The 'Haunted' show goes on
In second year of partnership, Haunted Shack and RuRidge Corn Maze are winning combination
October 25, 2019
Not many nonprofit organizations would boast about making people pee their pants.
Then again, the folks at the Haunted Shack are not your typical community volunteers - they're in the business of scaring people. If someone gets so frightened they lose control of their bladder, well, consider it mission accomplished.
But they're not monsters (although they may look that way with their makeup and costumes on).
"I do enjoy scaring people," said volunteer Jeremy Dixon, who lurks in the corn maze. "I don't like making kids cry, though."
Dixon is just one of dozens of volunteers who help make the Haunted Shack - and its added attractions, the Haunted Hayride and Haunted corn maze - the place to go in northern Minnesota for screams, scares and things that go bump in the night.
Although the Haunted Shack has been bumping around the Northland for 26 years, this October marks its second year at Ru-Ridge, a working farm along County Highway 1 between Carlton and Wrenshall.
It's the perfect partnership. The happy corn maze, pumpkin patch and petting zoo provide wholesome fun during the day, then the farm transforms into a ghoulish carnival-like atmosphere filled with screams and monsters when the sun goes down. When the cows got out last weekend, that added to the fun, said Haunted Shack mastermind Pat Stojevich.
Stojevich said this move (which followed previous moves from Morgan Park, Gary New Duluth and the Buffalo House) should be the last because they've actually made a new home at Ru-Ridge, and have a permanent building that doesn't have to be gutted and rebuilt every year. Proceeds from the Haunted Shack go to help multiple charities, chief among them Special Olympics - they singlehandedly fund the Area 3 Special Olympics competition in Lincoln Park.
Money also goes to the Kids for Coats Campaign, Chum food shelf, West Duluth Valley Youth Center and CHOICE, unlimited - and just about any nonprofit or school program that offers volunteers for the Haunted Shack.
Now if only he could round up more volunteers and a kidney, life would be grand, said Stojevich.
Scaring up a kidney
That's right. The longtime community volunteer and scaremaster found out late last fall that he has kidney disease and within a few short months he had to start dialysis.
"That put a damper on everything we needed to do up here," Stojevich said Sunday night, gesturing around the complex that is the Haunted Shack in October.
Dialysis is tough, he said, but once he started in late April, he began to feel normal again and get his energy back. He dropped 30 pounds worth of fluid within a month or so, and he's lost even more weight since then.
Still, his doctors at Mayo Clinic say his best hope for a normal life is a new kidney, so he's enrolled in the transplant program's paired kidney donation program.
According to mayoclinic.org, a kidney donor and recipient don't have to be compatible for a kidney transplant; rather, a paired donation is possible if the donor of each pair is compatible with the recipient of the other pair. This program provides a way for people to receive living-donor kidney transplants instead of being on the deceased-donor waiting list for several years.
Doctors scrutinize possible donors closely for any health issues, Stojevich said, explaining that he had a friend volunteer to donate a kidney if they could find a matched pair, but doctors said no to her offer. So he continues to look.
And he continues to work, albeit around five-hour shifts of dialysis, three days a week.
When he's not on dialysis, or working full-time at Bayside Recycling, Stojevich is making improvements at the Haunted Shack with his crew of friends, family and trusted volunteers.
They've added more tractors for the haunted hay ride this year, and changed the layout as well as ramping up the various horrifying scenes that one passes through on the hayride.
They redid the haunted corn maze, creating seven new scenes and a haunted tunnel in the middle that is definitely creepy.
And they've brought new details to five scenes inside the Haunted Shack, plus Dixon parked his Ghostbuster car outside the exit just in case.
Just then Stojevich's granddaughter, 4-old Eden, runs out of the Shack screaming, down the ramp past her grandfather.
He doesn't bat an eye.
"She loves it," he said. "She thinks all the monsters are her friends."
It takes a village
It's not something he could do alone, said Stojevich. It takes an army of volunteers.
While he currently has between 25-40 actors a night, a full crew would be closer to 70, he said.
Anyone who wants to volunteer for a night can just show up about an hour before showtime, any night they're open, he said. "We have actors ages 4 years old and up, although we prefer age 11 and up," Stojevich said.
That's exactly what Lacey Lekander, Lily Vanderpoel and Frenchy Klimek did. The three teenage girls were applying creepy clown makeup in one of the trailers, two of them for the second night in a row, one for the first time.
"It's so fun," Lekander said, revealing that she is stationed in the coffin room of the Haunted Shack. "It's why we came back."
Others have been with him for a long time, people such as actor coordinators Kris and Joe Dougherty, or Julie Schwarzkopf, who helps with ticketing and coordinating volunteers.
This year the first room in the Shack is dedicated to Julie's mom, a costume volunteer, who passed away. There are other former volunteers and family members remembered in the memorial room, which - of course - also contains a coffin.
"We hope they come back for the month of October to help us scare," said Stojevich with just a hint of a smile.
Find out more at hauntedshack.com or haunted-ridge.com.