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Young man heads family business: At 24, Babinski runs Babinski Properties

Nancy Vogt/Echo Journal John Babinski stands in front of Babinski Properties' office buildings being constructed just south of Mid-Minnesota Federal Credit Union in Pequot Lakes.

At age 24, John Babinski is running the family business his grandfather founded in the way his grandfather taught him.

"I've been part of the business since age 6," he said of Babinski Properties, a family-owned property management and development company with an office in Pequot Lakes and main office in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. "I've been part of the business forever, working with my grandpa and my dad side by side, helping out after school."

After his grandfather, Donald Babinski, had a stroke that left him unable to talk for about a year before he died in August 2014, the younger Babinski took on a bigger role. He took over the helm and has been running Babinski Properties with the same people his grandfather employed.

Babinski's brother, Ryan, 22, also works for the company, as does their cousin, Donald Snyder.

The business builds and manages apartment buildings in Pequot Lakes (including Pequot Pines, Pequot Estates, Janice Estates and Pequot Cottages, which is for people age 55 and older), South Dakota, the Twin Cities area and Naples, Florida.

"I knew one day it was going to have to happen," Babinski said of running of the company. After his grandfather suffered the devastating and unexpected stroke, "I didn't really have a choice," he said.

Now he learns every day he goes to work.

"Everyone makes mistakes," Babinski said. "There's no mistake you can't fix."

He estimated his grandfather built over 50 different complexes before he died.

"Don started the business from nothing," Babinski said, referring to his grandfather, "beginning in the 1940s forming steps, then digging basements."

John Babinski grew up spending half the year in Pequot Lakes and the other half in Naples. He attended Nisswa Elementary School, then attended high school in the Twin Cities, where his mom lived after his parents, John and Lynn, divorced. He continued spending the summers up north and working for his grandfather's company.

After his dad died in 2006, "Grandpa took on the role of being Dad," Babinski said.

The summer before his senior year of high school, Babinski decided to move up north permanently. He is a 2011 Pequot Lakes High School graduate who now lives in Nisswa, near his grandmother, Elizabeth (Betty) Babinski.

He did try college after high school.

"I went to college at CLC (Central Lakes College) for business management for about half a month," he said with a laugh. "I realized that they were teaching me how to do everything. It just was a different way that my grandpa really did his business, and I figured the best way was to stay on board and keep making money and get to know the business."

One of Babinski Properties' biggest projects is a no-kill animal shelter - the Babinski Foundation Animal Shelter - that opened in January on 365 acres off County Road 29 in rural Pequot Lakes.

"He loved dogs and cats and hated the government," Babinski said of his grandfather, so before he died, the elder Babinski left his apartment buildings to run the Babinski Foundation, a dog and cat refuge. A five-member board will be established to run the foundation, which will become a horse refuge in a few years as well.

"So we have to keep building more apartment buildings and keep generating revenue to make this thing run, and that's what we're going to keep doing. So we're planning on starting to really take off on new construction of apartments, and hopefully everything goes smooth for the future," Babinski said.

Donald Babinski bought the former Crafters Mall buildings at Highway 371 and County Road 107 in Pequot Lakes to house the animal shelter. He died before that became reality, and those buildings now are the home office for Babinski Properties.

When John Babinski started looking at costs to turn that complex into an animal shelter, he decided it made more sense to build a new facility in a different location, rather than along the new four-lane Highway 371 that's right behind the buildings.

He admits he had no idea how to build an animal shelter and has learned a lot along the way. The expansive building can house up to 100 dogs and 100 cats, with expansion plans already in the works for room for 100 more of each.

"We have no idea how many animals will come in," said Babinski, also an animal lover who has three dogs - Terry, a German shepherd; Kernal, a German shepherd/husky; and a recent addition, Dozer.

The Babinski family is also philanthropic. The family donated $50,000 for the playground at Sibley Lake Park in honor of Donald and Elizabeth Babinski. Babinski Properties helped install the playground at the Adams Family Playground in Pequot Lakes, and the company donated and installed the dog fence at the Babinski-Wilson Dog Park in Pequot Lakes.

John Babinski said his grandpa was like a second dad, even a main father, to him, and he's had help from good family friends along his journey.

"It's my job," he said of running Babinski Properties. "I wake up and do it.

"It doesn't pay too bad," he added with a smile. "I'm making pretty good money for the age I am."

Regarding the future, Babinski noted a new office building for Babinski Properties is under construction between the mini storage buildings and Mid-Minnesota Federal Credit Union in Pequot Lakes.

Also, the plan is "to keep throwing apartment buildings up like crazy," and, perhaps, townhomes and rental units as well.