Nick’s story remains unfinished
A couple of months ago I noticed a "For Rent" sign in front of the rock house at the corner of Fifth and Church.
Longtime locals will recall that the stone part of the house was built by Nick Marel. Nick, as he was called, died in 1968 at the age of 98. Those of us who lived here as children in the 1960s referred to his house as "the castle." Nick was a familiar sight -- the man who seemed to be toiling on his house forever.
When he died, the house was not finished.
The Calla McAlexander family later bought the house and completed the work. Today the home is owned by the McAlexander's grown children and, once renovated, it will be rented.
Since seeing the sign, I've been researching Nick -- with the help, of course, of many.
The first thing I did was call the phone number on the "For Rent" sign. Terry McAlexander filled me in on what the house is like today and its more recent history.
John Lenahan, an 81-year-old lifetime resident, shared anecdotes about Nick.
From Calvin Quisenberry, I received a copy of Nick's obituary. Quisenberry also met me at Hubbel Hill Cemetery with a graveyard map to pinpoint where Nick is buried.
Francis Wiley and his sister, Janet Kaiser, provided a wealth of information about Nick, who in the 1940s built barns and a home for their parents.
Kathy Bard rents the stone house on Fifth Street near the depot that Nick had a hand in building. The home is owned by Ed and Carol Slawson and was built for Betty and Harry Quisenberry. From talking to Kathy, Carol and Betty, I learned more about that house.
And then there's former Tonganoxie resident Bud Laming, who generously shared his own recollections of Nick.
I'm still trying to reach another local resident who lives in yet another house built by Nick.
I ran into Kay (Emery) Soetaert when I was at the cemetery looking for Nick's grave. That must have jogged her memories because a few days later she told me she remembered as a child seeing a newspaper article -- possibly in the Kansas City Star -- that featured Nick.
How I'd love to get my hands on a copy of that story!
Obviously, there's more information about Nick out there. And because I'm told his houses look as good today as when they were finished some 50 years ago, it may be there are others who are wondering about the man who built them. So I've decided to broadcast the news -- through this column -- that I'd like to know more about Nick. And then -- after hearing from our readers -- I'll finish writing the story for The Mirror.
If you have personal recollections -- or photos or anything else -- please give me a call. I'm confident that with your help, we'll be able to put together a story about a man -- who even when he was almost 100 years old -- continued working to build his "castle" of stone.
Thank you in advance for your help.