Lori Caspers is a woman to be admired for her patience, fortitude and family values. She definitely is a rare combination of hard work, artistic endeavor and thriftiness.
Lori, and her husband James, have been Great Bend residents for the past 20 years. They have four adult children and three children at home, Ethan, Josiah and Jennavive. They reside in the locally historic “Komarek house”, located at 1407 Washington.
The first question that comes to mind when finding out Lori and her family live in the Victorian Great Bend landmark is, “Is it true the house is haunted?”
“It used to be,” said Lori, “but we have all the dark ones removed. It is not haunted. It is full of good angels now.”
Early owners of the house include three generations of the Moses family. The house was also the boyhood home of Nobel Prize winner Jack Kilby, inventor of the microchip.
Lori and her husband have been in the on-going process of authentically restoring the Victorian-era home. When they pulled up old carpeting, they found original hardwood floors with a stamp of Great Bend on them.
“E.R. Moses Sr., who built the house, owned a lumber yard at the time,” said Lori.
Also of historical value is the coal bin door in the basement, engraved “Jack + Ada”. “Jack Kilby’s dad started the original ham radio station down in that coal bin,” explained Lori.
Among restoration endeavors completed include the Caspers’ repairs and painting the outside of the three story house themselves, with seven colors of paint, true to Victorian style. They have also replaced the fireplace on the main floor, which now has a period fireplace mantle of 120 year old Tiger wood from Indianapolis. They are going to put up two more stained glass windows upstairs, which they found in Kentucky.
“We use the internet. And, a carpenter friend has helped us a lot with information. Other than that we do all the work ourselves. We are trying to make the house go back to period as much as we can. Any missing fixtures to put back up are 100 years old.” said Lori.
“The marble in the bathroom is some of the last in the quarry used for the Lincoln Monument and Washington Memorial.”
One of their sons, who is an architect, was able to obtain the marble, and he also helped with remodeling the downstairs library.
“We closed several doorways. The walls were caving in. My son had the bookshelves custom made in Kansas City,” Lori said, adding that the floor to ceiling book cases came in three pieces and a moving van was rented to bring them to Great Bend.
A lot of structural work has been done, including installing steel beams in ceilings and floors, and putting jacks in the basement. Gutting 3,000 pounds of fixtures from an upstairs bathroom was a two year process. They are now putting in second story duct work and steaming off hallway wallpaper upstairs.
Restoring the grand old home is a labor of patience of love,
“We named the house Shirley,” laughs Lori,”As in, Shirley it won’t cost so much, Shirley it won’t fall apart, Shirley it won’t take that long to fix it up.”
But perhaps the star of the entire house is LaVerne, an AGA cooker oven fondly named by the Caspers.
“The AGA’s are from the United Kingdom. It lasts for 100 years and the only thing that will go out on it is a $10 thermo-coupler. It is on all the time, like a furnace pilot light. Two men from Pennsylania came to put it in. We called it the AGA saga,” Lori said. The Caspers saw the stove in a Sandra Bullock movie, and their son pursued finding one for them.
“We cook a lot and the food is so good. We don’t eat out. We eat out maybe five times a year. The food is better at home,” said Lori, adding that cooking is her favorite thing to do and she hopes to bake and cook for a living someday.
The AGA has two heat plates on top; one at 350 degrees for pancakes and grilled cheese and the other side boiling plate is 750 degree.
“LaVerne has four brick ovens and it is moist heat, so nothing dries out. There are no timers and no dials because the ovens are set at different temperatures. One is at 425 degrees for roasting. There is one for baking at 350 degrees. One is crockpot temperature at 275 degrees. And a warmer oven. When it is cold we put socks and towels in the warmer oven to heat them!” she explained.
Lori loves to cook in quantity. And she also loves to do extreme couponing. Lori brings out a four inch binder overflowing with categories of coupons. She buys six weeks of food at a time, because sales go in six week cycles, she explained.
“The other day I got $165 of groceries for eight dollars. I have gotten several people started on it now. I spent $21 on 135 items for 93 percent savings. I am disappointed in myself if it is under eighty percent savings,” Lori said, adding that she gives some food to friends in need.
Lori also is an organic gardener and cans food for her family. This year she had 48 tomato plants and made 100 jars of salsa, and is in the process of ripening the last batch of November picked tomatoes to make more salsa. They are ripping out concrete to expand the organic garden next year.
Where Lori and her husband get their energy, strength and enthusiasm is unknown. Perhaps they are getting some help from the “good angels” that now watch over their house.