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Home for the Summer: Meeting Betty in Finland

Our love affair with Lake Superior's North Shore began in 1973 when we first stayed at Fenstad's Resort.

One of those early years, when we were driving and exploring down Highway 1, we noticed a little batch of cute red cabins with a big sign out in front which read "Betty's Cabins." At that time one of the cabins was a gift shop/camp store. Did we stop and check out the store? I'm not sure, but we probably did. It was hard to pass up a gift shop with three little girls in the back seat of the car. And every summer we were up here we passed and noticed the bright little resort on the way down Highway 1 to Highway 61.

After 15 years of staying at Fenstad's we bought the cabin next door. Even as we mumbled, "This is too far from home, too long a drive," we were signing on the dotted line to make the cabin ours.

Always, Betty's Cabins were there — kind of a reference point. Things were up from there, down from there, right across the road from there. Although we shouldn't have been, we were surprised when in the summer of 2014, across the sign of Betty's Cabins there was a sign that read CLOSED. After all, we'd been noticing that sign for 40 years. And then, there were for sale signs, and then one cute red cabin and then another disappeared from Betty's yard.

Then we met Betty. It was at the co-op annual dinner meeting in Finland. Les and I sat at a table with her, and when we introduced ourselves we realized we were meeting the actual Betty. She was just starting her second summer without a resort to run. Later I stopped by her house and learned a little more about the family business.

Betty and her family moved to their property on Highway 1 in 1958. She commented on the lack of trees on the land — curious in the woodsy North Shore. At first, their home was a trailer, followed by the house that is still Betty's home. They raised three sons and a daughter there. The resort topped out at four cabins, but for a while it provided not short stays for tourists, but long-term housing for people from the Finland Air Base up the hill.

After the air base closed, Betty's Cabins housed only tourists. They were open from June 1 until Oct. 10. One of the traditions there were campfires in the evening. Betty always started one and usually guests gathered round, although sometimes it turned out to be a private campfire just for Betty. A favorite story is about two families chatting as they sat by the fire. This led to that in the conversation and it turned out that the two moms had been classmates in grade school years before.

The kids grew up and left home, Betty's husband, Carl, died in 1999, but she kept the resort up and running. After Betty closed the resort she was able to spend hours on a favorite pastime, books — regular books and audio books. When we met and talked in Finland, I asked her, now that her summers were not filled with cabin care, if she missed the good old days of being a resort owner.

And Betty of Betty's Cabins said,"Not a bit."

Jan Kent spends her summers in a log cabin on Lake Superior and her winters in a suburb northwest of Chicago. Her column, Home for the Summer, first appeared in the News-Chronicle in 1993.