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posted: 5/30/2012 2:05 PM

Batavia author's book relives Northwoods memories

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  • Marnie Mamminga's grandparents pose on their newly constructed log steps at Wake Robin, 1929.

      Marnie Mamminga's grandparents pose on their newly constructed log steps at Wake Robin, 1929.
    Courtesy of the Oatman family

  • Heading down to the lake for a swim on a hot day is a cherished and frequent activity in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.

      Heading down to the lake for a swim on a hot day is a cherished and frequent activity in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.
    Courtesy of the Oatman family

  • Batavia author Marnie Mamminga

      Batavia author Marnie Mamminga

  • Jumping into the lake is a great way to cool off on a hot summer's day. Batavia author Marnie Mamminga shares memories of her family's lake cabin in her recently published book, "Return to Wake Robin."

      Jumping into the lake is a great way to cool off on a hot summer's day. Batavia author Marnie Mamminga shares memories of her family's lake cabin in her recently published book, "Return to Wake Robin."
    Courtesy of the Oatman family

  • Moody´s Camp owner Lucile Seitz, third from right, enjoys a rare game of cards with several guests on the resort´s popular swim dock in 1957.

      Moody´s Camp owner Lucile Seitz, third from right, enjoys a rare game of cards with several guests on the resort´s popular swim dock in 1957.
    courtesy of Dick Seitz

 
 

For many of us who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, Wisconsin was the place where we spent the vacations of our youth, whether going to church camp at Lake Geneva, tent camping in Baraboo or visiting the lodges of the Northwoods.

It was a simpler time of life, waking up with the sun and falling asleep under the moonlight. It was hours of packing the car for a week's worth of fun. For my family, it included picnicking along the way with ham sandwiches on buns from Eneberg's Bakery in Geneva.

It was a time that, for many of us, has been locked in our memory. It was for me, until I read Marnie Mamminga's beautifully written memoir, "Return to Wake Robin: One Cabin in the Heyday of Northwoods Resorts," recently released by Wisconsin Historical Society Press.

A former writer for the Daily Herald, the Chicago Tribune, and the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series, Mamminga of Batavia spent her summer vacations at her family's cabin "Wake Robin" in Big Spider Lake, 20 miles outside of Hayward, Wisc.

She writes of family adventures, celebrations and mishaps. She also writes about connecting with nature mirrored in the beauty of the lake and the majesty of the Northwoods.

Mamminga admits to working on this book for the past 15 years, but it wasn't the book she originally wanted to write.

"I set out to do a history of the people who lived in the cabins around the lake, so I started interviewing them," Mamminga said. "It took me four years to realize that the story wasn't working. It wasn't the story I wanted to tell."

Mamminga began writing her own story, a memoir of her summers at the lake. It became a story of family and friendships set in the lush wooded landscape of northern Wisconsin.

The change in direction resulted in a charming story that could only be told from personal experience. Written by one who truly cherishes her time spent in Wisconsin, the book not only tells the experiences of five generations at the cabin retreat, it also tells of the family's connection to a nearby lodge, Moody's Fishing Camp.

For many, the stories about the fishing camp will bring back memories of another era. Mamminga's ability to paint the picture with vivid descriptions creates the imagery of guided fishing trips, fast-paced square dances, steak fries and even lobster boils.

When Mamminga and her sister Nancy were given the opportunity to work at the fishing camp as "fill-ins" for three weeks, they walked over to the lodge and approached the kitchen "as anxious as two skittish fawns."

When she writes of the kitchen area, all the senses are awakened.

"As we approached the kitchen confines, laughter, chatter and clattering dishes echoed out through the screened windows," she writes. "Sweet scents of cinnamon dough baking and bacon grease frying fanned out into the driveway."

Mamminga's writing expertise has not gone unnoticed. Publisher's Weekly gave "Return to Wake Robin" one star with a glowing review.

It has been selected as the book of the month for June by the Independent Booksellers' Association and the Independent Publishers Association has selected it as a highlighted title for new releases.

According to Mamminga, her passion for writing began in elementary school. She loved writing book reports and getting writing assignments.

"I was so excited when my second-grade teacher told us to write about our summer vacation," she said. "Then I misspelled 'swimming' and I started to cry."

Her mother, Woody Oatman, reassured her, saying that her experiences at the lake were more important than spelling swimming correctly.

Oatman is as much of a central figure of this book as Mamminga is. From dragging her kids out of bed to see the beauty of a sunrise to scheduling activities in her best camp counselor fashion, Woody was a mom who loved her family of five and planned celebrations that included dock parties for her own brood and the kids from neighboring cabins. Woody and her husband David took a love of the Northwoods and shared that love with their children and grandchildren.

Mamminga felt one of her greatest gifts was being able to read "Return to Wake Robin," to her mother before she passed away in 2010.

"I took the book to the nursing home and I read the book to her on my visits," she said. "The years had taken their toll; she had difficulty hearing and seeing. I remember reading with each of us leaning forward, heads touching, so that she could hear my words and see the vintage photographs in the book."

When Mamminga finished reading the last chapter, her mother looked up and quietly said, "'I didn't want it to end.'"

You won't either.

It doesn't matter if you spent your vacations in Minnesota, Michigan or Wisconsin -- this book will resonate with all who went to a lodge or a cabin for a week of enjoying the beauty of the woods or the serenity of a lake.

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