Heartache to Healing

A Pequot Lakes couple builds a Scandinavian-inspired dream home in wake of family heartbreak

WRITTEN BY JODIE TWEED | PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF DOTTY BROTHERS CONSTRUCTION

WHEN DENNIS AND BARBARA MEYER BOUGHT THEIR CABIN ON SIBLEY LAKE IN 1982, the five-acre property immediately became a favorite retreat for the Wayzata, Minnesota, family. The rustic cabin, complete with an outhouse, was built on a small island on the south end of Sibley Lake in the 1950s. Construction materials had been boated in from the north landing. The marshland on the backside of the island was later filled in to create a driveway. An eagle’s nest is set high above on their property.

It was Dennis Meyers’ happy place, recalls his daughter, Tammy Larsen. Her dad loved his John Deere tractor; his John Deere caps hung from the rafters from the old cabin. Each spring he would buy 1,000 pine tree seedlings from the DNR and plant them anywhere he could. He planted 10,000 trees. 

Tragically, Dennis suffered a massive coronary heart attack in 2005. In the wake of his sudden death, the family couldn’t bear the thought of staying at the Sibley Lake cabin without him there. It was too painful.

“There were signs of him everywhere. We just couldn’t go up there,” explains Tammy. For eleven years, no one went to the Pequot Lakes cabin, except a few times to check on things. 

In 2016, tragedy struck again to people they loved. Tom and Tammy Larsen’s daughter, Kelsey Engel, lost her sister-in-law’s family of five, including three young children, in a fatal car crash in Nebraska. Kelsey and her husband, Michael, in their grief, asked if they could spend a weekend at the cabin, which was for sale. Tammy, her sister, and their mom tagged along. 

The weekend up north proved to be a healing experience. 

“Kelsey and Michael just fell in love with it and by November, we asked my mom to take it off the market and let them enjoy it,” Tammy explains. “We’d go up with them, and all of a sudden, we were making new memories, having bonfires, and laughing. We’d have so much fun playing in the woods.”

Tom, a Wayzata sixth-grade history teacher, wasn’t as thrilled with the rustic cabin. But soon after he retired from teaching in June 2017, he told his wife he wanted to spend a week up north alone and see if he could do it. 

“He never came home that summer,” Tammy recalls with a laugh. The lake life grew on him, too. 

The couple, who lived in Wayzata, would come up north for longer weekends and Tammy, who works from home for a large banking institution, worked out of the old boathouse, where Tom made an office for her. 

“Then all of a sudden, he says we should retire up here,” Tammy says, of her husband. “He says we should build a house up here.”

It was a crazy idea. Tammy says she’s lived her entire life in five houses in one zip code. Moving to Pequot Lakes was never part of any retirement plan. After long talks with Tammy’s mother and flying to Oslo, Norway, with her sister to work out a purchase plan together with their brother, who lives there with his family, it became a reality. They called Dotty Brothers Construction to start the process of tearing down the cabin and building a new home. 

“We felt good about talking to John (Dotty) from the very beginning,” she says. “The trickiest part of construction was not taking any trees down.”

Their property wasn’t logged many years ago, as many other properties around Sibley Lake were, so some of their Norway pines are over 200 years old. They wanted to keep as many trees as they could, especially since they were so important to Tammy’s father because he planted so many of them. 

Tom and Tammy admired her brother’s contemporary Scandinavian home, and it inspired them to build their home with a similar minimalistic feel. They worked with the staff at Dotty Brothers to develop their dream home. They wanted fewer upper cabinets in the kitchen to make way for more windows, along with wood kitchen countertops and hardwood solid doors. While living in Wayzata during the home’s construction, they could monitor the progress through a private website where Dotty Brothers posted frequent photos to show their daily progress. Tammy would send Michelle Nelson, Dotty project manager, pictures of appliances and fixtures she liked and Michelle would track down the manufacturer. 

“They did a great job of always setting expectations and never disappointing,” says Tammy.

Their custom-made cabinets, which they love, were made by Matt Epsky of Epsky Woodworking in Royalton. The 2,000-square-foot home has three bedrooms and one office, sleeping ten people at one time. Their home offers over 180 degrees of lake views from huge windows in the living room, kitchen, and porch. 

“We just love it,” says Tammy. She thinks her late father would, too. This spring Tammy ordered 500 pine tree seedlings, and she and Tom planned to plant them together in memory of her dad. 

“I’ll probably be planting trees half crying and half smiling because we’re carrying on his tradition,” Tammy says. Her mom, Barbara, comes up often from Medina to visit, as does her daughter and her family from Wayzata, which includes their two golden retrievers and the newest family member, their 3-month-old granddaughter, Elise. Their youngest, Beau Larsen, lives and teaches at a university in Tacoma, Wash.

Their granddaughter took her first ride on a John Deere tractor with her dad this spring. 

“It makes my mom so happy,” says Tammy, of seeing the family together, once again making memories on Sibley Lake.