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PBS home improvement show comes to host's hometown


Carpenters from the syndicated television home improvement program Hometime are in town, and they're being assisted by Minnesota State Mankato construction management students.

By Amanda Dyslin, The Free Press [published in The Free Press, Mankato, MN, 10/12/2005]

Photo by John Cross
tradesmen being filmed while working on Lovelace house "Hometime," a syndicated PBS home-improvement show, has been doing work at Maud Hart Lovelace's childhood home at 333 Center St. in Mankato since Monday. The "Hometime" crew has been working on replacing windows and doors, among other improvements.

MANKATO — Dean Johnson first discovered the Betsy-Tacy books in the early 1960s as a fourth-grader in Mankato.

Johnson was home-schooled that year because he was ill with rheumatic fever. The phone company set up an intercom system from Johnson's house to his school, so he could participate in class. He also had a tutor.

When Johnson's tutor assigned him Mankato native Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy books — a fictional series centering around best friends Betsy and Tacy (Lovelace and her friend Frances Kenney) — he scoffed. A fourth-grade boy reading girlie books?

"I wasn't too thrilled," Johnson said. "But it's weird. You get pretty involved with them. ... There's something funny about these books."

It was this childhood experience that led Johnson back to Mankato this week from the Twin Cities. Johnson, the host of the Chaska-based PBS show "Hometime," decided the syndicated home-improvement show needed to leave the Twin Cities for a bit and help the Betsy-Tacy Society of Mankato fix up Lovelace's childhood home. He'd been planning to bring the show to town for 10 years, but metro-area projects needed attention first.

Johnson, several workers from the show and volunteers from the construction management department at Minnesota State University started work on the house at 333 Center St. Monday morning. They plan to wrap this afternoon, weather permitting.

The show, in its 19th season, aims to assist people in projects from landscaping to major additions. A crew was scheduled to film at the house last week, but rain caused a week's delay.

The crew has been working on replacing windows, doors, siding and stairs, among other exterior improvements. They're working on the front of the house, including the porch, and around the south side.

As the crew has worked, the "Hometime" television crew has filmed. The sawing, the sanding, the pounding of nails, the stripping of siding — it's all captured on film to air in an episode of the show Dec. 3, according to the show's website.

Julie Schrader, director of the Betsy-Tacy Society which owns Lovelace's house, is thrilled about the progress and the exposure. Aside from PBS, "Hometime" airs on such stations as The Learning Channel and the Twin Cities' WCCO TV.

"Everything is so neat and organized," Schrader said. "It's really coming along."

"This is a dream come true," said Lona Falenczykowski, society president.

The Betsy-Tacy Society is paying for the supplies, but the bulk of it was donated by area businesses. "Hometime" doesn't charge for the labor.

The Betsy-Tacy Society first purchased the home of Kenney (Tacy), Lovelace's childhood friend, at 332 Center St. The house was built in 1881, and the society bought it for $39,000. The house serves as the society's headquarters and gift shop. Many items from the Hart/Lovelace family are on display.

Restoration work, done by private contractor Dennis Weis of Mankato, has included a new roof, asbestos abatement and new siding, among other improvements. The kitchen, floor, bathroom and ceiling still need to be restored, as well as exterior work, including drainage improvements.

The house Lovelace (Betsy) lived in, built in 1892, was purchased for $60,000 by the society in 2001. The house since has received a new roof and furnace, the chimney was removed, the exterior was painted, the windows were repaired, and improvements were made to the foundation — work also done by Weis.

After four or so years at the houses, Weis is pleased with the progress. He also is pleased "Hometime" came down to pitch in.

"It's terrific for the society, and it'll bring people to town to get a look at the place," said Weis, who has been somewhat of a go-to guy for the "Hometime" crew because of his knowledge of the Lovelace house. "It's kind of been tough because I've been asked a question here and then pulled over there to do something. ... But I've enjoyed it."

Weis said working on the Tacy house was much easier because there were photographs to show the house in its original state. No such photographs exist of the Betsy house. Author and illustrator Cheryl Harness of Missouri used Lovelace's description of the Betsy house in her books to create illustrations of each room. Workers are using the illustrations as guidelines for the restoration.

Schrader is incredibly grateful for the help of "Hometime." But after the crew leaves, much work remains. Schrader doesn't know when the society will have the money to complete both houses.

But Johnson said he's already planning to bring the show back sometime. "Some of the crew has read the books, and they're all into it," he said. "We'll be back. ... It's my home town. It's always fun to come back to Mankato."

The website for "Hometime" lists a schedule of its shows. Visit during the next few weeks for more information on the Lovelace house episode.

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