Life is Golden

Filed in Feature Homes by on November 20, 2013

5036859050_57cc2a59a6_bA Brief Quiz


1. You know you’re on Golden Pond when:


A. You get licked by a donkey while riding an ATV.
B. You see cows that look like Orea cookies.
C. You see a 200-pound pig in a pasture enjoying strawberries and a good book.
D. All of the above


2. You know you’re on Golden Pond when:


A. You see autographed pictures of former Olympic skiers.
B. You see an original Native American headdress used in a famous movie.
C. You spy a caribou antler chandelier and a Buddhist shrine.
D. All of the above


3. You know you’re on Golden Pond when:


A. You realize the entire house is really a fine art gallery.
B. You view 33 chicken paintings and 976 cookbooks.
C. You step into the art/game barn that has every game a grandkid could want.
D. All of the above


You really know, however, that you are actually On Golden Pond farm near Pelican Lake when you meet creators and owners Jill and Bernie Askelson. Between the two of them, they are a combination of historians, Dr. Doolittle, art collectors, farmers, world travelers, downhill skiers and, most of all, grandparents. The six Askelson grandchildren just might be the luckiest grandkids in the world. They’d pick coming to the farm over the lake any day. It’s like coming to Wonderland in Askelson World.


The Answers


Question 1. All of the above.


Indeed, a donkey named “Don Key” is the protector of the 27 head of belted Galloway cattle, a specialty breed from Scotland. A white belt around their girth accentuate their long black coats, giving them the nickname “Oreo” cows. Nabisco, a bottle-fed baby calf, was the guest at the St. Louis County Fair, where they gave away Orea cookies and milk. Her mother, Nellie, has a perfect white “O” on one side of her body.


According to Jill, “belties” are docile and full of love and affection. Sometimes they don’t even know they are cows. Jill can often put on a halter and take a cow for a walk. The animal barn has pens and stalls for their babydoll sheep and their goats and horses (which they recently sold), along iwth an antique sleigh and carriage for parades and Christmas rides.


“I think my daughter Gretchen’s (now 5) first words were ‘moo’ and ‘cow’; she loves to help feed them.” says daughter Beth Moran, who lives in Minneapolis with Alex, Nicholas, Gretchen and husband Pat.


And the pig. Yes, their 200-pound potbellied pig, “Bacon,” lured by strawberries, will follow Jill to her pastoral reading chair on a summer afternoon. Perhaps her favorite read is Babe… but how knows? Bacon is the favorite of the grandchildren, and granddaughter Sara’s violin concertos mesmerize him.


“I love giving Bacon strawberries,” says grandson Nicholas, 7. “I also love riding with grandpa on the four-wheeler.”


Bernie rides is ATV often around their 80 acres. He points out two ponds, one where they’ve stocked walleye.


“We also rotate our hay crop to give it a rest,” he says. “so our cows are fed naturally on our grasses.” As an aside he adds, “If the donkey licks you, he likes you.”


A native of Ada, Minn., and former restaurateur, entrepreneur and inventor, Bernie says he is happily retired and king of his giant hosta garden, where he estimates there are more than 30 varieties of the plant. For 33 years, the couple has employed caretaker John Gawryluk to assist in gardening and overall operations. The gardens, gazebos, arches, sculptures and fountains keep John busy and provide a blast of color when entering the wrap-around front porch.


Question 2: All of the above. 


Bernie and Jill retired once before, in 1981, and became middle-aged “ski bums” for 11 years. It was a welcome change from the hectic lifestyle.


“We followed and skied alongside the U.S. Olympic Ski Team,” Bernie says. ” Picabo Street, Cindy Nelson, Tommy Moe – that era.”


“I never really had a chance to learn to ski, except in Rollag,” says Jill, who grew up near Hawley on a dairy farm. “So I hired the best-looking ski instructor I could find and learned to love the sport. We skied the big mountains all over the world.”


5036240451_fe98c0effb_bJill had worked for 12-years for Northwestern Bell in Fargo and then assisted with Bernie’s businesses. The skiing life led to another entrepreneurial business in the ski industry, but now they have officially retired.


The living room of the 5,000 square-foot home reflects the couple’s love for history, culture and “all things Western.” Native art lines the walls by artists such as Bev Doolittle, Howard Terpning, Ron Herron and JD Challenger, as well as local sculptures by Patrick Shannon which greet guests inside and out with fountains and rock in copper and bronze. Looking up provides a glimpse of antlers and caribou chandeliers, combine with a touch of crystal fixtures in the dining room. The dark granite counter tops, wood floors, Middle Eastern rugs, stone fireplace adorned with art and artistic glassware with molded rock comprise a mosaic home that tells you these people have been around and that they love beauty and “art of the people.”


Not to mention the collectors dishes. Baccarat crystal, Royal Worcester china and Rosemeade pottery displayed in three cherry hutches in the dining room.


“I admit it,” says Jill, smiling. “I can’t resist dishes. In fact, I need a dish support group.”


Question 3: All of the above.


With both the modern kitchen and the renovated 1903 original kitchen, the couple can seat nearly 30 guests, which they did on July 4th. The country “chicken kitchen,” dotted with painted hens and decorated in black and white checks with red and yellow colors, houses Jill’s collection of 976 cookbooks (she has a Junior League cookbook from nearly every state) and the 16-20-foot pantry. Bernie confrims that she is a very good cook, and they can also grill meals in two outside kitchen areas.


“That place (the chicken kitchen) is my favorite,” says granddaughter Sara Eaton, 14. “and I love all the cats and kittens. Plus, granny makes great Special K bars.” Sara lives in Fargo with her sister, Kadie, 16, and parents Brenda and Kevin Hayer.


“It’s the most peaceful place I’ve ever known,” says Kadie. “This is my second home – non-stop fun.”


“I like the big fireworks on the 4th of July,: adds grandson Alex, 8.


For another artistic experience, visit a place of peace and Jill’s pride, ‘the Buddha bath.” In her travels to more than 37 countries, Jill has discovered a special love for Asian people, especially in Thailand and China, where she taught English. The bathroom includes a Buddhist shrine, a book by the Delai Lama on happiness, a Thai spirit/tea house and a four-foot Chinese terra cotta warrior who guards the premises.


“I travel to be with local people and eat local foot,” she says. “I like small towns and to experience culture shock. It shakes me out of my old ways of thinking. Travel broadens the mind, and what I have learned has broadened me. Travel is fatal to bigotry and prejudice.”


Bernie and Jill also keep history alive in their home as they make history of their family. Another bathroom features family portraits from great grandparents on down. Bernie also flies one Confederate flag with his line of American flags dotting the driveway.


“I’m a Civil War buff,” he says. “Last year I traveled east to study all the Civil War sites with help from the park rangers and local folk. A real history lesson.”


History stayed alive at the farm when the family asked Jill and Bernie to keep the original farmhouse. The couple had lived for 17 years on Pelican Lake, and they bought the farm 11 years ago. They have remodeled and made improvements to the original structure throughout the years and moved permanently three years ago.


5036859118_62a54b6425_bThe couple credits fine artisanship from contractor Jude Pare and the faux painting of Becky Sorenson, both from Pelican Rapids. Becky helped develop the themed bedrooms, such as the Scottie dog room with painted memorial names of former pets – Cocoa, Snow and Mollie. She also dabbed favorite quotes on many of the walls, including “what happens at Grandma’s, stays at Grandma’s.”


Askelson World has provided a Wonderland of history and fun for their kids and grandkids. But it is more than just a place for the Askelsons as they feel a connection between the past, present, future.


There is also a connection between Native Americans, Buddhists and other cultures reflected in their home – very well-intentioned, mindful and peaceful combined with love and land.


“We can learn from other cultures to respect the earth and each other,” Jill says, “and work for love and tolerance between people.”


For more photos of the Askelson Feature Home scroll down for the slideshow. 


by Merrie Sue Holtan | Photography by Bryan Wendland






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