This Encore Is Restoring a Century-Old Riverfront Estate for All to Enjoy
Upon reaching retirement age, more than a few people enjoy spending extra time in, among other things, museums.
Not so much Rochelle Reagan.
She’s trying to establish a museum in these, her Encore years.
A product of the Coopersville area, Rochelle was actually dubbed Rochelle Rollenhagen, but decided years ago to “leave out a few of the syllables” to shorten it up. Most folks from her hometown, though, still know her as Rollenhagen.
She grew up on the family farm of 80 acres, graduating from Coopersville High School during the 1960s, then earning a degree in business from Western Michigan University. She later earned a master’s degree from the University of Michigan in information science. She spent the bulk of her career working with computers on behalf of IBM.
Rochelle never married or had children, but did adopt a certain noble home as a love of her life, a riverfront estate in the 6600-block of Leonard Street in Eastmanville. Even as a youngster, she pined for it every time her family would make the trek along Leonard from their farm into Grand Rapids.
Originally built during the early 1860s, it was home first to George and Aphia Eastman, a 2-acre tract that today houses a large Federal-style home on more than 200 feet of Grand River frontage. Across the street to the north, a carriage house and water tower dominate another 4 acres.
Nearly seven years ago – after the place changed hands a dozen times in more than 100 years – the stars aligned and Rochelle was able to purchase her dream property.
Almost immediately, she began to envision what the stately abode would look like if fashioned into a museum that allowed her to remain there as live-in curator.
Where others in their golden years might shy away from such an ambitious project, Rochelle insists that “I want to leave a legacy, and have the people of Eastmanville and beyond enjoy this place as much as I have.”
There’s a lot to do, not the least of which is to restore lush gardens to the west, and a mammoth in-ground swimming pool and pair of bathhouses between the home and river. The 5,000-square-foot dwelling enjoys a fresh coat of paint, but there are more than a few rooms to fill with historical treasures. Lucky for Rochelle, “I have a lot of generous friends” on whose help she’s relying to amass historical items of interest.
Her plan is to outfit the home with photos and artifacts that speak to another place and time, with special emphasis on the 1920s, when Noyes and Evelyn Avery owned the place and, because of their financial status, were able to do a fair amount of high-class entertaining on the property, which they controlled from 1922 until 1955.
Rochelle already has shared the home in multiple ways with friends, family and historical buffs anxious to tour the grounds. She’s hosted no fewer than eight family reunions, a wedding, and a tour sponsored by the Lamont Civic Association. The home boasts a music room, “woodsy room,” children’s room, sleeping porch, and a towering “belvedere,” which is a type of cupola that offers stunning views to the river far below.
She intends to dub her project the “Rollenhagen House & Buwaj Gardens,” the latter a reference to the surname of her late mother’s side of the family. In time, she hopes to qualify her project for the National Register of Historic Places, to help guarantee that it be preserved in perpetuity.
Toward that end, she also is exploring ways in which she might bequeath the home to a historical and/or non-profit entity that will keep the home intact long after she’s gone.
If all goes well, Rochelle hopes to be up and running within three years. In the meantime, she’s open to individuals and groups who might want to jump on the bandwagon and pitch in on her grand venture, by e-mailing her at: Reagan.email@example.com