LIFE IN EASTERN IOWA

Welcome to the man cave: Transforming a mother-in-law suite into a space worthy of Thor

A collection of superhero figures and vintage posters is displayed at the home of Glenn & Clara Rushworth in  Shellsburg
A collection of superhero figures and vintage posters is displayed at the home of Glenn & Clara Rushworth in Shellsburg on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. Glenn is able to view multiple games at one time using several screens in his basement “man cave.” (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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Glenn Rushworth is the proud owner of a man cave that reflects his favorite things in life.

Creating his personal space, though, began not with a desire for large recliners and big-screen TVs, but with a broken furnace in the basement.

“What started it all was, the house was designed with what they call a mother-in-law suite, so it kind of had two of everything, two furnaces, another kitchen down here and everything,” Rushworth said. “One of the furnaces went belly-up. We had Colony (Heating) come out, and the ventilation system was all screwed up.”

The Rushworths, who moved into their Shellsburg home west of Cedar Rapids in 2009, were told they needed to take down the entire ceiling and put in new ductwork throughout the house. Once the ceiling was exposed, Rushworth, 62, his wife, Clara, 64, and her brother-in-law, Dave Yanik, began talking possibilities.

“It was such an iterative process,” Rushworth said. “We didn’t start with one design. We were kind of like, well, what about this, what about that. … It took us a long time to figure out exactly how we wanted to tweak it.”

The Rushworths, who are both retired from the Duane Arnold Energy Center in Palo, worked on the basement remodel from June to October 2018. Yanik and his wife, Nancy, who live in Ohio, drove over to help, staying up to a month sometimes.

The new man cave is filled with Rushworth’s favorite things: items that pay homage to the Apollo space program, Marvel’s Thor character — “Thor’s my dude” — the Miami Dolphins and the U.S. Navy, where Rushworth proudly served for nine years..

Throughout the space, you’ll find touches reflecting those interests — an entertainment center with knobs in the shape of Thor’s hammer; a clock from a submarine and a Navy battle lantern hanging on the wall; tickets from a Dolphins game; framed Thor comic books and an autographed movie poster from “Thor: Ragnarok;” and a Navy light shade hanging over the pool table.

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A friend, Megan Zopf, painted a portrait of Rushworth in his Navy uniform in front of the USS Daniel Webster, the submarine where he served.

The model of the Saturn V rocket was built with 1,969 LEGO pieces — 1969 being the year the Saturn V launched the Apollo 11 crew into space on their way to the first moon landing.

Coffered wood ceilings hold recessed lighting. Several columns and walls are faced with quartz stone bought in blocks from Menards.

On one display table, Rushworth keeps a Russian submarine captain’s watch. He traded a U.S. submarine hat for it when a Russian delegation visited the Duane Arnold nuclear plant.

“So I thought, I got a Russian submarine watch, this is the greatest thing ever!” he said. “It broke in two days.”

Two leather chairs with built-in bluetooth speakers face the largest of three TVs in the room, a 77-inch OLED TV with surround sound.

“I was gonna have only one chair down here,” he said. “Clara said, ‘But how come you’re only gonna have one chair?’ I said, ‘It’s a man cave, not a men cave.’ She said, ‘Well, I might want to come down.’ So I had to break down and get two.”

The bar, which reused some of the plumbing from what used to be the home’s kitchen, was modeled after one of the couple’s favorite hangouts — the Westside Lounge in northwest Cedar Rapids.

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“The bar is kind of small, intimate,” Rushworth said. “What was great about it is Bob Stark, the owner, opens at 6 in the morning, and there’s a lot of workers that go from Quaker, General Mills and from Duane Arnold, who would stop there and have a beer.”

Three TVs are mounted on the walls, so Rushworth doesn’t miss any action during football season.

“The whole idea is so that you can have multiple games on,” he said. “I watch ‘Sunday Ticket,’ and if you’re an NFL fan, you’re just immersed in it. I’ve got a game here, a game there, and on that TV over there, I’ve got four games (on a splitscreen).”

The dartboard and pool table came Cedar Rapids Billiards. To add a personal touch, the ball markers on the table are dimes Rushworth ordered that were minted in significant years in the Rushworths’ lives, including the year they married, the year Clara’s dad was born and the year he died.

While the décor is customized, the remodel itself could easily handle changes.

“The infrastructure is built so that if I were to move and took all this stuff off the walls, somebody could come down here and turn this into a room that they could make their own. It would be really easy,” Rushworth said. “There’s nothing so customizable down here that you’d be like, oh, boy, we’d have to tear it all the way down.”

The Rushworths sometimes have friends over, but “we’re not big partyers,” Rushworth said. “It’s just the way I am. I’m happiest when I’m with myself or with my wife.”

While his wife spends a couple of hours a week in the man cave, it’s Rushworth’s space and the place he feels most at home.

“It feels like me, you know? This is me.”

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