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Multi-county H4H chapter to dissolve

PIPESTONE -- A new home under construction in Edgerton will be the last project of Southwestern Minnesota Habitat for Humanity. The organization has struggled for the past several years to maintain a consistent board of directors, and after Ron H...

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Southwestern Minnesota Habitat for Humanity's Edgerton project is slated for completion in June. The Redwood River H4H is finishing the project with the local chapter's plan to dissolve. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)

PIPESTONE - A new home under construction in Edgerton will be the last project of Southwestern Minnesota Habitat for Humanity.

The organization has struggled for the past several years to maintain a consistent board of directors, and after Ron Hyvari stepped down from his post as executive director last September for health reasons, board participation hit a new low. Tyler Reisch, Southwest Minnesota Habitat for Humanity president, said he and the organization’s treasurer, Dave Keeler, are the only two active board members remaining.

“We’d get someone on, they’d get burned out and then they’d leave,” Reisch said. “We had four to five people doing the work of 15.

“We just can’t find the people willing to donate the time to build the board - it’s a large task to take on.”

With the Edgerton project slated for completion by June, Reisch said the organization is working with Marshall-based Redwood River Habitat for Humanity to take over the local chapter’s responsibilities.

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Southwestern Minnesota Habitat for Humanity formed in 2000, a collaboration of Rock, Nobles and Pipestone counties. The goal of the organization was to encourage community participation through donations of both time and money, and to build affordable homes for families in need.

Prospective homeowners had to apply to the program, and there was a selection process and one-on-one counseling between an H4H mentor and the soon-to-be homeowner about everything from finances to home maintenance. Homeowners are required to put sweat equity into the building project.

The first home was completed in Luverne in 2002, followed by builds in Worthington and then in Pipestone, with the rotation loosely followed in the years since. Eight homes were built in all - three in Luverne, two in Pipestone, and three in Worthington - with one Pipestone home renovated as an H4H project.

The home in Edgerton will be the ninth completed project, and has caused some problems for the organization.

In May 2015, the Edgerton City Council approved the donation of a city-owned lot to Southwestern Minnesota H4H for construction of a new home. Construction started in the fall of 2016, but was halted a year later when it was discovered the family who was to receive the home didn’t qualify for a USDA loan. Without the loan, Southwestern Minnesota H4H didn’t have the money for the project.

Reisch said that was when the organization’s problems began.

“We ran into a funding situation,” he said. “We had to find another source of funding.”

Redwood River Habitat for Humanity agreed to finance the Edgerton project to the tune of $108,000 to complete the build, said Charlie Sanow, executive director of Redwood River H4H.

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He said the Marshall-based chapter is open to doing house builds within Nobles, Rock and Pipestone counties in the future if there is an interest.

That’s good news for the city of Bigelow, where the next Southwestern Minnesota H4H home was to be built.

“We are committed to moving forward with the project,” said Bigelow Mayor Stacie Golombiecki on Tuesday. “We knew our project would not come until the Edgerton home was done.”

Golombiecki said the council met Monday night, where the fate of Southwestern Minnesota H4H was discussed. She has yet to speak with Sanow about the Bigelow build.

“We certainly want to work through it and we’re committed to following through with the project,” Golombiecki assured.

It would be the first H4H house for the city of Bigelow. The city acquired the lot through a tax forfeiture, cleared abandoned vehicles and home furnishings and bulldozed the house before seeding the lot to grass last fall.

Sanow said approximately $4,000 has been raised for an H4H project in Bigelow thus far.

“I wouldn’t look for Habitat here to do something there (in Bigelow) until spring of next year,” he added. “As long as we have people in that area who are willing to work, I think there are ways to work it out.”

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By taking over the fiscal responsibilities of the Southwestern chapter, Sanow said Redwood River H4H will collect mortgage payments on the nine homes completed. Each homeowner has a 30-year mortgage to pay off. Sanow said those dollars will go into a fund to build more houses in the future, whether they be in Lyon County or Nobles, Rock or Pipestone counties.

“We have to make a choice whether we want to include your area in our build area - make it five counties instead of two,” Sanow said. “Next spring we have to make that decision.”

Sharon Johnson of Worthington served two, three-year terms on the Southwestern Minnesota H4H board of directors. Though she hasn’t been directly involved with the organization since 2010, she was surprised to hear of the chapter’s demise.

“I do understand that it’s been a challenge to keep something going that covers the three-county area,” she said. “When it only came around every three years, it was hard to keep people informed and excited about building projects.”

Johnson became involved with H4H after college, first in Omaha, Neb., and then in Milwaukee, Wis. When she returned to Worthington, she saw a need for the program here.

“I just really felt like there was a bit of a gap around decent, affordable housing in our community,” Johnson said.

“Habitat wasn’t just about building the house and putting a family in it - it was about bringing a community together and lifting a family up … to a different lifestyle by owning a home,” she added.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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