HUGO — “This is my tree, my place to be alone in, my branches for climbing, my leaves for hiding in, my sunshine for reading, my clouds for dreaming, my sky for singing, my tree, my beautiful tree.”

This poem, written by Kathleen Fraser, is what sparked then-Media Specialist (now Instructional Coach) Julie Stonehouse’s idea for a reading tree in the media center at Oneka Elementary School.

Last year when Stonehouse was hired by the White Bear Lake School District, she was charged with changing the way the school utilizes the media center, and asked to come up with a redesign. When she asked the students what they would like to see in the space, they answered, “comfortable seating” and “fun places to read.” The space was revamped over spring break with the exception of one piece, the treehouse.

“Our budget was for furniture and technology updates,” Stonehouse explained. “I needed to find somebody who could create this (reading tree) and also figure out a way to pay for it, so I went out to the community and started asking for donations.”

It all came together. JL Schwieters donated the lumber and the Hugo Lions and Hugo Elementary/Oneka Elementary Parent Teacher Association (PTA) donated money. Stonehouse found out about Lake Life Furniture LLC after former Oneka Elementary Principal Teresa Dahlem told PTA members about the reading tree concept. Jess Miehe happened to be at that meeting and said she knew somebody who would be perfect for the project: her brother, Dave Nadeau, who owns Lake Life Furniture LLC with his wife, Allysa Nadeau.

“We are super excited because it is really a community effort and it really reflects a commitment to our kids on the part of our whole community,” Stonehouse said. “And the fact that Dave and Allysa have such a great connection to the community is cool.” Both Dave and Allysa are White Bear Lake High School grads and their two children, soon to be three, will all go through the district.

Lake Life Furniture LLC has been around for two and a half years. Even though Dave said the reading tree isn’t his “typical project,” he said he had no problem saying yes because “it is fun to do stuff for kids.” In addition to a couple of custom cribs he built recently, Dave crafted an outdoor playhouse. “The stuff I enjoy building the most is for kids,” he said.

Dave built and installed the reading tree during an 80-hour week in July. He estimates that in total, the whole project took about 3-4 weeks to complete. Dave convinced his sister, Becca Engberg, to paint the structure. Engberg is a Hugo resident and has three children who will all be Bears someday.

The reading tree is made up of four levels, with large platforms for students to read on. The bottom platform is also accessible for wheelchairs. “Dave has such amazing attention to all the details. He really built it like he was building it for his own little girls,” Stonehouse explained. “All of the edges are smooth, it is so solid. It is a really beautiful piece that kids will enjoy for years and years.”

The structure was also constructed with safety in mind. The sturdy tree has more supports than is typical for building code in a house.

Allysa said she hopes the structure will “spark creativity, imagination and reading.” Dave added, “I hope the kids use it and enjoy it.”


Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or

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