Friends and neighbors pitch in to help Isabella man finish unique cordwood and cob home

Times photo/Jessi Dreckman The cordwood interior makes for an interesting wall space, while the Krugers choice of chartreuse and purple trim and various wall hangings keep the design whimsical.

photo courtesy of the Krugers The mossy green "living roof" has been planted in various ways over the years. This photo was taken when sweet potato vines spilled over the edge nearest to the camera.

photo courtesy of the Krugers Jon and his late wife Jule are pictured here in 2019. Jule helped with the house’s progress up until her death in July 2020.

photo courtesy of the Krugers Brian Lee “Dusty” Baker, a retired construction worker, was good friends with Jon and Jule Kruger. The couple hired him to design the second oval section of the home and the connecting structure; however, Baker died unexpectedly last fall due to heart disease with possible complications of covid, Jon said.

photos by Amber Johnson On a recent workday, the Ozarks Neighborly Exchange group had a reunion work party at Jon’s home. It was the first time the group has gathered since the covid-19 pandemic started in 2020. Above: O.N.E. members work to sand logs to help finish the home’s wall. Below: After a productive day, members gathered for a potluck lunch and conversation in the open-air area of the home, which connects the two oval-shaped cordwood structures.

Editor’s note: For more information on the Ozark Neighborly Exchange, call Jon Kruger at 417-679-0446 or search for “Ozarks Neighborly Exchange” on Facebook. 


Tucked into a shady little grove of hardwoods and cedars northeast of Isabella is a home that looks as if it were plucked from the pages of a fairytale and brought to life. 

The structure, owned by Ozark Countian Jon Kruger, includes two sections, both oval in shape with walls made of cordwood, a building technique which utilizes 12- to 17-inch logs, stacked and secured with mortar, allowing the cut ends of the wood to be exposed on both the inside and outside the structure. 

Sandwiched between the two oval structures is a two-story connecting section with one of the walls on the lower level made of cob, a red clay mixture similar to adobe structures of the Southwest. 


A unique home

The home’s whimsically curved walls are made up of hundreds of brilliant red cedar logs, their faces peeking through a naturally-colored mortar. Windows of varying shapes and sizes have been painted chartreuse and purple, adding a touch of quirkiness and allowing natural light to flood inside from all directions. 

A mossy green “living roof” drapes from above with vines, plants and other vegetation complementing the natural design of the rest of the building. A couple lawn chairs are perched on top of the green living roof for exceptional sunbathing and stargazing opportunities. 

The interior of the home is as interesting as the exterior. 

Clay earthen floors have been oiled and polished to a beautiful deep crimson color. A tall cedar stands in the center of the space, stripped of its bark, sanded smooth and varnished. Its vertical length juxtaposed with the hundreds of horizontal log faces that line the interior walls, which are adorned with an interesting collection of art and repurposed items that decorate the space. 

A large, modern wood cook stove sits in the middle of the finished oval area, serving as a multipurpose tool. It is used to cook food, heat the home, and with the addition of an attached 40-gallon water tank connected to a metal coil inside the firebox, serves as an off-grid water heating device when needed. 

A jetted tub and shower built from natural rock is situated into the outside wall of the home in a greenhouse space, allowing those who are showering or bathing to enjoy continual natural light. 

Outside, mowed areas provide walking paths to other sections of the blissfully quiet and peaceful property. The babbling Barren Fork Creek flows nearby. 

A large section of solar panels provides power to the home, which is utilized in conjunction with on-grid power sources. 


Two strangers leading different lives

Kruger began the process of building the dream home in 2010 with his late wife Jule; however, the origins of the home really started, unbeknownst to either of them, three years earlier when their lives brought them to Ozark County. 

Before that, Jule lived in Utah, then California, as a degreed-anthropologist with her training focused on studying human societies of past and present. She married a practicing archeologist, and together the couple opened an archeological consulting firm. 

Jule found a real love for archeology, the process of discovering, extracting and analyzing artifacts of the past to better understand human history and prehistory. She worked for Colonial Williamsburg at one point, finding great satisfaction in puzzle-piecing the artifacts she found to weave tales of the past from the clues she found along the way. 

Together Jule and then-husband Steve Alexandrowicz ran the archeology business, raised two sons and worked together to write a guidebook for categorizing artifacts.

Meanwhile, Jon, a stranger living in Minnesota with his sons, was beginning a life as a widower after his wife died three years prior. He had retired from a career as a county environmental health specialist, his work focused on watershed projects with 18 major lakes that were 300-plus acres in size. 

As each of their lives evolved, their two paths began to merge toward one another. 

Jule and Steve split and then divorced, which led her to reconsider how she’d like to live the remainder of her life. 

She began researching intentional communities, places were people live communally and share money, food, friendship, work and other aspects of daily life. She found a particular interest in East Wind, an intentional community in Ozark County, just east of Gainesville, after reading about it in National Geographic magazine. 

Jon, who also had an interest in communal living, had been on a tour of sorts, staying at more than 40 intentional communities across the country for brief and sometimes longer periods of time. East Wind was among the communities he’d stayed at during his visiting period.  


Moving to Ozark County

In the spring of 2007, Jon and Jule met through, an online dating website focused on people who enjoy natural living. 

“We were a good fit right away, a match made in heaven. We had a rapport, and astrologically we were good too. I am a Pisces, and she was a Cancer,” Jon said. “She also had a lot of skills I liked. We’d talk about something, and she’d say, ‘I can do that. And that. And that.’ I liked that about her. She was very capable.”

A spark was ignited, and the pair began a relationship. With a shared interest in communal living, they decided to take the leap and join an intentional community. Jule said she wanted to move to East Wind, and Jon agreed, having liked his visit there a year before. 

They arrived in September, and spent two and a half years living there. They enjoyed their time at East Wind, but at some point, as many East Winders do, they decided they’d like to find a piece of land to call their own.

The couple heard about a 27-acre property bordering Barren Fork for sale by Carl Cox, an ex-East Wind resident, that piqued their interest. 

In December 2009, Jon and Jule purchased 17 acres of the property from Cox.

Jon and Jule spent the winter in Texas before returning to Ozark County the following spring.  It was then that they began to visualize what they wanted their home to be like. 

From the beginning, their vision was based upon the Japanese principal of “wabi sabi,” meaning, in its simplest form, perfectly imperfect. 

“We came back on March ’20. It was his bare land, which had a shared well with a neighboring property. That’s when we started clearing the land. Carl had cleared the land for the homesite, but we had to take some trees out for the driveway and a few closer to where we planned to build,” Jon said. 


Logs cut for one purpose, used for another

Before the couple left East Wind, Jon made a proposal to cut cedars on the East Wind property in preparation of building a cordwood sauna to be built there. The community agreed, and they began cutting trees for logs for the project. 

“It took us six weeks, and we cut 41 trees, debarked them and cut them to length, 12-inches, and stored them there letting them dry,” he said. 

However, finances were a little lean for the East Wind community at the time. The project wasn’t a high priority and was tabled. In the meantime, some members in the community proposed building a saw mill in the spot where all the cedar logs were stacked. 

At that point, Jon and Jule had decided to leave East Wind to move to the place near Barren Fork. They asked permission to purchase the cut cordwood from the community, getting it out of the way to make room for the saw mill and giving the Krugers a boost in building time. 

“We bought it for $1,000. It saved us a whole year. We could start construction right away since the logs were already cut, debarked and dried,” Jon said. 


Starting to build

Jon and Jule hired two ex-East Wind members, Alex Chapman and Eric Hinderberger (known by friends as Qik), to build the foundations of the two ovals and construct the timber-framed roof for the first oval. 

In addition to the East Wind cedar logs, the Krugers purchased oak posts for the structure from the Luna sawmill in Dora and cut some cedar on their own property. They started construction of the first cordwood circular wall in November 2010. 

After another winter spent in Texas, Jon and Jule returned to finish the first oval structure and add a greenhouse with the help of Qik and the couple’s son Ethan. Ethan also completed most of the home’s electrical and plumbing.   


The rebirth of O.N.E.

Jon was bit twice in the foot by a copperhead, which caused him to be laid up and delayed further the progress on the home build. While convalescing, he and others in the community decided to revive a local group called the Ozark Neighborly Exchange (O.N.E.), aimed at “promoting self-sufficiency and self-reliance through neighbors helping neighbors.”

“It had went into hiatus. Joy Thompson was the president, but she had cancer, so it was just loosely associated for a while with irregular meetings,” Jon said. “I decided we had a good thing going. So we reactived it again in September 2013.”

A big element of the O.N.E. group was putting together “work parties,” in which group members all went to a specific neighbor’s property and worked together to provide free physical labor, knowledge, insight and friendship to complete various projects. 

Three work parties were held at Jon and Jule’s home, where work included bucketing four pickup loads of dirt on the green, living roof. 

A friend, Brian Lee “Dusty” Baker, who was also an ex-East Winder, was close with Jon and Jule and often helped out. A retired construction worker, Dusty was talented with building and architecture. In 2016, Jon and Jule hired Dusty to do the drawings and to complete the framing for the second oval and two-story connecting structure. 


Losing Jule

They’d finalized details on that build in late 2016, and Jule and Jon were excited about the progress of their unique home.

But with 2017 came another setback that hit them hard. Jule was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

She first sought natural treatments for the disease. Then, taking advice from her family members, she traveled to her sister Amy’s home in Helena, Montana, to undergo chemotherapy, surgery and radiation.

“When she came back, she was doing fine. In June 2019, we started on the wall [of the second oval] then. We had a work party, and people came over to help. We got about the same amount of logs done in an afternoon that would take us a few days to do. Jule and I together could do 20 to 25 logs a day,” he said. 

But Jule grew weaker as time went on. 

“Then one day late in the fall, she said she had had enough of it for the year. And that was that. She died in July 2020. Her cancer had metastasized to her liver.”


Setback after setback

After Jule’s death, Jon said it was too painful to continue the construction. It took him several months before he felt up to working on the home again. Once he did feel up to it, he hit yet another roadblock.

“In the spring of 2021, I was fired up to do it. One day while I was getting some firewood, I lifted a heavy piece, and I got an inguinal hernia,” he said. 

The VA ordered two CT scans, both of which did not reveal a hernia. 

“Frustrated, I said, ‘it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck. It must be a duck.’ The VA doctor agreed, and I was referred to Ozark Medical Group in Mountain Home (Ark.). The surgeon confirmed the hernia after an exam and scheduled surgery.”

During the 5-month hernia ordeal and prior to his scheduled surgery, Jon began experiencing a new affliction.

“Just before the surgery, I had this extreme joint pain. I couldn’t even lift my arms above my shoulders. I called the VA. They said they thought it was Lyme Disease. I went in for a test, and the results came back positive for another tick-borne disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.”

It took six months of physical therapy, natural antibiotics, acupuncture and a strict anti-inflammatory diet for Jon to begin to feel normal again.

While he was recovering from all of that, he began having vision issues and was diagnosed with retinal vein occlusion in both eyes. Jon said that statistically, of patients who have retinal vein occlusion, only 1 percent get it in both eyes. The condition is caused when blood is leaked in the back of the eyeball, causing reduced eyesight. Because his is in the center of the retina, there is no surgical repair. However, prescription eye drops have currently stopped the bleeding. 

Just as Jon’s personal life had hit several big road blocks, so had the O.N.E. group. 

First, the covid-19 pandemic caused the group to pause any communal gatherings. With many older members above retirement age, concerns with the virus and controversy involving vaccination status caused further hesitation to continue gathering. 

And last winter brought yet another heartbreak when friend, neighbor and fellow builder, Dusty, unexpectedly died of a heart failure with possible covid-19 complications. 


A reunion

The pain of so much loss over the last few years has made moving on difficult, but Jon and his fellow O.N.E. group members are beginning to find momentum and a way forward again. 

The group recently gathered for a O.N.E. reunion and work party back at Jon’s place. 

Dozens of friends showed up, potluck dishes in hand, ready to get their hands dirty and start on the final stretch of the build.

Friends and neighbors worked to cut, debark and size logs before placing them into mortar on the wall. All the while embracing Jon and Jule’s original vision and wabi sabi principals. 

The day brought a lively song of conversation and productive work. While the wall wasn’t completed that day, Jon has committed to continuing to work on the structure, piece by piece, finalizing a project that was birthed more than a decade ago. 

The cumulation of all the effort and time spent there has materialized into a beautifully unique home that is truly built from Ozark County - not only in the cedars and oaks that make up its bones but also in the love and care of those who’ve poured their energy into its creation over the years, both the living and those whose memories are built into its perfectly imperfect walls.

Ozark County Times

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