WELLS, MINNESOTA (WCCO) — At times, we all get the urge to build something.
A 78-year-old priest in southern Minnesota took his love of building to a whole new level.
Father Eugene Stenzel has spent most of his life building with stone. And what he’s put together with his bare hands is truly amazing.
In this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen takes us to Wells in Faribault County, where Stenzel is inspiring his congregation, one stone at a time.
On most farms, Stenzel’s flowers alone would be something to see. But his 130-year-old family farm is no ordinary place. Here, spring is for growing, but summer is for building.
“I remember the Bishop Vlazny telling me once, ‘put your hobbies first. You’ll get your work done and you’ll stay healthy’ — so I do,” Stenzel said.
And it turns out his work is his hobby. When he was 10 years old, he began building stone structures. He smashed rocks and then used the pieces to create.
“Somebody asked me once, ‘what kind of sins did you commit that you are smashing rocks all your life?’” Stenzel said.
But today, stones have become his brush and the land has become his canvas. For decades he’s been building a congregation of hand-by-hand stone works. Rock-by-rock, inch-by-inch, all of this is the work of one man.
“He is known in a five-county area. If you say Stenzel’s house in Wells, people know what you are talking about,” said friend Lea Nowak.
“It’s amazing. It’s just amazing. I get to look out my windows and see this every day. It’s quite a gift,” said neighbor Shannon Zebro.
It’s a gift Stenzel is more than willing to share. He’s been a man of the cloth for 50 years. And in many ways it was the story of creation that inspired him to create.
And there is no blue print for any of it.
Stenzel is also familiar with the saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, which is why some of his structures have taken him years to complete. His house took 10 years. And one of his main attractions, the archway, took 6.
He gets an idea, then gets his stones from farmers who are more than willing to drop them off. And he can always use more.
“I need rock. So whoever is watching: I will take rock! Please, bring me some rock. I have no shame. I’ll beg,” said Stenzel.
Once he has enough, he pours footings, mixes concrete, and then goes to work. The results have turned heads.
“It definitely wants you to do something before you’re gone. It makes you think of that,” said Shannon.
They are structures that stand out and stand tall through all four of Minnesota’s seasons. And visitors enjoy seeing the tiny grotto that 10-year-old Stenzel created compared to the fountain structure that 75-year-old Stenzel hand-made.
“It’s so peaceful here. And you walk around here and every corner, around every bend, there is a new structure and so unique,” said Lea.
It’s not uncommon for Stenzel to use his talents for charity. Fundraisers have been held here to help those in need. He’s hoping visitors arrive with an open mind, and walk away with something more.
“People would see they have the ability to do things and not just idle their time away,” Stenzel said. “I thought about when our families came here, they had nothing. They had to build things. They had to make their own lumber and their houses. And I thought, why can’t I do that?”
Stenzel is always interested in having visitors. If you’d like to visit, he only asks that you call ahead:
The Stone House
60659 200th Street
Wells, MN 56097