Our family recently took time to enjoy the waters and community of Mille Lacs for a weekend. It was a special weekend to celebrate our oldest son’s birthday. He had expressed his desire to go up to the lake as he had so many times during his childhood camping as a family at Father Hennepin or taking day trips to Hogsback Beach on the north end of the lake.
We spent ample time at Mille Lacs while the kids were growing up in Mora because, as a stay at home mom, I had to take them somewhere fun. And besides being a unique local destination, the area held many memories for me growing up.
During my highschool years, friends and I would camp and swim on the shallow, sandy shores of Hogsback. Other times, we would stop at the Dairy Vi for lunch before heading to the beach at Father Hennepin.
During college, my first summer job was lifeguarding at Father Hennepin State Park, first working under George Terzich who was the park manager at the time and later under Steve Weber and Mary Henry. There I met Mary Jane Thomsen who was the other lifeguard. We spent hours together in the lifeguard stand and soon became close friends, so much so that she was a bridesmaid in my wedding.
Later when the State was forced to make cuts, among them were the lifeguards at all state parks. With the system as it was, Mary Jane and I were reassigned jobs. She went to work in the office at Kathio, and I was placed in Building and Grounds at Father Hennepin. I continued to come back each summer, cleaning toilets, weed whacking and on a good day, allowed to use the riding lawn mower that Buddy Remer usually got to drive, around the sewage holding pond out back behind the maintenance building. Even on the worst day, which sometimes included cleaning up poo inside an outhouse, it was the best job I can recall. Jim Remer supervised all of us in a non-authoritarian way and kept the atmosphere light with his constant jokes. Afterall, we were “government workers.”
Later, I was somehow promoted to night security at the park. I would sometimes have to remind the biker groups not to be so loud and that the park was a dry campground. Typically, when they saw me coming, they laughed and went back to their beer drinking. But our biggest threat often came in the form of night critters looking for snacks in the campsites. One night around 1 a.m. while walking through Lakeview, I heard scuffling and crunching. I shined my giant flashlight toward the campsite to find a hungry racoon comfortably seated on a lawn chair holding a bag of chips over its head. That was an entertaining sight I will never forget.
In addition to the friends I made at the park in Mary Jane, Jim and Buddy, I think what makes me think fondly of the area, is the nostalgia offered by the lake. When part of your job, summer after summer, is helping maintain the beauty of a state park on Mille Lacs Lake, you got it pretty good.
So back to last weekend ... our sports writer Bob and his wife Kathy were gracious enough to loan out their cabin on the south shore of Mille Lacs. It was the best weekend any of us can remember in a long time. It’s easy to slip away from a pandemic when on a boat ride out to Spirit Island or while playing spikeball in the yard with the sounds of waves as a backdrop to laughter or while watching a sunset near the warmth of a campfire.
I’m thankful the family was able to experience the beauty of Mille Lacs. Even one weekend was enough to help create a perfect prescription for the pandemic.
Traci LeBrun is the editor of the Messenger.