“We just don’t want anyone to ever forget Brandon. As long as I’m alive, that’s my mission now, to make sure he is never forgotten.”
After the unexpected death of our son, Brandon Gerdes, my husband and I decided to transform tragedy into a legacy as we restored a vintage barn in the heart of God’s Country, creating a beautiful venue for celebrations — weddings, social gatherings and vendor shows.
Our son, Brandon Gerdes loved hunting, especially in God’s Country. That’s what he called the rolling hills and rugged terrain in Knox County near the Center area. He was an avid hunter and he enjoyed scouting the terrain. He had a deep appreciation for all that it offered, even the sheer grandeur of the view. “Look at this, Mom,” he would say, “This is God’s Country.”
Originally, our plan was just to try and purchase some land in this area as hunting ground. We wanted to preserve a place where Brandon’s friends could continue to hunt, and of course, share some memories of him. An old barn with its unique brick foundation came with the property. At first, we had no real plans to restore it. The barn had no flooring left, so it was mostly muck and mud, as water from a nearby culvert had run a stream through it on occasion. We considered the possibility of a hunting lodge perhaps, or something “hunting related,” but mostly we were just investing in the land.
But, when one of Brandon’s best friends and hunting buddies saw it, Eddie Francois told us, “You fix this barn up, and I’ll get married here.” At the time Eddie didn’t even have a girlfriend. So thus began our project of renovating the barn.
The renovation began in July of 2019. There was no particular timeframe for the project when we first started, but it didn’t take long before we had a deadline. Eddie Francois had a fiancé and the couple picked a date: September 19, 2020.
Renovating the Barn:
Roger Tacey, who built his own unique home overlooking the Niobrara River, gave us ideas and he put us in touch with the Amish just west of Verdigre — Levi Zook and his crew — who turned out to be just amazing. We simply can’t find enough adjectives to compliment Levi and his family, whose artisan work added so many unique, finely-crafted details.
The crew incorporated a variety of elements from the original barn into the decor, like a pulley system to raise a window covering, kerosene lanterns to adorn one doorway, white-washed boards on the walls, the original brick for a corner fireplace, and so much more. They also added a bridal suite and a balcony, installed a high-quality sound system that pumps music throughout, built an entire addition to the back end including a full kitchen with custom cupboards, bathrooms and a second-floor outdoor deck.
And, of course, we wanted some extra special touches in memory of Brandon. So, in the fin of the windmill — which was used to make a ceiling fan on the upper level — we put Brandon’s initials, in his own handwriting. We took that off the last paycheck he had endorsed. Most people won’t see it, but we know it’s there. The customized window etching also includes a cardinal — considered by many a symbol of a loved one visiting from heaven, and the “T” in the logo is a cross. Also, behind the bar area on the main floor are two canvas prints, each with a comforting message about nature, hunting, peace and trusting God.
When the barn was finished, it was ready for Eddie and Amanda to take their vows and to feel “close” to Brandon, in God’s Country.
Going forward we hope others will see this as a special place worthy of hosting their weddings. It could also be a venue for family gatherings, Christmas parties, social events, home shows, junk jaunts, vendor displays, graduations, retirement parties or even school proms. We are eager for others to experience the barn’s beauty and ambience.
We know God wants this barn, so we’ll see what His plan is with it.