House will become ‘Tracy’s Sanctuary’

Bruce Rittel and Nick Choukalos have talked almost every day for a year. The same question was asked: “Have you found anything yet?”

The answer was always, “not quite,” until now.

With Choukalos’ help, the search has ended at 908 N. Eighth St., in a charming 1920s-detailed house that will become Tracy’s Sanctuary House.

Rittel has purchased the house and is in the process of furnishing it and making a few renovations to suit it to becoming a short-term sanctuary for families of people hospitalized in sudden emergencies.

That was the situation Rittel was in just a year ago when his wife, Tracy, died following an auto accident near Fargo. During the hours of crisis, the places available were public waiting rooms and impersonal hotels, without privacy to weep, make phone calls or just find some silence.

Bruce and Tracy for many years owned Ken’s Flower Shop in Bismarck; Tracy also was a well-loved employee at Cashman Nursery in Bismarck.

When she died, Bruce Rittel was determined to find a house that would be a place of shelter and comfort for families in the same situation he had been. While facilities such as Ronald McDonald House offer help to families of patients on a longer-term basis, he wanted to provide a homelike atmosphere for people on a 24- to 48-hour basis.

The cozy stucco house offers a feeling of “mom’s house”or “grandma’s house,” he said; generous windows let in light from the south and east, including a living room with a faux fireplace and stained glass, a bright dining room and homey kitchen, two bedrooms and a bathroom. A full basement will get two egress windows and would be the ideal place for an on-site caretaker-manager, Rittel said. Tracy’s parents, Donald and Peggy Arndt, come in from Flasher a couple of times a week to work in the house.

A pocket-sized backyard features a privacy fence, an arbor, green grass and flowers for a quiet outdoor meditative space; Rittel also would like to create a tiny nondenominational chapel in the single garage at the rear. Eventually, he dreams of the driveway converted to a walking path, a “Helping Hand” wall in the new chapel and perhaps some stained glass.

Rittel’s hope is to have Tracy’s Sanctuary House open in three or four months, perhaps by Christmas. He has established a nonprofit organization, started a Web site, joined the National Association of Hospitality Houses, and met with representatives of both hospitals to tell them about the facility. Rittel purchased the house himself and is hoping that volunteers will come forward to help with the minor renovations it needs – anyone from carpenters to electricians to plumbers, people willing to donate materials, furnishings, even nonperishable foods and toiletries, and someone artistic to create a “Tracy’s Sanctuary House” sign to blend with the architecture of the house. A fund has been established to take donations at Capital Credit Union, he said. Creative ways to donate could include sponsoring a day or a month, even a room, he said. Rittel estimates that it will cost about $1,200 a month to run “Tracy’s Sanctuary House.” In addition to helping Rittel find the house, Choukalos donated $1,000 of his commission on the sale to help.

“This is all God’s plan,” Choukalos said.

Though it took a year and there’s still more work to do, Rittel believes he’s found the ideal house.

“I want to make this a nice place,” he said. “This is a healing process, for us and for others.”

For more information about Tracy’s Sanctuary House, call Rittel at 222-2703.


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