(photo by Ken Ross)
By Paul Struck, Editor
All that glitters is not gold.
But it just could be some pretty good-lookin' stained glass.
That's the perception many Cherokeans will hold with the official news last week that, due to financial considerations, Bogenreif Studios were moving out of Cherokee to consolidate their stained glass business under one roof in Sutherland.
Because of those financial constraints and the recent report that natural gas prices may spike an astounding 71 percent in the Midwest later this year, the company's gas-fired glass blowing operations have already been consolidated from two sites (Cherokee and Spencer) into one (Spencer).
After a lengthy recruiting process last year undertaken by Mark Buschkamp, director of the Cherokee Area Economic Development Corporation (CAEDC), the Cherokee Industrial Corporation (CIC), the City of Cherokee and other interested community activists and businesses, Bogenreif Studios agreed to relocate their growing and unique business from Merrill to Cherokee.
However, later in those negotiations, the O'Brien County Economic Development group and the community of Sutherland tossed their hat into the ring, offering the Bogenreifs the former Sutherland high school building and its surrounding 4.5 acres of land for $10,000, one sweet deal the Bogenreifs readily accepted.
After all was said and done and the decision to locate in Cherokee finalized, came the City of Spencer like a johnny-come-lately on the prowl with a full clip, ultimately offering the Bogenreifs the former post office building and $100,000 cash, according to Mark and Jeanne Bogenreif, one more deal too good to pass on, especially being located on the fringe of the Lakes area and its many summertime tourists and their idle cash.
The result of relocating the business, its 22 employees, and its sizeable inventory of equipment, stained glass, and blown glass artwork into three facilities in three different communities, all the while continuing production, marketing and sales, soon strapped the Bogenreifs for spreading themselves too thin.
Hence, something had to go, according to Mark & Jeanne, their lenders, and the noble Cherokee Industrial Corporation, which has battled at no charge to help keep Bogenreif Studios up and running throughout the ordeal no matter where they are.
In fact, as the Bogenreifs began their reluctant move from Cherokee to Sutherland last week, certain CIC members donated vehicles and expertise to assist in the big move.
Feeling like a jilted lover was not acceptable and never considered by the CIC board members, their only goal by now to do what they could to help the Bogenreifs soldier on.
In a series of meetings the past several weeks with the Bogenreifs, the CIC pounded out a plan with the final conclusion that Bogenreif Studios must consolidate under one roof (preferably Cherokee as was originally intended) to pare expenses, cut overhead and survive until the business overcomes its current financial straits.
Per the CIC suggestion, the Bogenreifs will consolidate all stained glass operations to Sutherland. They own the Sutherland and Spencer facilities and were leasing the former Rasmussen Ford Building on West Main Street in Cherokee for a nominal fee. The Bogenreifs also own the former Masonic Temple on Cherokee's East Willow Street, buying it from the Masons for $1 last summer. They also own the former Brummer building at the Main and Second Street intersection, now housing Melander's.
"This was as hard a decision to make as we've ever faced," said Mark and Jeanne in a Friday interview.
The fact the Sutherland school is 33,000 square feet on one level and an ideal layout as a production studio site was key in the Bogenreifs selecting Sutherland instead of Cherokee for its stained glass operations.
"We'll still have ties with Cherokee and the door is not completely shut," explained Mark.
The CIC is not out any money in the total Bogenreif effort, except it know owns the former Rasmussen Ford Building and invested incredible amounts of sweat equity. Ongoing efforts will be made to attract another business there.
"We have our two buildings there and, maybe, when all this is worked out, we'll be back in Cherokee sometime in the future," noted Jeanne. "We can't thank the CIC and the people of Cherokee enough. They've been wonderful. This decision was so hard."
Mark explained that they had counted on the proposed Iowa Hall of Pride's $1 million Legacy project, consisting of two massive stained glass "windows," to provide the cash flow to sustain the business for at least two years. However, that fund-raising effort has stalled on all fronts, with the exception of the $100,000 pledged on behalf of the IHSAA by Bernie Saggau, the recently retired director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association, who conceived and pushed to fruition the Hall of Pride project. Saggau is confident the fund-raising is still viable in 2006.
With total funding still up in the air, the Bogenreifs are continuing production of the first Hall of Pride window that carries a $450,000 price tag.
Basically, three major events had to happen to ensure the Bogenreifs' presence in all three communities - they had to sell their existing properties in Merrill and Le Mars (not yet), the $1 million Hall of Pride Legacy project had to come to fruition (not yet), and Mark had to get on the road to market and sell his stained glass creations, stirring up new clients on the way (not yet).
"We counted our chickens before they hatched," lamented Mark on being forced to leave Cherokee. "Everything was going to happen quicker than it did and it didn't.
"The CIC has been very helpful and opened their hearts to us, just like the Cherokee community did. The CIC convinced us that they only wanted the best opportunity for us to flourish and stay alive. We just have to ride this thing out and see what the future brings."
"We're so impressed with all the Cherokee community did for us. Everything about this community and its people are simply wonderful. This is so hard (to leave)," added Jeanne.
In a perfect world, the Bogenreif's revenue stream would be there, the West Main studio in Cherokee would be flourishing with its initially projected 40 employees, 12-20 chartered buses each month would pull into town full of hungry tourists with money, the old Masonic Temple would be restored to its original grandeur, the ornate ball room housing an awe-inspiring stained glass and blown glass showroom and gallery, Open Houses and Artist Shows would attract thousands of people to town several times a year, and Mark and Jeanne would be surveying it all from their penthouse suite in the upper level of the Brummer (now Bogenreif) Building in the heart of Cherokee's renovated and historic downtown Cultural and Entertainment District.
Ain't gonna happen.
With 20-20 hindsight, circumstances both avoidable and unavoidable knocked the train off its tracks as far as Cherokee is concerned. If it ever gets back on track is anybody's guess.
But the bridges are still there if it does, because nobody burned any of them.
The CIC and its visionary members have seen to that.
From the highest of the high roads.