Old Dairy Barn Lives Again

The cows would never recognize their old home. The massive barn on North Kangaroo Lake Road, just off Hwy. 57 south of Baileys Harbor, was part of the former Noelck Dairy when the family of the late Florian Kwaterski bought it in 1929, the year Florian was 10.

At that time, the farm included most of the land from Hwy. 57 to Kangaroo Lake and from Kangaroo Lake Road to County E.

Dairy farming has never been an easy way to make a living, and it was especially tough during the Depression years. Florian recalled that the cheese factory in Baileys Harbor, located where the Peninsula Pulse/Door County Living office is now, could only buy so much milk every morning and there was quite a race coming into town, in hopes of being first in line.

For much of the later years of the 20th century, the dairy barn stood abandoned. Most of the surrounding acreage had been sold, and there was no longer a use for huge old barns. It was in rough shape when Steve Wadzinski, CEO of Pecard Chemical Co. in Green Bay, bought it in 1989. Also an artist and an architect, he had been the first executive director of the Peninsula Art School and had a vision of encouraging and fostering artists in Door County.

He planned to turn the barn into a place for artists to show their work, with a performance space in the 7½ acres behind the structure. Wadzinski put years into restoring the barn – cleaning it inside and out, installing steel siding, repairing the foundation, patching the crumbling limestone around the windows – and adding an addition. He was close to achieving his dream for the property in 2006 when he died tragically at age 53 in a motorcycle accident in Door County.

The old dairy barn, so close to having a new lease on life, was again abandoned. Several parties expressed interest in buying it for different purposes, but by the summer of 2013 it was still unsold. In August, Gordon Parry, a consultant in human relations in business, came from Omaha to visit his twin brother, Glenn, who has a vacation home on the west side of Kangaroo Lake. Like so many first-time visitors, Gordon fell under the spell of Door County’s charm and, half-jokingly, told Glenn he needed a home here, too.

As a lark, they spent a rainy day driving by magnificent properties Gordon said he couldn’t imagine buying. And then Glenn remembered the old dairy barn on North Kangaroo Lake Road. “From the minute he got out of the car,” I knew he was going to buy it,” says Gordon’s 15-year-old son, Hunter. Gordon says he couldn’t stop thinking about the place when he returned to Omaha and then traveled on to Dallas to help his daughter, Hannah, now 19, get settled as a pre-med student at Southern Methodist University.

During that trip, the realtor called him to say there was suddenly quite a lot of interest in the barn. “He said if I was serious, I needed to make a firm offer quickly,” Gordon says. With the approval of his wife, Jane, who had not yet seen the property, he made an offer, it was accepted, and the Parry family became owners of a vintage Door County barn. Jane’s first trip to visit it was in March, when she trudged through snowdrifts to reach the door. “I knew if she liked it then, she’d love it in the summer,” Gordon says. She loved it.

Work on the barn and a smaller building behind it has continued throughout the summer. The rear building is being transformed into living quarters for the Parrys. The barn itself has undergone a miraculous rebirth. Original stone floors and wood-beamed ceilings remain. Large new windows and doors let sunlight flood the rooms, but the big old barn doors are still there, too. Two areas where Wadzinski installed hardwood flooring are now attractive offices. New flooring in other parts of the barn is reclaimed hardwood from old schools, churches and factories out east. A large space designed for meetings is furnished with a conference table and chairs, as well as with dining room furniture from three generations of Jane’s family in Iowa. There are two cozy sitting areas, one of them with a new galley kitchen and handicapped bathrooms.

Upstairs are two massive lofts, now transformed into sleeping porches for family members who come to visit. (The walkway that connects the lofts and the stairway leading from the main level now have railings, which were not there when Wadzinski owned the property. It’s reported that he liked to sit on the edge of the walkway and dangle his feet over the side, as if he were sitting on a dock.)

Family antiques are scattered throughout the barn, and there are also other items from Jane’s ancestors – a huge sign and cash register from her great-grandfather’s general store and the safe from her grandfather’s bank. Large oil paintings of cows give a nod to the building’s long-ago residents.

Gordon says Wadzinski loved nature and, except for planting 150 trees on the property, kept landscaping low key and natural, a practice he’s continued.

So the transformation is complete. Just what does a businessman from Omaha want with an old dairy barn in Wisconsin? Partly for a vacation home that Gordon and Jane hope their family will enjoy for generations. And also as a site for the unique business Gordon began in 2007.

As a young man, he earned an undergraduate degree in personnel administration from the University of Arizona and an MBA from the University of South Dakota. Two decades later, long after he’d made his mark in the international business world, he was one of 35 students selected worldwide to compete the first graduate program in the new field of applied positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Along the way, he’d spent 25 years as a senior executive in the area of human resources with such global corporations as the American Red Cross, American Express, Western Union and First Data Corporation. He is the founder and president of Aristotle Group, a firm dedicated to helping individuals, teams and organizations achieve their full potential.

For the past seven years, Gordon and a partner from Toronto have been working with executive teams in different businesses to help them develop teamwork and create strategies, using applied positive psychology – what happens when we function well? “Many people don’t know about this beautiful area,” Parry says. “Our space is perfect for working with groups of eight to 16, getting them away from their offices to a peaceful spot. We’ll arrange for them to stay in local inns, eat in great restaurants and enjoy unique activities.” Both he and his partner have offices in their home towns, but also work remotely.

Now that the remodeling is done, he hopes to arrange for one or two groups to meet here yet this season. Meanwhile, the Parrys are settling into life in Door County. Hunter, who loves to fish and kayak, has his first job as a pizza maker at Wild Tomato. Jane, a board member of the 90-year-old Omaha Community Playhouse, where Henry Fonda and Marlon Brando began their careers, is eager to become acquainted with the theater scene in Door County. Gordon’s two restored classic cars, a 1953 Chevy pickup and a 1953 Ford Crestline convertible, were shipped to Baileys Harbor in time for the July 4 parade. Hannah, an accomplished equestrian, is looking forward to joining her family in Door County. And the old dairy barn on North Kangaroo Lake Road has once again been given a purpose in life.