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Back and Forth: Rochester Area Builders turns 60 this year

When an organization is well-run, suddenly a few decades will pass and it's time to observe its history or plan a celebration.

The Rochester Area Builders is turning 60 in 2013, as it dates back to 1953. My stats tell me Rochester's 1950 population was 29,885. By 1960 we'd jumped to more than 40,000, after IBM put its new location here in the mid-1950s. "Big Blue" sparked home building in many parts of the city.

I've talked with several long-time builders now in their '80s and '90s who very vividly remember what a role the Builders played.

Some builders started working with the Kruse Co., which was all lumber in 1915 when it was founded by H.J, Kruse. Another early name there was Oscar Allerton. They'll observe 100 years in 2015. For a time Dave Alexander got experience there before joining his father, George Alexander. building several homes in southeast Rochester's Homestead addition. At 83, Dave said he loved going to the National Home Builders conventions in several large cities.

"I'd come home fired up with the ideas and using them before other builders," Dave told me. "I had the first electric mitre saw and have built at least 300 homes."


Bob Gill and Dick Hexum also worked at the Kruse Company, Bob as a home builder and Dick as a real estate agent selling those homes built by Kruse carpenters.

Meadow Park southeast, once occupied by the first Rochester airport, is filled with Kruse Homes. Another early builder was Hank Giese, who was the first Home Builders president from 1953 to 1956. Other builders included Hersh Hoaglan Sr., Larry McCaleb, Joe Weis, Floyd Whipple, Reuben Wolfgram, Richard Hanson, Don Kleist and Don Sperry.

Former Rochester Mayor Dewey Day, 1969-73, was a home builder. Although never serving as president, Larry Sather actually got the Rochester Builders started, first meeting at Michaels, the Town House, the Elks Club or the Rochester Golf & Country Club. Back in 1953 Builders members paid $3 for a full meal at Michaels. The monthly Builders meetings today are at the International Event Center near the Rochester Airport.

Mayo Clinic was also growing, and houses were needed for the employees it was adding. New areas were developed like Elton Hills, Northern Heights, Meadow Park and the Crossroads behind that shopping center in 1963. Quonset homes once used by Mayo families were removed and many new homes were built there by Bob Gill and other builders. Bob built many homes in Rolling Greens off 37th Street Northwest for the Kruse Company.

This organization grew rapidly, with builders and associate members joining from surrounding counties such as Goodhue, Wabasha, Winona and Fillmore. The networking at these monthly meetings was paying off.

Today the RAB has more than 500 members, including all the trades.

It's likely the annual Home Show really encouraged more members to join. Once called the Rochester Area Builders Home show in 1979 at Graham Arena, this event today fills the Mayo Civic Center. "The Home Show" is coming in two weeks, on Feb. 8-10. This 34th annual show will feature Nicole Curtis, host of DIY Network's show "Rehab Addict." She has a passion for preserving and remodeling old homes on a budget. She's been remodeling homes for 15 years.

Long-time Executive Director Sandy Friend guided the Rochester Area Builders for 25 years, from 1985 through 2010. When she began Rochester's population was about 63,000. Today, it's well over 111,000. East and West Circle Drives have long been completed and commercial and residential developments keep springing up.


For the most part building has been steady, with occasional "ups and downs." One past president who needs honorable mention is Bob DeWitz, who strived to build a good home for folks who were struggling financially. Rochester said goodbye to Bob a few months ago. He was a developer and builder of hundreds of homes.

In 2000 RAB built a new office complex at 108 Elton Hills Lane Northwest. Chief Executive officer is John Eischen, and the Governmental Affairs officer is Rick Dold.

Next week: Lucy Phelps remembers 46 years with Erdmans in Kasson.

Harley Flathers is a longtime Rochester-area broadcaster and historian. Got a comment for Harley? Send it to news@postbulletin.com or to Harley at Post-Bulletin, P.O. Box 6118, Rochester, MN 55903.

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