MANKATO — A prime piece of development land behind Madison East Center has, since Dr. Wynn Kearney Sr. bought it in the 1950s, remained largely out of sight and unchanged.
The ravines, woods, pond and farm fields were playgrounds for scores of neighborhood kids over the decades, including many of the Kearney grandchildren and others who are now bringing major apartment and commercial development to the site.
“We had a lot of fun playing back there,” said grandson Matt Kearney of Eagle Lake. “People keep coming out of the woodwork saying, ‘Hey, I played back there.’”
Grandson Thor Snilsberg of New York romped in the woods as a kid, building forts, riding dirt bikes and building bonfires, the latter sometimes getting the neighborhood kids a visit from the police.
“The folks in the nursing home reported cult activity,” Matt Kearney said. “It was us kids and our bikes sitting around a fire.”
Garth Ringheim, whose family is building the first major phase of the development, prowled the marshes and creeks gathering plants for his aquarium. Ringheim, a scientist in the pharmaceutical industry who lives in New Jersey, went to Mankato East High School with some of the Kearneys.
And Ringheim’s mother, Marilyn, also has strong ties to the Kearneys. For 55 years she served as an anesthetist working with Dr. Kearney Sr. at the hospital.
Even Mankato Community Development Director Paul Vogel, who helped shepherd the complicated project through the system, frequently played in the woods as a kid, Ringheim said.
“It’s funny how all these connections come together after all these years. It’s neat.”
The right time
For many years the property was entrusted to the five children of Dr. Kearney Sr.
Now 10 grandchildren are developing the property, led by Snilsberg and Matt Kearney.
Snilsberg, whose background is in urban planning, said no one ever thought much of developing the land and no one really approached the family about doing anything, which wasn’t in the city limits.