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A homecoming to Homecrest

Photo by Steve Schulz Homecrest owner Mike Bullinger (left) and new Chief Operating Officer Mark Fillhouer, who came back to the company, talked last week about the company's challenges and its future.

A familiar face has returned to take the helm of Homecrest in Wadena.

Mark Fillhouer, who worked at Homecrest from 1998 to 2005, recently accepted the chief operating officer position and has returned to the company.

Fillhouer said he was at Homecrest during some of the troubles the company went through in the early 2000s, and had left in 2005 to take a job with Norwegian furniture company Ekornes, based in New Jersey.

Fillhouer moved his family to South Carolina and was enjoying his job and life when one day the phone rang.

"It was [Homecrest founder] Don Bottemiller," Fillhouer recalled. "At the time, they were looking for a sales manager. It was intriguing, but I loved my job."

Fillhouer said he wasn't ready to make what amounted to a lateral move, but still had a soft spot in his heart for Homecrest, and he even offered free consulting.

"I wanted to see the company succeed," he said.

Just two months later, Fillhouer's phone rang again, and Bottemiller was on the other end again.

"This time, they were looking for a COO," Fillhouer said. "I said I would love the opportunity to come back for that."

On July 3, Fillhouer accepted the job.

His family was elated, he said, because his wife, Sharla, and kids Scott, 16, Amy, 14, and Kate, 8, all had fond memories of Wadena.

"I'm just thrilled to be back," he said. "The kids are thrilled to be back. They enjoyed the South, but their roots were right here in Wadena."

Mark said Sharla and the girls are still back in South Carolina, trying to sell the family's house.

Mark was a Wadena City Council member and Sharla was active at the church, and the two look forward to getting plugged back into the community.

But first, Mark said he has a challenge ahead to achieve his vision of Homecrest.

"What I've seen is the start of an evolutionary process," he said. "Things are changing. This will not be the same company it used to be. We've got people out in the plant that are willing and able to make those changes."

Mark said he's running a leaner operation, but one that is much better able to react to situations quickly, and be proactive instead of reactive.

"We are able to change directions on a dime now," he said.