Guests gather at the Coop's Event Barn grand opening on August 17.
Photo by Melanie Dobson
By Ruth Hanson
Keith Cooper is very excited about the new business he and his wife Linda have started - Coop's Event Barn.
And he wants to be sure that people understand how much they appreciate the support they have received from the community. That includes the county commissioners, the county Planning and Zoning Committee and Ashland Township officers.
"We appreciate their being beside us in a new venture - a venture into uncharted grounds," he said. "As we left a meeting with the county commissioners, Lyle Tjosaas, the chair, said 'I wish you well.' That meant a lot."They had never had a business, but had always dreamed of having a business together. Keith has been a software engineer/project manager at IBM for 36 years. Linda works at the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation.
He looked around at the walls and ceiling of the old granary where he sat, smiled and said, "The roof is galvanized steel that came from Greg Schley. He's quite a carpenter. All the good carpentry was done by Greg. All the poor carpentry I'll take the blame for."
Keith tore down a number of old buildings and re-purposed them.
"Those neighbors and friends basically gave the wood for the inside walls to me," he said.
Steve and Libby Henslin, who are neighbors, gave the corrugated galvanized steel that are on both ends of the room to them. Lois and Leonard Marquardt gave them the wood from a corn crib for the inside walls. Roy and Elaine Green gave them wood from a granary.
"Their names are on the boards of the room," Keith said.
There is a sink at one end of the room that has been around for 15 years and came from the Frank Till farm in Rochester.
The handrail going up to the haymow was a chalk tray in the old Dodge Center High School.
"It is cedar board," he said. "It was at my mom's house for a while. I got it when they were tearing things out of the old school in the 70s.
That's cool stuff. Denny Schultz helped me put it in."
He said they are looking forward to watching people have "a relaxed, rural experience."
The Coopers moved out to the country 15 years ago. Their daughter Lauren was less than enthusiastic, but two years ago, when she was planning her wedding, she told them she wanted her wedding to be at the farm.
That meant putting a new roof on the barn, which was a major project.
"People at the wedding and continuously for quite a while after that kept telling us what a 'fun, fun time' they had that night and that they should make a business of having events at our house."
Living in the county has already been a good experience for them.
Their children enjoy visiting - Jerry and Meredith from River Falls and Lauren and Jesse (Jerle) from Woodbury. Jennifer is living at their house for the time being and Linda says she gives her parents much-needed advice.
"I had up to 100 white-faced sheep and did lambing," Keith said. "We had up to a dozen steers and raised chickens - meat birds - in this granary. I ignored the horse stalls."
But the times, they are a-changing. They have their first wedding booked for September 7 - a Kasson couple who posted an ad in Craig's List which Linda answered.
"And from there it has mushroomed," he said. "Since then and much Thanks to Brandon Berge and his team, we have a new driveway to north of our place that leads to our north pasture parking lot and we he also installed new cement approaches around the Barn's entries to make them safe and more visually appealing. Everything has come together very nicely in preparation for the Grand Opening."
There was a grand opening on August 17 when they invited friends, family, neighbors, county officials, potential clients and some vendors.
"We had some mock weddings set up," he said. "I tell people we are providing a palette. They can come and decorate it to suit themselves, using their own creativity. We want to allow flexibility for them to have time to decorate and to clean up."
He explained that they don't have a liquor license, but that if people want to serve alcohol they are required to use a licensed caterer who has a permit.
"They just have to go through the right channels," he said. "We are having fun meeting people from all over - Rochester, the Twin Cities, Iowa and North Dakota so far."