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Lake Detroiters plan 75th anniversary bash, video premiere

A boat landing on Detroit Lake as it appeared back in the days when the village surrounding it was still known simply as "Detroit." The city was officially renamed Detroit Lakes in 1926. (Photo courtesy of Lake Detroiters)

The Lake Detroiters Association has been working to preserve the water quality and way of life for (Big and Little) Detroit Lake residents for 75 years now — and they're planning to celebrate this milestone anniversary in style next month, with a June 22 anniversary bash at the Pavilion.

From the pancake breakfast that will start the morning off to the dance that will finish off the evening, a full day of festivities is planned, says Carl Oberholzer, one of the event organizers.

"We would like all the lakeside restaurants and bars to get involved as well," Oberholzer added.

In between, the day will feature not only the 75th annual meeting of the Lake Detroiters, but the premiere of a 30-minute documentary that was commissioned by the association especially for the anniversary celebration.

Titled "A Beautiful Detroit," the half-hour video was a joint effort of the Lake Detroiters and the Becker County Museum — and Oberholzer was commissioned to put together the documentary, along with his friends at Video Arts Studio in Fargo, with whom he had collaborated on two previous documentaries, "The Road to Little Rock" and "The Mission of Herman Stern."

"We also received a grant from the Minnesota Historical Society to help us fund it," Oberholzer said, adding that the City of Detroit Lakes and Lake Detroiters had also contributed some funding (and fundraising efforts are ongoing).

A total of 10 people were interviewed for the documentary, including Dick Hecock, Sally Hausken, Mike Moore, Mike Swan, Lynn Hummel, Becky Mitchell, Fred Wright, Fred Floan, John Cox and Carrie Johnston.

"All of them have ties to the lake, in one way or another," Oberholzer explained, noting that each of them was interviewed for approximately an hour. "The greatest challenge I had was narrowing down that hour of film into a couple of minutes (per person)."

Besides historic photos and stories from the interviewees, Oberholzer said the film contains a rare gem: A film clip from 1929, featuring one of Detroit Lakes' "founding fathers," E.G. Holmes, whose family was also involved in the establishment of the Edgewater — one of three early lakeside resorts profiled in the documentary.

"The lake is the main character," said Oberholzer, describing the storyline of the documentary. "It follows what the lake has witnessed since humans arrived on the scene... how it was created by glacier movements, when the first people — the Anishinaabe — appeared, how (Minnesota's) statehood changed things."

The story follows the arrival of the railroad and the automobile, as well as the environmental challenges faced by lakeshore residents in recent years, such as aquatic invasive species, pollution, the impact of housing developments, etc.

Oberholzer said he's enjoyed the challenge of putting the documentary together immensely.

"It's been a wonderful experience," he said, adding that the Becker County Museum has been a wonderful resource, with "a treasure trove" of photos and documentation that the museum's staff spent many hours helping him compile.

"Becky (Mitchell, the museum's director) and (research librarian) Jenn Johnson have both been fantastic!" Oberholzer enthused. "Jenn's been doing some wonderful research, and Becky's opened a lot of doors for me. I can't thank them enough."

Mitchell also noted that some of those documents and photos have been used as the basis of an exhibit that the museum will be hosting at the Pavilion during the June 22 festivities.

"It's about how Detroit Lake has impacted us — and how we have impacted the lake," she said. "We're focusing on the relationship between the lake and the community."

As for the name of the documentary, Oberholzer says it comes from a local legend about how the community got its name. That story, as detailed in the 2012 Becker County Historical Society publication, "Images of America: Detroit Lakes" goes something like this:

'The legend of Detroit's naming is said to have happened in the years before its settlement, when a Catholic priest was traveling through the area. He camped for the night on the north shore of what is now Detroit Lake, in plain sight of where a long sandbar stretched across the surface. The water was low, and the dim outline of the bar as it stretched across the lake was glimmering in the light of the setting sun. The priest exclaimed to some of the attendants, 'See, what a beautiful detroit!' Detroit is the French word for a narrow place in a body of water, but in this instance, it referred to the bar reaching across the lake."

"The name has stuck ever since!" Oberholzer said with a smile.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 18-plus years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Detroit Lakes School Board. 

(218) 844-1454
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