by Jim Boyle
The Oliver H. Kelley Farm is a living history farm where hard work has never been a stranger, and such was especially the case Tuesday, May 17.
A team of 100 Honeywell volunteers and 100 Robbinsdale Cooper High School student volunteers logged 1,200 hours at the national landmark that day.
Bob Quist, the site manager at the Minnesota Historical Society site off Highway 10 in Elk River, was still beaming as he talked about the work later that day at the Taste of Elk River at Lions Park.
“The landscape restoration project is something we would not have been able to do without this massive infusion of volunteers,” Quist said. “Fencing was the most labor-intensive activity for a farmer in the 19th century. This project gave volunteers a taste of history — and the satisfaction of work that will have a long-term impact on the community and the thousands of people who visit the farm every year.”
The groups did the work that one person working 40 hours a week for a nearly a year couldn’t do, Quist said.
Work included replacing nearly a mile of fencing, clearing brush from 1.5 miles of trails and repairing, building and painting 40 picnic tables. Rebuilding Together Twin Cities, which provides opportunities to impact communities and the nonprofit places where neighborhood members gather, coordinated the large-scale volunteer project.
The project was the culmination of a year-long partnership between Honeywell and the high school’s Cooper Cares program, which challenges its student body to complete 10,000 hours of community service.
Thousands of hours of student volunteer work, which also included an elementary school reading program and food shelf drive, were completed in partnership with Honeywell and its Honeywell Hometown Solutions corporate citizenship initiative.
“There were no easy jobs,” said Ben Lampron, district general manager for Honeywell Building Systems. “I don’t think anyone went home without feeling the effects of physical labor. The fence work was especially difficult.”
Volunteers included 100 Honeywell employees, most of whom came from the Honeywell Building Solutions and Energy and Combustion Controls businesses. There were staff members of all ages and levels. The 100 Cooper High School students were a mix of ninth- through 12th-graders.
Honeywell employees live and work all over the Twin Cities. “So Elk River is not just a place on the map to us — it’s a hometown,” Lampron said. “We were grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Kelley Farm and the broader Elk River community.”
They worked on three different types of fences: Virginia and tamarack wood fencing whose posts weighed hundreds of pounds. Volunteers had to remove the old fencing and place those heavy new posts into the ground. They also built new barbed wire fencing, which required the fence posts to be pounded into the ground.
“The Kelley Farm was a beautiful backdrop for a great day of service. We didn’t have time to tour the historic buildings, but volunteers did get passes to come back and visit,” Lampron said. “I know a lot of folks will be bringing their families this summer.”
The farm will likely look a little different to those volunteers who labored at it May 17 compared to what it looks like to the friends and family who tag along.
Lampron will no doubt have to sit for at least a bit at one of the green picnic tables he helped paint.
Every year, Honeywell Hometown Solutions looks for projects that bring together employees to accomplish meaningful work in the community. The firm is a national corporate partner of Rebuilding Together, and Rebuilding Together Twin Cities helped it identify the Oliver H. Kelley Farm project and coordinate logistics.
“It takes a big site and lots of coordination to keep 200 volunteers busy for a whole day,” Lampron said.