At long last, a permanent place to call home

WILLMAR -- On the one or two days each week that she works at the Western Minnesota Legal Services office in Willmar, Ann Cofell has to borrow someone else's desk.

WILLMAR -- On the one or two days each week that she works at the Western Minnesota Legal Services office in Willmar, Ann Cofell has to borrow someone else's desk.

"It's really cramped right now," said Cofell, the legal aid office's deputy director.

This will be one of the many things that change in the next couple of months, when Western Minnesota Legal Services moves into a place of its own -- the former home of Judge John and Mary Lindstrom, who last year donated the house to Legal Services.

"We're very excited about it," Cofell said.

The red house on Southwest Seventh Street, one block west of the Kandiyohi County Courthouse, is undergoing renovation. It'll be ready to move into by the end of summer, Cofell said.


For the Lindstroms, it's a new life for the house that was their home for more than 30 years and where they raised three children before moving to rural New London.

"We're glad they were willing to take it," John Lindstrom said.

"We think it's a good use of the property."

The Lindstroms -- he is a retired Eighth District judge and former legislator, and Mary Lindstrom is the former director of Shelter House -- had the house on the market but weren't getting any offers.

Meanwhile, Western Minnesota Legal Services was facing its second move in three years. The legal aid office has been housed above Christianson and Associates in downtown Willmar since 2006, but was asked this year to relocate because the landlords needed the space.

When the Lindstroms learned of the office's plight, they came up with the idea of offering their house as a permanent home for Legal Services.

"We thought that would be beneficial to everybody," Lindstrom said. "They'd been bouncing around from one rental place to another. I know that they're always struggling for funds."

Late last year, the board of Western Minnesota Legal Services approved the donation, a combination of a sale and gift. A $75,000 grant from the Bremer Foundation and a $50,000 grant from the Mardag Foundation covered the cost of acquiring the house for a price considerably below market value.


It was a fitting arrangement, Cofell said. "The Lindstroms have a long history of commitment to the community and commitment to those who are more vulnerable than the rest of us."

A capital campaign was recently launched to raise $125,000 to pay for renovations.

"To change a house into an office is challenging," Cofell said.

Besides interior remodeling, a parking lot is being added. The house, which was built in 1920 by a local lawyer, also must undergo modifications to make it accessible.

About $6,000 has been raised so far, Cofell said.

"This is at the very initial stages. We'll be talking to the private bar and contacting local businesses. There's a variety of ways we'll be trying to reach people to ask for their support," she said.

Cofell said a permanent location is something that Western Minnesota Legal Services has needed.

The agency's nomad-like existence has made it hard to find the office, especially for clients who don't read well, don't speak English well or aren't physically mobile, she said. "It's been very difficult for clients."


Cofell thinks clients will feel more at ease in the new location.

"I think it'll be good for clients. I think it's going to be a comforting and welcoming setting for people in crisis," she said.

More importantly, the savings in rental costs can now be invested in services and staff, she said. "Right now we've not been able to meet the need."

As the economy worsens, the client base is likely to grow, she noted. "So this comes at a particularly significant time for us."

Last year Western Minnesota Legal Services had 1,200 clients from 10 counties in its service area. The agency and its four attorneys and three legal assistants handle a variety of cases, ranging from child custody to eviction to domestic violence.

It hosts a senior law project that provides legal advocacy for the elderly. It also handles disability law and immigration law. In most cases, these clients could not otherwise afford legal help.

Lindstrom called it "a well-deserving organization."

"Their work doesn't draw a lot of headlines every day but they do provide an important service," he said. "I'm sure they'll make good use of every available inch."


For more information on how to make a financial or in-kind donation, contact Ann Cofell, deputy director of Western Minnesota Legal Services, at 235-9600.

What To Read Next
Get Local