THEILMAN — As the Theilman Opera House was several years from its century anniversary this year, its roof was ready to fall in, its walls bowed, its insides rotting and the basement floor a shambles.
Now that it hit the century mark, the roof is new, walls are reinforced, the insides are filled with new floors and stage and the basement has a new concrete floor with heated coils inside.
When he looks at the transformation, Russ Meyer still shakes his head in awe.
The rural Theilman man has been a leader in saving and restoring the opera house that was once a social gathering hotspot for the farmers who lived within several miles of it. It even had a stable below for their horses to rest as the owners danced upstairs.
Over the years, it was no longer used and began to fall apart.
"It was not an easy project to pull off," he said. "People were saying 'Are you crazy?' That old building can't be put back into shape."
It cost about $250,000 in donations (the Theilman Sportsman's Club that owns is still looking to pay off the loan) cooperation of many people and a small miracle or two, he said.
When it needed an expert to take off the old roof and replace it, John Wingert of Kellogg came in with the crane. When it needed work reinforcing the walls with iron, Dick Herbst of Lake City was the man, Meyer said. When it needed new electrical work, Bob Swanson stepped up.
All volunteered their time, not to mention many local people who helped paint, tuckpoint and do other work.
Glen Bornfleth of Theilman was hired to do all the inside wood work, replacing the main floor and stage.
Then local people donated walnut and other wood for the stage and downstairs bar. Someone found a used walk-in cooler.
Someone else called to say the Kahler Hotel in Rochester was redecorating and was getting rid of two big chandeliers. They now hang in the opera house's main floor. Old lights from the Lobster House in Rochester are in a stairwell.
"There had to be divine intervention," he said.
All this to bring back that opera house as a gathering place, event center and heart of the little town along the Zumbro River between Lake City and Plainview. "I think a lot of these small towns have died," Meyer said. "We've decided we don't want to die."
The town is really a great place for recreating with the river nearby and the large piece of state forest, with trails and camping, a few miles away.
Sue Krusmark, events manager, said people volunteered because they saw it as a way to leave their mark. "I think they want to be part of something that will eventually be something that is really wonderful," she said.
Roy Eggenberger, the unofficial mayor of the town, will celebrate his 75th birthday there Nov. 2. He remembers the glory years when he danced there and he remembers the bad years.
Now, he sees it restored to its glory, ready for the next century when Meyer and Krusmark plan to do a lot more marketing.
"It looks nice now," Eggenberger said.