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Mabel Sande, the oldest resident at Barros at 102, says she will dearly miss Mary Prestidge, who has retired after running the home for 25 years.
Mabel Sande, the oldest resident at Barros at 102, says she will dearly miss Mary Prestidge, who has retired after running the home for 25 years.

Barross House owner taking a break

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community Two Harbors, 55616
Two Harbors Minnesota 109 Waterfront Dr. 55616

Back in 1986, Mary Prestidge was talking to her neighbor. Pearl Sande's parents needed more care than she could give them. No one liked the idea of sending them to a nursing home, but there were few alternatives in Two Harbors at the time.

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Prestidge talked with her twin sister, Marilyn Story, about opening an alternative to a nursing home.

It wasn't long before they found a home for sale. They were able to purchase it on a contract-for-deed in September and by January 1987, they got their first resident. Within four months, they were running at capacity and three years later sold it to buy a larger home that's been a welcoming home ever since.

"We named it the Barross House," Prestidge said, "after the bishop who built it as a residence for the priests and nuns." Prestidge and her sister and daughters have added on to the century-old Victorian, and eventually purchased the cottage at the rear of the property to add more room for residents.

Now, after 138 residents, thousands of 12-hour days, lots of love, and 25 years - Prestidge is retiring. "It's time for some young blood to take over," she said.

Two nieces took over last week: Courtney Duchholz, a registered nurse; and Cindy Story, who's been at Barross House for eight years.

"I'm leaving the residents in good hands," Prestidge said. "I wouldn't have left it with anybody else."

A tour of the home offers ample reason why residents love Barross so much. Drop in at lunchtime and you'll be greeted by the aroma of a home-cooked meal and residents gathered around a large table in the kitchen, swapping stories about their day, the weather, the obituaries.

"We read them every day," Prestidge said of what might seem a grim exercise. "It starts off conversations about their histories in the area."

"Our oldest resident, Mabel Sande, is 102 years old and we always ask her about the goings on in Two Harbors. She's got the history down."

History, Prestidge says, is what drew her to work in the field. She loves hearing stories about the past and she loves working with older people. "When I came to Two Harbors, I drove the Arrowhead bus for the elderly. That's when I started to have contact with older people," she said. "I just love listening ... I'd haul 'em up to Brimson, and, wouldn't you know it, some of those people became residents later."

Some stay for years, she said. And some die.

How does she cope with getting attached and then having to let go? She admits the first few deaths were tough but, when hospice workers came to the house, she says they really helped everyone understand the process of dying.

"I also learned a lot about the importance of the quality of life from my neighbor, Pearl, before she passed," Prestidge said. "It's a natural process. You give and you love. It hurts to lose them, but yet when you reflect about the good years, it doesn't seem quite so bad."

The 102 year-old Sande makes her feelings about Prestidge's departure crystal clear: "No, I don't like it," she says. "It just won't be the same."

But the time has come, Prestidge said. She is taking a well-earned two-week vacation. She and her husband are meandering out to the Dakotas and farther to Colorado and Nevada. Once she returns, she'll continue to spend time at Barross House on a volunteer basis.

"I just can't quit cold turkey," she says with a smile.

That notion made Sande positively beam.

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