Woman buys ballroom of her childhood

Published 6:59 am Friday, January 26, 2018

By Mary Divine

St. Paul Pioneer Press

STILLWATER, Minn.  — Laura Miron Mendele grew up going to the Withrow Ballroom in northern Washington County.

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There’s a photo of her as a toddler, dressed in a frilly white dress, posing with her younger cousin, Ann Miron, at a family wedding in the late 1980s. She’s not sure when it was taken — it could have been at Uncle Bob and Aunt Theresa Miron Coeing’s wedding, or maybe it was when her godfather, Uncle Gerard Miron, married her Aunt Shelly.

“There’s a debate going on within the family on Facebook right now about it,” Mendele told the Pioneer Press. “We’ve had so many family weddings at the Withrow.”

Now, almost three decades later, Mendele is the new owner of the ballroom. Mendele, 32, of Lakeville, purchased the historic ballroom, believed to be the oldest ballroom in Minnesota, during an online auction in November; she and a silent partner paid $376,000 for the property.

Mendele and her husband, Tyler, plan to reopen the ballroom in time for the Thursday-afternoon polka dance on March 1. The Thursday-afternoon dances, which ran from 1 to 4 p.m., used to attract hundreds of seniors from around the state.

“I have to admit I was kind of contemplating stopping them,” she said. “I didn’t realize it was such a huge tradition until I started hearing about them around town. Even some of my relatives said, ‘Don’t stop the dances!’ It will be nice to keep the tradition going.”

Mendele said she’s trying to update the facility.

“It still has the ballroom feel, but we just want it to be more in tune with brides nowadays,” she said. “We repainted the whole thing from peach to gray and white, and as soon as it gets warm enough, we’re going to tackle the outside.”

The Mendeles decorated many of the walls inside the 12,000-square-foot event center with shiplap — wide-paneled planks of distressed wood — which gives the space “an old-fashioned, but modern look,” she said.

An on-site apartment will be turned into a wedding party lounge and dressing area. Plans also call for windows to be replaced, garages to be expanded and a renovation of the outdoor wedding space “to boost appeal,” she said. “I want it all to be less barn and a little more rustic. Rustic weddings are really popular right now.”

Eight weddings have already been booked for 2018. Outside caterers will be allowed, and a renewed liquor license is pending.

Mendele said she has wanted to own a wedding venue for years and has been “saving money and working on a business plan toward that goal.”

“I’ve always wanted to own an event center, and this became available and was perfect and ready to go,” said Mendele, who is the niece of Washington County Commissioner and former Hugo mayor Fran Miron. “I’ve always loved Hugo and was jealous of family who lived there, so the fact this was (near) Hugo was just an added bonus.”

Withrow Ballroom was built by Ben and Anna Zahler in 1928. It stayed in the Zahler family for three generations before being purchased by Marvin Babcock in 1983 and Scott and Kimberly Aamodt in 2001. Paul Bergmann, the owner of Bergmann’s Nurseries in Stillwater, bought the ballroom and the 11 ½-acre property in 2009.

Bergmann said he was thrilled that Mendele won the bidding.

“She’s got this wonderful karma,” he said. “She understands the importance of the history of the ballroom, and she’s got local roots, too. She will be a great caretaker of the place.”

Mendele, a mortgage loan officer, grew up on a farm in Princeton and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in education. She taught second grade for two years in the Princeton district and then got a master’s in business administration from the Minnesota School of Business.

She worked as an events planner for Buffalo Wild Wings corporate, worked at Maple Grove Tavern in Maple Grove, and produced and hosted sports- and real estate-focused radio shows for radio stations
WCCO and ESPN. She later earned certification to become a full-time mortgage loan officer with Envoy Mortgage of Edina.

Mendele and her husband have two children — Madden, 5, and Afton, 16 months. Let’s hope they like polka music.

“They’re going to be spending a lot of time at the ballroom,” she said.