July 7, 2008
Blindness couldn’t derail dad's
plan to build a playhouse for his children
By Jane Brissett
Jillian, Eli and Gavin Beetcher thought their
dad was building something for a friend as he worked in the garage
early this spring.
What they didn’t know was that their father,
Ken Beetcher, who is blind, was building an outdoor playhouse for
them. He designed and built it. His wife, Malissa, helped assemble
it and roofed and painted the playhouse.
It wasn’t until Ken and Malissa were setting
up the trusses in the yard that Jillian, 7, caught on. “Is
that for us?” Ken recalled her asking. And the answer thrilled
Now the Beetcher kids’ playhouse is a magnet
for the children in their Gary neighborhood, which delights their
The little blue-gray house is close to the color
of the house in which the Beetchers live a few yards away. But the
houses are not identical. The frames of the plexiglass playhouse
windows are olive — a color 4-year-old Eli likes. Jillian
chose the interior yellow wall color and helped paint it. Other
portions of the interior are purple.
Ken always loved construction and went to Duluth
Technical College to study it before he lost his sight. He was born
blind with cataracts and glaucoma but had surgery as an infant to
restore his sight. He could see until he was 20, when he lost his
But he doesn’t let blindness stop him from
building. He’s made a child-sized picnic tablefor Jillian,
a computer table for Malissa and anumber of wishing wells for friends
— generally to cover holes from former water wells. He also
He uses power tools, including a table saw and
router, unassisted. If he needs help, he asks Malissa or a friend.
Ken said he worked on the playhouse without any adaptive tools except
a talking tape measure.
He noted jokingly that despite using power tools,
he has all 10 fingers — but when nailing the siding on the
playhouse, he hit himself with the hammer three times.
The project for the Beetcher children began when
Malissa spotted a playhouse at a home improvement store and remembered
the fun she had as a child, playing house in a small shed. “It
was nothing cute like this,” she said. Malissa decided their
kids should have their own little house and suggested it to Ken.
Building a house had been his dream from the time
he was a child.
It took him a while to come up with a plan, which
was modeled after a friend’s home. Although he couldn’t
see the friend’s house, Ken envisioned it by touching. “I
feel everything,” he said. And because he once had sight,
he is able to see just about anything in his mind.
The one-room playhouse, which is set on patio
blocks and nontoxic treated wood, has a 4-foot roof overhang in
front, creating a covered area supported by posts. Ken intends eventually
to build a child-sized deck there.
A knotty pine door opens to an interior equipped
with a toy stove, microwave, refrigerator, dishes and rug. The Beetcher
children enjoy opening the windows, which swing outward, to watch
what’s happening outside. One window is placed low on the
wall so 2-year-old Gavin can see out.
The entire project took 45 to 50 hours and cost
about $500, Ken said. Most of the material was bought on sale except
for the windows. Those he found at a rummage sale. The Beetchers
also saved money by doing the work themselves.
For people who aren’t prepared to design
and build playhouses from the ground up, kits are available at prices
from less than $50 for indoor play tents to $18,000 or more for
fancy houses with doorbells, skylights, lofts, simulated wooden
floors, stained glass windows, porches and other features. Many
kits are available on the Internet. Home Depot in Duluth can special-order
some outdoor playhouse kits.
Knowing that the kids are in and out of the playhouse
all day gives Ken plenty of satisfaction. But it also fulfills his
aspiration of constructing a house, albeit a small one.
“I got to build my dream,” he said.