Itasca County Resorts with a History: Georgene’s Haven

5.8.2022

This is the twentieth Resorts with a History column I have done since I began them in 2017. All the resorts featured started early in Itasca County’s tourist industry and are still in business today. Georgene’s Haven on Bowstring Lake has the unique distinction of being owned and managed by George and Jean Thom for fifty-four years!

Dr. George Fredrick & Esther Hawes 1932-1946

This little piece of paradise was first referred to as a resort in the mid-1930s when Dr. George Fredrick and Esther Hawes bought four hundred feet of lakeshore on Bowstring Lake from Maley and Rose Johnston. Hawes had served as an Army surgeon in France during WWI and resumed his medical practice in Omaha, Nebraska, until he began looking toward retirement. It is not known if Hawes had learned of Itasca County fishing lakes from a buddy in the army or a patient, but it didn’t take much to convince him and Esther it was where they wanted to spend the rest of their years.

In 1933 they began the construction of their log home and a guest cabin for their friends. The following year Hawes re-enlisted and spent three years at a Medical Corps Field Hospital in Pennington, North Dakota. Of course, he was at Bowstring Lake as often as his schedule permitted. By 1936, Hawes added a second guest cabin and named their place “OmaHawes Cabins.”

The 1940 United States Census lists George Hawes occupation as proprietor of a summer resort. Others having summer resorts on the same census sheet are Rose Johnston, Olaus Coffman, Keith and Amy Scott, and Rose Williams. The Hawes lived in their log home until their deaths in the late 1960s. They are interred at the Pine Ridge Cemetery, Deer River. The house is still owned by a private party.

In-between Years 1946-1967

OmaHawes Cabins stayed under that name through two more owners, and sometime after 1958 was renamed Skoog’s Cabins.

In 1946, the Hawes sold the property to the west of their home, along with the two guest cabins and an icehouse to Charles Perry and his wife from Hammond, Indiana. George and Esther continued to live in their home on the lake. The Perry’s referred to the first two cabins as #1 and #2. They remodeled the old icehouse for their living quarters and a small store. They also built cabin #3, invested in a deep freezer so guests could take part of their catch home, and continued to call the resort OmaHawes Cabins.

The Perry’s sold the resort to Elmer Robbins and his wife in 1951. The Robbins owned the resort for only two years and did not make any changes.

Oscar and Isobel Skoog were owners for more than thirteen years and eventually renamed it Skoog’s Cabins. They updated and winterized the living quarters (former icehouse), built cabin #4, and purchased a sixteen-foot alumacraft boat for each cabin. In the late 1950s the Skoogs bought an additional five hundred feet of lakeshore which included a house and garage. The Skoogs built cabins #5 and #6. They also renovated the additional property (built in 1942) as cabin #7.

In the early 1960s, the Skoogs built a two-bedroom house on the sloping hill overlooking the lake. The home that had been previously occupied by the owners (the icehouse) became the final cabin, #8. At that time the Skoogs modernized all eight cabins with gas heaters, gas water heaters, showers, etc. They also purchased additional fishing boats. Adjacent land came up for sale in 1965, so the Skoogs purchased another one hundred feet of lakeshore. Two years later, they sold the resort to the Thom family.

Thoms & Georgene’s Haven 1967-

Bernett and Thelma, along with their son George, his fiancée Jean, and her young son, had no trouble selecting Skoog’s Cabins as the perfect resort for them. Bernett wanted to do something besides farming for the last years of his life, so he and Thelma moved from Jamestown, North Dakota before the start of the summer season in 1967. They loved the size of the resort and didn’t plan on adding cabins.

George and Jean married in 1968 and worked side by side with George’s folks as their summer schedules allowed. George was a teacher and Jean a registered nurse. “When Dad died in 1972, we took over,” George said. “My mother was a nurse, like Jeanie, so she moved to Grand Rapids to be closer to work, and we settled into the house here. That’s also when we decided on the name, Georgene’s Haven.”

The name was distinct from the other thirteen resorts that were on Bowstring Lake about the time the Thom’s purchased it. There are now only four (others are Trails End, Northern Acres and Bowstring Shores). “Owning a resort is a tremendous amount of work,” Jean said. She smiled, “but a great place to raise our three kids. They all had a hand in cleaning cabins, lawn care, boat maintenance and selling bait.” George and Jean, both in their eighties, have help with all of the above now, but they aren’t ready to give up the resort life.

During their ownership, they have learned to be a Jack (and Jill) of all trades. The first septic systems, they put in by hand. After hearing Jean recount the experience, I would say that was a true test to their marriage commitment! Cabin #2, one of the oldest, was taken down early in their ownership. The other seven are all the original cabins (built between 1933 and 1960). Of course, have been renovated and updated as necessary to meet the needs of the families.

Raising their children while running a resort and working took a tremendous amount of cooperation and patience. Their children. Ronald, Rebecca, and Ryan attended school at Spring Lake and/or the Deer River High School. George worked at Blandin Wood Products (Blandex), which later became Potlach for 30 years, retiring in 2003.

Thirty years ago, Jean chose to continue her education and was accepted into the medical program at UND in Grand Forks, North Dakota. She obtained both her nurse practitioner and physician assistant certifications. Most of her practice was at Grand Itasca Clinic and Hospital. Her last three years were at Essentia Health in Deer River, where she retired at eighty years of age.

In the 1970s the Thoms added a swimming pool and game room. Later they established four campsites. Most recently they put up a large building with bathrooms and plenty of storage. They are proud of their resort. “We own Georgene’s Haven, we don’t owe it,” Jean said.

Over the fifty plus years, their guests have come from Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, southern Minnesota, the Twin Cities, and Duluth. And, they return year after year. Even through the two Covid summers their numbers were good because guests could maintain their distance. As with so many of the resorts that I have written about, resort loyalty is generational. And of course, each family has its preferred cabin.

Lee Kruger and his brother Mark have been coming to Bowstring Lake with their father, Bruce, and grandfather, Roland for as long as they can remember. Lee said, “My dad’s paternal grandmother was related to the Spierings who owned Snug Harbor, so that’s where they first went. When Spierings sold it, we just slid over to Georgene’s. I was six years old in 1977, our first year there. And except for a time or two I’ve been there every year since.”

One of the many memories Lee recalled about the early years was that it would take a long time to get to the fishing spot from the resort in the boats with a 9 hp outboard motor. He liked to curl up in the bow and take a nap to the lull of the engine and lapping of the water.

“We must have stayed in cabin #2 for many, many years,” Lee said. “My grandfather wanted to stay there because it was closest to the dock (and only forty feet from the lake). He loved watching the boats come in as he wanted to see what others had caught. He reluctantly moved to a bigger cabin as the family grew. Our family has been coming to Georgene’s for five generations now and we need two cabins!  We always have a fish fry on Saturday night with an open invitation for George and Jean to come.”

Another long time and multigeneration family are the Schjenkens from St. Louis, Missouri. This summer will be Kelly and Vicky Schjenkens forty-second year at Georgene’s Haven. If the name sounds familiar it’s because there have been, and still are, Schjenkens in the area. In fact, Kelly’s grandfather, Knute Schjenken, owned a farm in Oteneagen Township, as did his great grandfather, Thor Gullickson. Both farms are just south of Bowstring Lake. When Kelly’s father was growing up, he, his brothers, and cousins rode their horses to the lake to fish. “My dad recalled that they used a community boat left by a neighbor,” Kelly explained. They trolled by rowing the boat and caught crappies, northern, and walleyes.” 

Kelly and Vicky originally chose Georgene’s because they wanted a quiet place near their family farms. They keep returning because they loved it. “Most years we have stayed in cabin #8, which is the largest cabin, but as our family grew, we have needed two cabins and sometimes camp sites!” Kelly said. “Our grandchildren each have a bed they call their own and look forward to George and Jean’s ice cream socials.”

“One of my favorite memories is when my grandparents, Knute and Alma, joined us at Georgene’s to fish, visit and of course have a fish fry. With my parents, Ken and Vi, we’d have four generations together. And now with our grandchildren, we still have four generations.”

“My father included me in his fishing adventures, and I have passed on the love of fishing, hunting and the outdoors of northern Minnesota to my family. I hope they will continue the tradition started six generations ago of fishing Bowstring.”

The Thoms go out of their way to ensure their guests have what they need for an enjoyable and memorable vacation. “We love all the people we meet and look forward to seeing them every year,” George said. Jean added, “Many have become close friends. George and I had our fiftieth anniversary a few years back, here at the resort because we wanted to include our resort guests, as well as family in our celebration.”

When asked about their resort honed skills, George says, “Jeanie is an expert at taking out a fishhook.”

“I learned how from Dr. Goodall.” Jean explained. “I say it’s going to hurt, and it does. But its fast and it works every time. George’s skill, sometimes to a fault, is that he’ll drop everything to take care of anybody at any time.”

George agrees. “I do go overboard sometimes, but I really enjoy taking care of the people that come to Georgene’s Haven.” If you have any memories to share about Northern Itasca County resorts, please contact me 218-244-2127, chrismarcottewrites@gmail.com or at my blog chrismarc

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