CONWAY, N.D. — As a boy growing up in Conway, Dale Pecka imagined would it be like to live in the church across the street. Now his daughter Gabrielle knows exactly how it feels. “Sweet,” she tells a visitor as a broad grin spreads across her face.

With spacious bedrooms, a kitchen and a game room equipped with air hockey, foosball and pool tables, the basement is an ideal place for Gabrielle and her brother Mackenzie to hang out with their friends.

Stairs at either end of the game room lead upstairs to the main living area of the Pecka children and their parents. Dale Pecka’s childhood dream became a reality in 2005 when the Fargo Diocese gave approval for him and his wife Melanie to buy the former St. Mark’s Catholic Church. The Peckas, who were living on the opposite side of Conway, bought the church in February and moved in shortly after that.

Preservation

One of the main reasons the Peckas wanted to buy the church built in 1937 is because they wanted to preserve it. Parishioners had been diligent about church upkeep, periodically remodeling it and had shingled it just the year before the diocese made the decision to close it.

“This was something we could not see being destroyed or abandoned,” Melanie said as she stood on the former altar of the church — now the Pecka’s kitchen — and gazed out at the great room.

“When I first saw it, I said, “What are going to do with all of that space?'” Melanie said. But when she started decorating, it filled up quickly. Meanwhile, the Peckas discovered that they like living in a home without a lot of walls.

“We like the open floor plan,” Melanie said.

The 1,600-foot great room, formerly the church sanctuary, is grouped into living areas, so while spacious, doesn’t feel like a cavern. The total upstairs living area is 4,000 square feet. Combined with the basement, the Pecka’s home is 8,500 square feet heated with a corn furnace.

Visitors who enter the great room often comment that it, alone, is bigger than their entire house, Melanie said. Yet, the Peckas have made the room inviting and warm.

On both sides of the great room are a set of sofa and chairs. An entertainment center with a large-screen television and a fireplace are part of the furniture grouping on the right. At the far end of the great room, near the kitchen, Melanie has placed family antiques. On one side is a hutch and on the other is a crib.

The Pecka’s kitchen, a few steps up from the great room, is a mixture of old and new. The couple used some of the cabinets that once were in the basement kitchen, but have a new stainless steel refrigerator and oven. Dale also built a ceramic-covered center island in the kitchen.

On the right side of the kitchen where the church once gathered is the Peckas’ dining area with a table and chairs. On the left side, in the room where the sacristy used to be is a guest bedroom.

Creativity

The Peckas have managed to find a new use for all of the rooms in the former church. For example, the former confessional at the far end of the great room near the kitchen is a pantry, complete with a light. The master bedroom, meanwhile, off of the entryway at the other end of the great room was the viewing room for funerals.

A stairs leads from the entryway to the former choir room that still houses the church organ, but otherwise has been converted into a computer room. The room offers a panoramic view of the airy living area below.

The Peckas did most of the remodeling in the house, working on evenings and weekends. They used more than 100 gallons of paint and covered the 16-foot ceiling by using scaffolding which Melanie wheeled from spot to spot while Dale spray painted. Dale’s latest project is adding on a breezeway and garage. “We think we’re done and we always find something different (to do),” Melanie said.