The old Merickel mansion had presented many restoration obstacles before, but news of its deteriorating foundation made the Rev. Carol Carroll crumble.
Somebody said, You walked away? I said, No, I ran, Carroll said.
Around November, she got the news that the foundation would have to be dug out and replaced.
The landmark Wadena house, heading into its third year of restoration, has delivered several setbacks, including a basement full of sewage in the fall.
Carroll always dug in to conquer the issues, believing that shes fulfilling Gods mission. She even cleaned out the basement. Shes already sunk more than $80,000 into the mansion and next-door duplex. She paid $145,000 in a contract for deed with owner Ted Merickel that is supposed to be paid off in 2009. The prognosis about the foundation, though, was too overwhelming.
I just crumbled, she said. It just done me in.
Even if she could afford to replace the foundation (shes guessing at a cost of at least $60,000), the house might be wrecked. The mansion, patched together with additions through the years, might fall apart, piece by piece, if lifted. The news was just too much.
She and her son, who lives with her, flew to Washington state to be with her mother and other family members. There, she became refreshed.
In about two weeks, she was ready to face the house and all the work that remains.
Then, Carroll said, God started speaking to her heart again. She said he told her that he would send people to do the work.
A second opinion about the foundation gave her new hope. She was told that perhaps part of the foundation could be saved. Workers found that once parts of the deteriorated foundation were dug away, solid material remained. That could be reinforced, she said. Shes hopeful that workers will find more solid than ruined foundation.
That foundation will be fixed, she said. Then, there will be landscaping to force rainwater away from the house so that it cant eat away at the foundation again.
Carroll isnt waiting.
When God moves in here, he doesnt mess around, she said. He moves quickly.
Whatever the foundation is doing underneath, the rest of the house is abuzz with the sounds of construction workers, plumbers, electricians and Carroll herself.
And, she said, God is sending workers.
I was shocked, she said. Hes doing what he said he would do. Hes bringing them forth.
Last week, a wall badly burned by a vandal-set fire came down. Brother and Son, a construction company in Menahga, volunteered. The owner just showed up at her door, offering help and materials, Carroll said.
This is a blessing from them, she said.
Then ministers of area programs dropped in to offer labor, too. Pete and Pam Thiel of Firestarters, an Ottertail program for young people, and Dan Rippentrop of Yeshua Nissi offered help.
Were all standing behind each other, she said.
Hammers and nails flew this week as they helped frame in the area where the wall was removed. Carroll intends to install French doors there. Drywall was installed in the burned-out room.
This is an awesome lady, and this is a worthwhile project, Pete Thiel said.
In fact, Carroll said, people are just showing up at the house. Sometimes they donate materials, too.
Most work isnt volunteer, but she has been able to work out payment plans with some of the workers.
Plumbers and electricians were working in the house, too, replacing everything. The electrical rewiring is expected to be finished this week, no small task for the 18-room, three-story house. Plumbing also is being replaced.
Much remains to be done, but Carroll counts the successes too.
When she first saw the house three years ago this month while visiting her daughter, the mansion kept weighing on her mind. At first, she said, she kept saying no. She couldnt believe that God really wanted her to fix up the mansion and operate a ministry from there.
What she first saw was a run-down, burned monster of a house. Perhaps close to a decade ago, vandals broke into the house and started a fire that destroyed two rooms downstairs, badly damaged an upstairs room and hallway and covered much of the mansion in thick, black soot. The fire was so hot that it bubbled paint on the woodwork and melted the thermostat on the wall.
Then, about four years ago, vandals set another fire on the second floor. Although the fire was extinguished before gaining much control, more damage was done.
The mansion, in the community for more than 100 years, had sat empty even before the fires.
I walked into a hell hole, she said.
But, she said, she gave in to the message she believed God was sending her. She was to turn the mansion into a ministry and a place to help people. She hopes to run an inn there, where people can schedule conferences and rent rooms. The ministry, Under His Wings, will be headquartered on the top floor of the house.
When this is all done, it will be for the glory of the Lord, she said.
Now, she has repainted rooms, and she and her son, Russell Staton Jr., are living in the mansion. The duplex has been rented out, which will help pay for mansion restoration.
As projects are done throughout the mansion, Carroll and her son move things around.
After renting out her rural Hewitt house, she moved everything from there into the Merickel mansion, including her commercial sewing business.
Its a shuffle, shuffle, she said. Thats all it is.
Under His Wings, a nondenominational group, has begun meeting every other Sunday at the mansion. This Sunday, Carroll will speak, but she also asks others to give a message. The group had been on hiatus for a few months, ever since the sewage backed up in the basement. But Carroll is determined not to let the group stop again.
And shes just as determined to follow through with the mission of the mansion problem foundation or not.
Were not going to quit, she said. God didnt send me here to fail.