By Jennifer Gallus
HOWARD LAKE, MN - Pat and Molly Van Oss of Howard Lake had never heard of Howard Lake until the early 1980s. Nowadays, and since the mid-1980s, the Van Osses are well known around town.
The couple first heard about Howard Lake while living in the metro area, and looking for real estate to build a senior apartment building.
They were advised to check into the Howard Lake area, which they did, and in 1983 the couple built Towering Pines a senior apartment building that is not in existence today.
After building Towering Pines, Howard Lake’s city administrator at the time asked the Van Osses to consider building another senior housing complex. Heritage Square was designed by the couple in such a manner so that they could be residents of the complex, as well.
“We designed it so we could move in,” Pat said.
Construction on Heritage Square began in 1991. The Halloween blizzard of that year halted construction until the spring of 1992, and the building was open for business in October 1992.
The Van Osses are also well known for owning and renovating the old antique store in town.
When the couple bought the building, formerly known as the Old Town Gallery, it was in dire need of renovation.
“Everyone thought it looked kind of junky,” when the couple bought it, Molly said.
All kinds of treasures were found within the walls of the old building literally.
“We found a bowling ball in one of the walls,” Molly said, explaining that the previous owner owned a bowling alley. A bowling ball cleaner was left behind, as well.
An old carbon-arc spotlight was also found in the building, as well as dividend receipts from the old Howard Lake Creamery, which were also stuffed in the walls.
“The building was full of interesting stuff,” Molly said. “We’ve given a lot of it away to the Wright County Historical Society.”
The Van Osses were witness to the fact that the town was very culture-minded back in the day.
They found log books from several organizations that used to meet in the upstairs of the building. A fraternal organization called the Knights of Pythias used to host dinners and meetings in the upstairs hall. A group called the Modern Woodsmen of America also left behind log books in the old building.
The ladies auxiliary for the Knights of Pythias called themselves the Royal Neighbors, which is particularly interesting since the Good Neighbor Days tradition didn’t start until the 1970s.
“Some things never die,” Molly laughed.
The log books were donated to the Wright County Historical Society.
“We also found a pamphlet that invited people to dance classes and violin lessons,” Pat said.
“And elocution classes,” Molly added, which are classes that taught the art of public speaking in which gesture, vocal production, and delivery are emphasized.
“It was a class act around here,” Molly said.
What the couple enjoyed the most about owning the antique store was visiting with the local customers and coffee groups, as well as the travelers who would drop in and share stories.
One person dropped in to tell the couple that when he was young, a porch was on the second floor on the back of the building and pies would often be left to cool on the railing. He said that he’d climb the fire escape and steal pies.
“There was a kitchen area on the second floor facing the lake,” Molly said. “Can you imagine cooking and baking pies with no plumbing up there?”
Molly also reminisced about the time a nicely dressed couple from New York visited the store. Molly asked what brought them to Howard Lake. They replied that they were in the Twin Cities to make arrangements for a Broadway show. Molly asked again what brought them to Howard Lake. They replied, “We’re going to Darwin to see the twine ball.”
“So many people drive Highway 12. If you have an interesting looking place, people will stop and talk to you,” Molly said.
The couple sold the building and business six years ago.
“We were sad to sell the Old Town Gallery, because of our age. That grand old building was such fun to renovate, and we loved working there,” Molly said. “We feel bad that the economy caught up with it, and pray for some young entrepreneur to come along and enjoy that lovely building.”
Pat had a picture framing business within the Old Town Gallery, and has moved that business to the rear of the Herald Journal office in Howard Lake.
Pat’s Custom Framing is by appointment, and he can frame, “just about anything you want,” Pat said.
The hallways in Heritage Square are lined with his projects. The phone number for the business is (763) 202-3828.
The Van Osses’ current favorite civic group is the Friends of the Howard Lake Library.
“We’re both members, and enjoy working on their events,” Molly explained. “Especially the Good Neighbor Days book sale and lunch.”
The couple has been impressed with the many improvements and programs the library provides, and how quickly they can check out “anything we want to read,” Molly said.
“We saved a fortune by borrowing pricing-guide books when we were in the antique business,” Molly said.
The couple also enjoys the Wright County Historical Society, and enjoy working in the society’s old buildings at the Wright County Fair.
“Howard Lake is a great place to be retired,” Molly said. “The people are so friendly, and there are lots of things going on. We get oil changes, and buy milk and gas across the street, and eat out at any church or lodge hall that puts out a sign.”
The Van Osses also love living at Heritage Square and appreciate being able to step out to the lobby or porch and find someone to visit or play cards with.
They hope the city gets a grocery store soon, and when the recession abates, they hope people will pick up on the “mom and pop”-type stores again.
“I’d also like to see more industry in the industrial park,” Pat added.