Resort’s fun, charm not lost after 50 years
VERGAS — In the summer of 1963, Alvina and Charles Lillibridge purchased a 700-acre resort with three cabins here on West Loon Lake for $75,000.
“We were up here nine times in eight days trying to convince them to sell,” Alvina Lillibridge said. They drove up in a white 1960 Chevrolet convertible and the former owners called the pair “city slickers from Fargo.”
Now the owners of Lillibridge’s Maple Beach Resort, both retired educators, are celebrating 50 years of lakeside fun as owners of the property.
After purchasing the property during the vacation season of 1963, the Lillibridges opened for their first full season as owners July 4, 1964, 50 Independence Days ago.
During that time, they’ve acquired regulars (Alvina calls them “oldsters”) who’ve returned to the resort every summer for more than 10 years and they’ve watched the children of their guests grow into adults who brought their own families back to the lake.
Fifty years is a big milestone for a small resort like theirs – especially as property values have skyrocketed.
“There’s not many that have been around for 50 years,” Alvina Lillibridge said.
Increasingly, small family-run resorts like theirs have become very rare in Minnesota’s lake country. They were replaced by condominiums, single-family homes and larger resorts built to handle more guests.
Lakeshore property values are so high that many small resorts are tempted to sell. Alvina Lillibridge said they received two offers earlier this year, but they don’t intend to make a deal just yet.
“The lakeshore has gotten more valuable,” Charles Lillibridge said. “There’s fewer and fewer places for people to go.”
When the resort first opened, they charged $35 a week to rent a cabin and offered $5 discounts to those who referred friends. One man who owned a bar in Illinois where he mounted many of his catches was jokingly called “the mayor of Loon Lake” because he referred so many guests.
The Lillibridges now have 10 cabins, seven docks and an A-frame house and office where they reside on the property.
Charles Lillibridge built it himself, but first he used eight sticks of dynamite purchased at a local hardware store to remove a large maple tree from their spot.
Their property provides ample space for guests, boats, pets and their collection of classic cars.
The whole resort – like their cars – takes you back to the ’60s with its red and teal painted cabins. It recalls a time when fishermen could catch dozens of fish using only their recollection of the lake’s hot spots and a guest would wring the neck of a live chicken in front of her cabin before making dinner.
They document their resort’s history in pictures and a yearly newsletter mailed to anyone who has ever stayed there. Alvina Lillibridge used to send all of her guests home with a Polaroid to remember the trip, but now she uses disposable cameras.
Over the years, they’ve had many helping hands around the resort. They need it, especially now that Alvina has had multiple hip and knee replacements and Charles uses a walker to get around.
Jerry Bennett’s first summer job was mowing the grass at the resort. He was in his early teens and his mother dropped him off at cabins and resorts that needed mowing to earn spending money. He and others stopped by for a visit Thursday.
Now 58, Bennett recalled lemonade, sandwiches and taking a dip in the lake after a long day of mowing the rolling property.
“You’ll always remember that first little job. It was kind of fun,” he said. ‘It’s kind of a big family here.”
It’s a family that includes friends, visitors, the “oldsters,” pets and other critters who’ve made their home near the couple’s A-frame.
“They’re all just like our kids because we don’t have any,” Alvina Lillibridge said.
Article written by Cali Owings of the Forum News Service