That’s how John McGee passionately describes his Breezy Point neighborhood. McGee’s greatest hope is that other people realize such tight-knit neighborhoods can still exist today, and that others benefit from the investment as he and his neighbors have.
“I just think that our neighborhood - and it’s not to anybody’s credit; it’s to everybody’s credit - has a magic about it,” McGee said in describing the dozen or so neighbors in the Nickel Woods development, behind Eagle View Elementary School.
This weekend - Friday and Saturday, Aug. 23-24 - those neighbors are banding together to have a garage sale at McGee’s home, after which proceeds will be donated to the Lakes Area Restorative Justice Project and leftover items to Common Goods. Money raised also will help fund more neighborhood projects.
McGee is director of the Lakes Area Restorative Justice Project, a nonprofit that provides a forum for Crow Wing County juvenile offenders to meet with the victims harmed in a respectful environment to decide on reparations for those harmed.
In addition to neighborhood get-togethers, summer fish fries and Christmas parties, John and Alice McGee’s property houses a community sauna and woodshed building that teenage boys in the neighborhood helped build. Neighbors pitched in on a community mailbox project, with all mailboxes in a line and sporting a different color and each family’s name and house number in paint.
Neighbors take advantage of snowshoe trails they constructed through the woods. Another family’s home sports a phenomenal basketball court, and yet another offers a winter ice skating rink for the neighbors.
“We really try to think, what else can we do together?” McGee said.
The next project, he said, is to turn a little building by the woodshed at the end of his driveway into a neighborhood lending library. At least two teenage boys are already looking forward to that work.
“We like learning from John,” said Ryan Monahan, a junior at Pequot Lakes High School. “It’s the highlight of our summer, doing jobs around here.”
Katie Wassermann, who lives in Nickel Woods, called the neighborhood special and unique.
“We are not just a neighborhood full of people who truly love each other, but we believe in community spirit and it’s just a special place,” she said.
The Nickel family settled in the area years ago, and McGee said the family is well respected, including Jim Nickel who still lives in the area.
“I think we’ve kind of picked up where they left off,” McGee said of his neighborhood. “There’s something in the old buildings or in the soil that set the stage for a neighborhood that’s so unbelievably caring. ... We found a balance.”
“Nickel homes” were built along the road - each 26 feet by 26 feet - and McGee said a Nickel home is “buried” in their current house after he and Alice renovated by adding on and up.
“Two or three of the folks in the neighborhood lived in our Nickel house while their house was being built,” McGee said, noting that was before he and Alice lived here year-round and before they renovated their home.
He shared a recent “magical” happening.
“I was weeding the bean patch this spring, and right there in front of me is this little ring. I thought, ‘That’s not a piece of junk.’ Alice scrubbed it up with toothpaste, and it was a mother’s ring back to a generation older than us," he said, noting he believes it’s Jim Nickel’s mother’s ring.
The Nickel Woods neighborhood has a “mayor” - Bob Springer, who with his wife, Eileen, has been a major influence in the neighborhood. His neighbors paid it forward by funding a ramp for his home.
“We were happy to do that for the mayor,” McGee said.
Another event McGree and the teenage boys happily recall is a winter day when power went out in the neighborhood. His house is the only one with wood heat, so everyone showed up at the McGee home with food and drinks and had a great time.
McGee hopes people find the Nickel Woods garage sale this weekend, not only to buy items for good causes, but to see how his special neighborhood works together. You can bet they were all gathered Thursday night for a social time while preparing for the sale.
“I would love to see more neighborhoods see what we’re doing and maybe replicate parts of it,” McGee said.