It all started with $8,000, an inheritance Margie Gerlach received in 2003 when her mother passed away. Though not an exceptionally large sum of money, Margie and her husband Bruce decided to take a risk and try to build something out of it. They had never known anything besides living within each paycheck, so this was a new experience for them.
“We were looking for a little piece of land to put a log house on,” said Margie. Then they stumbled upon a 40-acre plot of land near Branson, Missouri, and a lightbulb went on. The vision was created, even though the land was “far bigger than we thought two teachers could ever buy.”
The only house on the property at the time was falling apart, with rats everywhere and water supplied through a garden hose. But it didn’t stop the Gerlachs.
“We proceeded to work like we have never worked before in our lives,” said Margie.
They fixed up the house and started building a new log cabin. The plan was to move to the log cabin as soon as it was done and begin renting out the current house. But the cabin wasn’t close to being done in time, and they had already scheduled rentals for the existing house.
They moved anyway, setting up a mattress on logs in the basement of the unfinished cabin. To get to the bathroom, they had to climb a ladder out of the basement (the stairs weren’t finished yet). “The cleaning closet under the stairway was my office,” said Margie.
It was a tough few months, but they kept pushing forward. Margie would often tell her students, “If you really want to get ahead, you work hard and sacrifice things.” Here was a chance to live out that philosophy.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck in 2006. A fire on the property destroyed The Hiding Place, one of their houses, and most of their belongings.
Instead of letting it set them back, the Gerlachs used the fire as an opportunity for a new beginning. Covered in gnats, sweat, and soot, they cut twelve large pine trees that had been burned by the fire into timber and began to rebuild The Hiding Place.
They continued building other houses and have four available for rental today as part of their Tall Pines Vacation Rentals business: The Sanctuary, Woodsong Cottage, The Refuge, and The Hiding Place. They will soon be building a new house so that they can open up the one they currently live in (with 6 bedrooms) for large family rentals.
Tall Pines has an average of 75% occupancy throughout the year, a remarkably high rate compared to other vacation homes in the area.
“Once you unlock that mindset of ‘we can do this’ then all things become possible,” said Margie. She has been amazed by all that has happened, and she tries to teach her 7th and 8th grade students what she has learned along the way.
She encourages students to read books about managing money wisely, taking risks, and becoming entrepreneurs. When one student said she planned to drop out of school, Margie encouraged her to think about the problems with her decision.
“Either you are going to control money,” she tells her students, “or money is going to control you.” She is able to relate her experience from the Tall Pines business into valuable life lessons.
There are challenges to be sure – paying cleaning fees and electricity costs, finding good contractors, and managing the rental schedule after getting home from teaching during the day is no easy task.
But the Gerlachs never give up. “It’s all about making it grow,” said Margie.