Story by Kayden Nordquist. Photos by John Ratzloff.
“One of the best groups to ever come”~ Will Steger
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They say time flies when you are having fun. But I can tell you this — time howls past when you are working hard together to achieve the same goal. As apprentices in the last 30 days, we have completed four huge stone masonry projects that involved moving and setting millions of pounds of stone and natural elements. We couldn’t have done it without the help of the masters, Ian McKiel and Jim Sullivan.

Nothing can compare to the sense of accomplishment I get when I see the projects we have started and completed in such little time. From the first week I think people in this group worked themselves into a funk. We worked our backs off building the sitting wall so quickly that we all were fairly worn out and in funky moods due to our newly acquired sunburns.
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Towards the end of the first week it seemed as if everyone was starting to become irritated with each other. The anger quickly passed when we realized it was from wearing ourselves down, and we had three weeks left to work with these people, so being irritated with anyone wouldn’t work.

The more I look at what we’ve done here in 30 days, the more it blows me away. Construction here at the Steger Wilderness Center has been ongoing since 1989. The longer I am here, the more I am realizing our mark on this historic building by being apart of one of the many construction teams that has worked on building the Center over the last 27 years.
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I noticed a lot of changes in the apprentices in the time we spent together. The apprentices have grown in many different ways in just 30 days. Even not knowing who these people were in the beginning, I see that most have taken the time we have had here to reflect and really find their true selves, being that everyone this summer is fairly young, and I feel this is one of the first opportunities they have had to do so, including myself.
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As the apprentices are bidding us farewell and beginning their next journey wherever it may be, I am also beginning mine as a resident here at the Will Steger Wilderness Center.
Farewell Apprentices.
Until next time~
Kayden Nordquist

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Mitchell Bentley already has a memorable story to tell. One evening in Hobo Village, he watched as Jasper the retired sled dog was barking at a turtle as it ambled back to the lake after laying eggs in the sand. As the turtle submerged in the water, Jasper went in after it and chomped down with his jaws. But what he came up with in his mouth was a rock, which Jasper carried off shore and dropped in the sand. Then he sat down next to it watching and waiting for it to move. For Mitchell, this is just one of many interesting and enjoyable episodes that comprise his experience of the Steger Wilderness Center. He is here primarily to learn the skill of building with stone, but he loves being in nature, even if it means jumping in cold water to get clean (but only after a hot sauna). Mitchell hails from Becker, where he grew up with fellow Apprentice, Jake. On or off the job, they are inseparable and do good work. Mitchell already sees himself getting stronger both physically and mentally.

Hometown? Occupation? Other background info?
Becker, MN. Jimmy’s Pizza pizza delivery. Enjoys hanging out with friends and playing lay Lacrosse

What are some strengths you bring to the group?

Work hard and well with others. Complete the job.

What do you hope to gain or what are you looking forward to this summer at the Center?

Learning in building stone walls. Being in nature. Getting stronger both physically and mentally

Tell me about some of the interns, residents workers and apprentices
Genuinely nice people, friendly and easy to get along with

Tell me about a memorable moment you’ve experienced so far at the center
Jasper barking at a turtle then when the turtle went into the water, Jasper went after it and pulled out a rock, carried off shore 20 yards and sat down and watched it

What has been the most challenging thing for you so far?
Jumping in the cold lake to get clean – only on sauna days

What are some things you miss?
Miss family and cats. Girlfriend

What do you wish everyone knew about the center?
The Castle

Favorite dishes to eat or cook so far?
French Toast

What do you enjoy doing during your free time?
Walk around enjoy Nature; fishing

3 words to describe yourself
Fun loving, Caring, Curious

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Michael Payne goes by the nickname “Milo.” He lives in Elk River where he likes to D.J., play music, run track, fish and draw. As an Apprentice at the Steger Wilderness Center, Milo is intent on learning the craft of stone masonry, and acquiring as much knowledge as he can to one day build something like this for his own family. He greatly values the self-reliance that characterizes the Center and the way everyone takes care of each other. “There is always someone there to help. Everyone helps everyone else constantly.” Milo is a thoughtful listener who soaks up the words of Will and Johnny Ray because he values their intelligence, experience and wisdom. He has taken to Johnny Ray’s retired sled-dog, Jasper, whom he gladly watched after while the Mayor was away on a photo assignment. He got Jasper howling in response to his nearly perfect wolf howl. Milo also likes to hang with fellow Apprentice, Karl. As Milo puts it, they make a ‘power-packed team’, whether it’s on the job site, canoeing, or on the epic hike to Ely and back.

Do you have a nickname? What’s the story behind your nickname?

‘Milo’ derived from Michael

What was your first impression of Will?
Very smart man. Has a lot of wise things to say and to learn from.

What are some strengths you bring to the group?

Friendly, cool person to get along with. Very positive. Don’t jump to conclusions; search for reasons behind situations

What do you hope to gain or what are you looking forward to this summer at the Center?

As much knowledge as I can to hopefully build something like this for your family. Recreate self-sufficiency as a way of taking care of your family or anyone in need. Learn the craft of stonemasonry.

Tell me about some of the interns, residents workers and apprentices

All pretty cool. Get along well with each other. Work well with Karl making a “power packed team”. Fun to hang out with after work day. Everyone here is really positive.

Tell me about a memorable moment you’ve experienced so far at the center

Sitting down in Hobo Village around the campfire talking with ‘The Mayor’, aka Johnny Ray. Much to learn his intelligence and experience; same goes for Will.

What has been the most challenging thing for you so far?
Working the cement mixer. Fear of messing up. But I’m facing it and getting better at it.

What are some things you miss?

Nothing except hanging out in downtown Mpls. Showering daily.

What do you wish everyone knew about the center?

How positive the place is, not just a place of hard work. The hard work is very rewarding. There is always someone there to help. Everyone helps everyone constantly

Favorite dishes to eat or cook so far?

Hot ham sammies

What do you enjoy doing during your free time?

Canoeing, hiking, hanging out with Jasper

Fun fact about yourself?
An awesome wolf howl.

3 words to describe you.

Chill, Calm, Collective, Friendly, Thinker

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For Matt Wente, this is the first time he’s been away from his home in Glencoe for this long. Although he misses his parents and his cats, he is adjusting well to life at the Steger Wilderness Center. “M.C,” as he is called by the others, recounts how the first day on the job was very demanding, as Master Stonemason Ian McKiel had the Apprentices hauling tons of rock by hand. But his great physical strength allowed him to rise to the challenge. Matt appreciates knowing that he can do a trade and he also likes getting acquainted with others. He is already known for being loquacious. In his free time Matt likes to read, take naps, and talk with Johnny Ray, the Mayor of Hobo Village, whose dog Jasper is a “real live sled dog”.

Hometown? Occupation? Other background info?

Glencoe, MN. Enjoys relaxing, playing video games.

Do you have a nickname? What’s the story behind your nickname?
“Up here they call me “M.C” because some of my friends call me that, and it stuck.

What was your first impression of Will?

“A really nice guy. He knows his stuff and has an amazing outlook.”

What are some strengths you bring to the group?
Not exactly sure; came in with an open mind. Physical strength. A good talker.

What do you hope to gain or what are you looking forward to this summer at the Center?

Some physical strength. Knowing that I can do a trade. Getting acquainted with people

Tell me about some of the interns, residents workers and apprentices

A lot of joking around with each other, helps keep everyone amused and even motivated.

Tell me about a memorable moment you’ve experienced so far at the center

The first day: putting down the footing for the first wall. Listening to Johnny Ray’s stories and meeting Jasper, a real live sled dog.

What has been the most challenging thing for you so far?

Getting along well with others, not knowing how far to go with others.

What are some things you miss?
My parents and my cats

What do you wish everyone knew about the center?

How nice it is visually. Not very many have heard or seen it.

Favorite dishes to eat or cook so far?

Beans

What do you enjoy doing during your free time?

Just hanging out; going to Hobo Village, taking naps, reading

Fun fact about yourself?

Only know two people in Canada so far

3 words to describe you
Open minded, friendly, loquacious

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Karl Beachem takes a lot of pride in his work. Back home in Mora, he worked at Plastech in Rush City, and in his free time worked on cars and liked to hang out with his Dad. At the Steger Wilderness Center he is “having fun while bustin’ ass”, building walls around The Castle. Although he can do without the bug bites, he says that he is going to keep coming back until The Castle is complete. That kind of determination underscores everything Karl does, even in his off time. Because of his love of hiking and exploring, Karl made a hike to Ely and back on his day off, about 20 miles round trip, to see the wolf pups at the International Wolf Center. Because he didn’t realize that admission was not free and he didn’t bring any money, he did not get to see the wolves, but Karl didn’t complain. He was happy with the journey itself.

Hometown? Occupation? Other background info?

Mora is my homewotwn, I work at Plastech in Rush City. I enjoy working on cars, walking in the woods and hanging out with Dad

Do you have a nickname? What’s the story behind your nickname?

CK, which stands for “Crazy Karl” or “Snow Cheetah” because of my speed

What was your first impression of Will?

Interesting for all the things he’s done and the places he’s gone

What are some strengths you bring to the group?

Hard worker, have fun at work while busting ass, set example and spur others to the task

What do you hope to gain or what are you looking forward to this summer at the Center?

Coming back after the Apprenticeship. Refreshing stone masonry skills

Tell me about some of the interns, residents workers and apprentices

Get along with others, enjoy activities with other. Everyone’s nice and fun to hang out with

Tell me about a memorable moment you’ve experienced so far at the center

Seeing and then working on the Castle. A lot of Nature to explore

What has been the most challenging thing for you so far?

Bug bites

What are some things you miss?

Close friends

What do you wish everyone knew about the center?

That it’s a good place to be if you want to get away

Favorite dishes to eat or cook so far?
Hot hammies

What do you enjoy doing during your free time?
Canoeing, Walking (took a 20 mile walk on your day off), Exploring

Fun fact about yourself?

Like to work hard and easy to get along with

3 words to describe you.

Hard working, laid back, friendly

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Kayden Nordquist, who also answers to ‘Lilo’, brings a lot of good energy and a contagious smile to the Stone Masonry Apprenticeship program at the Steger Wilderness Center. Kayden calls Polk County home, where he worked in printing and fabrication before coming up to the Center. As a young adult who identifies as transgender, he revels in the wilderness community which he is now an integral and welcome member of. He reports that everyone here has left a good and lasting impression on him: “It truly is a Homestead that really brings people together into a tightly knit group.” Kayden will continue as a Resident for the rest of the summer. He aims to come back next summer as a full-fledged Resident. Kayden considers his most memorable moment so far to be looking down from the third tier of the Roman Road at the stone wall he helped build. In his free time, Kayden likes to hike, fish, write and draw. He is making the most of his experience as an Apprentice and will be Johnny Ray’s assistant photographer.

Hometown? Occupation? Other background info?
Hometown= Polk County. Printing and fabrication (quit before coming up here)
Hiking, fishing, camping, writing and drawing (likes art)

What was your first impression of Will?
Busy trying to keep the community going, down to earth and level headed. He’s calm and collected

What are some strengths you bring to the group?
Work well with others, especially in a small group dynamic. Good energy and contagious smile

What do you hope to gain or what are you looking forward to this summer at the Center?

Hopes to become a full Resident for the remainder of the summer. Currently seeking skills that will lead to future employment in trade and then come back next summer to the center.


Tell me about some of the interns, residents workers and apprentices

“They all have really good energy”, everyone here is someone I would like to have as friends, all making good and lasting impressions

Tell me about a memorable moment you’ve experienced so far at the center

Standing on third tier of the Roman road looking down at the completed wall

What has been the most challenging thing for you so far?
Handling the bitter cold of the lake and keeping the bugs out of the tent, spiders in particular


What are some things you miss?

Clean clothes and a hot shower


What do you wish everyone knew about the center?

How much of a community it is; it truly is a Homestead that really brings people together into a tightly knit group

Favorite dishes to eat or cook so far?
Jenna’s bread


What do you enjoy doing during your free time?

Hiking and fishing, exploring the castle, photography


3 words to describe you

Energetic, caring, free spirited

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Jake Rhoda, from Becker, signed on to the Stone Masonry Apprenticeship program to learn new skills and meet new people. He enjoys fishing, so spending a month at the Steger Wilderness Center, which is surrounded by lakes, was an added attraction for Jake. Although he misses his family and friends, especially his girlfriend, Jake appreciates the benefits of being at the Center that go beyond learning stone masonry. He enjoys working with his fellow apprentices and residents who values being part of a team that cares about this place and are working together to make a positive impact on the world. As Jake puts it, his eyes have been opened in so many ways.

What was your first impression of Will?
Really nice guy; that he loves being up here and is working for a good cause

What are some strengths you bring to the group?
Work hard and well with others. Set a good example

What do you hope to gain or what are you looking forward to this summer at the Center?
Learning different skills such as masonry and interacting with other people

Tell me about some of the interns, residents workers and apprentices
Everyone is nice and hard working. They complete the tasks

Tell me about a memorable moment you’ve experienced so far at the center
Jasper, Johnny Ray’s Siberian husky chasing after a turtle in the pond

What has been the most challenging thing for you so far?
The strenuous labor at first; more used it now

What are some things you miss?

My friends and family; Girlfriend

What do you wish everyone knew about the center?
How this place can open your eyes in so many different ways, open eyes to the people who work and care about this place

Favorite dishes to eat or cook so far?
French toast

What do you enjoy doing during your free time?

Hiking, canoeing, exploring, going into Ely once a week

3 words to describe you.
Funny, sarcastic, outgoing