Rustic Oaks fulfilled the Larson's lifelong dream...and then some!


There are so many special places in west central Minnesota that discovering new ones feels like running into an old friend.

Combine history, nature, the comforts of home and good old-fashioned hospitality and you have the recipe for Rustic Oaks, a country retreat center just south of Moorhead.

The Rustic Oaks farmstead settles into the shade of the Red River with 40 acres of ponds, wildflowers, gardens and nature. The original buildings – think late 1800s -  and additions from the early 1900s are painstakingly refurbished and upgraded. All without losing that vintage feel.

Owners Anne and Dave Larson are graduates of Concordia College in Moorhead. They grew up in the area and started dating their senior year in college – a fun “how we met” story for another time. After graduating they took jobs, Anne in the Twin Cities and Dave on the West Coast. But it wasn’t long before they realized midnight long-distance phone calls – later meant cheaper back then – wasn’t any way to stoke the coals of romance. Long story short, they tied the knot and made their way back to the Moorhead-Fargo area. “We moved to North Dakota (Fargo), but we couldn’t stand the winters so we came to Moorhead,” Dave smiles. Yes, Dave likes his humor.

Dave Larson tells the story of Rustic Oaks to Sheri Holm of West Central Initiative while Anne Larson looks on.

Dave Larson tells the story of Rustic Oaks to Sheri Holm of West Central Initiative while Anne Larson looks on.

About that same time Anne and Dave shared a dream: building a place to house programs that connected youth to nature. “We were both passionate in college about helping youth and it was always in the back of our minds (to create a youth retreat center),” Anne said. But the dream remained just that through raising three kids and taking on different jobs.

They moved closer to their dream in 2002 by purchasing a run-down old farmstead miles south of Moorhead. It was a piece of property steeped in history…and potential. Later, when their eldest son wanted to tie the knot on the property, everything changed. The dream was set in motion. Why?

Dave and Anne claim they finally resolved to build thanks to a simple, but challenging, question from their daughter. “She said we talked about having this retreat place our whole lives, so it was time to either put up or shut up!” Dave said.

It’s safe to say creating a amazing destination like Rustic Oaks is a never ending job and Dave, the humorist, acknowledges that. “We’ll be 428 years old when we retire,” he laughs.

The property has many stories and snippets are offered on a tour: navigating the flood plain, replacing old wood with old wood, saving a classic home set for demo. Attention to detail inside the homes and barn blends nicely with the manicured property. There’s no traffic sounds, but there is a constant songbird chorus.

Rustic Oaks continues to host youth retreats but it has morphed into a special place for events, mostly weddings, with coaxing from Emily Finley, their manager and super host. Rustic Oaks has entertained more than 500 weddings since 2009 and word is getting out; they are already booking weddings into 2020.

Anne and Dave appreciate the concept of Live Wide Open. When asked how Live Wide Open connects, Dave, the storyteller, reflects back on a lesson learned in college. “There was this gal in the dorm, a biology major, who had a ‘turtle club.’ She had me touch a turtle, and it pops back in its shell. Then slowly its head and neck emerges, then its legs, but if you touch it again that turtle pops back in its shell. It would literally starve because it feels vulnerable by sticking out its legs.

“It’s the same thing with Live Wide Open. You need to be willing to risk failure to go forth. Be a turtle.”

Anne’s take is more traditional. “Live Wide Open to me is living your dream. Do what you have to do and be passionate about it.”

(Editor’s Note: For photos, a virtual tour courtesy of Be More Colorful, and more information on Rustic Oaks, go to

Rick ScharaComment