PAULLINA—Mill Creek Park in Paullina is a special place for the family of John F. Muller.
So much so that the late Paullina man’s wife, Jane, donated memorial money to O’Brien County Conservation so a new shelter house and fire pits could be constructed on Scout Island at the eastern end of the park’s 23-acre lake.
“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that he would’ve been very, very pleased with this,” Jane said. “I’m very happy.”
Conservation director Terry Boltjes said the new shelter house, which opened on Monday, July 1, in memory of John, replaced a structure that had been situated on Scout Island for about 30 years.
“Aesthetically, it’s a lot nicer looking than what we had before,” he said. “It provides more shelter for the people that would be using it. It’d be a great place to have a wedding.”
Construction on the renovation project began in early June. Boltjes and some of his conservation employees put down wood chips as part of prep work at the site.
Hohbach Construction & Grand Custom Cabinetry of Paullina and Hustedt Landscaping of Sutherland handled the rest of the work.
The new shelter house has walls on three sides while the fourth is all open to the outdoors. The interior of the building has benches along its side walls and two windows on its back wall.
The open side of the structure — which has a steel exterior and an interior of cedar and plywood — faces a fire pit area made out of rock and surrounded by six stone seats.
There is a smaller, similar fire pit area nearby with a couple of stone seats of its own, along with picnic tables on either side of the building.
The old shelter house that was replaced had been open on all four sides and only had a roof on it that provided covering for picnic tables underneath.
Boltjes found irony in the fact that Jane had randomly stopped by O’Brien County Conservation’s facilities at Mill Creek Park last fall with her idea to have a new shelter house built on Scout Island.
“Jane had stopped by and said that she had some donation money and she’d like to do a shelter or something to that effect out on Scout Island,” he said. “She actually had a hand-drawn idea on a napkin and we took that concept from the napkin and did what we did out there.
“It’s just kind of ironic that we were going to do something with the shelter anyway and we hadn’t mentioned it or anything,” he said. “And then she came out with that hand-drawn thing on a napkin.”
Jane recalled discussing potential ideas on what to use John’s memorial money for with her children and grandchildren. He died on Jan. 29, 2014, at the age of 62.
“Lots of ideas came up and this one was one of them,” Jane said. “This is the one we decided on.”
Darwin Dau of Paullina, a member of the conservation board, and his wife, Bev, are good friends of Jane and helped her come up with rough sketches for a new shelter house.
“I was just talking about it and I thought this would be good,” Jane said. “I was tossing ideas out with him and that’s how the sketch kind of came about. Then we had lot of other sketches since then and this is our final product.”
She remembered a Scout Island story from about 30 years ago when John was volunteering with Boy Scout Troop 150 of Paullina and their sons, Jason and Jared, were involved in Scouting.
“He and Gary Meyer were out here with a bunch of little Cub Scouts primitive camping to earn a badge and a storm came up,” Jane said. “They had no place to go, so they woke up the little boys and told them to run to the pickups.
“Gary and John were running around trying to get pup tents from blowing into the lake; one did go in,” she said. “They ended up at our house in Paullina and spent the rest of the night there. It’s one of those things you just remember.”
She recalled that John spent a lot of time with Jason and Jared at Mill Creek Park while they were growing up. They would go fishing or camping so his sons could earn Scout badges.
John and Jane also took Jason, Jared and their daughter, Jennifer, to the recreational area over the years for entire family events.
“It’s a great place to be, it really is — the whole park,” Jane said.
She again expressed his enthusiasm about Scout Island’s new shelter house and fire pits that have been built in memory of her husband, who was a Paullina City Council member, participated in Paullina Chamber of Commerce events and was involved the community’s American Legion, Lions Club and Boy Scout Council.
“He loved the outdoors, he loved people, he loved kids of all ages,” Jane said. “I’m extremely happy, extremely happy. My kids are excited to come see it.”
This story was originally published in the July 6 edition of The South O'Brien Sun.