CORCORAN, Minn. (WCCO) — Losing a loved one is one of the hardest things someone can go through. And the grieving process can last a long time.
But from tragedy comes new life. And Ron Rudolph is learning exactly that.
He began building bluebird houses to honor his wife, Pat. Nearly 1,000 later, he has no plans to stop.
“My wife and I met on a blind date,” said Ron, of Corcoran. “It was a guy I worked with at the lumber yard.”
Not all blind dates turn into love stories. But theirs did.
For 35 years, they built a home, a family and a life together.
“Their love story from the beginning has been so touching,” said their daughter, Kristy Boike. “The way they love each other and dealt with situations. It’s been inspiring.”
Inspiring too was the way Pat battled through breast cancer in 2004. But 12 years later, cancer came back in the form of a brain tumor.
“The tumor was in such a place at the base of her brain that it affected her balance so bad,” Ron said.
She fought as hard as anyone could. But in January, Ron lost the love of his life.
“We were lucky enough to be placed in Our Lady of Peace. It’s a hospice home in St. Paul,” Ron said. “She was there for 6 weeks and that’s where she passed away.”
The days after were the hardest of all.
Once family and friends left, Ron couldn’t escape the feeling of being alone.
But one night, something changed.
“It was about midnight or 1 in the morning after the funeral and I was in bed. I woke up and I couldn’t get back to sleep. I started pacing and I eventually got dressed and I came out here,” Ron said.
He walked into his shop where he began cutting pieces out of wood.
“I had no idea what I was doing. No idea at all,” Ron said.
Not at first, but soon those pieces turned into a bluebird house. The bluebird just happened to be Pat’s favorite bird. One house turned into a dozen. A dozen turned into a hundred.
“It was just a devastating feeling to see him in so much pain and not be able to do anything about it,” his daughter said. “I kept asking, how can I help you? When he asked me that day- can you help me get some of these birdhouses of the shop? It seemed like a tactical thing to do. I was physically able to help him and I just ran with it.”
She put the houses on Facebook Marketplace, and that’s when Ron’s purpose really took flight. People started buying them faster than he could build them.
“People came from Olivia, which is a two hour drive, to buy a birdhouse that you could buy at a Menard’s,” Kristy said. “But it’s the story and the love that pours into the building of them.”
From Sportsman’s Clubs, to 4-H clubs, to daycares, customers, with similar stories of grief became friends. One even had a plaque made for some of the houses.
“There’s three of them in here,” said Ron while pointing at a bluebird next inside one of his houses. “There’s proof that it works.”
Kind of like the circle of life. What started as a simple project to deal with grief has become a family affair.
Four generations of Rudolphs are helping now and every so often they get the band together.
From Ron’s 90-year-old dad, Bill, who screws on the rooftops, to his 2-year-old grandson, Noah, who helps with deliveries.
Grandkids Grace, Ryan and Matthew are also chipping in by helping with the drill press.
“I think she’d be really proud of us,” Kristy said. “She’d be really happy that we are working together.”
The family believes Pat is the driving force behind all of this.
Ron knows the grieving process isn’t over. But if he can share one message with anyone going through a great loss, it is: Find something to do that makes you happy.
In his case, he’s using his hands to heal a broken heart.
“Everybody has got a talent, what do you do with it?” Ron said. “What a shame it would be if you didn’t use that talent to help you get through a real sad time in your life. You need something to get your mind off of it. You need to stay busy and this worked for me.”
The bird houses cost $15, and $25 if you buy one with a mount.
Ron and Kristy donated $2,600 from the sales so far to Our Lady of Peace.
For more information on buying one of Ron’s bluebird houses, just click here.