Lower Spunk Lane - Hengel Property, Avon, MN

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Spirit of Lower Spunk

The cabin at 34113 Lower Spunk Lane
Aloys and Rosalia Hengel
Address: 34113 Lower Spunk Lane
Location of Site: Lower Spunk Lake
Avon, Minnesota
Stearns County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year Established: 1951
Founded by: Aloys and Rosalia Hengel
Historic Function: Neighborhood/community
Current Function: Neighborhood/community
Notes: Spirit of Lower Spunk

Avon Stearns

Close your eyes. Can you hear it? The sound of rippling water. The loon singing in the distance. The laughter of children. The clinking of beer bottles. The neighbors bug zapper zapping away. Everyone who has spent time at a lake cabin may be familiar with what I am talking about. This is the story of three lake cabins. I will focus this story on the cabin standing in the middle and the special times our family spent each summer since 1950.

Our special place, the lake cabin, was on Lower Spunk Lake in Avon, Minnesota. At the north edge of town there is a little dead end road that most people never notice. Many Avon residents usually have no idea or have never paid attention to the existence of this road. The road is on highway 9 between that log cabin that has been under construction for over three decades and Lake Ochotto. Take a left and you will feel like you are entering a secret passageway. There are trees all around you, hiding much of the summer sky. There is an impromptu junkyard on the right until you round the corner and you start to see homes. Once in a while, you get a glimpse of sparkling blue water on the other side of the homes. This area is known as the Brix Addition. Mr. George Brix Sr. and his wife, Helen, developed it in 1950. Our family knows this area as Lower Spunk Lane on Lower Spunk Lake.

Our family had a summer cabin on the Lower Spunk and spent many summer nights listening to the ripples of the water and the calls of the loons. We would fire up the grill for dinner while the adults enjoyed a cool refreshment. The kids would continue swimming until, begrudgingly, they were called in to eat. This many sound like a typical summer day in Minnesota for all lake lovers. Our story has a twist. We did not have one lake cabin, we had three, all in a row on Lower Spunk Lake. Ernest “Ernie” and Angeline “Nippy” Hartmann owned lot 10, 11 and the north half of lot 12. Aloys “Al” and Rosalia Hengel owned the south half of lot 12 as well as lot 13. John and Frederica “Freddie” Spoden owned lot 14. How are these people connected? Al and Nippy are siblings. John and Freddie are Rosalia’s parents. Two families joined together with Al and Rosalia connecting everyone in the middle. Each family built a small cabin on their property and enjoyed the ever-lasting summers on the lake. The Hartmann and Spoden locations have been sold a few times throughout their existence but the Hengel cabin is still owned within the family.

THE PASTURE George Brix still owned some land across the dirt road. That is where we will begin our story…in the Brix’s pasture. What is the first thing you think of when you hear lake cabin? Fishing! How do you catch fish? With bait! Where do you get bait? In the pasture across the road of course. The pasture has served many functions over the years. It was once the home of many horses and cows but also served our family as a prime source for bait. This is there the kids dug for worms and caught frogs.

The slimy frogs were use for catching bass and the huge curly worms were for everything else. Ray, Al and Rosalia’s son, remembers using the pasture to hunt blackbirds with his BB gun. Once, he and his friend Kenny Keller killed a rabbit. Jack, Al and Rosalia’s second son, also remembers the pasture and “getting in trouble” with the BB gun. He used to have to pick up dry cow pies. He did not mention why they had to pick cow pies. Perhaps for the fire? Margaret “Mardi,” Al and Rosalia’s only daughter, would dig for worms in the pasture as did the next generation of Hengels. Jack and Ray’s children used the pasture to dig for worms.

The Jack Hengel kids would also weave through the pasture’s little passageways that was a little bit down the road. They were on an adventure and Uncle Joseph “Joe,” Al and Rosalia youngest son, was always the leader of the pack. Joe came to the family after Jack married Cherry Mertens. A few years later, Jack and Cherry had their first daughter, Shawnna. Ray’s daughter, Dawn, was born around the same time as Joe. Jack and Cherry’s second daughter, Michelle, remembers the pasture for its abundance of wood ticks. Every time they came out of the pasture, as well as at the end of the evening before heading for home, they had wood tick checks. Michelle feared the tweezers. She would close her eyes hold her breath until it was over. Grandpa Al would take the ticks and burn them in an ashtray and the kids would watch the ticks shrivel up.

OPEN DOOR POLICY The cabins were always a place with an open door. Extended family and friends spent their weekends at the lake with the Hartmanns, the Hengels, and the Spodens. Ray recalls relative coming from South Dakota, St. Cloud, the Haffs from Minneapolis (you will meet them later), the Hennemanns and many more. Coming the longest distance was Rosalia’s sister Priscilla, her husband Alfred Nosera and their children. Every other year, they would drive to Minnesota for a family vacation. Cousin Rick Hennemann and his new wife Renee spent a few months living at the Hengel cabin when they were first married.

A CAUSE FOR CELEBRATION The cabin was the place for celebrations. Al and Rosalia hosted many family reunions as well as baptisms and birthdays. The kids would have Al and Rosalia’s anniversary parties out at the cabin too. Jack’s second daughter Michelle, Mardi and Rosalia’s birthdays were all in the summer and each one of them had birthday celebrations there. Spunktacular Days (Avon’s summer celebration) and the church bazar were the same weekend as Michelle’s birthday. Someone would always win at the cakewalk, which then served as her birthday cake. The church had chicken noodle soup those weekends. Bazar patrons bring in empty one-gallon buckets and with five bucks payment, you got your bucket filled with leftover soup. Karen Hoyer, a neighbor in the later years, had many family celebrations at the cabin also. Karen and Duane Hoyer bought the Spoden cabin in 1972. Karen recalls, “One group of people would arrive shortly after the first group left. Busy but so much fun. One summer we had such a big gathering, we got permission from Mr. Karash to park on his land. Seventy-three people that day. And only the outhouse – how did we do that?”

THE BIFFY All three cabins had an outhouse. There was no indoor plumbing at the lake for many decades. Mardi recalls, “At night we used to worry about what was in that hole. We had to use newspaper and catalog pages to wipe with. Indoor bathroom was not put in until later. Dad had to put a battery light in the outhouse.” Ashley, Jack’s youngest daughter, remembers having to use the outhouse because the toilet inside didn’t work very well. Shawnna, Jack’s oldest daughter “didn’t like having to use the outhouse if we went there in the winter to ice fish because the cabin was winterized in the winter and we couldn’t use the indoor toilet.”

OLD LEAKY A topic of conversation that still comes up these days is “old leaky.” You can figure out how the boat got its name. Ray remembers taking “old leaky” out on the lake to the tunnel under the railroad tracks that connected Lower Spunk Lake with Middle Spunk Lake. Mostly though, “old leaky” was used for fishing.

Hugo Johnson, Mardi’s husband used to fish with Al and Mr. Shuman. When 6 p.m. was close they had to quit fishing even if the fish were biting. “We had to stop and go in, Mr. Shuman’s orders,” recalls Ray. “Other times my friend Kenny Keller would visit and we would get up early in the morning to fish and when we came in with our catch, we immediately cleaned them and then mom would cook them for breakfast.” Karen Hoyer has a favorite fishing story from the lake. “One October 31st, we stopped at the cabin and Al was out fishing and motioned for us to come out. We had already closed the cabin up for the season so we had to row out in our small boat and joined him. Caught lots of nice crappies that day.”

FISH TAILS What lake cabin story is complete without a few fishing tales? A favorite fishing story of the family comes from Ray, “One time when my grandma and I were on the lake fishing a storm came up with winds creating whitecaps. The sky was black and we were catching sunfish. Don’t remember the year. Grandpa was on shore calling us to come in as he was always in a perpetual state of fear of any bad weather coming in from the west. We were in “old leaky” and grandma wanted to fish so we stayed until the sky opened up and drenched us.” Jack remembers fishing in the rain too “Yeh, if it was raining cats and dogs if the fish were biting, you were fishing. Always caught a lot of northerns.” When fish are caught, they need to be cleaned. Jack’s wife Cherry and their daughters Ashley and Michelle remember the guys at the fish table down by the lakeshore cleaning the day’s catch.

CARING FOR THE LAND Jack and Cherry’s first son, Cory remembers, “the first things to do when getting there was to mow the grass, water the many plants and then the fun would start.” As a child, Jack remembers, “we had to water a lot of the new trees – five gallon of water per bucket one-two times per day. The trees grew up and we didn’t have to water then anymore.” There were many trees at the cabin. The one that is mentioned most often is the old dead oak with the turtle shells attached to the trunk. John remembers, “the big tree that was next to cabin. Cousin Jerome Hennemann had all the turtle shells that he had trapped attached there.” Shawnna remembers the tree also, “there was a big tree that had huge turtle shells nailed to it. I remember when I was a kid the tree was almost dead. Many years later, the top was chopped off but the shells were still on the tree. Years later it was chopped down even lower and a tabletop was put into the stump to make it into a table.

Cousin Rick cuts trees for a living and he has cut down most of the trees at the cabin. Another memorable tree was recalled by Cherry, “There used to be a tree near front of house that one time had a tire swing on it. After it had to be taken down, grandpa Al made a flower planter on top of the stump.”

Al loved woodworking. For the lake, he made a four-person rocking swing. Shawnna and Michelle would stand on the middle platform and rock it and swing until it almost tipped over. They got yelled at lot for doing that. From a kids perspective the lake was pure fun.

MEMORABLE MEMORIES The most fond memory of all the children was how much fun it was to ride down the hill, onto the dock, and into the water…while driving a bike, a Big Wheel or anything with wheels. The kids had a ball. Cherry remembers the kids doing this also and she, like the rest of the adults thought it was hilarious. The Big Wheel they used is still in the shed at the lake.

Lillian Haff, Rosalia’s dearest friend came to the lake often. She was crazy. Cherry remembers, “Grandma’s friend Lillian would roll down the hill with the kids. Even at her age, I think now how my body wouldn’t handle that).” Lillian was also known to help Al with cabin repairs, most notably, fixing the roof.

Other fun activities at the cabin were pontoon and paddle boat rides. Everyone would grab his or her drink of choice and would tool around the perimeter of the lake. Ashley remembers, “Slow pontoon rides around the lake and trying to find the few swimming spots and trying to avoid the rock piles.” “Old leaky” is under one of those rock piles.

Evening activities for the adults was usually cards, cribbage, and drinking more beer. Shawnna has said many times, “My favorite place was sitting on the red bench at the table and finally getting to play rummy 500 with the adults.” Al and Rosalia played rummy 500 with Duane and Karen for many years. Karen misses that.

Cherry remembers the red chaise lounger. Everyone remembers the red chaise lounger. Comfy and stylish, it had wheels so you could move it anywhere. It was covered in vinyl so it got very hot in the sun. They moved it often. Everyone has fallen asleep in the red chaise lounger at least once, probably many times, on hot summer days. The Johnson’s still have the red chaise lounger.

There was also the broken nose incident. Shawnna recounts the events of that day; “One of the scariest moments was a winter when my dad and the whole family went to take the fish house off of the lake. My dad was winching the house off of the lake and the bolt ripped out of the wood and hit my dad in the nose. He would have lost his eye but he had shatterproof glasses on that deflected the bolt away from his eye. It look 15 minutes to get to the doctor and he had blood all over because there was no water at the cabin in the winter.” Michelle and Ashley remember this incident vividly. It was very scary for all the kids as well as John and Cherry.

Situations like that were rare though. At the lake, it was mostly just fun. The sunsets are amazing and the fall colors are …colorful. Often the loons are out and you can hear them calling from afar. Mardi will halt any conversation and say, “Do you hear that? It’s the loons. Way out there by the cattails. I think it’s the mom.” Mardi and Hugo enjoy the beautiful view of the lake now. They bought the Hengel lake property in 1985. After their retirement, in 1997, they sold the cabin to Mark Martini, Jr. and built a new house on the property. The cabin in now 7.6 miles to the east of its former home.

The lake has had many critters calling it home. Mardi and Hugo love “watching the, eagles, duck and young ones. Owls and osprey getting fish out of lake and eating it in the trees.” Karen was also found of the waterfowl, “watching the loons and all the birds and ducks. We had a family of ducks in our yard most years. One year, one duck was albino.”

NO INTERIOR DESIGNER NEEDED A striking feature of the Hengel cabin was the interior. Everything was wood inside and cozy. Ashley misses the cabin that was once on the property, “it was a small cozy space that felt inviting and like home.” Shawnna had similar feelings, “even when it was raining it was still a warm and welcoming place.” Mardi is reminiscent about the kerosene lamps that were in the cabin; “it was nice and peaceful and gentle at night.” The lamps came from the railroad that Al worked for. Cherry sums it up perfectly, “Al and Rosalia built it with loving care.”

Al and Rosalia spent many weekends building the cabin with boxcar lumber and split logs for the lake exterior. There was a row of windows on the lake view side of the cabin and on the south side view where the kitchen and dining area, which was all open space. There were three bedrooms on the other side of the living space. They were just big enough for a double bed and small dresser. The middle bedroom also had a crib in it, which cradled all the babies that have spent time at the lake.

Most notable were the decorations inside the cabin. Ray remembers the paper cartoons on the wall by the door. “There were a lot of funny cartoon like the guy in the boat with his line all snarled and the Wall Drug sign showing the distance from the lake. Also the one of two guys in a boat looking at a mushroom cloud and the one saying to the other “you know what that means earl, screw the limit.”

There were fish mounts all over the place, all caught by friends and family. There were also the curtains with a pompom fringe, a paper flag from a foreign exchange student “Peter.” He came to stay with Al and Rosalia right after his country, Kenya, had received its independence. Another foreign exchange student was from Nigeria.

Prominently displayed were pennants from all over the United States. Many times, Al and Rosalia packed up the car and the kids to drive to California to see the California relatives. This is when most of the wall decorations were collected. Their were pennants on the north wall and were put together to make a half circle. Mounted fish then surrounded them.

Ashley and Cory remember the wood stove, the big table with benches for seating, and grandma’s rocking chair. All of Jack Hengel’s kids would agree that another memorable “decorations” in the cabin was grandpa’s fishing hats. Hats would not normally be considered a decoration, but at our cabin, they were. A favorite one was the hat that had beer cans cut and flattened then crocheted together with yarn.

THE HENGEL FAMILY PROPERTY Aloys and Rosalia Hengel Property Few pictures exist from the construction of Al and Rosalia’s cabin. The picture to the right and the picture below are the only known photographs, taken in 1951, of the cabin during its building phase. Al built the 22 foot x 28 foot cabin with the help of family and friends. An outhouse was built at the same time. Originally, the cabin’s log siding was stained however, Mardi recalls that Al was fed up with having to reapply the stain all the time. He went out and purchased some Sears Weather Beater in a dark brown and painted it the ubiquitous dark brown we are all used to. From these pictures, it is not possible to identify the trim of the cabin as being white or a light color or the precious pink, an iconic feature of the cabin. We are able to see that, at least in 1951, the peaks of the cabin were not painted pink. In later years, a bathroom was added. Originally, there was a door on the lakeside of the cabin where the new bathroom was eventually added in later years. Under the log siding, Al used reclaimed wood that came from old railroad cars. Also constructed from the boxcar siding was the dock and live well. The picture below shows the boxcar siding during a later window installation.

Hugo and Margaret Johnson In 1985, Mardi and Hugo Johnson purchased the cabin from Rosalia. The Johnsons and the extended Hengel family enjoyed the cabin for many years. In 1997, the cabin was sold to Mark Martini Jr., of Avon and moved to his property. His parents are also residents of Lower Spunk Lane. Hugo and Mardi built their retirement home on the property. The outhouse was turned into a garden tool shed and moved across the Lane to the back property lot. Beginning plans were to integrate the old cabin with the new addition. After much thought, financially, this was not a viable option to proceed with. The final house plans are available in the online archives included as a part of the documentation of the property.

Date: March 22, 1996 Type: New construction Proposed Use: Residential seasonal now residential after add on construction Permit No.: 3-12827 Depth of well serving structure: 68’

The old cabin moved to its new location 7.6 miles to the east (Government Lot 1, Section 21, Township 125, Range 29) of Lower Spunk Lake. Instead of a lake view, the cabin now looks out to a field of elk. As with the lake, the setting of the new location still provides for beautiful sunsets. The old cabin has been painted a lighter shade brown, almost a milk chocolate color. There is no longer and pink paint located anywhere on the old cabin.

THE SPODEN FAMILY PROPERTY John J. and Frederica K. Spoden John and Freddie built the cabin on lot 14 with the help of family and friends. The cabin was 22 foot x 28 foot. The photos to the right and below are of the Spoden, Hengel and Hoyer families working on cabin additions.

Duane and Karen Hoyer The Hoyers purchased the Spoden property in 1972, complete with a water pump in the kitchen and an outhouse. There was also a screened in front porch that leaked. In 1977, they removed the porch and built a 12 foot x 22 foot addition to the cabin on the lakeside. In 1982, they added another addition, which was 12 foot x 28 foot, to the north side of the structure. A holding tank was installed and the water was hooked up.

In 1985, a second addition was added to the north side of the structure, which included two bedrooms and a bathroom. In 1997, they remodeled the kitchen.

Date: August 2, 1977 Proposed Use: 12’ x 22 addition onto existing cabin on lakeside. Permit No.: 3-2350 Sideyard setback: actual was existing (10’ required) Building setback from road right of way: actual was existing (30’ required) Setback from normal high water mark: actual 70’ (75’ required)

Date: June 14, 1982 Proposed Use: 12’ x 28’ addition to north side of existing cottage Cost of improvement: $6,000 Permit No.: 3-5251 Sideyard setback: 3.5’ and 11.5’ Building setback from road right of way: 26’ Setback from normal high water mark: structure is 73’ and deck is 5.5’

Date: July 26, 1982 Type: Install holding tank Permit No.: 3-5251 Tank Capacity: 1500 gallons Distance from occupied building: 20’ Distance from property line: 10 ‘ Distance from nearest well: 50’ A variance was requested April 28, 1982

Date: July 21, 1997 Type: Alteration Non-Residential Proposed: 5’ x 22’ addition onto existing home Residential Proposed Use: One Family Cost of improvement: $2,200 Permit No.: 3-2350

THE HARTMANN FAMILY PROPERTY Ernest and Angeline Hartmann Property Little information exists for Ernie and Nippy’s property. They build a cabin and little more is known about the location during their proprietorship. A large addition was added in 1982. The Hiemenz had a Mortgage Deed from 1982 which is presumed to have been intended for construction of the addition. Prior to that, in September 1979, the Hiemenz’s requested a variance from Section 3.21c of the Stearns County Shoreland Management Ordinance, number 44, but it was denied. They requested a variance again one month later and that one was approved with the condition that construction be no closer than 25 foot to the road right of way.

Date: November 13, 1981 Proposed Use: 24 foot x 40 foot addition, 24 foot x16 foot garage, and deck lakeside (presumed to be 60 foot in length) Estimated Cost of improvement: $55,000 Permit No.: 4367 Sideyard setback: 18 foot and existing Building setback from road right of way: 25 foot

MR. BRIX's LAND Since 1864, the first record of land ownership was claimed by the First Division St. Paul and Pacific Railroad Company followed by an array of families. A turning point came during the years 1946 and 1948. George and Helen Brix purchased a portion of the land with the intent to settle in on a portion of the land by lake Ochotto as well as creating a small property development to be come know to this day as the “Brix Addition.”

Government Lot 1, Section 21, Township 125, Range 30 June 8, 1875 The First Division St. Paul and Pacific Railroad Company receive Deed based off records dating 9/15/1864, 5/13/1865, 8/22/1866, 9/20/1986, 7/26/1871 and 9/10/1972 for property listed as the “North of Baseline, and West of 5th Principal Meridian.

December 11, 1890 Nicholas Keppers purchased a portion of the property from the First Division St. Paul and Pacific Railroad Company for $400

December 16, 1898 Administrator, Adam Keppers, files Nicholas Keppers’ Final Decree with the State of Minnesota

April 9, 1914 Rudolph Grunloh purchases property from administrator of Nicholas Keppers estate, Adam Keppers for $9,500

April 2, 1946 William Sabrowsky purchases property from Rudolph and Augusta Grunloh for $11,500

December 5, 1946 George Sr. and Helen Brix purchases a portion of the property from William and Luella Sabrowsky for $4,200

July 8, 1947 Personal claim to property is filed by plaintiff, William Sabrowsky against defendant, the Estate of Nicholas Keppers

December 10, 1947 Judgment finds for plaintiff, William Sabrowsky

July 24, 1947 George Sr. and Helen Brix receive a Highway Easement from the State of Minnesota. Filing fee was $34.

December 2, 1948 George Sr. and Helen Brix purchases additional property from ? Lichy and, along with previously purchased property, is platted as “Brix Addition,” and other land.

Government Lot 1, Section 21, Township 125, Range 30, Lots 10, 11, and the North Half of Lot 12 May 1, 1951 (agreement was signed on October 1, 1950) Ernest and Angeline Hartmann purchases property from George Sr. and Helen Brix for $375

October 1, 1975 Roman B. and Margaret A. Hiemenz purchases property from Ernest and Angeline Hartmann for $13,500

October 20, 1982 Roman B. and Margaret A. Hiemenz have a Mortgage Deed in the amount of $47,000

January 12, 1991 Peggy A. Hall purchases property from Roman B. and Margaret A. Hiemenz Government Lot 1, Section 21, Township 125, Range 30, South Half of Lot 12 and Lot 13 October 2, 1950 Aloys J. and Rosalia M. Hengel purchases property from George Sr. and Helen Brix for $225

September 25, 1984 Rosalia M. Hengel files an Affidavit of Identity and Survivorship of Death upon the passing of Aloys J. Hengel

March 1, 1985 Hugo J. and Margaret A. Johnson purchases property from Rosalia M. Hengel for $25,000

Spring 1997 – Hugo J. and Margaret A. Johnson sell cabin and build a new home on the property. Government Lot 1, Section 21, Township 125, Range 30, Lot 14 October 2, 1950 John J. and Frederica K. Spoden purchase property from George Sr. and Helen Brix for $150

January 29, 1965 Eugene R. and Marjorie A. Binsfield purchase property from John J. and Frederica K. Spoden

September 12, 1966 James W. and Mary M. Wagner purchase property from Eugene R. and Marjorie A. Binsfield

April 28, 1972

Duane W. and Karen A. Hoyer purchase property from James W. and Mary M. Wagner for $5,600


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