Family History Pride

The Zollinger Home:?A Project Built With Love

Bunky and Cheryl Zollinger stand in the kitchen of the home they “built” together from reclaimed materials that were found on the property. The corrugated metal roofing used to cover the kitchen ceiling once covered the roof of an old barn. Photos by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

At a time when new, sleek, shiny and minimalist decor seems to be the in-thing, Bunky and Cheryl Zollinger prove that used, primitive and, yes, sometimes rusty, can be fun and beautiful.

One senses a subtle hint of history, shortly after entering their Randolph home, but that soon turns to shouts and then screams of local and family history. Every niche, corner and cranny holds something of great interest.

“My grandparents, Ernie and Jane Zollinger, bought the property with 182 acres in 1956 from Sam Gardner,” says Bunky Zollinger. “It had been owned by Charles Dow, who had a very large dairy farm prior to that. I have receipts for sale of Holstein dairy cattle dated 1914-20.”

The elder Zollingers transitioned from dairy to beef cattle, as they were looking to raise beef for their business, Lazy Gate Farms Inc., which was once located near the Y in downtown Randolph, where they not only sold their own beef, but butchered for others. A frozen locker business was provided at this location, where customers could store their frozen food. In time, Yorkshire pigs were added to the livestock raised on the farm, which were also butchered and sold at the plant. The couple’s three sons, Bob, Bud (Bunky’s father) and Jim Zollinger, worked at the business, as well.

The farmhouse was used to store corn on the cob for the animals until the floor collapsed from the weight.

Beams from the barn that dominated the property until the early ‘90s, now define the living room. A very dark, windowless enclosed staircase was opened, painted a bright color and the inner wall was paneled with boards from that same building.

“My dad remembers shoveling corn from the basement,” Bunky says.

The shell of the current house was all that was left from the original structure when a rebuild was done in the early 60s, allowing the owners to call it home. A large block building was built on the property in 1979 for the relocation of Lazy Gate Farms. In the years following, several family members inhabited the “new” house after Ernie and Jane, including their son, Jim, and family and later their oldest daughter Tina and her husband.

After Bunky and Cheryl took ownership in 2012, the grandson became the lone resident for the next two years, spending nights on the floor in a sleeping bag. The sound of water dripping on his first rainy night in the house alerted him about the need for a new roof. The home was completely gutted, walls were moved, the enclosed staircase was opened and the interior was rebuilt. An exterior door was removed and new windows were installed throughout the building.

For some time, the couple had been gathering items during their walks around the property and their explorations into the many out buildings in anticipation of taking possession of the property.

“One of the first items found, if not the first, was a Yorkshire pig sign found in a pile of rubble in the (grain) mixing shed,” says Zollinger.

Gardones and Nancy’s Italian Chocolate Cookies have been present for Cheryl Zollinger’s entire lifetime. Photo by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

“We had so much fun going through the barns. We had so many things collected and we did a lot of shopping, too,” adds his wife.

“We probably bought 15 percent and 85 percent is what we found here and what Cheryl had,” says Bunky about the rustic and primitive items that are used for functionality and to decorate the home.

“We’ve just had a blast,” Cheryl says.

When they found the corrugated metal roofing from the old barn, they knew it had to be part of the home’s interior. The husband collected the pieces and then cleaned them. They soon decided the wavy sheets of steel should cover the kitchen ceiling.

“My father asked, ‘what in the hell are you going to do with it?’ Later he decided it looked pretty nice but wasn’t sure while he was helping me put it up,” Bunky says with a smile.

This cabinet, built from boards that served as door and window casings from the original house, is found in the downstairs bathroom/laundry room. A yard hydrant was installed to deliver water to the bucket used for a sink. Photo by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

They found walnut kitchen cupboards at a salvage company in Rochester. Cheryl was able to achieve the desired look by layering paint and stain, after her husband had done much sanding. A massive wood cabinet with glass doors from Mr. Zollinger’s childhood home, stands adjacent to the cupboards. An antique cast iron porcelain coated farmhouse sink with a long drainboard, acquired at another salvage dealer, completes the work area.

The floorboards under Cheryl’s great-grandmother’s table, as well as boards that make up the upper counter top of the kitchen island, were found in weeds on the property. The lower counter top was made from rough-sawn white oak boards that were found in the mixing shed under layers of dust and dirt.

“After lots of sanding and seven coats of varnish, this is what we’ve got,” says Zollinger.

Old fence posts with porcelain insulators still attached support the island’s overhang. Near the door, another fence post with three hooks attached, serves as a place to hang coats. A long, low table with a thick plank top and legs made from pipes, found in the basement has been placed under a pass-through opening.

A block and tackle, once used to pull skids of hay from the barn, hangs in a nearby corner. On a wall across the room is a vintage Eastern sign, a company his dad had been employed with years before, purchased on one of the Rochester trips.

“When he saw the sign, he had a big smile,” Bunky says.

The rustic theme carries into the laundry/bathroom beginning with the door, which came from the farm’s old stock trailer hung by Ernie Zollinger-created brackets. More hand-sanded and stained floor boards are found inside. Door and window casings from the old house line the ceiling with the same materials used in the construction of the sink cabinet. A yard hydrant delivers water to a galvanized bucket, which serves as a sink. A hand towel hangs from a ring that was once used to tie animals in the barn. Minnow traps filter light coming from two hanging light bulbs.

In a corner outside the bathroom stands a tall wooden step-ladder found in the basement, which serves as shelving for more family treasures, including two of Cheryl’s grandmother’s cookbooks and two hay hooks.

“I had many a blister on my hands from using this,” Zollinger states as he handles one of the hooks.

Beams from the old barn, taken down in the early ’90s, define the living room, located at the opposite end of the lower floor. All moldings were sawed from the barn’s floor joists. Zollinger’s maternal grandfather’s wooden toolbox sits in front of the barnboard-paneled wall beneath the open staircase.

Contents spilling out of the open box consist of more of the couples “finds,” including a large spool of baler twine and tongs made by Ernie for lifting railroad ties left on the property after the railroad replaced them. Above the toolbox hangs half of an old keg that was used to hold grain for the livestock and is now used as a planter.

The bracket from which it hangs was another of the grandfather’s creations and was recently found by his grandson.

Another Ernie Zollinger creation, which resembles a small iron gate that once served as a section of a pigpen, hangs on the wall across from the bottom of the staircase and now serves as an anchor for family pictures. Beneath this stands a two-part pulley system. An oak secretary that came from Cheryl’s grandmother’s home stands beside it.

“There used to be a curtain covering the shelves. I used to keep my crayons and puzzles on the top shelf,” says Cheryl. “That was my spot and I still have the crayons and puzzles.”

Across the room a weathered “Posted” sign hangs above the barnboard trimmed gas fireplace. A wood-framed dolly with curved iron bars, that once moved barrels of grain, now rests under a living room window. A uniquely shaped, handled container spilling berry-covered branches, which was originally used to pour scalding water over pig skins as part of the hair removal process, hangs nearby.

Because the couple couldn’t picture an ordinary handrail hanging on the wall leading to the second floor, they hung a thick rope used in the past when showing cattle at the county fair. It was hung by handcrafted hooks made by the grandfather.

“We are never in a hurry to put something up just to use it,” Bunky says.

An abundance of light comes through the windows of the wide hallway at the top of the stairs. A comfortable, overstuffed, upholstered chair with ottoman makes it the perfect spot for reading. A small lamp sits on a wooden crate that has been stacked on an old ammo box beside the chair. Ten journals belonging to Cherly’s beloved paternal grandmother, Nancy Heath, started in 1929 when she was 19 years old, stand in the open crate.

“She was my world,” says her granddaughter who has hung Mrs. Heath’s oval-framed wedding certificate with picture of the bride and groom, near her bed in the master bedroom at the top of the stairs. Her grandmother’s baby picture hangs nearby. Across the room, the revered woman’s rocking chair sits near the bedroom’s spa tub.

Three more bedrooms, continue in a row down the long hall. One is decorated with a feminine decor while the others have favorite football team colors and logos. A large, well-organized walk-in closet is around the corner at the end of the hall.

The project brought out skills the City of Olean firefighter didn’t realize he possessed. Two projects remain on the inside of the home; the refinishing of the original oak floors on the bottom floor and replacement of the entrance door.

“The plan was to get this done the way we wanted and then to start the outside deck, siding and re-do the porch,” Bunky states. “What’s fun is I don’t ever think we’ll sit back and say it’s done. It’s an ongoing process and it’s a heck of a lot of fun.”

The couple has five children, four boys, Chris, Andrew, Reed and Caiden and one daughter, Caleigh. Zollinger is the son of Bud and Bonnie Zollinger of Randolph.

Cheryl Zollinger offers two family recipes.

“The Gardones recipe is my father, Richard Heath’s, recipe,” Mrs. Zollinger says. “My whole family loves them.”

The recipe she uses for Nancy’s Italian Chocolate Cookies is written on an index card in her grandmother’s handwriting.


Burdock (young, tender stocks)


2-3 T oil

2-3 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 c flour

1 heaping T baking powder

2 c parmesan cheese

5-7 eggs

Remove strings from burdock stalks. Wash three times to clean thoroughly. Cut into 1/2-2-inch pieces. Bring water to a boil. Add prepared burdock, oil and garlic to water and cook for 45 minutes. Drain. Use hands to squeeze out excess water. Set aside. In separate bowl, add eggs, flour, baking soda and cheese. Add burdock and stir until thick. Add more flour, if necessary. More cheese may be added. In non-stick pan, heat 1-2 T oil until hot. Scoop mixture with spoon to make patty. Fry until firm enough to flip over. Cook until brown on both sides.

Nancy’s Italian Chocolate Cookies

1 c sugar

3/4 c shortening

1 tsp vanilla

3 1/2 c flour

1 1/2 tsp soda

1/2 c cocoa

1/2 tsp cloves

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 c milk

Raisins or chopped nuts, optional

Cream sugar and shortening in a large bowl. Combine dry ingredients, sift and mix alternately with milk. Form dough into walnut-size balls. Bake on greased sheet for 15 minutes in 350 degree oven. Frost warm cookies with powdered sugar icing.