Itasca County Resorts with a History ~ Lakewood Lodge

7.10.2022 [archived ~ originally published 7.6.2017]

Lakewood Lodge is in a quiet, protected 80-acre bay on the south end of Sand Lake. William Schultz and his sons built a two-story lodge during the years of 1917-1919, and it is believed the first sportsmen stayed with them in1917, making this the Lodge’s 100th year.  Though it is one of the first resorts to be built north of Deer River, it was an afterthought.  It was the Schultz farm for years before it became a resort. 

Schultz Family History

Wilhelm Johann Schultz was born in Germany in August 1873. At the age of four, he immigrated to a small German community near Eau Claire with his aunt and uncle.  By necessity, Schultz was industrious from an early age and was employed in a barrel factory making staves when he was only eleven.  

In June 1898, William married Mary Sophia Luebstorf, also of German heritage, and while living in Wisconsin, the young couple had three sons, Herman, William Jr. “Bill” and Henry “Hank.”  Striving to improve life for his family, the Schultz’s moved to Newport, WA in 1904 for the good-paying jobs.  Indeed, the weather was milder than in the Midwest, but the jobs were not exactly what they had hoped for, so they headed back east with another son, Harold “Buck” in tow. 

Learning that land was available for homesteading in northern Itasca County, Schultz filed on 80 acres in unorganized township147-26, twenty miles north of Deer River. During the winter of 1906-1907, William and his cousin Charlie built a two-room homestead cabin near the south bay of Sand Lake while Mary and the children lived at Shady Rest Resort in a small house with the owners.  

Darlene Vobejda, daughter of Buck, relates the following story: “By April, Mary had had enough of being in the cramped quarters and decided to hike to the homestead.  She carried a pistol for safety and pulled a hand sled with the smallest boys.  They walked across the bay because it was quite a shortcut, but when they got close, the ice had melted and receded so they could not get to the shore.  Mary couldn’t see anyone, so she fired the pistol a few times to get the men’s attention.  They came out and cut down a couple of trees, and helped them get to shore.

Mary was disappointed that there was still a dirt floor in the cabin and stated she couldn’t stay in a building with a dirt floor.  So, after the children were put to bed, the three adults spent the night laying a wood floor.”

The Schultz’s farmed for ten years, and the family grew to include another son, Levi, and two daughters Lenora and Orletta.  According to Bureau of Land Management records, by 1915 Schultz had acquired to additional 80 acres.  Now three of the four lots bordered Sand Lake, and since Mary had helped her parents run a boarding house in Wisconsin, they decided that operating a lodge for sports enthusiasts would be a clever idea.

As Proprietors of Lakewood Lodge

The large log building which served as the main lodge for many years was believed to be one of largest cabins in Itasca County at the time.  It consisted of a lobby, a dining room, kitchen and two screened porches on the main floor, and six sleeping rooms in the upper level.  All the furniture in the communal areas and bedrooms was hand-made, except the springs and mattresses.

In 1921 the first cabin was built, which rented for $5 a week!  (In 2005, it was moved from the property and is now used as a private hunting camp a short distance from the resort).  The Schultz’s built five more cabins and outhouses, as there was no electricity or running water.

One of the most interesting artifacts from the Schultz years is the guest register.  It indicates that people came from as far away as the Twin Cities, Chicago, and Ohio, to stay at Lakewood Lodge, as well as locals from Deer River or Grand Rapids who might come for a day of fishing and a sumptuous meal.  The overnight guests generally stayed at least two weeks; after all the train trip to Deer River took several days, and then there was a 2-day trip by horse and buggy along the rutted logging roads to the Lodge.

Herman, Bill, and Hank Schultz were fishing guides. Their days began at first light because they caught minnows for bait, then rowed the boats two miles up the lake to the narrows which let them into the big part of Sand Lake, and by the end of the day had rowed 10-15 miles.  After the guides cleaning the fish caught that day, Mary would fry them up for their guests.

The In-Between Years

In 1938, William and Mary sold Lakewood Lodge, and it changed hands a couple of times before it was sold to the Sieferts, who added cabins number 7 and 8, and in 1950 had the log lodge torn down.  They built a new lodge and a house where they lived. (The second lodge was used until fall 2006)

~ Sieferts sold Panekas but kept some acreage, built a cabin and still spend their summers at the lake. 

~ Panekas sold to Don and Terry Cook who moved north from a resort they had owned on Leech Lake. Don and Terry raised their boys here while making many improvements to the resort.

~ The Cooks sold Lakewood Lodge to Naylors. Roger Naylor was a teacher for the Deer River Schools and author of Black Rock Bay.  The espionage novel is set at a resort in Black Rock Bay and depicts Lakewood Lodge and Sand Lake in a fictional setting.

~ Naylors then sold to the Beahn family from Las Vegas who continued improvements to the resort and still vacation with fellow resort owners from their time in the area.  In the 1990s cabins 2 and 3 were built by the Beahns

~ The Beahns then sold to the Nelsons who owned and operated Lakewood Lodge for 9 seasons while making many improvements to the resort until 2001.  [excerpts from the Lakewood Lodge website]

Casselman Family

Steve and Danielle “Dani” Casselman decided to give up the corporate life when their boys were young and started looking for a resort to purchase in Minnesota.  For nearly two years they traveled weekends from their home in Nebraska to inspect options in the Brainerd area.  Eventually, their realtor suggested a resort a bit further north, so they packed the boys, diapers and all, for yet another trip.  It took only one visit to Lakewood Lodge for them to decide. “I sat in the swing overlooking the lake and said, ‘I feel at home.’” Dani explained.  Steve agreed wholeheartedly, so in 2001, they became the new owners.

In 2006 the Casselman’s made a substantial investment, purchasing additional acreage, building a new lodge and eight cabins, and remodeling several others.  It was at this time that several old cabins were sold and moved.  In addition to #1 moving just down the road, cabins #2, #3 and #4 found a second home as a bed and breakfast near the Effie Rodeo grounds.  One of the legacies of the Schultz reign is the plum trees they planted when they first settled on the property 110 years ago.

Now in their 17th season, the Casselman’s shared that their greatest accomplishment has been the lifelong friendships they have made with so many of their guests. “We have seen their kids or grandkids grow up, and they have seen ours.” Steve, Dani, and sons Stevie and Cole, have enjoyed vacationing with a few families, and recognize milestones such as graduations, weddings, births and anniversaries, etc. Every week of the resort season they look forward to familiar faces from all over the United States and as far away as Puerto Rico.

As far as interesting guests, they had been told by Ruth (wife of son Buck Schultz), that Al Capone might have stayed here during Prohibition…I wonder how many places Scarface turns up during this special series?  A well-known guest during the Casselman’s time is Carlos Silva.

“Carlos Silva, he pitched for the Twins 2003-2007, was a guest for some years.” Steve said, “One summer when we had an appetizer potluck contest, Silva, a native of Venezuela, made empanadas.” I asked if he won, and they laughed, explaining that he did, but “it might have been rigged – he had a lot of family here, and let them get whatever they wanted from the Lodge store. I was totally out of t-shirts and sweatshirts – had to place a rush order after the weekend!” Dani said.  

The Casselman’s have established a few traditions, but you’ll need to stop in to see what the ‘Bucket of Fun’ is all about!


In November 2020, Preston and Aimee (Beahn) Osborne bought Lakewood Lodge. Aimee’s family owned the resort during the 1980s.

Mary and Andrew Hanson ~ Accident or Murder? Law & Order in Itasca County

6.26.2022 [archived ~ previously published 9.8.2016]

Mary (Hedquist) Hanson circa 1895

On September 12, 1901, Mary Hanson was busy working in the kitchen of the home she shared with her husband and three small children.  She heard a commotion and turned, at the same moment a bullet struck her in the abdomen, killing her. The boys ages six and four looked on in shock. Their mother lay crumpled on the floor in a pool of blood and the rifle was in the hands of their father.  What had happened?

The Itasca News asked a similar question and detailed the immediate response of Andrew Hanson:

Accident or Murder? Itasca News 9-14-1901

Mrs. Mary Hanson of Moose Lake Found in a Pool of Blood. Her Husband Delivers Himself to the Sheriff Claiming He Shot Her Accidentally

“Andrew Hanson, a Swede living on Moose Lake, at some hour early Thursday morning shot and instantly killed his wife.   The shooting appears to be enveloped with considerable mystery, but the facts as nearly as can be learned as substantially as follows:  Hanson claims he was taking his rifle from a shelf or the wall when it accidentally discharged, the contents entering his wife’s body.  Taking his children, a boy of six and another some years younger, who were the only witnesses to the scene, he led them to the bridge crossing the thoroughfare between Moose and Deer lakes, and started them to their grandfather’s, Andrew Hedquist, where they told that their mother had been shot by their father.  Hanson himself took through the woods and made his way to Grand Rapids, surrendering to the sheriff and claiming he had accidentally killed his wife. 

Coroner Russell, Sheriff Tyndall, County Attorney Pratt and others took conveyance overland and proceeded to Hanson’s house.  Arriving there they found Mrs. Hanson lying in a pool of blood, shot through the abdomen, the ball taking a downward course, passing clear through her body, a dishpan, an inch pine board and flattening itself against a log in the house.  Considerable difficulty was experienced in securing a jury, the region thereabouts being sparsely settled.  The following gentlemen were finally secured: Jonas L. Long, John Bosley, L.W. Huntley, Gus Anderson, Oscar Norman, John Nyberg.”

Bosley, Norman and Nyberg were neighboring farmers. Huntley was a clerk at the courthouse and the other two lived in Grand Rapids.  All of the men were between the ages of 35 and 50.  The coroner’s jury reviewed the remains at the Hanson home and the body was released to the family.  The funeral took place on Friday, and the burial took place on the Hanson farm.

Mary (Hedquist) Hanson was born in Sweden on Oct 15, 1864, to Andrew and Katherine.  The family immigrated in about 1890, and according to an interview done by Elmer Mattila with Clarence Hedquist in 1994, the family name at the time they came to the United States was Anderson.  “The first two brothers that came over here, they said every other person on the street in Duluth, his name was Anderson.  So, they changed the name to Hedquist.”   At the time of her death, Mary had her parents, at least two siblings, John and Gus; and her children Richard, Theodore and Emilie living in the area.  Her husband was in the Itasca County jail. 

Hanson was visited by a News reporter at the jail the day of the funeral who commented, “He is on the verge of a mental collapse, the strain beginning to tell.  Questioned as to why he did not go with his children to their grandparents and notifying them or some of the neighbors, he could return no connected or intelligent answer.  It has long been an open secret in Hanson’s locality that he was morbidly jealous of his wife, almost insanely so.  What grounds he had, if any, will probably develop themselves at the trial.  However, the affair may be viewed it has most peculiar appearances.  Without any intention of prejudging Hanson and without desire to injure his chances of proving his innocence, the News wishes to remark that the first impulse of ninety-nine men out of a hundred under like circumstances would have been to have rushed for assistance.  No thoughts of personal consequences would enter the mind of any man until his wife had been properly cared for.  The trial will tell the whole story, however.  Until then the News withholds further comment.” [Itasca News 9-14-1901]

Hanson was indicted for the murder of his wife Mary in early December 1901 and his trial began on Saturday December 14, in front of Judge McClenahan.  “The prosecution had just completed its evidence when Hanson’s attorney, C.C. McCarthy, made a motion to dismiss the defendant on the grounds that not sufficient evidence was shown or existed to cause a trial against Hanson.  Mr. McCarthy laid much stress in his words and there was a feeling of general satisfaction all through the court room when Judge McClenahan stated in a few words that the accused man was dismissed.  The jury was then discharged, and Mr. McCarthy walked over to his pale client and in a low voice informed him he was a free man and could go home to his children.

Mr. Hanson will immediately resume to his home with his three little children, the oldest of which is only six years, and undoubtedly life will now be smoother for him.”  [Itasca News 12-14-1901]

It is hard to say how much smoother life went for Hanson.  At least to some he appeared to be emotionally distressed.  On April 29,1903 there was an insanity hearing for him on a complaint alleged by Charles Sterling.  Several neighbors were summoned and based on the evidence, he was discharged.  “…Judge Huson finding that Hanson was perfectly sound in mind.  Of all witnesses examined none ever heard Hanson speak irrational except Mr. Sterling.” [Itasca News 5-2-1903]

However, Hanson is an inmate at the Fergus Falls State Hospital for the Insane by the time the1905 Minnesota State Census was conducted.  For whatever reason, his three children are in an orphanage in the Washburn Orphan Asylum in Minneapolis.  According to the census record, they had been there 11 months, so were placed in July 1904.

Theodore and Emilie are still listed at the Washburn Home on the 1910 U.S. Census.  Richard is seventeen and was probably released to work for himself on his 16th birthday.  Their father remains at Fergus Falls and in February of 1911, he died and was buried in the cemetery on the grounds of the hospital.

The 1910 census was as far as I was able to trace Emilie Hanson.  The WWI registration indicates Richard was in Moody, SD and by the WWII registration he is living in Minneapolis with his wife Margaret.  A family tree on connects Theodore with the Washburn Home, and shows him residing in Wichita Kansas by 1915, where he lived until his death in March 1994.

Of course, I cannot help but to wonder if Richard, Theodore and Emilie Hanson saw their father after 1904, or if they stayed in touch with one another.  The tragic event that took place on September 12, 1901, and subsequently haunted their father until his early death, surely affected each of them for a very long time.

Itasca County Resorts with a History ~ Cut Foot Sioux

6.19.2022 [archived ~ originally published 7.12.2018]

The Cut Foot Sioux Inn, first established in 1916, is nestled in the heart of the Chippewa National Forest on Little Cut Foot Sioux Lake.  Little Cut Foot is connected to Big Cut Foot Sioux and Winnibigoshish offering 70,000 acres of water and plenty of fish of many species.  Walleyes are a favorite, and the Cut Foot Sioux walleye spawning site is within 450 feet of the main lodge.  Since the 1920s, eggs have been collected from female fish in April, raised in protected environments, and then placed in lakes through Minnesota.

According to a history compiled by Dori Stanek (owner 1975-1992), before being a resort, the location served as a trading post established by William Fairbanks in about 1892.  At that time there was no bridge, so Fairbanks built a ferry and charged a fee to shuttle homesteader to land across the channel.  The Hudson Bay Fur Company had a steamship built which traveled the waterways and docked for the winter at the trading post.

George Perry acquired the property in about 1916, and it is believed that the log trading post became part of the resort’s lodge.  The 1920 United States census shows that he was the owner and proprietor of a hotel on that location.  Very shortly after that, Perry sold the business to Mr. Herbert Bowen and his wife, Jessie, from Hibbing.

Early Years ~ Establishing Resort

The Bowens, along with their daughter Stella and her husband Albert Christie, did a brisk summer business, and by the close of the 1923 season, it was evident that more cabins were needed to accommodate guests.  Before the fishing opener, a six-room cottage, ice house, and storage building were added, as well as renovations to the main lodge.  A Delco lighting system was installed, ten new rowboats (bringing the total to 32) and five Evinrude motors purchased.

A favored site for the fishing opener, the May 21, 1924 issue of the Grand Rapids Herald-Review stated, “some idea of the size of the crowds that went fishing is gained when Herb Bowen reports that at the Cut Foot Inn, they fed 102 people for breakfast on Sunday morning.” Before that summer was over, Bowen had obtained a lease on the additional property on the north bay of Big Cut Foot Lake, two miles from the Inn, from the government, and several buildings were put for the fall hunters.

In March 1925, Bowen sold his interests in the Inn to his son-in-law, Albert Christie.  The Deer River News stated: “Mr. Christie needs no introduction to local people or the tourist public.  He has been associated with Mr. Bowen ever since the latter bought Cut Foot Inn and has been a large factor in the popularity the resort has developed.  Mr. Christie is one of the most accommodating men connected with any of our resorts and has always been popular with patrons.  Cut Foot Sioux Inn will take no backward steps under his management.

Mr. Christie is hard at work getting things ready for the opening of the resort season, and when fishing season opens May 15, will have his hostelry spick and span and ready for business.  We predict that it will grow in popularity.  The new proprietor is a hustler of first quality.” 3-12-1925

The Christies advertised the sale of the resort that same summer, perhaps hoping to cash in on the popularity, but I haven’t determined whether it sold, or to whom.

Middle Years ~ New Buildings

Sometime after 1930, Fred and Emma Willman bought the resort.  The Willman’s had moved from North Dakota, and no doubt appreciated the woods and lakes of northern Itasca County. Willman’s son Alexander and wife Enid helped run things, then Enid’s mother Bernice joined them.  After the 1944 summer season, Willman sold the resort to Jack and Lena Majerus with a unique ‘deal.’  “The transaction provides that Mr. Majerus bought the property and will operate it, but Mr. Willman will remain there, have the use of a cabin as the quarters for himself and Mrs. Willman, and will help out when times are busy, or help is short. Willman said, ‘it will give me a chance to live here, where I have lived so long, have something to do with helping to make the guests comfortable, and when I want to, I can go fishing with my old friends, and really enjoy myself.’” Mr. Willman died in 1947.

The Majerus’s were instrumental in replacing the main lodge and many of the cabins. According to the Forest Service, most of the buildings now on the resort property were built in the 1950s.  It was probably at this time that some of the cabins were insulated and could be used in the late fall and winter.  I did not find when the Majerus’ sold, or who other owners were, but do know Kenneth and Arvella Clay were the owners from about 1968-1975. Marv and Dori Stanek followed them, 1975-1992.

The first time I stopped at the Cut Foot Inn in the late 1980s, it was Dori Stanek who greeted me. She and her husband Marvin had considered many resort opportunities over a year or two, before purchasing from the Clays. During the nearly 20 years Staneks were owners, many interesting things happened, but one story she shared with me was especially entertaining. 

“It was an August morning when there was a knock on our door at 5:00 a.m.  I opened it, and there stood Virgil, from cabin 11, in his boxer shorts.  Behind him was his wife in her nightgown, and the couple they shared the cabin with, in similar attire. They were locked out of their cabin.  Virgil explained that they had heard an animal in the trash, and went outside, hoping to see a bear.  It ran away, but they climbed in their car, to watch, in case it returned.  It did, and they enjoyed watching the ‘wildlife.’ Returning to the cabin, they realized the door had locked in their haste and not wanting to wake us in the middle of the night, they slept in the car.”  

Other owners included: Bob and Ruth Mohrman, and Matt and Kris Lind.

Today ~ Fishing AND Families

This may be only the second summer as owners of Cut Foot Sioux Resort, but Jake and Amy Perrington’s combined experience of 20+ years working at other local resorts is very evident. With two boys, Jack and Lee, their vision has been to encourage more families to spend their vacation fishing.  Jack and Lee love to fish, and they’re starting to guide for guests this summer.

Amy stated, “Our location is perfect for family fishing because we are protected from the wind and foul weather – more chances for kids to have a fun fishing experience. We are establishing traditions like a potluck early in the week so guest can get to know each other, and s’mores around the campfire.  Of course, some families have their own traditions as well – fishing contests and such.”

No one can remember any famous people coming to Cut Foot. “But,” Amy said, “we have a lot of guests who have been here forever. Since they have been children, a lot of families, lots of memories.  Last summer group staying here and at the campground that celebrated 75th anniversary coming here, over 100 people for their reunion.”  The machine shed, outfitted for barbeques, music, etc. is available to guests for large group activities.

Jake works for Minnesota Power but spends his time at the resort fully engaged with guests and in the winter months with cabin and equipment upkeep.  Amy oversees the day to day operations with the assistance of competent staff, and of course, the boys are eager to help in any way they can. 

Amy is energetic and has a great outgoing personality – perfect for a resort owner!  The Cut Foot staff have a comfortable comradery and obviously enjoy working together.  Guests come from all over the United States.  “Each state has its own personality and each week has its own personality. People who get to know each other come back same time year after year and some even see each other outside of resort at other times during the year.”

The Perrington’s plan on a long career as resort owners, and it may even become a 2nd generation endeavor. “It has been a good decision for us,” Amy said, “Jake and I love the opportunity to raise our family here.”

Gone, But Not Forgotten ~ Willow Beach Resort ~ Old Itasca County Resorts


As most everyone who lives in Itasca County knows, recreation and tourism have been important facets of our community since before World War I. There was a significant rise in the number of smaller, mom and pop type resorts in the 1930s and early 1940s.

In his book Early Resorts of Minnesota, Ren Holland provides information regarding the resort population. “In June 1916 the Minnesota Game and Fish Department published a list of 564 summer hotels and fishing resorts. By 1930 there were 1,176 resorts listed in the Ten Thousand Lakes Association’s Minnesota Book.” [Early Resorts of Minnesota, Ren Holland, pgs 7-9]

After World War II resorts of all sizes flourished, but not all are in business today. “Gone But Not Forgotten” is a companion to my “Resorts With A History” series. I had intended to feature two resorts in this column until, during my research, I discovered that the Jack-the-Horse Resort near Marcell is still in operation! For sixty years my family has driven past the stone entryway of the resort with such an intriguing name. Gramps told the story of how the lake was named and explained that there had once been a resort. I was thrilled to learn the resort has stood the test of time and will feature it in Reminisce later this summer.

Willow Beach Resort

In the mid-1920s, Charles and Ruth LeMaster, along with their son Glen and his wife Oda, took a vacation trip to Northern Minnesota to explore resort possibilities. The LeMasters were from Ottawa, Kansas where they jointly owned a successful automobile garage business. It was on that trip that they met Levite and Anna Daigle who lived on the south end of Ball Club Lake just north of highway No.8 (now highway 2). The Daigles had homesteaded on a 46-acre parcel and received a land patent for it in 1916.

Charles and Glenn thought it was an excellent location for attracting visitors and proposed an agreement that would be advantageous to both the Daigles and LeMasters. In April 1926 construction of the Willow Beach Hotel was well underway. It had ten rooms on the second level and a large dining room and kitchen on the main floor.

“In addition to the hotel, seven cabins of latest improved type have been built, and another will be added within a month. These cabins are 16 x 18, with a screened porch addition of 8 by 16.  The cabins are built of selected tamarack logs about seven inches in diameter, peeled, and carefully fitted tongue and groove fashion so that chinking with plaster is unnecessary. All cabins are lighted by electricity, and each is so arranged that a stove can be installed for cooler weather in the fall of the year.

The resort has a bathing beach that is second to none. There is a splendid white sand bottom, and one may walk hundreds of feet from the shoreline without getting to a depth of waistline level. This makes it especially suitable for little children. There is no drop off, which makes the beach extremely safe. A 14-booth bath house has been built.

The owners have a fleet of 23 row boats, flat-bottomed, which they have built of special type, with high seats and oarlocks, and which ride the water remarkably well. Each boat is equipped for outboard motor, and in each is an enclosed fish box which does away with the nuisance of fish flopping in the open boat.” [5-27-1926 Itasca News]

The LeMasters planned to introduce a specialty to the tourists and locals – barbequed meats. They had a large brick oven built outside near the hotel. The inside dimensions of the oven were three feet by six feet with a height of six feet. The Itasca News described what barbeque was. “The principle is somewhat that of a fireless cooker.  In the oven it is possible to roast large portions of meat, or even entire carcasses.  Barbeque lunches will be a specialty at Willow Beach and will prove a pleasing and appetizing novelty.”

And indeed, Willow Beach became well known for its barbeque.

By July 1, the hotel and restaurant were fully operational. Eager to familiarize the locals with the new restaurant and barbecued meats, Willow Beach advertised their location as a “Fine Place to Spend a Safe and Sane Fourth.” For two days dancing, airplane rides, and a lunch stand where “deliciously barbequed meats of all kinds will be served,” were available.The airplane rides must have been a significant draw. The pilot, Clarence Musser, was to make a nonstop flight from Kansas City, Missouri and land on an aviation field at the beach. “He will take you up at unheard of low prices. You can afford to go up if you want to.” Row boats and motors were available to rent, and a launch would take parties for trips on the lake.

The resort’s grand opening was held on July 31, with the focus on the barbequed meats (including chicken), and dancing to music furnished by a first-class orchestra in the fifty-foot screened-in porch with a brand-new hardwood floor.

In 1927 a campground was added which included a kitchen and two shower bathrooms. The kitchen was screened-in and contained a wood range, gas stove, and hot and cold running water. The following year, the Willow Beach hotel and restaurant were winterized and remained open throughout the winter.

Charles LeMaster died in 1930, and Levite Daigle died in 1938. Whatever arrangement the gentlemen made regarding the partnership remained in place until 1946 when the cabins were sold to Tony Daigle, one of Levite’s sons. They were renamed Willow Beach Cabins.

In 1947 Paul Christian bought Willow Beach Cabins. At the time of the sale two of the original log cabins had been dismantled and removed. Three frame cabins had been added. Two years later, Glen and Oda sold the Willow Beach Hotel and restaurant to Paul Christian. The land continued to be leased from Anna Daigle, wife of Levite.

There were numerous owners during the next fifty or sixty years. Eventually the cabins were gone, and for a while there was a small mobile home park. At some point there was a fire in the upper floor, where the hotel rooms were. Because it could not be salvaged, that portion was removed, and the roof was lowered.

The tradition of barbeque continued through many owners. In the 1970s and 1980s Willow Beach was a very busy restaurant which boasted seafood and steaks along with their specialty, barbequed ribs and chicken. Although I did not eat in the restaurant, I do know that my grandma Marcotte was a cook there, for at least one summer. She lived in the mobile home park, and I got to spend a couple of days with her when I was eleven. Grandma made me one of her favorite meals, and one I had never had before nor since – frog legs. I wrote a short memoir piece that has been published about her and our meal. If you would like to read it, send me a message and I will share it with you.

Jim Daigle, grandson of Levite remembers the years when the restaurant was busy. As a teenager living next door, he was sometimes called over in a pinch to help with dishes.  His brother Jerry worked there for a while and had the title of maître d’. Maybe a bit fancy for Ball Club, but Hugh and Mary Cain had a lucrative business, and Willow Beach had an established reputation for fine dining.

And speaking of reputation, if you heard that there were go-go dancers at Willow Beach, you would be correct. That was in the later years. Eventually it was more of a bar than restaurant, and last summer the vacant building was taken down. Owners include, but are not limited to: Ray and Inez Gardner, Hugh and Mary Cain, Erik Meyer, Larry and Sharon Leonard, and Joe Villeneuve.

The name and barbeque sauce recipe live on. Old Willow Beach BBQ Sauce became available to the public about ten years ago. Jim Daigle grew up enjoying the barbeque sauce and learned to make the recipe years ago. In about 2010 he began making bigger batches and bottling it for family and friends. Those who had eaten at Willow Beach were thrilled to use it at home. Those who tried it for the first time and liked it, were pleased to be able to purchase it.

Jim’s Old Willow Beach BBQ Sauce took second place in the 28th Annual American Royal World Series Barbeque Contest in Kansas City, Missouri in 2015. The contest is the largest of its kind in the world. His entry was in the tomato mild category where there were 150 entries. Old Willow Beach BBQ Sauce also placed fifth overall against 390 entries. Jim was delighted that he won in such a prestigious competition and proudly labels his BBQ sauce as award winning! And it is. Yes, I speak from experience.

If you have a favorite Itasca County resort that is no longer open, but has a fun history and a few memories, please let me know ~

Law & Order ~ Can Mrs. Whitt Match Wits with Cochran?

6.5.2022 [archived ~ originally published 6.1.2017]

On May 16, 1907, Allan Whitt was shot and died almost instantly.  There were three individuals with Whitt at the time of the incident.  Mrs. Mary Whitt – his wife, Fred Anderson – a neighbor and Dave Cochran – a neighbor.  Who fired the fatal shot, and why?

Cochran Fired Shot Says Coroner’s Jury ~ Bemidji Daily Pioneer 5-24-1907

“Grand Rapids, Minn., May 24 (Special to Pioneer.) – Coroner Russell unexpectedly held an inquest yesterday in the case of David Cochran, a prominent attorney, who is accused of murdering Allen Whitt, a homesteader, residing near Deer River.  The verdict was that Whitt came to his death as the result of a bullet wound, shot from a gun held in the hands of the defendant, David Cochran.”

Cochran Hearing is Held Yesterday ~ Itasca News 6-1-1907

“The preliminary hearing of David Cochran for the killing of Allan Whitt near Wirt, came up at the Rapids yesterday morning.  The case had not been finished last night, and it was expected that it would be completed today but up to the time of going to press no news of the decision had been received.

Cochran is accused of having killed Allen Witt a week ago at the house of Fred Anderson near Wirt.  Cochran claims that the shooting was in self defense.

The story which comes as near the truth, probably, as any, is to the effect that Anderson and Cochran were to locate Whitt on a claim and while on their way to it they had a quarrel in which it is alleged Whitt said he would shoot Cochran.  Late in the day while Cochran was cleaning his gun, Whitt is alleged to have come to the house and Anderson, who was in the rear end of the room heard him say he was going to shoot Cochran.  He heard a shot and then another following.  It seems that Whitt had fired through the door and Cochran had also shot through the door, his bullet entering Whitt’s heart.”

So, the two questions answered.  Cochran fired the fatal shot and stated the reason was self-defense. Anderson’s testimony concurred with the above explanation, but that of Mrs. Mary Whitt did not.  In fact, after her testimony, Fred Anderson was also arrested.  Both men were charged with murder in the first degree, a charge to which each replied, “not guilty,” when the indictment was read.

In the weeks between the indictment and the trial, “there were sides to this case.  The people in Deer River and along forty miles of railroad to Wirt, where the tragedy was enacted, believed the story Cochran told them: that he killed Whitt purely in self defense.

On the other side, the woman in the case, claiming to be the wife of Whitt, claimed that only one shot was fired, that by Cochran, and that the other shot passing through the house and out the rear window was done long after the first shot, by Cochran or his friends, to be claimed in defense.  At Grand Rapids this story carried… and a few men could be found at Grand Rapids who did not believe the plain ‘straight’ story of the woman, or who would believe Cochran would be free.” Itasca News 7-20-1907

Thursday, July 18, 1907, the trial was to begin with the selection of the jury.  Prosecuting attorney Thwing made a motion to dismiss the defendant, Cochran and his alleged accessory, Anderson.  George H. Spear, the attorney for Cochran, was diligent in his cross-examination and brought up several points that caused the state to do some investigating on their only witness. 

“By crossing herself several times in the stories the woman told prosecuting attorney Thwing, that official was led to believe that the case would be lost, and he made a searching investigation as to her character and became thoroughly convinced that further trial with only her as state’s witness would be useless expense and time.” Itasca News 7-20-1907

The reasons for the motion to dismiss included:

[1] Mrs. Whitt was in fact, not the wife of the deceased, but had been married to Harry Rosen. “The claim that she was the wife of Whitt was naturally a very material fact for the state, especially since she said she was the only witness to the tragedy, and that as Whitt died [she said] he murmured, ‘My wife.’”

[2] Witness’ testimony regarding the shot lodged in the window sill (which the defendant claimed was filed by Whitt) did not make sense.  “The Rosen woman swore in the preliminary trial that only one shot was fired, and that was Cochran’s.  She claimed that the other shot must have been made the next day and aimed through the window back of where Cochran stood.  It was on this story that the falsity of the woman was proven, as well as her lie that she was the wife of the dead man.”

[3] Witness had a questionable past. “The defense also was in a position to show that the woman was known all through Northern Wis.; that she had participated in various escapades at Cadott and Abbottsford, and also Curtis and Chippewa Falls; that her husband was Harry H. Rosen, who obtained a divorce from her in the district court of Hennepin county in April of this year, on the ground that she had committed statutory offenses with Allen Whitt, Geo. Stacy, Tony Olson and other persons.”

After hearing the basis for the dismissal request from the prosecution, Judge McClenahan immediately discharged the two innocent men and ordered the woman jailed and to be held for trial for perjury.

Cochran and Anderson Freed ~ Itasca News 7-20-1907

County Attorney Moves Dismissal.  Whitt Woman Jailed on Perjury Charge

“…Those who knew Cochran best believed in him, and they said the law of nature did the work well.  As evidence, the woman now occupies the cell he vacated, and a trial for perjury may land her in prison.  This was one case the newspapers can gladly say they did not try.

Judge Cochran is known in Minnesota, having lived in Wright country for twenty-five years before coming to Deer River two years ago, and in Wright county was judge of probate for many years… Mr. Cochran and his daughter arrived at Deer River yesterday, and the judge has been busy receiving congratulations and thanking his many friends for the kind assistance they tendered him in his trial.”

First Comes Love ~ Erick & Viola Carlson

5.29.2022 [originally published 2.12.2015

Viola and Erick Carlson’s Wedding photograph ~ August 11, 1953

It wasn’t necessarily love at first sight, but almost.  Erick Carlson and Viola Wass met at the infamous VFW roller rink at Talmoon in 1951. Erick was twenty-one, and had dated a little, but thoughts of other girls were gone from his mind once he got the shy gal from Bigfork talking and laughing.  Their long distance (it was 25 miles of mostly dirt road) relationship continued while Erick farmed, logged and worked in the commercial fishing operation at Cutfoot; and Viola helped her mother with four younger children at home. 

About two years later, Erick sauntered in to the jewelry store in Deer River with his hard earned cash.  He took Mr. Samela’s advice on his selection, and while dining at the Sportsman restaurant, Erick pulled a small jewelry box from his pocket.  He extended it towards Viola and said four very special words, “Will you marry me?”   Viola’s heart was all aflutter and she nodded affirmatively before the word “yes” came out of her mouth. 

Erick is the younger of two sons.  His birth was uneventful, but the journey from the hospital in Grand Rapids to the family home in Sand Lake took a week. “Doctor Hursh, who cared for Agda and delivered Erick, brought them by car as far as Ted Alzen’s home in Jessie Lake.  The roads were blocked by a snowstorm, so they remained there for one week.  A. D. Grant, a missionary pastor who lived at Jessie Lake started out and got as far as 4½ miles west of Spring Lake.  Travel by car became difficult and the mailman, Pete Ostlund came along with a team of ponies and small cutter with a small shelter on it and brought them the next 4½ miles by US Postal Delivery.” Excerpt from Erick’s memoir written in 1995.

Erick had lived and worked with his father and brother on the 80 acres farm on Little Sand Lake for as long as he could handle the tools needed for the job.  His parents, John and Agda, had emigrated from Sweden in 1923 and were pleased with his decision to marry Viola, for they knew she was a farm girl and understood what it meant to keep a farm going.

Viola was one of nine children.  She was born in Long Prairie, but her family moved to Bigfork when she was 8-years-old.  Yes, Erick’s parents were correct, as Viola’s father had farmed and she was used to helping him with chores along with her older brothers.  In fact, she admits that she was quite a tomboy, and loved summer when she didn’t have to wear shoes.  She had a great fondness for farm animals, especially cats and would spend many hours in the barn with them as a youngest. 

Viola’s mother and sisters helped her plan her and Erick’s wedding.  The date of August 11, 1953 was set with Reverend Dean Carlson (no relation) officiating at the parsonage in Bigfork.  Rusty Wass was the best man and Carol Hansen the maid of honor.  After the wedding Erick spirited Viola away for a trip up the North Shore in his 1946 Chevrolet.

Upon their return, they lived with Erick’s folks while Erick and his father built a second house on the property.  The following year, John and Adga moved into the new home.  Erick and Viola settled into the “big house” as it was now called and started a family.  By the end of 1960 they had two daughters and a son.  Erick always maintained a day job, but also worked on the farm with his father.  He and Viola had a large garden which they supplemented with woodland products of wild rice, maple syrup and game as time and the seasons allowed.

From the beginning of their life in the “big house” Erick and Viola worked well together.  Viola was resourceful and organized.  She used what she had on hand to make good home style meals (frequently meat and potatoes as that is what her family preferred) and always had cookies or cake and coffee like every other Swedish family in our county.  She was proficient on the sewing machine and sewed dresses for herself and daughters Cindy and Sherry; and shirts for Erick and son Curtis. 

When the children started school, both Erick and Viola took an active role, and soon became a part of the Parent Teacher Organization.  It didn’t take long for others in the area to see the leadership of the Carlson’s and between them, during the past fifty years Viola and Erick have represented the communities of Sand Lake and Squaw Lake in just about every capacity possible.  “Finally,” Viola says with a relieved sigh, “I think I am done volunteering.”

Always ready to try something different Erick and Viola took square dance lessons, and were a part of the North Country Swingers club for many, many years.  “I made all our outfits,” Viola said, “They had to match, and we had to look good when we gave exhibitions.  She and Erick laughed recalling the time an exhibition at Showboat required them to step lively and NOT get too close to the end of the platform or they’d land in the Mississippi River!

Erick has played the accordion since he was six years old.  He loves music and enjoys performing with others.  In 1983, he and Viola thought it would be fun to have a big music jamboree with all the musicians in the community, and held the first Pick’n’Post event in a pole barn on their property on that 4th of July.  “We didn’t advertise, except for a cardboard sign at the end of the driveway, but always had close to 100 people who attended,” Erick explained, and Viola added, “It started right after supper and went on late into the night.  We’d clean out the pole building, stack hay bales for seats and we even bought a sound system.”  This much anticipated musical endeavor became an annual event for 17 years!

Viola and Erick agree that their marriage has been a good one.  Viola believes that it this is in part because they have tried to live by the Ten Commandments.  “We give and we take,” Erick says.  “We talk things through and we listen to each other.”  He looks at Viola, she nods in agreement so he continues, “She is the organized one and I rely on her to keep me on the right page.”  

This is certainly true as I listened to both of them talk.  Viola has kept a journal for 56 years.  She began it in 1959 and has written in it nearly every day.  When they started Carlson Excavating in 1974, Viola was in charge of the bookkeeping.  They ran this business together, though Viola also worked outside the home.  The excavating company  is now in the capable hands of their son Curt.

They learned at the time of Viola’s cancer diagnosis in the early 1990s just how much they depended on each other.  Thankfully, Viola was part of a clinical trial that worked very well and she has been cancer free for 24 years.  In 1995 Erick experienced several health problems, but her support and his determination brought them over that hurdle together.   They began taking things a little slower about this time and did some traveling.  The Carlson’s have been to Sweden for three extended vacations, meeting more relatives with each visit.  A few winters in Arizona was a relief from the Minnesota cold, but as of late, winter or not, Minnesota is home and that is where they are.

Erick had a stroke in the spring of 2013 and though they managed at home for a while, by the end of the year he was moved to Homestead.  Viola talks to Erick everyday and visits several times a week with their little dog Duke, who has become a favorite four legged creature of all the residents.  Each Sunday Erick spends time back at Sand Lake, attending the Northwoods Chapel where Chris Reed is pastor, and eating one of Viola’s home cooked meals.

One of the wonderful things about the Carlson marriage is that that have celebrated the milestones in style.  On the 25th anniversary they dressed up in the square dancing outfits Viola had made, and had a party with family and friends. In 1993, on the 40th anniversary they renewed their vows with Reverend Dean Carlson once again officiating, and had a garden party at the lake on a beautiful summer day.  Erick looked good in a new suit, but he says that Viola was stunning in her 40 year-old wedding dress and said that no alternations had to be made!

Their children and grandchildren planned, organized and honored them for the 50th anniversary in 2003.  There were poignant and humorous memories shared by Cindy, Sherry, Curt, the spouses and children.  There was music (of course), friends and plenty of food. The Carlson’s have four grandchildren Andrew, Elizabeth, Ashley and Travis.  Last November, the first great grandchild, Adeline Rose was born.  On August 11th of this year, Viola and Erick will have been married for 62 incredible years.  That is almost the same as a fancy box of Crayola color crayons!

Itasca County Bear Tales

5.15.2022 [archived ~ originally published 6.2.2016]

This is Boo-boo, the bear that made a second visit in 2016!

Like most of us who chose to live in Northern Minnesota, I pay attention to the wildlife.  In fact, I record the activities around Chase Lake in the months there is no ice on the water.  Two weeks ago, was the first time I saw a black squirrel.  And last Tuesday was the first time I saw a black bear, and I don’t mean a fleeting glance, I mean right outside my window. 

He ambled over to a suet feeder like he’d already cased the place and was just waiting for the right opportunity. In one neat swipe he had ripped it down, moved under a large pine and proceeded to eat the remains of the woodpecker’s suet.  I snuck outside and watched in awe from a safe distance, until he left ten minutes later.

Boo-Boo as we dubbed him, was not wearing his customary bow tie, but a fancy radio collar.  He also had tags of orange and blue in his ears.  I read on MN DNR website that to keep bears from becoming a nuisance, bird feeders should be brought in at night, which I have since made a habit.  When I saw Boo-Boo checking my deck for handouts again on Thursday, I made a visit to the “bear guy” at the DNR in Grand Rapids to find out more about the biggest furry critter to come into my yard 

Based on their records and my description, we believe this was one of the recently collared bears in the Suomi-Deer River area.  Apparently Boo-Boo has a range of about 100 square miles, and though he and other bears are still living off of winter body fat, they are struggling somewhat because of the late spring.  As soon as the sarsaparilla is blooming, I was told, the bears should spend more time feeding in the woods. 

In honor of Boo-Boo, who I hope to see only from afar in the future, I found a handful of articles from the Bigfork Settler newspaper, between 1903 and 1908.

The first is simply called “A Bear Story” and though published in December, it is assumed the event described took place in late autumn.  “The most interesting story we have heard for some years comes from one of a party of land lookers in the region north of Deer River.  A party of six ‘tender feet’ started out last fall to secure homestead and stone and timber claim on lands not yet opened to entry, intending to squat upon the soil and make entry as soon as declared open. 

The party was camped one night on a hardwood ridge north of the Big Fork River and soon after the evening meal was partaken of, the young men and one woman were snugly curled up under the blankets for a nights rest.  Sometime in the night, our informant does not know the exact hour, a rustling was heard in the bush just back of the camp and the warning danger signal was given to the party. 

‘That’s a bear,’ said one of the campers, a dapper red haired clerk in a Minneapolis department store and this opinion was readily assented to all because none had experience and neither had ever seen or heard a bear in the forest.”

The story continues in great detail, but in summary, the very wide-awake campers chose the man with the steadiest hands to be in charge of the double-barreled shot gun. Another rustling in the woods, caused a yell of fright and two creatures could just barely be seen scrambling up a nearby spruce.  When daylight came, there was no sign of the bears, not even cubs, but there were two porcupines!

And speaking of bear cubs, years ago there was an occasional woodsman, or maybe several trying to ‘best’ each other and that is probably what happened when these cubs were found.  “Last Monday Will Norberg and  John B. Rahier were on their way to Effie when they came in contact with an old bear and two cubs near Axel Damgren’s place.

The cubs were up a tree and Mr. Damgren was called who came with his rifle and then the three men proceeded to capture the cubs alive.  Mr. Norberg climbed the tree after them and being unable to handle them both in the tree, he threw one to the ground which made its escape taking with it a red handkerchief belonging to Mr. Damgren, that had been tied around its neck in order to hold it.  The old bear ran off through the woods and also escaped uninjured.  Mr. Norberg gathered the remaining cub in his arms and started for his home. 

Mr. Damgren now advertises as follows:

LOST – One black cub with red handkerchief tied around its neck.  If the finder will return same, he can have the neck wear for his reward.” [12-31-1903]

I especially enjoyed this story from exactly100 years ago.   “John Duff and Chas. Larson, two well-known and successful hunters in this vicinity, had a little experience last week which caused them considerable astonishment.

Near Mr. Duff’s place on Coon Creek fresh tracks were seen in the mud and the discoverers thinking they were bear tracks hastened to inform the two experienced bear hunters of the fresh signs. After making careful examination the two men started in hot pursuit after their game stopping occasionally to make sure they were on the right track and after they had covered several miles through the swamps and brush they began to feel quite anxious as the shades of night had begun to fall upon them and still no bear had yet been seen when suddenly two dark objects were noted ahead and with a look of triumph and determination written in their features the pursuers grasped their rifles firmly and cautiously drew near their eagerly sought prey but imagine their chagrin when they found our two old dusky friends, Busti and his wife who had been traveling through the woods wearing moccasins.” [5-31-1906]

And finally, bear meat for the supper table. “Arthur Gilbert and Fred Peloquin came in contact with a bear while out boating on the Rice River last Sunday and when they returned home Mr. Bruin rode in the boat with them with an ugly wound in his body which was the cause of his death.” [8-6-1908]

Boo-Boo and his friends are certainly not as numerous in our woods as they were back when these stories were written, but I am still glad the DNR is keeping a close watch on them.  And I checked, and according to John Latimer’s phenology report on KAXE, the sarsaparilla is starting to bloom.

Itasca County Resorts with a History: Georgene’s Haven


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, or at my blog chrismarc

Mother’s Day 1939

5.1.2022 [archived ~ originally published 5.12.2019]

NOTE: I didn’t realize when I wrote this three years ago it would be the last Mother’s Day I would spend with my mom, Marie Scheer. She died unexpectedly in her home just days before Mother’s Day 2020.Imiss her every day.

Hellen (McQuillen) Scheer and daughter Marie 1939

Like most other young children, I made crayon drawings of flowers, hearts and stick figures with smiling faces to give my mother on Mother’s Day.  As the oldest of five, I’m sure I made my brothers and sisters stop their playing long enough to at least get something on paper as well. 

We all knew our Mom was special, particularly, because she claimed she had no bellybutton!  I have no idea how that myth got started, but it went on for many years. I’d say her sense of humor is from her dad and her ambition is from her mom.

It wasn’t until I began gathering family stories to incorporate into genealogy that I realized just how special my mother’s birth was, and how hard my grandparents worked during their first year as a family.  Mother’s Day 1939 was certainly something to be celebrated.

What follows are snippets of that year as remembered by Grampa, who wrote in his later years; and Gram, who told me a few antidotes, as well as memories from a booklet my Mom put together for them.

My Grampa, Clarence “Conny” Scheer was born and raised in Bigfork.  In the 1930s he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as a local experienced man.  He was promoted to assistant and then leader, earning a little more with each change in status.  During his last six months he was transferred to Itasca State Park. Though it was further from home, he had a chance to go to Bemidji occasionally.  One afternoon while in Bemidji, Conny bumped into a friend from Bigfork who was enrolled in the Teacher’s College and introduced him to Hellen McQuillen.

Hellen, my Grama was born in the northwest corner of North Dakota and had moved with her family a few times until they settled in Warba.  At the time their paths crossed in Bemidji, she, like Conny’s friend, was studying to become a teacher.   It wasn’t until the summer of 1936, after Hellen’s first year of teaching, that she met Conny again and their courtship began.

On Mother’s Day 1938, Hellen was married and six months pregnant with her first child, my mother.  She and Conny were living with his sister and brother-in-law and looking forward to a place of their own.

“As soon as spring and warm up time came so the snow was gone, and the logs had thawed we started on our cabin.  Hellen and I began to peel logs and get the base work set in, to start cutting and fitting our cabin together piece by piece.  I would work some on small short jobs, some for cash to keep living and others for second hand lumber for the roof, and for floorboards, and flooring plus windows and doors.  One of my part time jobs was tearing down some of the old CCC buildings at Itasca State Park.  By hook or by crook we got it all finished and moved in and cleaned up in time for our baby to be born.” [CS]

Conny’s brothers helped to construct the 16 x 20 log cabin on the edge of their father’s property on what is now called Scenic Highway, about a mile from Bigfork.  The Itasca Progressive newspaper noted that the young couple moved into the cabin the second week of July.  In the subsequent issue it announced: “Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Scheer are the proud parents of a seven pound girl which arrived at their home Friday.  The little one was named Elva Marie and she promises to brighten the home of her parents with her prattle.”

According to Marie’s written recollection, this is the way her father remembered it happening.  “Mom awoke him early in the morning and said that she thought that the baby was coming.  Dad had to leave her alone and go into town, just a mile away, to get the doctor.  The doctor had just gotten home from an all night call, and said that since it was her first baby it would take quite a while, so he was going to get some sleep and would be out later.

“Dad went back to the cabin and could see that someone needed to be there with her who knew about delivering babies.  He went to the home of the midwife and asked her to come and take care of this situation.  I believe that Mom was also alone during this period of time, which must have been lonely and frightening.  It had been agreed to previously that the midwife would trade some of her time caring for my mother, for my father’s help with the haying at their farm.” [MS]

The midwife Conny went for was Mrs. Almina McKay.  As a nurse, she had worked at the Mayo Hospital in Rochester, before she and her husband had moved their family to Bigfork a few years earlier.  Mrs. McKay had experience delivering babies which, as it turned out, was a very good thing.

Hellen’s labor progressed more quickly than expected, perhaps brought on by a slight tumble the previous day and it wasn’t long before Mrs. McKay realized that the baby was going to be born breech.  It wasn’t an easy delivery, and all were glad when the baby’s wails filled the cabin.  The midwife tended to the mother and newborn while waiting for the doctor to arrive.  Hellen recalled, “When he did, Mrs. McKay stepped outside and closed the door behind her. I could hear enough to know that she was putting the doctor in his place for neglecting his responsibilities.”

Conny wanted Hellen to name the baby and she decided on Elva Marie.  Elva was a family name, and Marie was for the midwife Mrs. McKay, whose middle name was Marie.  As was the custom in Hellen’s family, the middle name was used, so she was called Marie.

Six short weeks later a baby boy was temporarily added to the family. “In October, Mom also took on the care of her sister’s new baby, Lenny.  She cared for us as though we were twins, and for a time we shared the milk, the crib and her love.  This continued until December, when the baby boy was taken by another family.” [MS]

The decision to move Lenny was necessary because Conny, Hellen and Marie were going to spend the winter deep in the woods. It would be a challenging winter for Hellen.  She and her sister-in-law, whose own baby Marlon was only a couple weeks younger than Marie, were cooking and housekeeping for the family crew and caring for their two young infants.

“Three of my brothers and I got a logging contract to cut 80 acres of light burned spruce to cut into 8 ft length pulp wood and no plowed road till spring when the two pulp trucks owned by the contractors Lindy Kendall and Ted Lovdahl of their first contract job come in on the then frozen swamp roads and hauled it away to the paper mills at International Falls.

“We had to build a logging shack for sleeping and to cook for a light crew plus a barn for horses and a bunk shack on the end of our set up and an outdoor biffy. We also made tables and benches and shelves and bunks and assembled out there and dug a swamp well.  Our camp was nine miles off the small highway on an old wood road and we were isolated with only horses to get to the highway and five miles to Effie from there for our monthly go for groceries and a load of hay for the horses.  The nine mile road was snowed in and unplowed until April 1939.

“We had grocery credit at Anderson’s store in Effie and hay for horses, so once a month two of us men took the team and sleigh 6 miles to town for hay, food and mail.  The women and kids never left camp from December to April and we guys always knew that the two gals were the busiest workers of all of us cooking, washing dishes and clothing plus.  We had no radio, however, we wore out several decks of cards and told the same jokes several times!” [CS]

On Mother’s Day 1939, I can imagine how pleased Gram was to be out of the woods.  Her ten month old daughter Marie was happy and healthy and her husband had a steady job driving a truck the Bischoff Bakery. So many things to be thankful for on her first Mother’s Day!

School Days ~ Garden School

Itasca County, Minnesota

4.24.2022 [archived ~ previously published 5.7.2018]

Garden School ~ 1920 Front Row: Martin Korpi William Newman, Edith Korpi, Lillian Venne, Helen Newman, Felix Ikola, Taito Mattila, Fred Newman, Harold Hellamn.  Middle row: Dorothy Housen, Vivian Venne, Sylvia Kohonen, Vivian Hellman, Richard Venne, Joe Housen, Omar Erola, Sula Mattila, William Hill, Nels Korpi. Back row: Imri Erola, Unk, Herman Korpi, Frank Housen, Fannie Niemi (teacher), Irma Erola, Ella Venne, Millie Korpi

Garden School was located in Oteneagen Township, just west of what is now Hwy. 6, about ¼ mile south of County Road 37, on County Road 125. I didn’t find much information on the school, whose land it was on, when it was built or if an updated school was constructed, but I do have a couple of good stories.  Based on sketchy records it was in operation from the late 1910s to mid-1930s.    

The first mention of it from my files is a letter to the editor written the first week of March 1920, in response to discussions of the Deer River school board. Julius Venne, who it appears had four children attending school, wrote, “Does the school board believe that we are not as anxious to have our children educated as are the parents of the Deer River children?

The Garden school, with an enrollment of 20 pupils, about 25 next term, would make a fairly good wood shed.  It is a sort of Sears, Roebuck knockdown garage about 20 feet square.  On cold windy days drafts can be felt almost anywhere along the walls and the children shiver in their seats.

No well is provided; across the road is an open well where rats, mice, or most anything else can drown their sorrow and where germ may flourish.  That is the water provided for our children.  The old tin pail and tin cup, that the board of health in every modern city has condemned, is being used…

School has been closed since February 13th, and from all appearance, will be for the remainder of the term.  Last year we were served the same way.  The excuse is made that no teacher can be secured…

The farmers are becoming restless, and some are agitating the reorganization of the district, with Deer River left out.

Julius Venne

After a few more back and forth letters, Venne brought his concerns officially to the school board. Apparently, there was talk of having the rural Deer River schools a separate district, and it was voted on in a special election the following year.  According to the 8-13-1921 issue of the Itasca News, the independent school issue was voted down.

Taito Mattila, born in 1914, attended the Garden school for all eight grades.  His parents, Victor and Lydia, and his brother, Sulo had immigrated from Finland in 1910, to northern Minnesota, where Victor homesteaded on 160 acres in the Oteneagen community.  They were not the only Finnish family, and many were pleased that some teachers were fluent in English and Finnish. 

“When I went my first day to school I didn’t know a single word of English.  We never talked English at home.  I was very fortunate, we had a Finnish teacher.  She helped us along and explained in Finn what each word meant till we got started.  In fact, my first three grades I had Finnish teachers…I started talking English after starting the first grade.  [Taito’s Stories – Taito Mattila]

Norvin Korpi, who went to school at Garden at about the same time, stated, “I learned English from older brothers and sisters. We spoke Finn at home most of the time but the kids when they started going to school then we I could speak English pretty well.” [Interview was done by Elmer Mattila with Norvin Korpi in 1997]

The Finnish teachers lived at Alex and Lily Kohonen’s who were about a quarter of a mile from Garden School.  The non-Finnish teachers stayed at Andrew Niemela’s because Mrs. Niemela was American-born and she knew the English language.  The teachers who lived at Niemela’s walked to school, a mile and a half.  Some of the teachers were: Ragna Knudson, Elsie Launa, Helmi Lofroth, and Fannie Niemi. 

One of my sources for this article was a family history filed at the Itasca County Historical Society.  Taito’s Stories ~ A History of Taito Mattila’s Family, was compiled by Louise Heine Mattila, and Elmer E. Mattila in March 2000.  Taito attended Garden School from about September 1919 to June 1927.  He has many memories of those years, but two I thought particularly interesting was about fellow students Herman Korpi and Elmer Davis.   

Porcupines in the Outhouse

“There was a funny experience at school when the teacher would go and inspect the toilets to see how they were.  She would go after school to look at the boys’ toilet. This one morning, she wanted to know which one of you boys has a pocketknife.  Only one kid in school had a pocketknife, and that was Herman Korpi. She took it away from him.  She said that he’s been carving the toilet seats.  And all us kids said, ‘No, it’s when the boys relieve their bladder, that once in a while it sprays on the boards, and porcupines go in there and chew the boards.’ The teacher wouldn’t believe it.  When she went home, she was staying at Kohonen’s, she was telling them what happened, and that she took Herman’s knife away, Kohonen said, you better give it back, that’s true, it’s porcupines that have been chewing.”

Elmer’s Bad Day

“They did some remodeling around the school house in the summer time…Elmer Davis was running around the schoolhouse and stepped on a board with a nail in it.  It went right through the top of his foot.  Of course the board broke, but the nail was there.  You could see it right through the top of the shoe.  So we ran over to Steve Madden’s.  He came over there with pliers.  He was going to pull it out, and Elmer wouldn’t let him.  So, I ran over to Toivo Erola’s and got him with his Model T.  He got that started, and we took him to see Doc Miners.  He was above MJ Bakers Store, where he had his practice.  I asked Elmer Davis this winter [1995], ‘How did we get you upstairs?’ He said he doesn’t remember, but we got there.  He said, ‘That was quite an experience. Dr. Miners, he pulled that nail out, and grabbed the shoe off.  Then, he put a yarn on some kind of a needle, he dipped that yarn in some kind of medicine, and pulled that through.’”

Field Day 1927

I think there was always a healthy competition between neighboring schools, not only academically (spelling and debate) but also athletically.  Especially in the spring when everyone was anxious to get outside.  In 1927, the Deer River School District seized the opportunity for fun and games, instituting organized athletic events and a way to recognize rural schools, including, of course, Garden.

To Hold Playdays in Rural Schools ~ Itasca News 4-14-1927

“A number of rural school field meets have been planned for rural schools of District Six. The district has been divided according to geographical location in eleven sections and a meet will be held in each section, according to plans made by the superintendent, the rural supervisor, and the rural teachers…

There will be contests in various athletic events such as pull-up or chinning, balancing, running races, running high jump, running board jump, tug-of-war, sack races, three-legged races, etc. for boys and girls and their teachers…

Section 3 was West Oteneagen, Garden, Kennedy and Poplar Grove schools at Kennedy on May 6.”

Three out of five students from Garden School were chosen to represent the section 3 sub-division at the final meet.  They were: Martin Korpi, Nels Korpi, and Vivian Venne.  Garden also had three of five alternates: Edith Korpi, Taito Mattila, and Harold Hellman.

The final field meet was held in Deer River on Friday June 3rd.  There were over 50 students participating and Martin Korpi placed 3rd in the running race in the boys under 75 pounds category.  In complement to the visitors, local businessmen financed a free matinee at the Lyceum theater following the awards ceremony, for rural students and their parents.