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Family turns historic Webster, N.D., schoolhouse into family-centered business

Ben and Kristin Schlenske started their business, Let’s Go Webster, which they run out of the historic Webster School, with local families in mind.

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Ben and Kristin Schlenske, pictured here with their children Dallin, Benny, Cyrus, Kimberly and Grace, run a school for the arts, event venue and bakery out of the historic Webster School in Webster, North Dakota.
Contributed / Ben Schlenske
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WEBSTER, N.D. – The historic Webster School, closed as a school since 1970, has been brought back to life by Ben and Kristin Schlenske as a school for the arts, an events venue and a bakery. Their business, Let’s Go Webster, which they run out of the school, was created with local families in mind.

“We’ve had a lot of feedback about people’s needs that they feel are not in this community because we’re so rural or there’s not a lot to do for families,” said Kristin. “It’s been driven by trying to help these families and to strengthen families in this area.”

When the Schlenskes discovered the Webster School, they were living in Arizona. Ben had been stationed at Minot Air Force Base in the past, and the family wanted to move back to North Dakota. The school is located about 12 miles north of Devils Lake.

“We came across the school and just fell in love with it,” said Ben.

Ben and Kristin are both music teachers, and decided the best way to use the school was for what it is — a school. The building, used as a school from 1905 to 1970, had been restored by previous owners.

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“We decided that it was best to use it as a school, as it was, but have it be sort of a way to link and gather the community back together again, kind of like the school used to, just in a different way,” Ben said.

Let’s Go Webster opened in September 2021, starting with art and music lessons, and grew to include events and the bakery. In 2021, the Schlenskes hosted a fall carnival and a Christmas event at the school for local families, and Kristin, the baker of the family, started baking various kinds of bread, muffins, cookies and desserts under cottage food laws.

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As Devils Lake Public Schools tries for a new middle school, the future of the historic old middle school building is up for discussion.

With five children of their own between the ages of nine and 17 at home, and three older children that have moved out, Let’s Go Webster is not only created for families, but also a family business. Their children contribute artistically and musically to the business, and are always there to frost cookies.

“We’re not a farm family working together, but we’re sort of in the same vein — we’re all pitching in and helping out on this effort,” said Ben.

On June 23, the Schlenskes took the bakery one step further and opened the school’s cafeteria for visitors, dubbing it the Cafe-Teria. They are working on obtaining a license to serve more foods, but currently serve baked goods.

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The school's cafeteria was recently opened to serve baked goods as the Cafe-Teria.
Contributed / Ben Schlenske

To broaden the types of events that can be hosted at the school, the Schlenskes have created a small theater space with theater seats in the schoolhouse for live music, family movies and storybook readings. Kristin says the space will be open within the next week.

The events and food come back to the goal of fostering community connections, says Kristin.

“We really love that people can connect here and feel like a part of something bigger than themselves, and I feel like history can do that too,” said Kristin. “It can really bring home these feelings of nostalgia, but also then connect you to these other people through experiences like that. Food does that as well, so those things combine really well.”

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Ben says many who visit the Webster School say it reminds them of the school they went to in their hometowns and they appreciate the building’s preservation. For those who taught at or attended the school when it was open, the nostalgia factor is even greater.

“We have the chalkboards that are still up on the wall and they’ll sign their names and put the year they either taught here or went to school. Some will share a little bit more than others,” said Ben. “So a lot of positive memories, and I think that’s a good sign.”

Related Topics: DEVILS LAKELOCAL BUSINESS
Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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