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Big all-staff reunion at Fair Hills

Freelance cameraman Brian Young is staying at Fair Hills Resort this week as part of an All-Staff Reunion. Young worked as a waiter at the resort in the 1980s. SUBMITTED PHOTO

This weekend, more than 150 past and present employees of Fair Hills Resort are congregating there for an All-Staff Reunion that runs through Thursday, July 20.

“We have people coming who worked at Fair Hills all the way from the 1940s up into the 2000s,” said Larry Swenson, who has worked at the resort since 1970, and currently serves as its entertainment and marketing director.

“I expect about 150 people to be coming, from California, Texas, Main, Canada — one former staff member is even coming from Istanbul, Turkey. It’s going to be a wonderful week.”

Among those Fair Hills alumni visiting the resort this weekend are a pair of former summer wait staff members who have gone on to attain fame and fortune in their respective professions.

Joan Brock

Brock worked as a member of the resort’s summer wait staff in both 1971 and 1972.

“I was attending the University of South Dakota and I had a friend who had stayed there (at Fair Hills) as a guest when she was a young girl,” Brock says. “She had heard they needed employees, and I was looking for a summer job.”

Though she hasn’t been back to the resort since the last summer she worked there, Brock has some very fond memories of her time at Fair Hills.

“There were so many wonderful families that came during the summer weeks and it was simply a terrific place to have a summer job during my college years,” she says. “I can’t wait to just walk the hills of the resort and step into the dining room where we spent so many hours, working and serving the guests.”

Brock is also looking forward to taking part in a special “Reunion Hootenanny” that is scheduled to take place tonight (Sunday).

“The weekly Hootenanny was something that everyone looked forward to,” she says.

Brock also has a treasured memory from her time at Fair Hills that she often talks about during her presentations as an inspirational speaker, which has been her profession for more than two decades now.

“I have a wonderful story that I share from the stage about having the chance to see the Northern Lights for the first time while working there,” Brock says. “I had never seen them before, and I treasure that memory.”

Especially since it’s one that can never be duplicated. Brock lost her sight to macular degeneration at age 32 — while she was working as an instructor at a school for the blind in Iowa.

“It was just one of those interesting ironies of life,” Brock says. “I was fortunate in many ways to be prepared — I had all the tools at my fingertips, and it was in my court to take those tools and integrate them into my life.”

Five years later, Joan lost her husband, Joe, to a rare form of sinus cancer, and had to raise their 3-year-old daughter on her own.

After Joe’s death, Joan and her daughter Joy moved back to her childhood home in Bakersfield, Calif., to be near family. It was there that she re-connected with an old high school friend who would eventually become her second husband.

“We married over 20 years ago,” she said. “He had been living in Tucson, Ariz., so I moved there, and now I fly all over the country doing my thing.”

“Her thing” consists of speaking engagements all over the U.S. and abroad, in which she talks about “coping with change and challenge and getting through it — how do you cope with (changes and challenges) in a productive way, and move forward.”

In addition to inspirational speaking — Brock calls it “inspirational” rather than “motivational,” because as she puts it, “I’m not going to go up there and tell anyone to ‘win one for the Gipper’” — she has also co-authored an autobiography, “More Than Meets the Eye,” and had her story chronicled in a “Lifetime Original Movie” of the same name.

Fair Hills visitors this weekend will have a chance to hear Brock speak personally — she will be making a presentation at 9:30 a.m. this morning (Sunday) in the Fair Hills Pavilion. The public is invited to attend at no charge.

Brian Young

Another Fair Hills alumni who has quite the story to tell is freelance news cameraman Brian Young, who since his days on the Fair Hills wait staff back in the 1980s, has gone on to film everything from wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Oscars and Emmys, for ABC News, CNN, Fox News Channel and more.

“I was a guest at Fair Hills in the late 1970s; my family started going there in 1976, when I was nine,” Young says. “We went there every summer for five years (until 1981).”

Then, in 1986, Young found out through family friends that Fair Hills was looking for some summer help.

“I was a waiter there for two summers, from 1986-87,” he said. “It was a familiar place for me to go work because I’d been a guest there, so I knew what to expect. That was very appealing, because I knew that would be a pretty enjoyable way to make some money before going back into the real world.

“I’ve never water skied so much in my life as I did those two summers. I still stay in touch with Larry (Swenson) and a few other people there. Larry’s a legend at that resort.”

Though Young had plans to spend a third summer working at Fair Hills as well, “real life” forced those plans to take a back seat.

“I would have loved to have gone back and worked there again, but I took an internship at KCRG in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, instead of coming back for a third summer, because I felt I needed to take the opportunity to get into my chosen profession,” Young said. “That internship turned into a job, so in the long term it was definitely the right decision to make.”

Indeed, Young’s internship turned into a lengthy stint in local television news, first in Cedar Rapids and then in Tampa, Fla., and Denver, Colo.

“Then, from 1996 to 2001, I was a senior photographer at CNN, which is based in Atlanta,” he said. “I was on the road 300 days a year for those five years. But that’s what I went there to do — I saw the world on Ted Turner’s dime, and learned a ton about the TV business and how to work in the field. I was exposed to an awful lot.”

One memorable assignment was the chance to spend 15 straight months on the campaign trail with then-Gov. George W. Bush, en route to the White House. Since then, Young has interviewed not only President Bush, but presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as well.

Along the way, he has made the transition from staff photographer to freelance work.

“In January 2001, I was laid off from CNN, right after the Time Warner-AOL merger,” Young said. “They laid off 800 people.”

He tried freelancing, but without his own camera equipment to work with,  he became a cameraman-for-hire, taking jobs with established crews that had their own equipment for him to use.

“I ended up going to Pakistan for Fox News Channel,” he said. “That was right after 9-11 (the terrorist bombings that took place in New York City and Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2001).”

He spent the next five months in Pakistan, working for Fox News, and that opportunity led him to the realization that he wanted to make the investment in purchasing his own equipment, so he could become a full-time freelancer.

“I’ve been a freelancer since 2first 001, in Washington, D.C., and then in Miami,” he said. “My wife and I were in Miami until 2½ years ago, when we moved to Los Angeles.”

Young’s wife is Nancy Harmeyer, who is currently the Los Angeles bureau chief for Fox News. “We both understand the unpredictable hours of this business, and how that goes,” he said, which makes relating to each other easier.

“I own all my own equipment now. It’s an interesting business… I like the unpredictability of it. It’s something different every day. And I like that I don’t have to work every day.

“The lifestyle suits me. I cannot think of a staff job I would want. I’ve got a great boss — me. I’ve been very lucky.”

Though he’s uncomfortable with being a “name dropper,” Young admits that his client list kind of reads like a “who’s who” list of Hollywood celebrities: Jimmy Kimmel, Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Lawrence, Rod Stewart, Jon Hamm, Reba McIntire, Peyton Manning, Toni Braxton, Ziggy Marley, Kirstie Alley, Cher and more have all been framed by his lens.

“I did the first crazy sit-down interview with Charlie Sheen after his big meltdown,” Young said, recalling one of his more memorable interviews. “I did a sit down (interview) with Peyton Manning after he graduated college, but before he’d been drafted (as a quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts).

“But that’s kind of what you do if you’re a network cameraman in L.A. It’s such an entertainment-driven business. I’ve done the Oscars, the Emmys, the MTV Music Awards, Dancing with the Stars, and I even worked the Miss America Pageant in (Las) Vegas last year.

“A lot of guys have taken me under their wings and shared their knowledge and experience,” Young said.

“I’ve been doing this since 1989 and I’m still learning things all the time. There’s a really deep talent pool in L.A., and I’ve been lucky that people have been nice to me.”

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

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