By Sue Webber
In a home on the shores of Crystal Lake in Robbinsdale, Dick and Jane Schirmacher continue to enjoy the comfortable, elegant surroundings where they raised their four children.
The 101-year-old home in which they live, built in 1906, was purchased by Jane’s parents 62 years ago, and Jane lived there until she was 10, with two sisters and a brother. Dick and Jane bought the home from her parents in 1971, and have lived there ever since.
“My dad took really good care of the house; he spent most of his vacation time working on it,” Jane said. “He was a maintenance man at Pillsbury. The house is easy to heat and cool. It has rock wool insulation. We always told the folks to let us know when they were ready to sell it.”
Dick noted that the house still has all of its original woodwork, and porches on both the first and second floors of the house that run the full length of the house. When the children slept in the upstairs porch on summer evenings, they saw and heard an owl family in a nearby tree, he said.
“In the summer, we spend a lot of time on the porch, facing the lake,” Dick said. “We can hear the crickets. We use the picnic table on the porch that Jane’s dad built 65 years ago.”
The home’s third floor was finished into a dormer when the Schirmachers’ daughters were growing up. Now the dormer is used for storage, and a winter home for plants.
The basement is completely finished, too, and houses the family’s TV set. In recent years, as Dick and Jane provided daycare for their seven grandchildren, it housed toys and tricycles. “It’s a very functional basement,” Jane said.
The basement includes a ping-pong table that Jane remembers her family acquiring when she was 13 years old. “It’s been a wonderful place to cut out a lot of garments when I am sewing, including wedding gowns,” Jane said.
Dick noted that Jane made all of the clothing for the couples’ three daughters when they were young.
The dining room is graced with built-in buffets and still bears the wallpaper the Schirmachers installed 45 years ago.
The warm woodwork on the first and second floors is flanked by décor that reflects a plethora of history and memories, and includes many photographs, doll clothes made by Jane’s grandmother, vintage dolls, and quilts. A shaving cupboard once used by Jane’s grandfather hangs on the wall in the dining room.
Preserving for years to come
In his spare time, Dick’s hobby as a self-taught woodworker is refinishing and restoring antiques that are evident everywhere in the house.
“Dick has rebuilt the porch twice because the weather is really hard on it,” Jane said. “He helped finish the basement, too.”
The home in Robbinsdale continues to be a gathering spot for the couple’s children and grandchildren. It also served as the site for their son’s wedding, under the apple tree.
The pièce de résistance in the living room is a grand piano that speaks to Dick and Jane’s shared interest in music. Music did, and continues to permeate their home and their lives. All four of the children are musical and participated in madrigals, choir and band in high school.
Music in the home, in the family
Dick taught vocal music in Robbinsdale Schools for 33 years, including short stints at Robbinsdale High School and Robbinsdale Junior High. The bulk of his career was spent at Sandburg Middle School, where he taught music for 28 years.
“I grew up in the 50s,” Dick said. “There are a couple of 50s songs that I used as aerobic warm-ups for the junior high choirs I taught.
I showed them some easy dance steps, and they learned the hand jive.”
He now volunteers– and recently was a statewide award winner– at Good Samaritan Ambassador care center in Robbinsdale. He conducts a chapel service there on Wednesdays, complete with a rock band. “It’s all up-tempo; it really moves,” Dick said.
He also volunteers at Bibles for Missions.
Jane recently retired from a 51-year career as a piano teacher. She now is the organist at New Hope Church and also plays the organ at weddings and funerals.
Jane said she started piano lessons at the age of 7, motivated by an aunt who was “a really good pianist.”
Dick, who grew up in Canada, said he started taking piano lessons at the age of 5, was playing piano for Sunday school at 13 and became his church’s organist at the age of 16. “My dad was a choir director who came from Germany at the age of 23,” Dick said. “He was a self-made musician and a wonderful tenor singer.”
The couple met at the University of Northwestern in Minneapolis before the school moved to St. Paul. “Jane and I both play piano by ear and we do some song writing,” Dick said. The couple has produced two CDs, including one titled “Fun With Dick and Jane.”
100-year-old homes abound
According to the Assessing and Finance office at Robbinsdale City Hall, there are 107 residential properties in Robbinsdale that were built at least 100 years ago.
The Hennepin County assessor’s office lists 46 such properties in Crystal and five in New Hope.
In Golden Valley, a 117-year-old home recently was sold, according to Don Anderson, secretary of the Golden Valley Historical Society. The former owners had the front side of the house painted by an artist several years ago and donated the painting to the Historical Society, along with the paper abstract of the property, he said.
“I looked at the abstract, and the first entry is a deed from the United States of America, signed by Abraham Lincoln, to Edward Sweeney,” Anderson said.