Loon Lake: A Look into the Past Fond memories recalled

When Roger Rager moved to Loon Lake southwest of Pequot Lakes, there was a total of three families who lived year-round on the lake, and that included the Ragers, Roger said. They’ve operated Rager’s Acres Seasonal RV Park on Loon Lake for 25 years, since buying the seasonal campground in 1988.

That was back when the Loon Lake Tavern next door, owned by Dorothy and the late Bob Kidrowski, was in its heyday. It was when the "swimming hole" on Loon was a popular place to cool off on hot summer days. Much has changed since then, but Loon Lake remains a piece of heaven for its residents and visitors. Rager’s Acres "It’s built up," Roger Rager said of how the area has changed through the years. Rager’s Acres, which has expanded from 15 sites to 78 wooded sites with full hookups since the Ragers bought it, is now the only resort/ campground on the lake. "We still have most all of our trees," Rager said. "We tried to put RV Campers in without taking down any more than we had to." He recalls the Fourth of July storm that took down 250 of his trees. "We lost one popup camper trailer," Rager said, noting the only reason that family wasn’t in the camper at the time was because the storm held them up in Pequot Lakes, where they’d gone for the holiday parade.

Rager found the resort/campground while snowmobiling in the area with a group of guys. "We happened to drive through there one day and I went back and said to my wife, ‘I think we might have found a campground we can afford.’ A week later it was in the paper for sale. So I bought it," Twenty-five years later, the Ragers' obviously found success with their business. The people are what keep them here. "We enjoy the people. We’re like one big family. We drive around on the golf cart and talk to everyone," Rager said.

Changes he’s noticed over the years on the lake include increased boat traffic and a nicer public access. The campground used to be on a rough dirt road. "The people would come here with their camper trailers and dishes would be on the floor," Rager said. The lake has remained pristine. "You can see the bottom in 12 feet of water. And it stays that way. We never get dog days," he said.

The swimming hole longtime Pequot Lakes area resident Dale Headlee remembers swimming at Loon Lake as a kid. One particular memory stands out. "Heine Schmidt was there with his family and I was just a kid — 7, 8, 9, 10 years old," Headlee said. "I happened to be on shore and all of a sudden there’s Heine, who was middle-aged at the time, fully clothed and just racing out into the lake, shoes on and everything. "He went fishing around under the surface and pulled a kid up. There were quite a few swimmers there. The kid had gone under and Heine raced out and saved this kid," Headlee said. "I was pretty impressed with old Heine." People still swim at the public access, but it was a handy swimming hole for people in the area years ago, before people traveled around so much. "Oftentimes there’d be lots of people swimming and sitting on shore," Headlee said.

He also remembers Loon Lake Tavern. "It was kind of funny when old George Paetzel had it and I was a teenager," he said. During the winter months, the dance hall was kept closed during the week. The concrete floor covered in shiny red linoleum was cold, and when the old stove kicked out heat the floor would sweat and leave a reddish brown color on dancers’ shoes and socks. Headlee remembers the ashtrays and lampshades Annie Paetzel made from old beer bottle caps. "They were really pretty clever," he said, noting they were displayed in the tavern. "It was quite a place," he said. Loon Lake Tavern Dorothy Kidrowski and her husband, Bob, who died in 2006, bought Loon Lake Tavern and Resort from Anna Paetzel, who had built the resort with her husband, George, in the mid-1940s. The Paetzels transformed a barn, chicken coop and farm home into a nightclub and dance hall. The Kidrowskis moved here in 1977 with four of their eight children from Rochester. They were looking for a different life that included water and fresh air. After looking at a resort in Detroit Lakes and another on Sibley Lake in Pequot Lakes, Kidrowski said they bought the resort on Loon Lake. It had 12 campsites, three cabins and the bar and dance hall. Kidrowski fondly recalls the deer hunters who would come and stay in the cabins.

Loon Lake Resort was a deer registration station. They closed the cabins after deer season, but kept the bar and dance hall open year-round, serving chicken dinners and having fish fries on Friday nights and live bands on Saturday dance nights. "We didn’t know anybody at all when we moved up here," Kidrowski said. "A band that lived a couple of miles away introduced themselves and started up, and then a band in Merrifield. They were good bands." Nationally known country western recording artist Marvin Rainwater performed at Loon Lake Tavern, as did Grand Ole Opry star Little Jimmy Dickens. The dance hall was also the site of numerous wedding dances and receptions. Kidrowski remembers the night in February 1989 when the band playing that evening noticed a fire had started near the wood furnace. They got most of their equipment and the customers in the hall out before fire destroyed the tavern and the Kidrowskis’ attached home. The couple rebuilt the bar a year and a half later. "We wanted a New Year’s dance really bad," Kidrowski said. "The inspector said as long as there’s heat and water, go ahead." Bob Kidrowski’s health was declining, so in 2000 the couple sold the tavern and built their home across the street, where Dorothy still lives. Her front windows have a view of the townhomes — Loon Lake Estates — that were built on her former property that is home to so much history.

rev June 2014