What is the most common name of a lake in Itasca County? If you guessed Bass Lake, you are correct. If you guessed Spring Lake, you are also correct. They are tied for first place with nine lakes each. The smallest Bass Lake is 18 acres, and the largest is 2,713.
Sunset Point Resort has been owned by the Schumacher family for 52 years. It is one of a dozen resorts that have surrounded the largest Bass Lake, about two miles north of Cohasset, since the early 1920s. Presently there are five resorts, and this is the second one featured in my series “Resorts with a History.” The other is Wildwood Lodge. [9-22-2019 Grand Rapids Herald-Review]
Rockels 1930-mid 1940s
Emil Otto Rockel was born in 1886 in Minneapolis shortly after his parents immigrated from Germany to Minnesota. He married Ethel Hamlin in 1908, and somehow the couple became acquainted with the Jellison family of Bass Lake. When the Rockels hunting and fishing trips north became more frequent, they decided to purchase some land near their friends. They purchased the land that is now Sunset Point in the late 1920s. The two parcels had originally been homesteaded by lumbermen W.W. Hale and John Martin.
It is believed that before the Rockels bought the property, a house, a barn, and a bunkhouse for hired help had been constructed. It was an industrious farm which at various times had produced potatoes, grains, hay, and Christmas trees. Emil put up a house and had one or two cabins available for the 1930 summer season. The following spring, the resort is listed in a Grand Rapids Directory as having housekeeping cabins and a campground. Sunset Point was also highlighted in an article about Bass Lake resorts in the Grand Rapids Herald-Review along with four others – Baker’s Shady Nook, Camp Kerr, Whispering Pines, and Wildwood Lodge.
“Sunset Point is one of the newer resorts of the county but is rapidly gaining a reputation as a pleasant place for an outing. E.O. Rockel is the owner and manager, and he has done a great deal of work since acquiring this place some two or three years ago. Timber has been cut out, brush cut and burned, cottages erected and furnished, the beach improved, and changes made to the road leading to the resort. This has taken time and cost money, but results are now apparent. This resort is just a short distance away from the shoal where the famous big blue gills averaging a pound each, are caught.”
An advertisement from 1932 states the following about Sunset Point. “6 housekeeping cabins with ice, bedding linen, silver, boat, heat, and oil at $5 a day, $22 a week, $60 a month. Guides, $5 a day. Season, May 15th to December 15th.”
The documentation is vague, but it is believed that a man by the name of Russ Haberkorn, from Minneapolis, either owned or managed the resort in 1945-1946.
Kurt Fisher was born in Germany as was his wife, Louise. They both immigrated in 1926, but I do not know if they knew each other before they arrived in the United States. Kurt and Louise married in 1929 and according to the 1930 and 1940 United States Census they were living in Cincinnati, Ohio where Kurt was employed as a machinist.
The Fishers might have been guests at Sunset Point or other resorts in the area, or perhaps they saw an advertisement that the property was for sale. They bought the resort from Haberkorn (or Rockel) in about 1947. It was during this time that the Fuller Fishing Contest, which had started in Grand Rapids in 1930, was in full swing. A wall in the resort garage was once covered with completed entry forms from this time.
The contest sponsored by Fuller’s Tackle Shop, annually published Fuller’s Blue Book, in which they registered
fish weight. Resorts and local businesses contributed money for prizes and advertising. They also served as weigh stations, and the details were documented and displayed on a poster board form. Each entry noted the type of fish, its official weight, where it was caught, bait used, who caught it, their home address, the resort where they were staying, the date caught, and any local guide’s name.
Bass Lake is known for large bluegills, sometimes referred to as dinner plate bluegills. One of the entries from the late 1940s that is still posted at the resort is for a two-pound, 9 oz. bluegill caught by a man from Creve Coeur, IL, using worms for bait.
The Fishers described the 14 cottages in their brochure. “They are completely modern with hot and cold running water, inside flush toilets, and some units with private showers. Central showers for cottages without shower facilities. Each cottage has an apartment size gas stove with oven for cooking, gas heat, electric refrigerators, good innerspring mattresses, blankets, and linens. Everything is furnished except towels. The cottage porches are glassed in. Rates: 1 bedroom $45/week; 2 bedroom $65; 3 bedroom $90-$100; rollaway $5.”
Jean Graul, started coming to Sunset Point Resort from Indiana in 1960 when she was eight. “My father’s sister had been to Wildwood and recommended it, but when we were ready for our vacation, they had no openings there. We got a cabin at Sunset and just kept coming back!” Jean remembers the Fishers as strict, but kind. “Mr. Fisher made sure there were plenty of large inner tubes for us to play on. Mrs. Fisher had a big garden and for the weekly potluck that the resort offered, she served fresh produce and homemade wiener schnitzel.”
Schumacher Family ~ 1969-present
Wayne Schumacher lived on Bass Lake from the age six. In 1937 his family moved to the paternal grandfather’s dairy farm on the west side of the lake. Wayne grew up fishing, hunting, trapping, and harvesting wild rice. He loved everything the lake had to offer and couldn’t imagine living very far from it. In 1969, when Wayne learned that the Fishers wanted to sell their resort, he and his wife Katy figured out a way to make it happen. The young couple moved into the old farmhouse with sons Dale and Dave, and six-year-old daughter Gayle.
The original cabins built by Rockel were one room. The Fishers added the enclosed porches and bedrooms. “My dad added on showers,” Gayle (Schumacher) Anderson explained. “He also combined two cabins so we have one with four bedrooms. All of the cabins are sided with shiplap and painted white with red trim. ‘Just the way they are supposed to be,’ many of our guests have said.”
Wayne enjoyed entertaining the kids with his Donald Duck impression and spending time with guests. He was the fishing guide, fishhook remover, fish deboner, and fish fryer extraordinaire of Sunset Point for forty-two years. After his wife Katy died, Wayne met and married Dianna. Though catering to guests was a new experience, she adjusted to the resort life and assisted Wayne until his death in 2011.
He wanted everyone’s fishing experience to be memorable. Dianna explained, “We took people out and he’d teach beginners how to fish, how to put the bait on, how to catch them, and how to clean and debone them. Wayne loved to visit with guests and spent a lot of time helping them in the fish house.”
“My dad knew how to take the bones out of every kind of fish in this lake,” Gayle said. “No matter what guests caught (including bullheads and the occasional dogfish), Dad prepared them at the weekly fish fry. He encouraged guests to try fish they were not familiar with. One of the ways he encouraged guests to try northern pike was as pickled fish. He shared his pickled fish recipe with many guests over the years.”
A July 2021 guest reflected on the many years his life overlapped with Wayne’s. “He had a passion for the outdoors and was very much an environmentalist. He incorporated stories about nature in everyday conversation, and he included the beauty of the woods in his prayers.” Gayle added, “a guest said to me recently, ‘you know if I were to list the five people in my life that I am glad to have met, your dad would be one of them. He forgot more than I know!’”
Like her father, Gayle loved growing up on the lake. “I got out of my pajamas and into my swimsuit and at the end of the day back into my pajamas.” When she was a kid, she got to be a kid. “At night the resort kids and I would fish for bullheads at the end of the dock. We’d lay on our bellies, let the worm drop to the bottom, no bobber, and just pull them up. In the morning Dad would ask, ‘How many fish do I have to clean today?’ I spent time with the resort kids during the day, too. We loved those big inner tubes and had so much fun on them, though they were only to be used on the grounds, never in the water.” But she spent plenty of time in the water – swimming and boating.
As she got older Gayle helped clean cabins, boats and maintain the grounds. “We always washed the rugs with the wringer washer and still do today.” Gayle and her kids Jake and Katie spent part of every summer at the resort. Gayle returned to the resort when her dad became ill and manages it now with help from family and friends who also have rich histories with the resort. Her husband David, who is a pastor at St. Andrews Lutheran Church assists as needed and when he can.
Sunset Point has always been a seasonal resort which works well for Gayle as she is an RN for the Invest Early Project and has reduced hours in the summer. “I love the resort,” Gayle said. “It’s not a business, it’s a family reunion! We have guests, like Jean’s family that have been coming for more than sixty years and bringing several generations with them.” Gayle grew up with some of the guests who were at the resort when I visited, and who remembered catching bullheads with her at night.
A tradition started by the Fishers, or maybe even earlier, is the potluck. “Every Wednesday we provide beverages, and we fry the fish, that guests bring to us.” Guest also bring a dish to share, and some of those dishes have become summer favorites. “There’s a taco salad that must come one week, a wild rice hotdish another, and a sour cream raisin pie another. Jean’s family always brings a delicious custard pie.”
Most families have their own traditions, starting with their preferred time slot and preferred cabin. Fishing contests among or between families are always a favorite, especially when it isn’t just about how many or how big, but how many different species can we catch and release in a given period of time. “Some family traditions start when they leave and begin their countdown of the number of days until they come here again!”
“Everybody gets excited when they hit the dirt road to the resort.” The windows are rolled down as the car slowly drives the last ½ mile under the poplar and sugar maple canopy. Around the last corner is the resort. The doors fly open, and the Sunset Point memories begin again.
Note: The previously published Wildwood Lodge article will be on the blog chrismarcottewrites.com on Sunday August 8.