Little Falls family spruces up backyard for Pierz residents

Families who work together accomplish wondrous deeds. That includes the Dave and Janet Kunkel clan of Little Falls. When the five sisters, their spouses, eight grandkids and two great-grandchildren pool their resources, anything can happen.

“We got together as a family at Christmas time and instead of buying gifts, decided to do this,” explained Sue Hanson, pointing to the grape arbor she and her siblings were installing at Harmony House in Pierz. “Instead of donating money to someplace, we wanted to see it and do it.”

At the suggestion of their father, they chose to spruce up the backyard of the adult foster care homes for persons experiencing memory loss. The result is a 10 by 12 foot wood arbor planted with Valiant grapevines. “It’s just like a Concord grape and makes great jams, but they’re good for eating, too, “ said Sue, the family spokesman.

It took the crew two Saturday afternoons to complete the task. First order of business was digging the holes to anchor the arbor’s six legs. Building a structure on-site took coordination. Helping out were Sue and Jerry Hanson of Little Falls, MN, Mary Lou and Bill May of Winthrop, Karen and Dan DesAutels of St. Cloud, MN, Cindy and Mike Monn of Lakeville, MN and Michelle and Greg Blaine of Little Falls.

Several years ago the Hansons put in an arbor at their home and thought it would be nice for the residents also. In a few years they can enjoy the outdoors in the shade of the vines. The group also planted several flowering crabs, plumb, maple and apple trees on the grounds.

When word got out, the project mushroomed, smiled Sue. Neighbor Ben Murdock donated a couple balsam trees and Whitey Waytashek threw in a flowering shrub. It was a great way of celebrating April Arbor Month.

On the second Saturday, the grandkids pitched in. They dug in the dirt, picked rocks, pushed the wheelbarrow and fill the holes with compost and water. Mud is a good thing, too, if it is shared in a labor of love.

Helping with this aspect of the project were Cindy and Mike’s daughters Angela, Julianna and Marissa, Sue and Jerry’s daughter Ann, her husband Jeff and the grandkids Amanda and Brett. Earlier the kids etched their names in the base of the arbor for posterity.

“We’re really excited about it,” said Jennine Engen, Harmony House program manager. “The whole family went to work. They brought their own equipment and manpower. I think it’s a really neat story. It teaches family values and benefits our residents,” she said. “They wanted to do something special for a home that’s helping people with Alzheimer disease.

“We never fully utilized the backyard before. Now residents can get out in the yard, see the beauty of the trees and watch them grow. In addition to the vegetable garden, we can use the yard for recreation, Eventually, we’ll be able to make grape and crabapple jelly,” she mused. “I can’t stress enough how nice it was of them to do this.”

Not only will residents be able to sit outside in the shade as the trees grow, but like other homes in the neighborhood, there will be leaves to rake.

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