Fair Hills Hootenanny loved by guests for over 40 years
Ask any repeat visitor at Fair Hills Resort what the phone number is or what lake the resort is located on and you're bound to hear a song.
Since 1965, Fair Hills Resort has played host to the Hootenanny, where each Tuesday night staff members entertain guests with songs -- some highlighting the resort. The resort has received pictures of former guests doing the actions to "Pelican Lake," and others have had to sing the "2-1-8" song in order to remember the resort's phone number.
It's those fun stories that keep the resort hosting the event. Owner Dave Kaldahl said there's more to it than that, though.
"It's a common thing that pulls them together," he said of the resort staff. "It changes the attitudes of employees."
Named for a 1960s TV show, the Hootenanny features songs with familiar tunes, varied lyrics and fun choreography -- all put on by the Fair Hills staff. When staff members are hired, "they know they will be singing," Larry Swenson said. Swenson serves as director of entertainment and music at the resort.
When the musical event began with then-owner Chester Kaldahl, it started with a musical talent show around the campfire. One year it moved into the pavilion, and "they moved in hay bales, too, because they wanted the same outdoor feeling," Swenson said. But because of allergies, the bales had to go. The fun and singing has stayed.
Dave Kaldahl is "the driving force behind the music," Swenson said.
"I'm sort of bringing up the trailer now, and I keep tagging along," Kaldahl responds with a laugh.
Regardless, it's a Fair Hills tradition that keeps it unique. Two of returning guests who savor the uniqueness are Carson and Kitty Steinheimer, of Buffalo Grove, Ill. Steinheimer has been visiting the resort for 50 years, and he has the stories to prove it.
When his father was drafted into the war, his mother used ration stamps to make sure her children still got their vacation. Back then, he tells, his mother would trade sugar ration stamps for gas stamps. She saved and saved until she had enough to get them to Fair Hills and back. The only catch was that people were not allowed to travel out of state because of the gas rationing. They came anyway. Once at the resort, he said Chester Kaldahl would hide the car in a shed because of the Illinois license plates.
"What is it Fair Hills has? Community you don't see in big cities, the families," he said. "It's good, pure, honest camaraderie."
Because this is his 50th year at the resort, the Steinheimers are visiting for free. In his years, he said he's learned to dance, play shuffleboard, golf, play tennis and more at the resort.
Kitty added that there aren't worries at Fair Hills, and "once you park your car, you don't need it anymore (while on vacation)."
Another longtime guest is Jim Sandell, Buffalo, Minn., who has been coming to Fair Hills Resort for 44 years -- with only a couple years missed in that time span. He first came in 1942 with his parents after they stumbled across an ad for Fair Hills in the newspaper.
As he grew up and had a family of his own, he brought his children to the resort each year. One year they skipped coming to Fair Hills to travel throughout California instead.
"It just didn't feel like vacation without Fair Hills," he said he and his children all agreed. "It's still a wonderful place."
Sandell said he sees a lot of the same people he has the last 44 years, and has built relationships with those other guests.
"We maintain relationships; relationships last, Christmas cards."
It's patrons like Sandell and the Steinheimers that make up the majority of visitors at Fair Hills -- the repeat visitors. Although the majority of the staff is around 20 years old, there are some repeats there as well. Jim Pearson started working for the resort in 1978, and although he now lives in Vienna, Austria, he returns each summer to work for 10 days to two weeks.
There are many planned, organized activities throughout the week, and attendance can be strong, but when it comes to the Hootenanny, "virtually every guest at the resort is at the pavilion," he said. "It's just pure fun. There aren't many wholesome programs like this anymore. You don't see a family place like this anymore."
Another thing that may not be seen at any other resort is the singing, dancing and those "crazy songs," as Kaldahl describes them.
There are about 50 staff members crowded on the stage, ready to perform for audience members. That team spirit is important to the resort, Kaldahl said.
"Plus, we all like music."
The Fair Hills Hootenanny is each Tuesday through Aug. 19. The public is welcome to the smorgasbord that begins at 6 p.m., followed by the show at 8:15. For more information, contact Fair Hills at...what's that phone number again? Ah yes, 218-847-7638.