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MARILYN HAGERTY: Mail boxes with GF names line Lavinia Road at Bemidji

Woutat, Goehl, Jacobi, Rohde, Roller.

Grand Forks names such as these have been on mailboxes on Lavinia Road along Lake Bemidji for six decades. This summer, the people at Lavinia are flying flags of our nation.

At the urging of Don Lindgren, the red, white and blue welcome is there along “Grand Forks road.” You pass the Lander, Kieffer, Berge, Lindgren, Vaaler, Alphson places.

And inside a cottage built in 1924, I had a chance to visit with a couple who met as children at Bemidji. They inherited his family cabin where they have spent summer time with children and grandchildren.

They are Riney and Joan Goehl of Minnetonka, Minn. Their family of three daughters, their spouses and children now numbers 15. And they have had the joy of seeing the seven grandkids enjoy summer visits to the lake. Their cottage has grown with add-ons and improvements.

“Fishing, swimming, hiking, boating, sailing and jumping off Rocky Point,” Joan says, “You name it, and we did it. They all have a special place in their hearts for Bemidji.”

Joan and Riney, who are 79 now, call it the “holy grounds.”

He’s a retired physician who practiced in Minnetonka. His late father, R.O. Goehl, was a physician with the Grand Forks Clinic and a fishing and hunting friend of Joan’s father, Joe Roller, who operated a stationery store.

And the two Grand Forks families ended up side by side along the beautiful shores of Lake Bemidji.

Joan Goehl remembers the Mug Club of childhood days at the lake. The club house was her dad’s fish house, and she would go there with friends to drink root beer out of mugs — as at the A&W drive-in.

“We thought we were pretty hot stuff,” she remembers. “We planned many a questionable adventure there — such as stringing toilet paper across the road at night and hiding in the yard when cars would come upon it. At night, we’d play cards, or Sorry, or Authors. There weren’t enough hours in the day for us. We mainly went home just to eat or sleep.”

In the early days, some families went by train to Bemidji. Travel by car was slow and difficult before U.S. Highway 2 became four lane.

At one time, going to the lake simply meant going to Bemidji. But scores of lake people from the Grand Forks area over the decades have branched out in Minnesota. Many are drawn to Canada and Lake of the Woods.

The call seems clear to visit Minnesota lakes. Traveling east on U.S. Highway 2, there is a feeling of lake country. There is the pull of Bemidji and Cass Lake beyond.

Most people nod their heads. They seem to agree — it’s the trees.

In the bunkhouse near the Goehl cottage, there’s a sign that says: “A day at the lake: Priceless.”

And then there’s Paul Bunyan and his Blue Ox downtown in Bemidji ready to welcome people to the lake.