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Co-op helps develop slice of heaven

Michael and Sharon DeRosa built a summer getaway in rural North Dakota with the help of Dakota Valley Electric Cooperative.
Michael and Sharon DeRosa built a summer getaway in rural North Dakota with the help of Dakota Valley Electric Cooperative. 

by Luann Dart

With the help of their Touchstone Energy® electric cooperative, Michael and Sharon DeRosa have built a little piece of heaven in the middle of rural North Dakota.

The couple built a summer home near Dickey, where they now enjoy North Dakota’s summer sunsets in an area where Sharon’s family once farmed.

When Sharon was given 37 acres of the family land in 2008, the couple – working and living in Arizona at the time – decided to develop a summer getaway on the land.

“Ever since Sharon was a little girl, she just loved this particular piece of land,” Michael said.

The land included an old farmstead, which the couple demolished in 2009 before starting to build a steel-sided pole barn type of building as a residence with an attached garage.

“Since then, we put our hearts and souls into creating our 900-square-foot little bit of heaven, working a few weeks every summer,” Michael said. “Little by little, we worked on the property until 2014, when we actually went ahead and had the building put up and started doing our real snow-birding of six months there and six months in Arizona.”

“It’s a zero-bedroom home. The kitchen, dining, living and sleeping areas are all parts of a great room arrangement. A large walk-in closet, laundry and bathroom make up the rest of the floor plan,” Michael described.

The all-electric home uses a heat pump for heating and cooling, supplemented with 15-kilowatt electric strip heat. They use Dakota Valley Electric Cooperative’s electric heat rate, which requires no fossil fuel backup.

“This is a savings of about 40 percent from the co-op’s regular electric rates,” explained Pat Schaffer, department manager of Dakota Valley Services, the cooperative’s wholly owned subsidiary.

“It’s wonderful; it’s reliable. We don’t have to worry about getting propane or oil or some other energy source,” Michael said.

Dakota Valley Services also assisted in the construction process, completing all the electrical and HVAC work, along with assisting Michael with some plumbing work.

“They’re wonderful. We had one of their plumbers come out and help me with a couple of problems I was having putting in some drain piping. A phone call and they’re there the next day or sooner,” Michael described.

“Not only did they do all the wiring and HVAC for us, but we’re continual customers. It’s been a relationship for years. When I call, they know who I am and I know who I’m talking to. It’s good to not just be a number,” he said. “It’s like calling a friend when you need a hand.”

“Member service is important to our cooperative,” said Dakota Valley Electric Cooperative’s General Manager Bruce Garber. “When we can help a member come into the area to live, even just for the summer months, that’s always a plus.”

The home also includes a Wi-Fi thermostat that can be controlled through a smartphone, so Michael can adjust the setting while the couple is in Arizona.

“We investigated every possibility for a residence, even down to mobile homes, but the steel pole barn worked for us. There’s no painting. It’s like a tank, because we had the whole thing spray-foamed,” Michael explained.

The spray foam insulation and the 6x6 walls keep the home sturdy.

“It doesn’t even vibrate in the wind. We have little chains hanging from our ceiling fans and they don’t ever move,” he said.

The home also includes 11-foot, 3-inch ceilings to add some space.

“We wanted as much height as we could so it wouldn’t have a closed-in feeling,” Michael said.

The home was finished with porcelain tiles on the floor that look like wood, Thomasville Cabinetry with quartz countertops, and pine tongue-and-groove walls.

“And for two people and a cat, it’s just the right size,” Michael said. “It’s got a nice, cozy, snug feel to it.”

That’s the type of summer home the couple wanted after retirement. Michael served in the U.S. Navy in the submarine force for 24 years, and Sharon had served as a chemist for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration before  becoming a chemistry and biology teacher. Later in his career, Michael also became an English teacher. Both taught in the same school for eight years before retiring.

But the summer home in North Dakota wasn’t an easy task.

“It’s really gorgeous, but it’s taken a lot and lot of work,” Michael said, describing staking out the building in 6-foot-tall weeds infested with ticks and mosquitoes. “It’s been a lot of work, but a labor of love.”

Michael has punctuated the property with a 40-foot-tall flagpole that’s lit with an LED spotlight at night. The 6x10 American flag waves over the property.

“It’s quiet. We’ve got some beautiful views from our place,” Michael shared, pointing out a gazebo which overlooks a small valley accented by a stream.

And so, with the help of their electric cooperative, they now look forward to spending summers at their peaceful getaway in rural North Dakota.

“We are 22 miles from a gas pump, 35 miles from a Walmart, and right in the middle of starry nights, lots of wildlife, and peace and quiet,” Michael said.

Luann Dart is a freelance writer and editor who lives in the Elgin, N.D. area.