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We'd love to hear your Deer Lake Story. Please email us at friendsofdeerlake@gmail.com

It was the summer of 64. I was 14, Jeff 10 and Pat 7.  Mom and Dad (Jackie and Hal), and the three of us packed our little motorboat to the gunnels with tons of gear: green, heavy, canvas army surplus tents and poles, cots and sleeping bags, cook stoves, etc. and headed north from Hartford, Connecticut to Dur-Bay.  It would be our second or third summer there, a ritual my family followed for years, expanding it when they moved to Detroit from three week stays to a couple months.

 

I fondly recall a pack of seven to fourteen-year-olds at Dur-Bay that expanded and contracted like ameba depending on the adventure, in constant motion, swimming, hiking, picking berries, hitting tennis balls, waterskiing, basking in the sun, riding horses, sitting around campfires, roasting marshmallows, and listening to the grown-ups talk at night.  In short, we had a blast.  All buds.  All fun.

 

A chorus of bullfrogs serenaded the camp nightly, and someone said, “Ever eat frogs’ legs?” The next night we commandeered row boats, gigs, and pails and set out among the lily pads, flashlights in hand. “There’s one,” we’d whisper.  The frog would look up and freeze, eyes trustingly glazed.  And Zap.  Gigged.  Cutting off their legs, dipping them in cornmeal and frying them up was wonderfully pagan. They even tasted good!  Pails full of dead frogs magically turned into a feast that we, us kids, had hunted and eaten. 

 

The next night, the lake was eerily silent.  No croaking.  And it remained so. We lamented that vacuum, that silence, and missed the old cacophony.

 

When water skiing one day, younger brother Jeff caught an edge and went down. I turned the boat to fetch him and skidded over our own wake, sending little brother Pat over the side.  Audrey and I heard the churn of the blades as they coughed up Pat and spat him out. I cut the motor and dove.  Swam.  A life preserver around his small waist, surrounded in blood, held Pat, face up, partially afloat.  His juggler vein hung like a red tube, intact, pulsating from his cut neck.  His ear, half torn off.  I held the back of his head.  Although unconscious, he spat out some water, then breathed more easily.  I treaded water and didn’t have a clue what to do next.  And treaded water, and treaded, and held him and talked to him.  Soon, a small fishing boat appeared.  Two fishermen pulled Pat out and rushed him to shore, where Jackie and Hal packed him in sheets and sped the station wagon to the hospital in Burks Falls. 

 

Exhausted, without a life preserver of my own, I turned to see our boat floating some fifty yards away and looked for Jeff, forgotten, nowhere in sight, but there was Audrey in the water coming to the rescue with a flotilla of life preservers tied one to another. 

 

No worse for wear, Jeff had held onto his skis and paddled to shore.  Patched up with more than two hundred double stitches, Pat recovered with a half dozen deep scars.  Why so lucky?   Why no infection?  “It’s thanks,” the doctor said, “to the purity of the Deer Lake water.”

Michael Ronan

The Summer of '64

60 Years on Deer Lake

My family has enjoyed the past 60 years on Deete Lake (Deer Lake). My father and mother, Gord and Edith Durward and my uncle and aunt, Henry and Minnie Bayman, bought 200 acres on the bay in 1958. Their dream was to develop a campsite that families would enjoy. My cousins (Lois and Noreen) my brother (Greg) and I spent the first two summers making campsites (with the help of our parents!) It was a lot of work but we also were able to enjoy the serenity of the lake. In 1960 the campsite was open to the public and for the next 25 years the families ran the camp. The camp was called Dur-Bay Campsite (DURward and BAYman).

 

The campsite at its peak had 100 sites - all very large with no running water! It was true wilderness camping. The camp business was run out of tents that my mother and aunt sewed. We children helped by renting boats, selling worms, lifeguarding and delivering bread goods made by Mrs. Norm Minor. My grandmother, Elizabeth Bayman, ran the store that was at the campsite. Mr. Schnieder who owned the farm across the road took ice from the lake, stored it in a barn located on the property and sold it to the campers in the summer.

 

In 1975 five acres was severed from the camp and Gord and Edith Durward and Henry and Minnie Bayman built cottages on the land. Since there was no hydro we used propane lights. Hydro was installed in 1980. My uncle had a stroke in 1985 and the camp continued on. In 1989 my parents, aunt and uncle decided to sell the camp to their cherished campers. That is when South Deete Bay Holding Company came into existence.

 

My father and mother sold their cottage to my husband and I in 1991. We enjoyed the cottage until it was destroyed by fire in 2009. We built our current cottage that year and continue to enjoy it. My cousin Bill Short inherited my aunt and uncles cottage. Bill's cottage which is adjacent to ours was saved from the fire - thanks to Ralph Michels and his grandson. Since Bill Shorts passing in 2011 his daughter, Laura Short, enjoys the cottage. My Aunt Florence and Uncle Ray built a cottage on the main lake and it was sold when they died.

 

It pleases me that there is an association who cares about this piece of god's land. I am grateful for sixty years on Deer Lake (and hopefully many more).

 

Audrey Benninger

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