In 2012 the Ferdinand Historical Society (FHS) had been awarded a $400,000 grant to restore the Wollenmann house, long considered an icon in Ferdinand. Seven donors who are all members of the Society — Alvin and Diane Hoppenjans, Jim Mehling, Sue Ellspermann, Ed Talucci and Kathy Tretter and husband, Richard — had banded together to purchase the house and save it from the wrecking ball. The day after the Community Focus Fund Historic Preservation grant was awarded to the Town of Ferdinand on behalf of the FHS, the seven generously donated a large portion of the house to the Society and the Society paid for a portion, so it could be restored to its former glory.
The grant had been awarded and it was time for the fun to begin. It would fund restoration of the exterior, replacement of the electric (most of it was still original) and repair the basement wall under the 1940s addition, plus grant administration and engineering fees. Universal Design Associates of Ferdinand was hired as the design firm and ideas flew from the start. How best to return the chalet to its former glory was the chief topic on everyone’s minds. The grant came with some strings. The house could not be sold for a minimum of five years after restoration and the use could not be residential. Bids were let, but the first batch came in too high so the project had to be revised and some items scrapped.
On the second go-round, Pat Seger Construction was awarded the bid. Subcontractors included Weyer Electric, doing what they do best; Superior Insulation, Tri-Cap for asbestos abatement, United Dynamics to shore up the basement wall and Steffens Painting to handle white paint on the exterior. The grant allowed 18 months from start to finish. During that time many decisions had to be made, including what to paint the exterior shingles that most recently had been a burnt orange but had faded and peeled. Through family memories and old photos, it was discovered the house had originally been painted a dark brown, with red and white stripes in a horizontal accent strip and light (white or cream) trim. Kami Hubbs, with Universal Design, came up with four color schematics and presented them to Society members, who opted for deep brown with one thick red horizontal stripe and cream trim. No candy cane stripes this go round, but very close to the original. While all the exterior work was progressing, the interior had to be considered as well. There was, however, no grant money for the interior, including plumbing, heating and air which desperately needed to be replaced. The Society held numerous fund raisers, but there can just be so many chicken dinners before enthusiasm wanes.
Ed Talucci wrote a grant proposal asking the utility giant to fund new HVAC. Wonder of wonders, the grant was funded to the tune of $19,500. Alvin Hoppenjans decided to retire and relished the idea of overseeing the interior work, along with his wife, Diane and the help of so many others. Initially a local couple planned to put a gift, ice cream and coffee shop in the former residence, so the 1940s addition was ear-marked for the kitchen. It only made sense because the kitchen had been located in part of the addition, with a sun room filling the rest of the space. Debbie Boeglin, a professional interior designer, was invaluable. She donated her time and talent to help move the project forward. Besides her creative design ideas she was instrumental in securing the next big item. Boeglin worked with MasterBrand, another Ferdinand institution, who generously donated custom classic white cabinetry. The interior walls were in need of paint and some needed to be replaced with fresh drywall. Jasper Engines donated the drywall and workers to install it. Various people volunteered to paint, included a couple of workers from Home Depot. The paint itself came from Sherwin Williams. The premiere paint company donated 67 gallons for the project. Alvin could be found working in the house last Thursday, touching up the baseboards that had recently been installed. A tour of the house showed all the progress thus far. The cabinets are installed and the counter tops should go in this week. A huge slate chalkboard from a former school is etched with the words “Welcome to the W.” Floors that had been covered in linoleum or carpet had been stripped down to the wood and the rooms have all been painted. Light fixtures original to the house were cleaned, rewired and rehung. The downstairs bathroom is not quite finished, lacking a commode, but should be ready soon. The style is appropriate to the period but was completely revamped and a window removed. Messmer Mechanical is handling the plumbing. Doors and windows in the sun room, including a set of French doors, came from H and R Aluminum. To describe every detail would be to write a book about the restoration, not just an article. Suffice to say the interior looks fresh and new while simultaneously appearing to be 111 years old. “I have been very impressed with all the donations we’ve gotten and all the volunteers,” reports Alvin, awe in his voice. “There is no way we could have done it without them.” Besides all the materials and money donated for the project, Hoppenjans rattled off a list of volunteers: Jeff Johnson, Vaughn Buechler, Jim Johanneman, Ed Talucci and his nephew, Kaden, Ron Flick, Ryan Becher, Jeff Durlauf, Eric Herndon, John Gogel, Kenny Pund, Katie Mehling, Rock Emmert, Kris Lasher, George Schipp, Gene Welp, Don Barth, Brian Schipp, Doug Reeder, Gary Hasenour, Brian Hurst, Jim Mehling, Sue Ellspermann, Richard and Kathy Tretter, Sebastian Dorsam, Sherry Brewster and Alvin’s wife, Diane. He did not give himself a pat on the back but everyone else should. Alvin spent countless hours working on the house. “I hope I didn’t forget anyone,” Hoppenjans noted with concern. “If so, please know your help was greatly appreciated.”
Katie Mehling, Society president, also recognized all the many monetary donors, both big and small. “These donations were so important,” she explained,” and we thank everyone for their generosity.” The interior will soon be finished, so what’s next? Landscaping and hardscaping. Plans are to add a patio outside the French doors, along with extensive landscaping designed by Brian Schipp. Also a storage shed for a lawn mower and storage. While parking will be in the rear, a brick path from the sidewalk to the house will be installed to replicate what was originally there.
Funds are still needed and if interested in buying a commemorative brick, see the ad in this issue for details. Meanwhile, the search for a new occupant is underway. The space is suitable for a restaurant, coffee shop, micro-brewery, winery, gift shop or other retail-type business as it is zoned commercial. Anyone interested in the property should contact Ferdinand Historical Society President Katie Mehling or Alvin Hoppenjans. Whomever decides to locate in the house will share it with a kiosk from the Dubois County Tourism Commission, as the house will be designated an official Tourist Information Center. The touch screen kiosk will literally provide information at the touch of a finger.