Nancy Olmem-My family purchased our Poplar Lake Island cabin on Memorial weekend in 1952. Neighbors of ours in Minneapolis, Del and Mernie Kloek, had a cabin for sale on Poplar Lake and invited us to check out their cabin. It was not what my parents were looking for, but after looking at many properties they were shown the island. It was love at first sight and became our new summer residence.
That summer we spent some time on the island, but did not know that it would be the last time that our family of five would be together on a vacation. The following fall my dad suffered a stroke and died. It could have ended our trips north, but the following summer and many summers after, my mother loaded my two older brother, me and our collie dog into into our car and headed north. We were fortunate in many ways. After my dad died Dar Noyes who was owner of Rockwood Lodge and our Realtor, held the mortgage and called my mom and told her that there would be no interest and if she had trouble making the $15.00 any month, not to worry. Mother’s boss also felt that it was important for us as a family to go to the island so she was given two months off every year.
I was very young, 5 years old when we bought the island, and have wonderful memories. There were many other children who had cabins or resorts on the lake and also there were many resort guests with kids close to our ages. We spend our days playing in the woods, hiking, picking berries, swimming and doing many other outdoor activities. We were inside only on rainy days. As we got older, water skiing and surf boarding (behind a boat was also added to out list of activities. During high school I worked as a cabin girl at Balsam Grove Lodge (now known as Norwester).
As I entered adulthood, my love for the Gunflint and for the island continued to grow. In my early twenties I married Terry Olmem who also liked the area and the island. In the early years of our marriage, it was difficult to go north for long periods of time, but our love never lessened. When it was possible, we exposed our three children (Andy, Sheila and Matt) to the island. Now that we are older we are able to spend more time on the island and enjoy having the kids visit us. Andy, our oldest, is the fondest of island living and Sheila’s husband, Matt Lichty, also enjoys it. Our Matt live too far away to spend much time.
Summers for me are now mostly spent on the island. I am north as much as time allows and enjoy my alone time and family time on the island. People often look at me like I am crazy when they find out that I stay out there by myself. Yes, I need to take a boat hauling necessities back and forth, I do not have the modern conveniences and there often are animals that I share the island with; but that is what makes island living so special. If I want to be alone I stay home. If I want to be with people, I go to shore. It is my decision and I love it!
There are many stories that I have about life up the trail. When I was very young I can remember almost burning Rockwood Lodge down. The Noyes (the owners) went to town and left Sandy, their teenage daughter, in charge of the lodge. Sandy left the lodge for a while leaving Janet, her younger sister, and me in charge. Neither of us were even close to being teenagers. We got bored and decided to light the cigarette in mouth of the moose that was mounted above the main fireplace. We discovered that if we blew on the cigarette, the end would glow red. Everything was going well until the moose’s whiskers caught fire. We threw water and 7-up on the moose and were able to avoid the moose and the lodge from going up in flames.
A favorite story about a former resident has to be about Phoebe Bridgeman. The Bridgeman’s had 7 children of their own and had a very small cabin on Poplar. The Bridgeman’s were very generous and also let their children bring up friends to their wilderness retreat. I always felt that Phoebe and Bill’s philosophy was that there is always room for one, two, or three more. Yearly there was a lake picnic on Blueberry Island that was on the other side of the lake from their cabin. In order to get everyone to the picnic or any other place that they went as a family you would see a boat towing another boat both filled with people. Phoebe also realized that there were lots in her group and would come loaded with many dishes to pass.