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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Stillwater: The couple’s $1 million donation will start the Lumberjack landing construction

Frank Freels loved his wife Geri, their children and the St. Croix River—not necessarily in this order.

The Freelses spent decades rowing on St. Croix and docked their cruiser at Sunnyside Marina, south of downtown Stillwater. The cruiser’s depth ranged from 36 feet to 53 feet. Frank Freels died in 2012 at the age of 95. He was a brigadier general of the St. Croix Yacht Club and served twice as the former president of Sunnyside Marina; Geri Freels served as the vice president of the Yacht Club.

She said that Frank Freels fell in love with St. Croix the day he moved from Peoria, Illinois to Minnesota. “He always said he had crossed the (Interstate 94) bridge and thought the river was so beautiful. This is the love of my husband’s life — I hope, second only to me.”

The couple own and operate many different businesses, including Distinction in Design in Plymouth. They retired in 1994 and moved to the Oak Glen community in Stillwater.

“We feel that we are very lucky in life,” she said. “We started from scratch and worked hard for everything we have. It can be done in this country; it just can. Many times our business could go bankrupt, but they didn’t. God bless us so that we can bless others.”

The couple held fundraising events and donated to many causes, including the American Cancer Society, American Red Cross, Mayo Clinic and Saint Vincent de Paul.

But it was an article by Pioneer Press in November 2020 that reminded Geri Freels of a lasting legacy: donating $1 million to the city of Stillwater for the restoration and restoration of the Lumberjack Landing, the city’s newest park. Former Aiple houses.

The former Aiple residence in Stillwater appeared on Tuesday, September 14, 2021, overlooking the St. Croix River, and will be transformed into a canoe and kayak rental and storage building for the new Lumberjack Landing Park. Stillwater’s newest park is located on 15 acres of land nearly three-quarters of a mile from the shoreline of the St. Croix River. Geri Freels will donate US$1 million to the city for the restoration of Lumberjack Landing’s buildings. Freel and her late husband Frank Freels were long-term brigadier generals at the St. Croix Yacht Club, and they like to be on the river. (John Otty/Pioneer Press)

The plan called for the renovation of the 4,000-square-foot house belonging to the late Elayne Aiple to include public toilets, a community room, a scull storage area, canoe/kayak rental vendor space, and a picnic terrace/gazebo.

“Not everyone can afford a boat,” Friars said. “When I found out that there would be facilities like kayaks and picnic shelters, I thought,’Oh, this is perfect for people who want to come to Stillwater but can’t afford to live here. s Choice.’ “

On Tuesday afternoon, the 84-year-old Friars visited the park of the future for the first time with Mayor Ted Kozlowski and city planner Abby Wittman. “It’s so beautiful,” she said, walking around the split-level house. “I saw it from the river, but not from the land. …I like the fact that you are planning a fishing pier.”

Happy memories on the river

She said her happiest memories included the time spent on the river with Frank and friends. The St. Croix Yacht Club has two beaches on one side of the Wisconsin River, and the couple will park their cruiser on the beach for the night.

“We will spend the whole weekend from side to side,” she said. “Sometimes we are a foot away from the next boat on the beach. We all know each other very well. This is how I camp.”

The couple started with a 36-foot cruiser and then bought a 42-foot houseboat. From there, they graduated as a 53-foot cruiser and finally a 51-foot coastal cruiser. She said that everyone was named Geri-Anne.

“Our business is in the city, so we are by the river on weekends,” she said.

Almost every Friday night during the boating season, the couple would walk through the Aiple barge property with friends from Sunnyside Marina and dine at a restaurant in downtown Stillwater. “In the end, we felt a lot like part-time residents of Stillwater, and when Frank finally retired, we built a home in Oak Valley,” she said.

Lasting memory

Friars will present a check for $800,000 to the Stillwater City Council on Tuesday night; the remaining $200,000 has been deposited into a trust account that will be provided to the city government after her death.

According to the terms of the donation, the money can only be used to improve the building. She said that before moving to Stillwater, the couple lived in Plymouth and Frank Friars served on the Plymouth City Council. “We have seen many times that the funds are used for other purposes, not for donations,” she said.

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