Jacque Koepp assessed the state of her kitchen. Most of the personal decor had come down, the red accent walls would soon be painted. She motioned to the skylights — a renovation completed with money inherited after her grandmother’s passing.

“The idea behind those is so I could look up and thank her,” she said. “I’ll miss this house.”

Jacque is selling her Proctor home to move into a Duluth mansion with two other households.

It’ll be six adults, five children, three dogs, three cats, a bearded dragon and an iguana.

All of the humans are related … as are two of the dogs.

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“Of course, we’re going to fight, and of course we’re going to disagree,” said Jacque. “There’s going to be weird things that we have to get through, but there’s no other people I’d rather get through it with.”

Jacque Koepp smiles as she looks up at the skylights she had put in her kitchen. "When I did this remodel, I had gotten money from my grandma because she passed away. The idea behind those is so I could look up and thank her," Koepp said. (Samantha Erkkila / serkkila@duluthnews.com)
Jacque Koepp smiles as she looks up at the skylights she had put in her kitchen. "When I did this remodel, I had gotten money from my grandma because she passed away. The idea behind those is so I could look up and thank her," Koepp said. (Samantha Erkkila / serkkila@duluthnews.com)

In February, Jacque’s sister, Elisabeth Helstrom was house-hunting for her own family o’ five, when she came across a “gargantuan” Congdon residence. Its eight bedrooms, six-and-a-half bathrooms, six garage stalls on nearly 2 acres was too much for her immediate family, but her wheels started turning.

Elisabeth soon invited Jacque and their folks to view what is now becoming their new home.

The first viewing was a “Hey, are you bored?” outing, recalled Jacque. “It was just a fun trip, and she happened to invite my parents. … The seed was already planted in her brain, but she didn’t clue me in on it.”

The house “takes your breath away,” Jacque said, and they all walked through, joking about moving in together.

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“COVID had a little to do with it,” Elisabeth said in an April News Tribune story. “Not seeing people, being kind of isolated, being kind of bored. … We joked that during the next pandemic, we’ll all be in the same bubble.”

“The pandemic … it made me think what’s important to me, and my family is more important than anything,” Jacque said.

The families also hope to age in place — the house has an elevator — and Jacque’s health is another motivator. She has multiple sclerosis, a tough condition to live with, and she’s looking forward to surrounding herself with love and support in the new house.

Also, the wider family is very close by nature — and by design.

“We moved here in 1991, and we lived all over the country,” said Jacque’s mom, Susan Brown, in a May News Tribune story. “Our kids were never around family. When they grew up, that's what they said, they did not want to live and raise their families the way we did. They wanted to be closer.”

Justus Koepp pets cat Sebastian in the living room of his Proctor home on June 3, 2021. Sebastian, along with their other cat and a dog, will be making the move to live with family and additional pets in a Duluth mansion. (Samantha Erkkila / serkkila@duluthnews.com)
Justus Koepp pets cat Sebastian in the living room of his Proctor home on June 3, 2021. Sebastian, along with their other cat and a dog, will be making the move to live with family and additional pets in a Duluth mansion. (Samantha Erkkila / serkkila@duluthnews.com)

At first, Jacque’s son, Justus — a recent college grad with “an exit strategy” and plans to pursue a master's degree on the West Coast — was baffled by the idea. He took some time to let it sink in, and to consider the potential new responsibility of being a constant role model to his younger cousins. What tipped the scales was everybody’s attitude and willingness. “The feeling of family wanting to come together was huge for me,” he said.

“And meals,” added Jacque, with a smile.

“That, too.”

When the News Tribune visited the Proctor house, Jacque’s teenage daughter, Julia, had already joined Jacque’s parents and sister in Congdon.

Jacque would soon follow; last would be Justus.

Now that the other households have sold their properties and moved, the focus will be tackling this space before listing it later this month.

And, there’s work to do, Jacque said: exterior and interior paint, a bathroom remodel and egress window installation — small potatoes compared to what’s already been done.

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Koepp and her ex-husband bought the former duplex for $65,900 in 2001. “It was in bad shape. Livable, but dirty,” she said, but they could afford it.

Justus was 3 when they moved in, and they painted, scrubbed and made it their own.

As the family grew, they refinished the floors, replaced the roof, updated the electrical and plumbing, worked on the foundation and landscaping.

They remodeled the kitchen — twice — along with the bedrooms and the bathroom. What they use as a pantry today used to be a “teeny-tiny bathroom.”

They dug out the basement to lengthen the floors. Wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow, they moved concrete and banked it up in the yard into what is now a retaining wall. “That almost killed my husband and I,” Jacque recalled.

She and Justus moved throughout the home during a recent visit. Two of their three pets, mostly Sebastian the cat, came out to visit.

Blue stickers rested on several items, a sign that they’ll be donated. Most of her plants had already been moved, and what remained dotted the floating living room shelves that had been built by her father.

A lamp marked with blue tape sits on a shelf next to artwork Jacque Koepp created out of rock and driftwood from a family trip to Wisconsin Point eight years ago. Koepp and her husband divorced last year. The divorce, along with the isolation of the pandemic, is what helped Koepp decide that moving into one home with other family members was the right thing for her and her kids. The blue tape signifies items she plans to donate since the house they are moving into came fully furnished. (Samantha Erkkila / serkkila@duluthnews.com)
A lamp marked with blue tape sits on a shelf next to artwork Jacque Koepp created out of rock and driftwood from a family trip to Wisconsin Point eight years ago. Koepp and her husband divorced last year. The divorce, along with the isolation of the pandemic, is what helped Koepp decide that moving into one home with other family members was the right thing for her and her kids. The blue tape signifies items she plans to donate since the house they are moving into came fully furnished. (Samantha Erkkila / serkkila@duluthnews.com)

Among the remaining art was an image of four huddled bodies watching fireworks on a beach. This is Jacque, the kids and her now ex-husband on Wisconsin Point, made with rocks she found during the visit. She said it’s a little sad to reflect on the piece now, but she’s looking forward to making new memories in a new home.

In Congdon, their neighbors aren’t exactly next-door. “You're isolated on the corner,” said Jacque.

The house came already furnished, and Jacque’s getting a brand-new, still-wrapped bed out of the deal — perfect timing because hers is 20 years old.

The Koepps reported a difference in communication styles. “I parent with a lot of open conversations, and my parents are not like that,” Jacque said.

“We’re comfortable talking about literally whatever,” said Justus.

“Even though we’re one family, we're forged differently, and we just have to respect each other,” she added.

The women in her family are independent heads of their households, Jacque said, but she feels no trepidation about what’s next.

“In the past, I would’ve thought I was nuts right now, but I can’t think of anyone I’d rather be with than my strong, powerful, willful mother and my sister. … I have lived long enough in this life to know that they’re some of my favorite people. So, why not? Why not commit to the people I love most?”

Jacque Koepp and her son, Justus Koepp, sit on the front porch of their Proctor home on June 3, 2021, and look at the maple tree their family planted a few years after moving into the house in 2001 when Justus was 3. Jacque, her teenage daughter, Julia, and Justus are moving into one Duluth mansion with Jacque's parents and younger sister's family. (Samantha Erkkila / serkkila@duluthnews.com)
Jacque Koepp and her son, Justus Koepp, sit on the front porch of their Proctor home on June 3, 2021, and look at the maple tree their family planted a few years after moving into the house in 2001 when Justus was 3. Jacque, her teenage daughter, Julia, and Justus are moving into one Duluth mansion with Jacque's parents and younger sister's family. (Samantha Erkkila / serkkila@duluthnews.com)

Jacque will offer you the comfortable chair on her front lawn. (The News Tribune didn’t take it.) Neighbors spouted greetings of sunny-day appreciation as they walked by, and the Koepps sat under a maple tree they’ve watched grow from a sapling to a towering elder.

This has been a great neighborhood to raise a family, she said, right near the school and next to a low-traffic road.

Justus reflected on his relationships to nearby families, his outdoor excursions and the quick access to Spirit Mountain. “I would say I’ll miss the yard, but I’ve got a lot to look forward to,” he said.

While Justus and Julia have had their final goodbyes to the house, Jacque was working on it.

She said she hopes a family with children moves in next. That vision helps, as does focusing on the tasks at hand.

“I’m going to love this house into someone else’s life,” she said. “That’s how I’m going to say goodbye.”