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Family transforms old school into beautiful home

December 8, 2010

Gary and Melanie Doyle were all smiles as they warmly greeted guests at the entrance of their new home, the former Oconto school. The family purchased the building in July, where the couple now live with their eight children.

Last Saturday, Gary and Melanie Doyle opened up their home to visitors - lots and lots of visitors.
Those visitors came from miles away, most of them curious to see just how an old schoolhouse can function as a family home. Nearly everyone was very impressed with what they saw.
The Doyle’s say they were very surprised at the turnout for their Open House, with 130 guests signing the guest book in the front entrance of the home. Many of those attending had gone to school in the building, while others were simply intrigued at the thought of such a transformation.
Melanie and Gary Doyle were the winning bidders for the building at a public auction July 17 in Oconto, paying $3,000 for the old school. They moved in just a few short weeks later.
The couple said they had been in the market for such an opportunity for a long time, with the family of 10 having outgrown their home in Elmwood. The children, who range in age from 4-18, are homeschooled, and Melanie said they had been looking for the perfect place to both raise and educate their children.
A friend told her about the Oconto school coming up for auction, and Melanie says when she saw the school on the auction company’s website she knew she had found what she had been looking for.
The couple had decided they could not spend more than $4,000 on the building, and Melanie says she became overwhelmed with emotion when the auctioneer awarded her the winning bid of $3,000.
The property includes nearly three acres along with the building. The ball field to the south of the school is owned by the village, while the Callaway School District kept the parking lot on the north side of the building.
Melanie, a professional portrait photographer, says the grounds lend themselves ideally for her business - Memories by Melanie Photography. Gary is a truck driver who now has plenty of room to park his rig when he comes home.
The Doyles decided to host an open house after so many members of the community had expressed an interest in wanting to see what they had done with the building. So, from 2-4 p.m. Saturday afternoon, they greeted guests, and allowed everyone who came through the door to make themselves at home and tour all the rooms. There were even plates piled high with homemade cookies and treats for all visitors to enjoy.
Saturday evening the family invited anyone interested to come back to their home and watch the Big 12 Championship football game in the gymnasium. Gary says nearly 30 people took them up on that offer and watched the game.
The family is literally using all of the building as living quarters. The upstairs classrooms have all been transformed into bedrooms, allowing plenty of space for the children to stretch out. While none of those rooms have closets, the family has improvised by adding space for hanging clothes and bringing in lots of dressers.
One of the main floor classrooms has been kept a classroom, and is where Melanie schools the kids. A home office and Melanie’s photography studio are also on the main floor, along with the bathroom. The former girl’s bathroom is now the family bathroom, while the boy’s bathroom has been turned in to the laundry room. Even though there is technically only one bathroom in the home, it is plenty big enough to accommodate this large family. A large, claw foot bathtub has also been added to the bathroom.
Gary says the family is very appreciative of the support and encouragement they have received from the community. He was visibly moved as he told about a church in Callaway that has donated 300 gallons of propane to the family to help them heat their home this winter. He says that church just wanted to thank the family for what they have done and for allowing everyone in to their home.
Gary and Melanie had so much fun with the open house that they are thinking of making it an annual event. Even the children got involved, welcoming visitors into their rooms and meeting lots of people.
The stately brick building along Highway 21 in Oconto served as a school for more than 100 years. Many thought when the school was closed the building would never again ring with the laughter of children. Thanks to the Doyle family, they thought wrong.

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