Local couple has new vision for old school buildings

TCR/KRISTIN BURDEY Pastor and President of Well House Ministry Sherryl Brunner along with husband Bruce, recently purchased the old Rushford-Peterson Elementary and High School buildings.
By : 
Kristin Burdey

With the recent purchase of the old Rushford-Peterson high school and elementary buildings by Well House Ministry, new life is being breathed into the historic limestone building.

In their recent June meeting, members of the R-P school board voted unanimously to accept the offer of Bruce and Sherryl Brunner to purchase the former school buildings and dream to create a space designed to serve not only the people of the Rushford-Peterson Valley, but far beyond.

The Brunners plans for the building are to create “The Well House Healing Spa” which will serve military veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, victims of human trafficking, and those battling/recovering from cancer. “The need to help those battling cancer has been part of my vision from the beginning,” Brunner explained.  She envisions a number of trained counselors in various disciplines working with patients in both short- and long-term programs. “The focus will be on a person-to-person level,” Brunner said. She plans to administer a holistic approach to healing, integrating physical, spiritual, and emotional health.

One of the earliest partners the Brunners brought alongside them was the Stream Team: Loren and Karolina Stream of Rushford, who had also had a vision for the Rushford building as healing place for those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “The VA (Veteran’s Administration) can only do so much,” says Loren, a decorated combat veteran and PTSD sufferer. “These veterans get home and they are still struggling. A place like this can help them pick up their whole lives and move past the life and death struggle that they face.”

The Streams envisioned a Veteran’s Center independent from the VA where these men and women could get the help that they need. Initial communication with the VA seems to indicate that an extension of the department may be able to partner with the center as part of an existing outreach program. The center will also be able to receive referrals from the VA. Loren smiled as he noted “God is working in wonderful ways here.”

Barely a week after the purchase of the school, interested citizens gathered at the first fundraising and planning meeting, an opportunity for sharing ideas and networking. “The project is going to come together through connections,” said Brunner with certainty. “This will bring out a passion in people, and I am sure that within fifty miles in any direction there is enough interest to make it all come together.” Beyond local fundraising opportunities, Well House will seek grant money from local and national organizations.

The Brunners have seen a whirlwind of activity the past two weeks, with a media blitz of area television and newspapers seeking them out as soon as word broke. “We have the website taken care of now. I have a meeting with the architect this week, and we’ll walk through the building and talk about what needs to be done,” she said.

There will be a planning meeting Tuesday, July 9, at 7:00, which will be open to the public. Upcoming events to watch for will be an informational table outside of the school during Rushford Days, and a community event near the start of the school year. “We are all well aware that as soon as we get the money coming in, we can really get started, and turn our focus on to training people.” One of the first programs they hope to launch is a family support group for veterans.

Brunner said she’s been grateful for the community support behind their effort. “The School Board was sensitive to the importance of saving those buildings,” she said. “They were glad to see the school be used for something that the community can rally around.”

R-P School Board member Bonnie Prinsen affirmed that sentiment. “Most people that we spoke to wanted to see the building preserved, and luckily, people came forward that wanted to preserve it,” Prinsen said. “That was a big selling point for the board: someone from within the district, an alumni no less, offering an option for the school to both remain viable and be of benefit to the community.”

Prinsen said the only other practical proposal was brought forth by the City of Rushford, whose intent was to demolish the building. “It takes both money and a plan to take on a project like this, and we are fortunate that someone stepped forward with a plan that is of benefit to the citizens,” she said.

Local businessman Jim Hoiness was also present at the school board meeting. “It is wonderful that a private party has an opportunity to help see something constructive go into that building,” Hoiness said.

While the proposal sounds like a huge endeavor, Hoiness believes it is an idea that can evolve over time. “As interested parties come forward (to work with the Brunners), new ideas can emerge, and that’s a good process,” he said.

Hoiness also notes that the Brunners have a healthy approach to meeting financial milestones. “They are being very realistic with the need to meet certain goals through fundraising, for example, and if those goals aren’t met, they know they’ll need to find a different way.”

Well House Ministry is waiting for the full legal description of the property to be completed before closing on the sale of the building, but the purchase price has already been paid in full. Before the ministry can move in to begin, there is much physical work to be done on the property. “We plan to restore the outside of the 1906 & 1936 buildings,” explained Brunner. “The inside has to be gutted. Our intent is to reuse and repurpose what we can, particularly the woodwork. Our aim is to get a historic designation on the building.”

The vision of Well House Ministry began years before the final school bells rang in 2017. Since her own high school days, Brunner, a 1980 Rushford graduate, has had a heart for the hurting and broken. “It started with a concern for people who had suffered abuse, but the vision has significantly grown since then,” she said.

One of the first programs they hope to launch is a family support group for veterans. Those interested in volunteering or learning more should contact Brunner at 507-459-0367, or via email at wellhouse1@goacentek.net. More info will soon be available on the website www.welhouseministry.org.

How do the Brunners feel at present? “Considering that this is a fulfillment of a dream, it’s kind of surreal,” Sherryl admitted. “It has dramatically changed our lives. You find yourself with 130,000 square feet, and say, ‘Oh my goodness!’ But the foundation of this is bathed in prayer; we just have to rely on the whole community to be a part of it. We are looking for people who are willing to be trained up and ready to help.”

Note: The first published version of this article had Well House Ministry referred to as Wellhouse Ministries.