After many years I am finally taking to heart the request of several of my friends that I put down on paper the details of the beginning of my association with Little Bass Lake Resort (ie, my "crisis story", as it is sometimes called). The passage of the years has taken the edge off the tension and the pain associated with the happenings of the time, but the sequence of events is still interesting.
To begin, I must to go back further than 1992. I must go back six or eight years before that, to the mid-1980s, back to the beginning of my "on-again/off-again" relationship with a lovely, sweet, lady named Karen. When I first met Karen, which was several years before I had ever heard of Little Bass Lake Resort (hereafter to be referred to as LBLR), she was in the middle of a messy divorce that seemed to drag on and on. At that time she needed a friend very badly, and since I had an ear to listen with and a shoulder to lean on, I became the friend she needed. And we remained friends for a long time. In fact, she got married and divorced again during our long friendship.
Over the years our friendship grew, we got closer and closer, and eventually we took that giant leap from friendship to romance. And it was great!!!! Since we had been close friends for so long, since we knew each other so well, and since we liked so many of the same things, life was great! But it didn't remain so for long. It was six months, I'd guess, before Karen decided that she liked it better when we were "just friends" who were not "romantically involved". This hurt me a lot, but it wasn't anything I couldn't handle, so we stepped across the line again, but in the opposite direction this time, and tried to stop the "romance" that we had started. She appeared to be pretty good at it, but I couldn't handle it quite as well as she did. I could handle the fact that we weren't lovers anymore, but I couldn't handle that and still be as close a friend to her as I had once been. It just wasn't in my nature. If we weren't going to be lovers anymore, I also had to back-off on the friendship and TRY to let it grow SLOWLY again.....the way it had done before. She didn't really understand why I was having the trouble I was having, but she accepted it and we went our separate ways.
A few months later she walked into my office one day, said that she had made a mistake, and asked if I would consider stepping back to the "romance" side of the line again. (The conversation wasn't quite as brief or as direct as that, but basically that's what happened.) I thought it over for about 3 seconds and said "sure", and things between us seemed to go well again.......but only for a few more months. As you may have guessed, eventually she had second thoughts (or third thoughts, perhaps), and wanted to step backwards across the line and be "just friends" again. Sigh! I agreed, but with the same rules as before. [Aside -- By the way, I understood that the problem I was having was purely emotional, but I simply couldn't be with her on a regular basis and be "just friends" anymore. Can you understand that or does it seem to you that I was being childish? But for whatever reason, I could stay away from her altogether (albeit painfully) but I couldn't be just friends anymore. It hurt too much. -- end of Aside]
Well, as you may have guessed, we were separated for a few months when she came back to me and wanted to go to the "romance" side of the line yet again. And again I agreed. You know, when we were together I really felt close to her. She was a real Sweetie! And when she felt close to me, we both really felt good. But her feelings of "closeness" just didn't ever seem to last. [As an aside, I should mention that at this point she had been married and divorced three times......each time to a controlling jerk.]
Anyway, this "on-again/off-again" thing happened three times. The third time that she wanted to step back to the "friendship only" side of the line, I told her, in affect, that I just couldn't take this on\off\on\off stuff, so this was the last time. "Don't come back and try to change it again because I'm not interested." (And you don't realize how hard it was for me to say that! It really hurt!!!)
This time it was for real. On occasion we talked a little after this "final break-up", but only small talk. Eventually she quit IBM, left Rochester, and moved to Oregon, so at that point we lived halfway across the country from each other and as usual, "life went on". So "THAT WAS THAT"!
At least I thought "that was that". Nearly a year later, I received a letter from her, which I promptly threw into the waste basket. I didn't even open it. I knew it was a childish thing to do, but I was still hurting, and by handling it that way, I was "taking care of myself", so to speak. A few months later she called me on the phone, and since I wasn't home, she left a message on my recorder. I ignored it!
A week later she called again but this time I happened to answer the phone. She wanted to talk and I agreed. She cried all during our conversation. She explained how much she had been thinking about what had happened between us and how she had done a lot of soul searching. She said she now understood that the reason she always wanted to "back-off" was because I was the only man she was ever close to who treated her nicely (even counting her Dad) so she had no experience dealing with someone who treated her well. But now, since she understood what had caused her problem before, she KNEW that we would do well as a couple if we could ever get back together again. Sigh! What does one do???? Well, we wrote a lot of letters, we talked on the phone occasionally, and we fretted a lot.
That brings us to late 1991. About that time IBM announced an optional early retirement program that could apply to me, and at the time I was so sick of Corporate America that I just about couldn't stand it anymore. Hence, I started to look around for an alternative way to make a living. Needless to say, that fit right in with Karen's plans because she wasn't necessarily "locked" into Oregon.
As luck would have it, the daughter and son-in-law of some good friends of ours from IBM (Gordie and Norma) owned a resort (the Northernaire Lodge) near Ely, Minnesota. Occasionally during the off-season, Gordie and I (sometimes with Norma) would drive up to Ely and "resort-sit" while the kids went off for a short get-away. As luck would also have it, we planned to do that for 5 or 6 days in the middle of the snowy March of 1992. That was during the time Karen lived in Oregon, and the two of us were still agonizing over the possibility of "merging our life-paths" so to speak. So, I offered to buy her some airline tickets if she'd come to Ely for a time so we could talk, and she agreed.
Our plan was to spend the time in serious discussion and by the time we left the resort to have an agreement on one of three possible directions. We would get together and 1) each of us get a well paying job, earn as much money as we could for several years, and then retire, or 2) each of us get a part-time job we liked and enjoy a fun semi-retirement beginning immediately, or 3) sell our houses, put our stuff into storage, and join the Peace Corps for a couple of years.
The second night of our stay at Northernaire Karen and I left the main lodge and walked, single file with Karen in the lead, along the narrow shoveled path to our cabin. Just before we got to the cabin (and I remember the exact spot we were standing) an idea came to me and I said "Do you think we could ever run a resort?". To both of us that moment felt monumental. It was like a light bulb suddenly switched on. That immediately became "THE PLAN".
Again as luck would have it, we had some other friends who owned a resort in that part of the country, Ron and Shirley at Back O' the Moon resort in Grand Rapids. Since we were only a 2 hour drive from there, I called Ron, explained to him that Karen and I were thinking of maybe buying a resort, and told him that we'd like to visit him and Shirley for a day or two so they could talk us out of it. We spent two days with them and they didn't manage to change our minds. In fact they didn't even try. The only negative they gave us was that we wouldn't be able to go anywhere during the summer, but we already knew that.
[Now I'm going to skip ahead a little and, in doing so, leave out some details that aren't pertinent.]
Karen and I eventually decided to buy Little Bass Lake Resort. She borrowed a bundle of money from her Dad for her half of the down payment (her plan was to pay him back when she sold her house in Oregon), and I threw in the same amount (which I got as part of my agreement to leave IBM). We both had a fair amount of money in reserve, we had the two of us to run the place, I had a very nice IBM pension starting in 6 years, and both of us could find jobs in the off-season if we needed more money. From a financial stand point it appeared to be quite safe. So by late April, Karen had went back to Oregon, put her house up for sale, packed up her belongings, and moved to the resort with her college-age son and his girl friend who were to help us for 6 weeks. I still had to work at IBM for 6 more weeks, so they stayed at LBLR full time and I drove up every weekend (a 10 hour round trip). I was to make my final move up north on June 18th.
At this point we were (from a financial standpoint anyway) committed. I had passed the point of no-return with IBM (ie, I couldn't have backed out then even if I had wanted to), and we had signed papers for the resort and thrown in for a down payment almost everything we had in the world.
It was during this time (when she lived here with her son, and I was coming up on weekends) that things first began to crumble. [Aside -- As I get into this, you have to realize that you're only hearing my side of the story........not Karen's. She may have seen it differently. But there were several other people involved (including Karen's family and friends) and they all saw it the same way I did. -- End of Aside]
Early in May Karen seemed to be changing. She was loosing her enthusiasm for LBLR and she seemed to be becoming less than happy with me (to understate it a bit). Near the end of May she announced her plan to leave LBLR (and don't forget, we had virtually committed our life savings at this point, although she had done hers by way of a loan from her Dad). I tried to convince her that she should give it some time (maybe a year) just to see how it would go. But no dice! I asked her to stick around for 4 months to see how she felt after one season. Again, no dice! I tried to get her to re-read some of the letters she had sent to me, in which she explained why she had pulled away from me before, and why she was convinced that it wouldn't happen again. But still, no dice!
As the next few weeks progressed, she became so unhappy with me that I can honestly say that I believe she HATED me. She wouldn't talk to me without calling me names, swearing at me, and accusing me of some weird things. For example, during this period she once told me that my agreement to get back with her was part of a long, intricate, scheme I had dreamed up while she was in Oregon, to get money from her Dad so that I could buy a resort. And the worst thing about it was that I think she honestly believed it at the time. Apparently she had forgotten that it was SHE who had first contacted ME, not the other way around, and that the idea of buying a resort would come much later. Anyway, it was pure hell!
She eventually holed up in one of the cabins when I was here on weekends and hardly ever came out. Our plan at that time was for me to move up here on Friday (June 18, 1992) and she would move out and return to Oregon the next day.
At that point I did a lot of fretting and soul searching. I didn't know if I could afford to buy this place by myself, and even if I could, I didn't know if I could run it by myself. If I did try to buy it and run it by myself, I would have virtually no money in reserve. And then there was the problem of the money that she had taken from her Dad. Obviously she wasn't going to pay it back (and it was a bundle, believe me). Since that money had been used as part of the down payment, I felt responsible for it even though I wasn't the one who borrowed it from him. And he was scared to death about it! You see, he and his wife were living on social security and he had to mortgage his house to get the money to loan to Karen. He wasn't afraid initially, because he knew he was going to get it all back as soon as Karen's house was sold. But now things had changed big time and he thought he might loose his house in the mess.
Karen's Mom and Dad suffered a lot during this period. For them it was not only potential financial ruin (as it was with me), but in addition, they had a daughter who was treating them as badly as she was treating me.
The situation, which in my estimation was quite bad, continued to deteriorate even more over the next few weeks. As much as I loved LBLR (even back then) I was beginning to dread coming up here on weekends because the tension was so high that I almost couldn't bear it. Whenever I was here she lived in cabin # 5 and rarely came out. The rare times that her and I were near each other, I got a steady flood of swear words, accusations, and hate. It was, perhaps, the most stressful period in my life.......a thing I was quitting IBM to get away from. She did a lot of irritating things during that time (like stranding me in Rochester without a vehicle to use for the 5 hour trip back up north, and several other things that I wont get into). But believe it or not, the worst was yet to come!
Eventually we got to Monday morning June 14, 1992.....the beginning of my final week with IBM. On Friday I was going to make my final move up north bringing with me what little furniture I had left in Rochester. On Saturday Karen would leave, and finally (even though I was scared to death about it) I'd have my destiny back in my own hands. (By the way, I left out a lot of side items......like what this pressure was doing to my kids, etc. I'd have to write a book to get all that in. And the sad thing is this......I don't think I've even come close to describing what it really felt like. It was so bad that I really thought, at times, like I couldn't take it anymore. But as I said, the worst was yet to come.)
I went into work on that Monday and it started out normally. But at about 10:00 that morning I got a phone call from Ron (at Back O' the Moon Resort). There was a customer who had been trying to call LBLR all morning and kept getting a "this number has been disconnected" message. The customer called the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce to see if they knew what was going on, the Chamber called Ron because the lady there knew that he and I were friends, and Ron called me at work in Rochester. But I had no idea what was going on either! I called the phone company and their records indicated that Karen had called them 3 weeks prior to that and requested that the phone be disconnected as of that date! Obviously she had planned this course of action well in advance. I said "damn" (under my breath) and said "well turn it back on" (to the lady on the phone). But she couldn't do that because Karen was the one who had set the phone up in the first place, so she had the right to cancel it. They could turn it back on in a day or two......but with a different number (not a pleasant situation for a business when the seasonal advertisements had already been published).
After talking to a phone company supervisor, pointing out to her that it was a business phone (not a personal phone), and faxing her a copy of the resort license (which was in my name only) to prove that I owned the business........she eventually agreed and turned it back on with the same number.
Near the time that the phone was to be turned back on, I kept calling the number to see if it was working. Eventually the "disconnected" message quit, but then the line was continually busy. So I called my friend Ron, explained the situation to him, and asked if he would consider going over to LBLR to see why the line was always busy. You see, Karen had been treating Ron and Shirley pretty badly too, so they didn't really want to go over to LBLR if I wasn't there. But someone had to go over there, and I was almost 300 miles away while Ron was only 8 miles away. The decision was obvious, so Ron and Shirley reluctantly drove over to LBLR.
An hour or two later (it was now late afternoon on Monday) Ron called me back. The conversation went something like this:
Ron: Shirley and I went over there. We didn't find out why the phone is busy, but Karen has left.
Me: Well, that's okay; she was going to leave on Saturday anyway. Apparently she decided to leave a few days sooner than she originally planned. I'll just see if I can get out of here a few days earlier.
Ron: Well, you've got more problems than that.
Me: Uh-oh! (He really sounded serious, which worried me.) What do you mean?
Ron: She took some stuff with her.
Me: (Thinking it was minor and relaxing a bit.) No problem. What did she take?
He then told me that the cabin she had been staying in was still locked, but they had looked in the windows and it appeared to be completely empty except for the beds, the stove, and the refrigerator; all the furnature was gone. He also said that they had taken a quick tour of the house and the other cabins. The house was locked also, but through the windows it looked empty. She even took the stove and refrigerator out of it.
And there was a disaster in the other cabins, as well. As it turned out, five of the color TV sets were gone; all six of the microwave ovens were gone; all six of the fans were gone; all six of the fire-extinguishers were gone; some of the cabin vacuum cleaners were gone; two brand new hide-a-beds were gone; two dinette sets were gone; three or four easy chairs were gone; four or five lamps were gone; a couple chests of drawers were gone; a couple of the cabins were missing pots and pans; a couple of the cabins were missing dishes and cups; my brand new weed-eater was gone; one of the outboard motors was gone; $1000 worth of "Little Bass Lake" sweatshirts were gone; and the resort checking account had been drained of what little money was left in it. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc.
The place was a disaster. Here I was, almost 300 miles away, I still had to work at IBM until Friday afternoon, and I had a stripped down resort which was going to have five families check in on Saturday for a week's vacation. And bear in mind.........I still didn't know the first thing about running a resort! Oh my God! What does one do when it feels like one has just received the death blow?
Are you familiar with the song (written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and sang beautifully by Barbara Streisand), named "I'll Get By With a Little Help From My Friends"? Well you wouldn't believe it. From that point on through the rest of the summer I had friends coming from everywhere to help. It was truly amazing!
From Monday morning when the stuff hit the fan (so to speak) I don't think I slept until at least Wednesday night. I had so much to do and so little time. First of all, I went to my boss and to the personnel department, and explained the situation to them. They turned around some fast paperwork and approvals so that, even though all of the official documentation says that I worked for IBM until June 18th (an important date due to pension considerations), they actually got me out the door late Wednesday morning June 16th, at which time I immediately headed up north in a rented truck containing what was left of my furniture. I didn't even stop at LBLR, I just drove right over to Back O' the Moon Resort and talked to Ron and Shirley about what else they found out, and about what things I should do first and what things could wait a few days. After a couple hours of talking, I went to LBLR, climbed in a window, and immediately went to sleep.......alone in my empty house.
The next morning I got up early, walked over to cabin # 1, and looked around. Oh geez, did my heart ever sink! And it got lower and lower as I went from cabin to cabin and saw what was missing. (And remember, I didn't even have a stove or refrigerator in my house anymore.) When I got to cabin # 5, the one that Karen had been living in, I crawled through one of the windows (she had locked the door and took the keys) and sure enough.......it had been virtually emptied.
Finally, I went into cabin # 6, the last one. The dinette set was gone and the living room hide-a-bed was gone. I opened up the cupboard doors and saw that there were no coffee cups. That did it! I don't know why the coffee cups were the last straw, but that did it! I gave up! I had no job; I had no money; I had virtually no property since the resort would go back to the previous owner; and there seemed to be no way that I could run this resort. Everything I worked my whole life to get (financially, that is) was gone. I really and truly gave up! I didn't cry, but I can't explain the feeling. I had never felt that way before and I've certainly never felt that way since. But I'll tell you this.......it was terrible!
I left the cabin and walked back to the house. Just as I was walking around the house to the driveway, Ron and Bob (a friend of Ron's who was later to become a good friend of mine) drove up.
They got out of the pick-up truck. I walked over to them and said: "Well Ron, I'm throwing in the towel. She's done me in! I'm going back to Rochester." I remember it well; those were my exact words. Ron's reply was: "Just a minute now.......let's talk about this." A half hour later I was ready to start working for all I was worth to make a go of this place, and I've never had a single doubt about my ability to do it ever since. That half hour was the pits.... but it's in the past and it's gone forever!
There's still a lot more to the story, but I'll just gloss over the rest. That day my oldest daughter came up for the weekend to help. The next day Gord and Norma arrived and stayed for almost two weeks. My three daughters put together a schedule to make sure that at least one of them would be here every weekend to help clean cabins and get ready for the new guests. My Mom came out from Michigan and spent the summer as a cabin cleaner. I asked Ron and Shirley for advice about something nearly every single day........without them I wouldn't have lasted a week. They helped me out constantly all summer long. I must have driven them crazy that first year.
The first thing we did was take everything that was left in cabin # 6 and spread it around to fill in some of the "holes" in the other cabins. (Cabin # 6 wasn't rented until a week later and at the moment I was only concerned with "immediate" problems.) Then we took the furniture I had brought up from my house in Rochester and put that in the cabins where it was needed. Gord and I made a list of everything that Karen took that had to be replaced immediately, and we made the rounds to the discount stores, filling up his van twice. Each time the van was full, we backed it up to cabin # 1. I took the list and said "Okay, we need a TV set". Then we'd unpack it, put it in the cabin, and throw the packaging material onto the lawn. "We need a Microwave oven." Then we'd unpack that and put it in the cabin. "We need a set of pots and pans." Etc, etc, etc......to one cabin after another until we had covered all five cabins with both van loads.
When we were finished with that, we took the van back to all the cabins and picked up the empty boxes. When we finished, it was late Friday night (actually it was Saturday morning about 1:00 AM). The next morning we were all up at 6:00 AM doing yard work, cleaning cabins, putting on bedding, etc.......and about five minutes before the first guests arrived that afternoon, we were ready to go!!!!!!
[Of course you realize that I left out a million details of all the things we did from Thursday morning until that Saturday afternoon. But I think you get the picture.]
In the weeks that followed, I kept running into smaller things (tools for instance) that Karen had taken. And from time to time I'd find some gentle sabotage. Do you remember that after the phone was turned back on, it was always busy? It turned out that she had cut some phone wires, twisted them together (that's what made it busy), pushed them back into the wall, and put a blank plastic phone-jack over the hole so I wouldn't notice it. The lawn tractor (an old John Deere, but thank God she didn't take it) which always started very easily, surprisingly wouldn't start when I got up here that week. After I tried almost everything else, as a last resort Gordie siphoned all the gas out of the tank, dried it out, put in some new gas....and it started right up. Did she put something in the gas tank? I doubt it, but it looks suspicious, doesn't it?
I'd also like to mention a few other incidental items. Once, while I was mowing the lawn, a stone flew out of the riding mower and broke the window in her Dad's van. He took it to his insurance company who promptly agreed to pay for the repairs. However, a few days later the insurance company received a letter from Karen telling them that the damage to the vehicle was due to my negligence, and therefore they should refuse to pay it. Luckily the insurance company ignored the letter.
Then a week or two after Karen had returned to Oregon, she informed me (via her Dad) that, with the aid of a lawyer in Hibbing, she planned to sue me for $50,000 plus half of the resort. Obviously at that point she had nothing in the line of an investment in the resort. Her Dad advised her that if she did that, the resulting court battle would take all the money in the resort just to pay the lawyers. Her response to that was "That's okay. I have more money than Jerry does so I can afford it, but since he can't afford it he'll lose the resort".
Over the course of that summer I was contacted by two different departments in the State government. One of them informed me that Karen's son had filed a claim against me for $2000 in back wages which I had refused to pay him, and that I had 7 days to send them the money. The other one informed me that one of my past employees, Karen, required medical attention after she had hurt her wrist in the performance of her duties and as a result I had to pay nearly $2000 in workman's compensation. Needless to say, after I explained the true facts of the situation and sent them the required documentation, both cases were dropped.
Now she's gone and I have the resort. Next to my kids and grandkids, that's probably the best thing that ever happened to me.......and all I had to do to get it was go through a few months of hell (and make the payments on it of course). The struggle was well worth it!!!!!
As for Karen's parents and their house.......when my house in Rochester sold, I paid-off enough of Karen's loan for them to get their house out of hock.......at which point they relaxed a bunch. I still owed them a lot of the money but I made monthly payments for several years until it was paid off. Geez, did they ever feel bad about the crisis. Twice her Dad told me that he "couldn't begin to tell me how sorry he was for what his daughter had done to me". They still came up here to visit occasionally until her Dad died several years ago.
As for Karen.......she went back to Oregon in a rented truck with all the stuff she took from LBLR, took her house off the market, and probably held the world's biggest garage sale. She met another guy (oddly enough, tall, thin, and named Jerry), got married the following February, and got divorced (her 4th one) about a year later. She then moved in with another guy and the two of them opened a video rental store. Eventually she moved back to Minnesota and lived somewhere near the Cities, but I now have indications that she has since moved back to Oregon. I have no idea what her "state in life" is. Incidentally, she's still a Sweetie; she just has one heck of a big problem that she can't deal with very well. I'm not exactly sure what it is, but I know from experience that it's not very pleasant.