Rebuilding cabin helps man with Alzheimer's remember

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. —A Jackson resident fighting Alzheimer's may be losing control of his memory, but he's holding on tight to what he knows and loves.

Bill Beussink, 84, a former bricklayer who built houses on the side, is helping his son-in-law, Earl Bennett, finish restoring a cabin built from 100-year-old oak logs. Beussink and his family discovered the logs about 20 years ago on the property of his grandfather, Henry Arnzen, while tearing down his termite-infested home.

Beussink said none of his family knew the log cabin, built in 1902, had been covered up when Arnzen built a new home in 1917.

"When they discovered the logs, me and my brother got in there, got a beat-up trailer and hauled the logs to a vacant building,'' Beussink said. "There's nothing hard about it; it's all fun for me. But I was 20 years younger then.''

Until this summer, the logs have been stored in a workshop belonging to Beussink's uncle near Leopold, Mo. A company in Jackson finished putting up the logs this month.

Beussink and his son-in-law will now turn to completing the exterior — putting up walls, chinking the logs together and erecting trusses to install a new roof.

With cooperative weather, Earl Bennett said, the cabin could be complete within five weeks. If it gets too cold, chinking — filling the gap between the logs — becomes nearly impossible, he said, so completion would be moved to the spring. The pair is considering hiring a professional to complete the chinking.

In its original state, the log cabin could fit two families, as the home was built with a middle wall that formed two rooms. It had no windows, just small openings to look out of, and minimal amenities.

During the restoration project, Beussink and Earl Bennett hope to install electricity and keep the cabin spacious, with only one room.

"My vote is for an indoor toilet,'' said Beussink's daughter, Kim Bennett.

With or without the toilet, the cabin could become a home for Beussink's collection of antiques that are stored in the Bennetts' garage. It includes a Gibson steel guitar from the 1950s, a bass fiddle made in Germany, a coat worn by country-music star Tammy Wynette and a meteorite said to have dropped in Cape Girardeau centuries ago.

Although the family is finalizing plans for the cabin, Kim Bennett said they need to tackle it together as long as Beussink can be a part of it. His Alzheimer's began to surface about five years ago and has gotten worse.

The disease, which has also affected his mother, brother and sister, has stolen Beussink's short-term memory.

"The long-term memory is good. He can remember from years and years ago,'' Kim said. "He's been conferring with my husband on how they're going to do the trusses, the overhang, he can tell you exactly how to do things.''

When he pauses from his contractor duties, Beussink continues to indulge his love for music. Every Saturday his country and bluegrass band plays at the Ozark Opry on the Bennetts' property.

"It's good therapy for him,'' Kim Bennett said.

The family began hosting area residents for the music sessions three years ago when Beussink moved to Jackson from Tennessee. At that time, Kim Bennett said, it was just family. Now, anywhere from 25 to 40 people attend the free event.

"When you play copyrighted music, you don't charge. It'll get you in trouble, so we just take a freewill offering,'' Beussink said.