By Rick Carson
As a child from suburban Chicago, I spent many enjoyable summer weeks on the Island in the early 1950s with my fishing-loving dad (and sometimes mom) at Cedar Lodge on West Harbor operated by Fred and Lil Dale, partaking of fun times with other kids and the great meals prepared by Lil. In 1975, my parents and I made a brief return trip to see if and how the Island had changed. To our delight — not much.
Having lived in Florida for the past 23 few years, I’ve felt drawn for a long overdue visit, motivated in part by church friends and one-time Islanders Les Briesemeister and former wife, Marlyn. This became the year, when I spent the first week in October back on the Island. Verdict: a thumbs up pure delight.
It often was a time of sharing my own Island stories and memories with those I met. These new friends included: Pamela Jean Young of the Jackson Harbor Inn (where I stayed) and her father, Larry; Jeannie, the docent at the Jacobsen Museum; Melinda, a waitperson at the Sailor’s Pub and Kate of Fiddler’s Green. Perhaps my most unexpected surprise was re-connecting with Linda Dale Henning (the daughter of Fred and Lil), whom I hadn’t seen for some 53 years, and her husband, Ken. I took my breakfasts and dinners at the Red Cup, Danish Mill, Nelsen’s Hall, Karly’s, Sailor’s Pub and Fiddler’s Green — each in their own way a definite treat.
Understandably, the Island has changed significantly from the place I had remembered but perhaps only superficially, mostly due to the many new and expensive homes. The people I encountered were, to a person, friendly and welcoming and eager to learn the reasons for my visit. Everyone seems to know everyone else, greeting on a first-name basis, which I saw demonstrated over and over in restaurants and shops. It still brings a smile to my face.
It didn’t take me long to adopt the two-fingers-raised-up-from-the-steering-wheel “hello” that just about every passing motorist exercises (and which I now need to un-learn because here where I live people would think I’m crazy). And there was the time I had trouble getting your bank’s ATM to cooperate for a withdrawal and the unexpected offer from a teller to work with me to get the cash I needed. I’m not sure a “stranger” would have found such a helping hand at most other banks.
The early autumn weather basically cooperated — though I was probably a couple weeks too early for the blazing fall colors I’d hoped to enjoy. Got lots of great photographs nevertheless.
I hope Islanders appreciate what a jewel you have. The mix of sparkling waters, both stoney and sandy shorelines, diverse woods and rich green fields and pastures probably is old hat to many, but to visitors it’s a special charm. To most observers you may have much of the same topography, waters, plants and animals as the rest of Door County, but the 30 minute ferry ride “separates” you from all those who aren’t willing to expend some extra time, effort and, yes, dollars it takes to come over. You’ve got to invest something in order to pay a visit and be rewarded, and I think that helps you retain a certain out-of-the-ordinary hospitality you generously share with outsiders like me that we’re not going to experience elsewhere.
So thank you, Washington Island, for so nicely fulfilling one of the entries on my “bucket” list. But maybe I’m not finished — I’m considering a spring visit.