Denke has 'flashback' as old school and dreams are lost

Posted August 19, 2011 at 9:56 pm

Winona Denke’s philosophy of life is simple, yet profound. �Life doesn’t wait for you. Life can be short, Our dreams come from somewhere above, so if you have them you need to go for them!� Denke was in the process of making her dream a reality, when on August 2, her dream of renovating the St. Lawrence School into a bed and breakfast, literally went up in smoke.


Denke, a medical transcriptionist who works from her Wessington home, said she was in the middle of a transcript when she received a text message and a phone call alerting her to the fact that her building was on fire.

As she stood with the other onlookers, she couldn’t help but remember another time, when she as a fourth grader, and a friend watched the old Wessington School burn. �We knew the gravity of the situation back then,� said Denke, �and it was the same thing all over again.�

In December of 2005, Denke bought the building from Jack Trautman. She moved into the building in May 2007, and for a year and a half, worked diligently on cleaning it up and hauling stuff out. It turned out to be a much bigger job than she anticipated, but she wanted to do as much of it on her own as she could, �for the joy of it.�

November 2009, Denke winterized the building and closed it up so she could go to Oklahoma to spend some with her mother. She moved back to her home in Wessington a couple of months later. Since that time, she had been wrapping up some loose ends in other areas of her life and waiting for the right time to get back to fulfilling her dream. �All the red tape had been cut, and I had the green light to move forward with the bed and breakfast project,� said Denke. �I made the mistake of thinking it was a timeless building and it would wait for me.�

Denke, like so many others is saddened by the loss for the whole community. �It was a beautiful building and a beautiful atmosphere�a part of history,� Denke said, �and I wanted to find a useful purpose for it.� Denke felt that people were truly glad to see the old building would be used rather than torn down.

Reflecting back on all that has happened is painful for Denke. �Dream big. That’s what I did,� said a disheartened Denke. �But I wasn’t done over there.�

Denke is not sure what the future holds. For now she is simply dealing with her loss as best as she can, sure that she is not ready to jump into anything else right now.


Photos by Martina Kittelson-Caviness