APPLETON -- Charlene Stockton has proven her talent for taking children others have turned their backs on, making them her own, and bringing out their best so that they have a chance for success in their lives.
Now, she's brought this same sort of talent to the business world, all for her kids.
Her business, Two Sisters' Tea Room on 44 North Haven Street, Appleton, is a cozy restaurant offering $3.99 breakfast specials, healthy lunch and dinner fare, and of course, lots of teas and its own, house-ground beans for coffee. Red Hatters and party groups are guests for special "High Teas'' that feature a three-tiered tower offering one tray of finger sandwiches, another of chocolate and delectable desserts, and a third featuring fresh fruits and nuts.
Stockton also offers catering and hosts special events, and is establishing a reputation for creating delicious and appealing specialty cakes.
Her goal is to develop the 10,000-square-foot facility holding Two Sisters' Tea Room into a bed and breakfast as well. She sees potential in serving the many who enjoy the outdoors and make Appleton their jumping off point for hunting, birding, hiking and other adventures at the nearby Lac qui Parle Wildlife Refuge and Big Stone National Refuge.
She sees potential where, until she arrived, others saw a mess and had turned their backs.
She purchased the building for $1,000 a little more than one year ago. The former nursing home had been converted into senior apartments. It had been vacant for seven or more years when the banker showed it to her, she said.
The windows were shattered, it was filled with asbestos, there were roof leaks, problems with mold and a little more than $28,000 in plumbing repairs needed.
"I thought it was the most beautiful building I had ever been in,'' said Stockton of her first visit.
She said that without a hint of sarcasm, as it's the potential that her eyes see.
Stockton, 56, has been the adopted mother to 35 children. She cares for 15 currently. She has three biological children of her own, but has been passionate about adopting children with profound handicaps or severe illnesses. Some have died in her arms, so severe were the ailments they suffered when she adopted them.
Others have responded to a caring and loving environment and overcome challenges ranging from malnutrition to having been born to parents addicted to crack.
She and her husband, David, a public defender in Drummond, Tenn., have made it their goal to turn Two Sisters Tea Room into a business that someday can be taken over by their adopted children.
Stockton was retired from a career in the U.S. military and living in Tennessee when this dream began to take shape. It's all thanks to her late father, Charles Brown.
Her father lived in Holloway and had plenty of previous business experience as the owner of a franchise bakery. He suggested the idea of converting the dilapidated Appleton property into the Tea Room it has become. He would operate the bed and breakfast, and sibling Deb Jones of Holloway would run the restaurant. Stockton said she intended to be the behind-the-scenes worker in the arrangement.
She visited her father in January 2009 and promised to make his dream possible. A few days after she returned to Tennessee, her father turned on a wall heater in his attached garage. It exploded.
Instead of fleeing to safety, he dashed through the flames to rescue his special needs son and companion from the home.
He died at age 75 in the ambulance rushing him to Appleton Hospital.
The tragedy did nothing to keep Stockton from keeping her promise to her dad.
Stockton said she and her sister worked side-by-side to restore the building, but her sister has since opted out of the business plans.
Stockton obtained permits from the city, invested in remodeling and equipment to meet all of the public health and safety codes, and opened her business on Feb. 14, 2010. Six weeks later, the Corrections Corporation of America closed the Prairie Correctional Facility, the town's main employer.
Stockton said the devastating news to the town wasn't about to take away her resolve either. "I didn't come to Appleton for the prison. I came for a promise to my father,'' she said.
Since then she's been working to grow the business, and is optimistic. She said the business attracts a more senior clientele. Customers enjoy the food as well as the hospitality she offers.
She's had her share of challenges, including a tiff over the city permit to operate in a residential area. She's persevered, and has no regrets about making Appleton home. "This is a wonderful place to raise children,'' she said.
Her plans are to stay the course and make it a place for her business to thrive so that someday, her children can take charge.
Said Stockton to explain her drive: "It's a dream and if you don't have a dream, what have you got?''
Two Sisters Tea Room is open Tuesdays through Sundays, with winter hours of 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and evenings by reservation. Phone 320-289-3001.