Lonnette Kelley had started her life over in Omaha. The sole earner in her family, she spent endless hours working overtime as a nurse in the city’s busiest hospital. The work was backbreaking. Within a few years Lonnette ruptured two discs in her neck.
In her private moments Lonnette liked to visit a local print shop. The store featured the work of Terry Redlin, a South Dakotan painter who depicted idyllic rural landscapes. The chimney smoke in a Terry Redlin painting hangs in cold air like baby’s breath. Eager farm dogs watch pheasants glowing in sunbeams. Children raise the flag outside of their one-room schoolhouse and rake leaves to burn on a fire in Terry Redlin paintings.
Lonnette’s favorite painting is titled And Crown Thy Good with Brotherhood. It’s a glimpse at a country home on Christmas, with a moon bright as the Star of Bethlehem beaming down on all creation. As she looked at this painting, Lonnette would say a little prayer: Please, let me live in this picture one day.
“Everyone in Lonnette’s family thought she and her husband Neil were crazy for buying a great, big castle of a house in the middle of nowhere.”
Everyone in Lonnette’s family thought she and her husband Neil were crazy for buying a great, big castle of a house in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps the clawing pain in her neck had driven Lonnette to somewhat drastic measures. She and Neil drove nine hours to their new home, a 4,600 square foot farmhouse in Mountain, North Dakota. They arrived on the night before Halloween, but without a house key had to overnight in their car among barren trees and their tu-whit tu-whooping owls.
Although Lonnette’s neck very nearly crippled her, and Neil has his own disability to contend with, the two set to work raising their new home out of decrepitude. For the first time in decades its egg and dart woodwork sparkled under walnut oil. Patch by patch, its grounds were reclaimed for civilization. The couple undertook this formidable flip for their own amusement. It only dawned on them later that they had inadvertently created a picturesque bed and breakfast.
The grand opening of 221 Melsted Place coincided with the Red River flood of 1997. The Kelleys’ first guests worked for the Red Cross. “I would get up at five in the morning to make them all breakfast before their commute to Grand Forks, and wondered if that was what we had worked so hard for!” said Lonnette.
“We had no idea how to run a bed and breakfast at first,” she continued, “but there’s no secret to it. Treat every guest like they’re special, and do whatever you can to help them feel warmth and hospitality. When they need love, share yours with them.”
More and more people came to love 221 Melsted Place over the years. News spread far and wide until the day Lonnette received a very important phone call. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, then the president of Iceland, wanted to stay for the night.
“I had no idea how we would handle such an important guest,” Lonnette recounted, “but there was so much commotion and excitement around the president’s visit, we just didn’t have time to be afraid. My husband and I scrambled down the steps to meet him. He had such an official aura at first, but in our home he became warm, even cordial. He brought one of his daughters, a lovely young lady, who danced around the living room for our entertainment. Like anyone else, they walked through our door, and they became our friends.
“The pain in my neck has long gone away. Pain has a way of doing that when you love what you do. And the funny thing is, it wasn’t until years after opening 221 Melsted Place that I realized I truly do live in a Terry Redlin painting. The good Lord brought us to North Dakota, and He found us this home.”
Mountain is in the northeast corner of North Dakota. Nestled in the fertile farm lands of the Red River Valley, it makes a fine refuge from the hustle and bustle of a metropolis like Fargo. To learn more about 221 Melsted Place and what there is to do around it, please visit melstedplace.com.
by David Scheller