As a real estate agent, Karin Housley practically drooled when she was shown a magnificent parcel of property fronting thousands of feet of shoreline along the scenic St. Croix River in Stillwater.
But as a state senator, she felt differently about the proposal that her client, Elayne Aiple, was making.
"Clearly this would be a beautiful site for condos on the St. Croix," she recalled on Thursday. "But with no other piece of property like that, I knew what it should become. So I asked her, 'Have you talked to the state or the county?'
"She said she had been trying that for quite a few years, but 'the money wasn't there, so it's not going to happen.' All roads were dead ends at that point. So I said, 'Lemme see what I can do.' And she was like, Karin, it's not going to happen, find a private-sector buyer.' "
Housley did lobby for state funds and now she and Aiple — who died Nov. 27 at 91 — are jointly being credited for supplying land for a major new park along the river on the north end of Stillwater.
Aiple's unexpected death fast-forwards the transformation of the land. She had been given five years to remain in her house on the 15-acre estate and seemed in hearty health, Housley said, until illness struck.
Aiple's daughter, Janet Plaskett, of Bayport, said the family doesn't wish to help in sketching out details of her life. "She was a very, very private person," Plaskett said. "She would not grant interviews, and we will not comment either."
The family obituary does mention that Aiple was preceded in death by two husbands, Roland Auger and Frank Aiple Sr. Frank Sr.'s son, Frank Jr, said that he didn't know her well, owing to a certain distance between the two branches of the family.
But she is to be commended, he said, for the sale of the land to the public. "I'm glad they sold it for a city park and didn't use it for more high rises," he said, referring to downtown Stillwater. "You look down there and all you see is buildings."
The Aiples are a German immigrant family who owned a brewery in town that dated to the 1850s, he said.
Jane Harper, the retired Washington County planner who oversaw the land deal, said she too didn't have a great feel for Aiple as a person because the "tough negotiations" that lasted for years — and resulted in a $4.3 million deal with money cobbled together from several sources — happened through intermediaries.
But the creation of the park, she added, is exciting, likely the single most important legacy from her time on the job. "This is going to be a really big draw for Stillwater."
Aiple "felt that a park was the best use of the land," Harper said. "I don't think her children were interested in living down there. She was very gracious with me, and there was an open invitation to come down and see her any time."
Housley, who became friends with Aiple, described her as "the spunkiest little old lady ever. She was a Democrat, and she once said, 'I can't believe I like a Republican,' and I said, 'I can't believe I like you either, Elayne.'
"She lived there all by herself, but all of her kids spent hours every Sunday taking care of that property and she was going to stay there till the end."
Aiple is survived by three of her own children, in addition to Plaskett, Tom and Michael Auger; and her sister, Kay Handevidt. Survivors also include stepchildren Frank of Stillwater, Mary Sangster of Arkansas, and Margaret Seim of Bayport; and numerous grandchildren. Services have been held.