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Former Elmore church is now a retreat center

By Staff | Sep 29, 2019

Lissia Laehn stands in front of the former Trinity Lutheran Church in Elmore, now the new Heartland Retreat Center.

It has taken nearly a full year of hard work and overcoming many issues and obstacles, but Lissia Laehn is finally able to officially open her new Heartland Retreat Center in Elmore.

Laehn, who owns Heartland Embroidery and Screen Printing in Blue Earth, purchased the former Trinity Lutheran Church in Elmore last Nov. 19.

“I had been thinking about creating a retreat center somewhere, and this church became available,” Laehn says. “So I made an offer and they accepted it.”

Laehn and her family went to work on turning the church into a place where groups of people could not just meet, but also spend an entire weekend together.

“I was mainly thinking about a place for quilting retreats,” she says. “But with this size of a facility, it could be for large gatherings, like family reunions, weddings, business retreats and more.”

The former sanctuary has been turned into a large meeting room, with space for 125 people to sit in pews, and more room in the back.

The former fellowship hall will hold up to 250 people.

And, Laehn has transformed the former Sunday School rooms upstairs into bedrooms which have space for 18 folks to stay overnight.

“There is also the large kitchen, which has plenty of space for doing your own cooking or having meals catered in,” Laehn says. “We refinished the cabinets, put in new countertops, and all new appliances including two refrigerators, two stoves, dishwasher and lots of sinks.”

That is just the start of what Laehn and her friends and family members have done to the place.

They totally remodeled the restrooms and made them handicap accessible. They remodeled the upstairs bathrooms, adding new showers, sinks and toilets. They even created new restrooms and a laundry room.

The bedrooms were an issue, as some of the Sunday School rooms did not have windows. And those that did, had to have the windows replaced with egress style windows.

“We cut openings between some of the rooms, so that those rooms without windows could go to the next room where there was a window,” she explains. “It was just one of many changes in the plan we had to make as we went along.”

One of those changes in plans was that an architect had to draw up plans, to satisfy state building code requirements. That, plus needing lots of permits, inspections and changes in the wiring, plumbing, etc., delayed the completion by months.

“I had originally planned on being open last April,” Laehn says. “Now here it is September. But we are getting it done.”

Her parents, Randy and Deb Anderson, have worked a lot on the new center, from the electrical to the construction.

And what Laehn calls the Dream Team has also done a lot of the work.

“It is members of the LaDuke family, on my mother’s side,” she explains. “When someone in the family needs something done on their house, they just show up one weekend, bring food and tools, and work to get it done.”

Of course, the new Heartland is a whole lot larger than a house. It is 15,000 square feet.

One weekend the Dream Team showed up and painted walls. It has taken 150 gallons of paint to cover everything. And another weekend they showed up and sanded and refinished all of the kitchen cabinets.

Laehn also says she furnished the rooms with some used furniture, like headboards, lamps, end tables, etc., she picked up here and there. Much of it was repainted and each room has a different look to it.

“The mattresses are all new, of course,” she points out. “There is also a group of quilters who are going to make quilts here next week for all of the beds.”

The stained glass windows had all been removed by the church before Laehn officially took over. That included a large circular one above the choir loft. It will be replaced by a large painted barn quilt.

Laehn is an avid quilter, and was the featured quilter at the Woodcarver-Quilter Expo in Blue Earth last month.

“I was most interested in a place for a quilting retreat center,” she says. “So we do have that as a theme, even though it can be used for many other events or gatherings.”

One of the amenities for quilters is a series of electrical outlets in the ceiling of the former fellowship hall for drop down cords to run sewing machines.

The church was built in 1960-61 and was in very good shape, Laehn says. But, she adds, she had to do a lot of work on it despite the condition.

“We put in two new water heaters, because there was only one small one,” she says. “We now have four furnaces for zoned heating. So we can heat one area without heating the whole place.”

Laehn says they have hosted a couple of community events at the center, despite not being officially open. However, they could not use the kitchen or have overnight guests until the final inspections were done.

“I have quite a few events already lined up,” she says. “So I am really excited to get it up and going.”

She says some folks wonder about having an event center in a small town the size of Elmore.

“I don’t think it will matter,” she says. “People who come here plan on staying in the center and have family time, or quilting time. They are going to be here to be together.”

She thinks that is one of the best things about her new venture of Heartland Retreat Center. That it is a place for groups to gather together.

“I hope it gets used often and that people really enjoy their stay here,” Laehn says. “It is a perfect place for people to come and enjoy themselves with family and friends.”