by Dennis Dalman
You’d think at first the two women walking through a Sartell neighborhood were a crown-wearing royal couple as neighbors smile, wave and yell hello to them.
They even have a royal-sounding name: “The Ladies.”
“It’s The Ladies!” some children yell with sudden excitement as they run up to chat with them.
Now and then, some adults working in their yard gardens stand and greet the ladies and offer them fresh garden produce.
No, the two women are not royalty, not officially anyway, and they don’t wear crowns. They’re best of friends and next-door neighbors Janel Kral and Marilyn Kreiling. For 31 years they have lived next door to each other near 2-1/2 Street and 9th Avenue in Sartell.
About 10 years ago, the two decided to take daily walks. After suppertime, the ladies set out for a leisurely walk that takes them around the two large ponds in their neighborhood. For up to an hour, they walk and talk, often sitting for rest periods on the bench swings next to the ponds. They love to chat with the neighbors who pass by and the kids who run to greet their favorite “ladies.”
Marilyn and her husband, Terry, (now both retired) hail from the Baxter area, near Brainerd. They owned a jewelry store there, then moved to central Minnesota where Marilyn worked at Herberger’s in St. Cloud and Terry worked for Hustad Homes.
“When we moved many, many years ago to this place in Sartell, there were cornstalks in the backyard, and we could sometimes hear cows mooing when our windows were open. It was mainly farmland then,” Marilyn said. “This city has grown so much since then.”
Her walks with Janel are relaxing breaks from busy days.
“On our walks, what do we talk about? Well, you name it,” she said, laughing. “We talk about our health – aches and pains. We talk about our children and grandchildren and about my great-grandchildren. We talk about our pets, our hobbies, and we talk and laugh about a lot of dumb stuff, like how so many piles of leaves can blow into Janel’s yard.”
As the weather gets colder, the two ladies’ walks become fewer.
“Our walking days get mighty slim this time of year,” Marilyn said.
It’s almost puzzle season again for Marilyn. One of her winter hobbies is doing jigsaw puzzles, lots and lots of them.
The Kreilings are parents of four children, five grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Raised near Buckman, Janel has worked as a docks receiver and in merchandising for 31 years at Macy’s department store in Crossroads Center in St. Cloud.
A tad younger than Marilyn, she has two daughters and five grandchildren.
“I so enjoy my walks with Marilyn,” she said, “and I enjoy the neighbors we see. They always wave and say hi. Such nice people live in and around that neighborhood. We love to see them on our walks.”
Many of the children call Janel “the rock lady.” For years, they have been thrilled by the painted rocks Janel leaves for children to find – mostly by or near the two ponds on their circular walking route.
“When I was laid off from work during the pandemic last year, I put (painted) rocks all around those ponds, knowing the little ones would find them. Later, many of the children, once they discovered who the rock-painter was, would run over to talk to “The Ladies” and tell them how much fun it is to find the rocks.
An arts-and-crafts hobbyist, Janel creates art, including painted rocks, for her special causes, and making greeting cards and paintings for schools, nursing homes and veterans’ groups, such as the Eagle’s Healing Nest in Sauk Centre.
Throughout the years, Janel has painted a virtual ton of rocks (perhaps more). She gets the rocks from expeditions to the Great Lakes (lakes Superior and Michigan). She has a campground base in Grand Marais on the North Shore, and that is where she began her rock-painting hobby.
The painted rocks range in size from about an inch wide to about five inches. Janel uses acrylic paint for her rocks, which comprise a vast variety of whimsical critters and designs: everything from baby jellyfish to unicorns and even a “pandemic rock” with a face mask painted on it.
Every summer, Janel’s grandchildren from Colorado come for a two-week visit. Every time, the kids can’t wait for Janel to bring out her collected rocks and her paints so they, too, can paint rocks.
Janel said the joy, happiness and love she puts into her arts and crafts is returned many times over.
“One of my grandkids – a Cub Scout in Colorado – started a gift drive for veterans. Twenty-eight Colorado families will send gift boxes for veterans to the Eagle’s Healing Nest in Sauk Centre.”
Marilyn and Janel, “The Ladies,” are already looking forward to more walks come next spring.
“We have a lot in common,” Janel said. “We’re both moms, grandmas, hard workers. We both love animals. Marilyn feeds the squirrels around here, and they are now eating pumpkin seeds.”
Said Marilyn: “When I first met Janel 31 years ago, we just clicked. I’ve known and sometimes babysat her two girls since they were just kids.”
To the neighbors by the two ponds, a sure sign of spring’s arrival, as sure as robins, is the sight of “The Ladies” walking, smiling and waving – and sometimes leaving painted rocks.