They even do mini-fundraising dinners to help with special projects at Mueller Gardens.

    “There is lots of good food here,” she said.

Jim Wolter moved in 2006 from Cambridge. He and his wife moved to the cooperative because she suffered from Parkinson’s disease.

“We wanted to be closer to medical facilities and this was a good fit for us,” he said.

    His wife died about two years after they moved in.

    Wolter likes the building, the grounds, the activities and the people.

    “Most of the people here are very independent,” he said.

    Lubell Kendall stays active in and out of the facility.

    “I love the activities here. If you want to participate you can. If not, that’s OK too,” she said.

    Lubell and her husband, Bob, were the first people to buy and the second ones to move in.

    “We moved from the far southeast corner of St. Cloud to the far northwest corner of St. Cloud,” said Bob.

    The Kendalls have a cabin up north and like to spend much of their summer there.

    “We like to go south in the winter,” said Bob. “South to St. Cloud.”

    The Kendalls also love the location of Realife at Mueller Gardens because of its quiet surroundings and its convenient proximity to stores, the gym, church and more.

    If you would like to schedule a tour or learn more about cooperative living, contact Brenda at 320-258-3094 or email Realife also has an open house scheduled for June 21 from 1 – 4 p.m. Anyone interested in cooperatie living should stop by and check it out.

     To learn more about Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens, you can also visit their website at

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