Lake Latoka Property Owners Assoc
P. O. Box 102
Alexandria, MN 56308

Latoka Stories

We invite any of you to write your own Latoka story! You all have one!

What is your favorite thing about living here?
When did you move here?
How has the area changed since you moved here?
What favorite family memories or traditions do you have?
What are your fish stories?
Do you know any historical things about the Lake and the area?

Send your story to me and we’ll be happy to include it. If you have photos to share, that would be great as well!
Gary Deick at ggdeick@charter.net or call 762-2538.

Life on the lake: Little Latoka
Life on the lake: Little Latoka, Part 2
Kathryn Liesemeyer’s story
The Big Lake – The West side by John Herdan
Lake Latoka Memories by Arlue Beheng

Life on the lake: Little Latoka

Back Row: Kat and Michael, John and Judy, Angie and Stephen, Middle Row: David, Katie, Jennifer, Front Row: Keira

So last week, I’m minding my own business. I driving over to Kat Liesemeyer’s house to drop off a CD with pictures of the 4th of July boat parade. As I’m driving down Vonderheide Drive I start getting flashbacks of my early days on Lake Latoka. In my amused enthusiasm I share some of the stories with Kat. Next thing you know she decides I’m now a columnist for the web site. Go figure.

I guess I do qualify age wise since I have lived on the lake for 61 plus years. That’s since I was born for those of you trying to figure out how old I am. And I did live on the lake five months out of every year for my first 18 years. It was always May through September , the most exciting time for lake livers. Our cabin is in the North Bay. You may know us now by the 12 foot tall red white and blue light house, the limousine parked in front of our cabin (same one as in Pretty Woman), or by our two month long construction project that we just wrapped up. Part 2 will come next spring.

Since I have lots of stories I guess I’ll start with Little Latoka and work my way North over a period of time. Little Latoka was an extremely isolated area when I was growing up (50’s and 60’s for those of you who can’t count backwards). The only people I knew that lived there were on the farm South of the bridge and of course the farm where “the barn” is today. The freeway didn’t exist and we still had “the narrows.” I just want to give a quick shout out to my dad, Alfred Herdan, who was one of the many people that fought the highway construction folks and helped convince them to put in the two bridges instead of the two culverts they wanted. At the time the bridges were some of the first banked and curved bridges ever constructed. Life on the Lake would be different without those bridges.

The only ways to access Little Latoka were by boat and by the little gravel road that ran along the west and north sides or Vonderheide Drive as it is known today. The original road ran along the lake front all the way to “the barn.” At that point it jogged around the farm and then turned North to join up with Townhall Road on the West side of the big lake. Since it was so isolated lots of interesting things happened on that road. My 14 year old best friend, Pat Osterberg, taught me, also 14, how to drive on that road. Who knows what my dad was thinking the day Pat and I went up to him and said, “Dad, can Pat and I borrow the station wagon so he can teach me how to drive?” The last thing I expected him to say was yes but that’s what came out of his mouth. Pat had learned to drive at his Grandpa Adolph Wagner’s farm which is the square white two story farmhouse just South of Johnson Lake or Lake Bountiful. Our test vehicle was a 1947
Buick station wagon, a true original “Woodie.” It had a “three on the tree”, a straight 8 engine, and could do 0-60 in 47 seconds. The hood was as long as the rest of the car. We’re both still alive so I guess the lessons took even on the windy lakeside road.

Also along that road at a location I am unable to discern today, was a small break in the trees along the lakeside which had a beautiful sandy beach. Because it was so remote, this became the Mecca for skinny dipping in Douglas County. It was called “Bare Butt Beach” or something like that. However, this is only hearsay because I did not participate in such activities. (And Bill Clinton did not have relations with that woman) If you were out making a high speed run on the back gravel roads late at night (think about the motorcycle runs that roar around the lake now at 3 in the morning) you had to be careful for parked cars when you went through that area as the road was not very wide. Besides you wanted to slow down just in case you got a “deer in the headlights” if you know what I mean.

Anyway, this is already a lot longer than I thought it would be so I guess I’ll save the rest till the next edition of “Life on the Lake.” Who knew Little Latoka would take more than one column.
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Life on the lake: Little Latoka, Part 2

One of the great things about Little Latoka being so isolated back in the 1950’s and early 60’s was that it was a wonderful place for adventuresome young boys to prove their manhood. There was nothing like hopping on the pontoon and heading off for the unknown. My best friend at the lake, John Hustad, and I made the trek many times. We would head through the narrows and then land on the North side of the lake about 200 yards past the point. We used to set up our tent on the top of a high hill which has either gotten shorter with age or was cut down by I-94 running right behind it today. Spending the night by ourselves being responsible for our own food and safety was an important part of the growing process.

We also did a few wacky things out there too. After I had passed gun safety training and gotten a shotgun of my own we became creative duck hunters. We knew you could only hunt from an anchored boat but had our own version of that. We would crank up the pontoon boat to full speed and point it straight into the weed bed on the North side. Just before we hit the weeds we would toss the anchor and a long rope overboard and crash headlong into the edge. Invariably some ducks would pop up out of there. Fortunately for them we were doing it out of craziness and not out of an urge to shoot ducks. We never once hit one. We sure laughed a lot though.

The beginning of freeway construction changed life on the lake a lot. Access between the lakes was limited during construction. However, by now I really did have a drivers license and we turned to the freeway itself for entertainment. There were a lot of young boys from Alexandria who went 70 miles an hour on I-94 long before it ever opened. Imagine the freeway as wide as it is today but being all gravel. It made for quite a ride. One night in an effort to show how cool I could drive I started sliding the back end of my ’61 Chevy Station Wagon (there is a pattern in my choice of cars here so far). Of course I pushed it too far and we spun in what seemed like an endless circle. When we finally stopped the silence was deafening. We sat perfectly still as a giant cloud of dust slowly drifted over us. As we started to cough at the dust enveloped us, we also started to laugh still not having a clue about our own mortality. Reflection at this
point: If any of my kids ever did this, I’d kill them myself.

Soon romantic young couples also discovered the draw of the freeway construction zone. The area near the bridge actually had a great view of the lake and became a favorite place to park. It also provided another opportunity for our creative minds. My aforementioned Chevy Station Wagon had grooves in the roof supposedly to channel rain water or to improve aerodynamics or something like that. The grooves were also exactly the same size as bottle rockets. We would sneak down the freeway with our lights out until we came across some unsuspecting couple looking for change under the seats. We would hit the bright lights. By the time their heads popped up we had lined up bottle rockets in all the grooves on the roof. We would kill the lights and the barrage would start. One after another the rockets would explode all around the car and the heads would again disappear. By the time they came back up again we were long gone. We actually looked upon our
work as a community service. We figured we were “Planned Parenthood” in Douglas County in the 1960’s.

About this time my friend John got a motorcycle. There could be lots of stories about that but only one involves the lake. One night we were on the back roads on the other side of the narrows. It was late and we were really surprised to see lights shining brightly in the cemetery. All of the urban legends we had ever heard about cemeteries late at night flashed through our heads. We parked the bike and slowly crawled as close as we dared. Turned out it was the guy who ran the cemetery. He had a funeral the next day and this was the first chance he had to dig the grave. Besides, it was cooler digging at night.

The completion of the freeway bridges brought with it an unexpected pleasure, a magnificent diving platform. Because the bridges were banked and curved we were presented with lots of options. On the low side, the South side, it was only 11 feet to the water. On the high side it was 18 feet. Big difference if you’re not a professional diver. Also, the outside lanes on the bridge were wider so the low and the high sides were the safest places to walk (If you could ever call a four foot space on a 70 mile per hour freeway safe). The water below was 8-10 feet deep so we always jumped feet first. Made quite a splash.

One day one of the “cool” kids on the lake was out in his new boat with his new girl friend. Being seen “looking good” was very important to this kid. The right kind of boat, the right kind of water skis, and the right bathing suit were very important to him. So was the right girl and this one was perfect right down to the flawless make-up, even at the beach. They were coming from the big lake into the little lake and slowed down for the no-wake zone. The perfect boy in the perfect boat stalled the motor so they were drifting very slowly as the emerged from the bridge. John and I cleared the edge of the boat by about six inches on each side as we both dropped a perfect cannon ball. The perfect girl said some perfectly awful things to us as she reached for her towel to catch her now running mascara. Perfect boy stayed way clear of us from then on.

The highway patrol would occasionally catch us on the bridge. Usually they only gave us a thumbs up (not the good job kind) and honked their horn. They never really tried to chase us down since there was no good access off the freeway back then. I’m sure other kids have jumped off the bridge besides us but it is harder to do now that they’ve put in those little fences at the top. (This is pure speculation since I have not jumped off the bridge since xxxx/xx/xxxx.) But now it’s time to move on to the big lake.
John Herdan
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Kathryn Liesemeyer’s story

Here is our story:

Loren and I met two years ago when I was living in Plymouth, MN. One of the first things I learned about him was his love of lake living. His eyes lit up when he talked about his time on Lake Miltona with his family when he was a teenager. His parents bought a resort there and Loren was the dock boy, the bait boy, groundskeeper- you name it! He came to love it so much that he and his family lived on Lake Osakis for 30 years. Getting up early and sitting out on his deck with a steaming cup of coffee watching the sunrise, the loons and other wildlife were a part of his daily routine. Lake living is in his blood and he can’t imagine not having this a part of his life.

I, on the other hand, had never actually lived on the lake. I grew up looking at Iowa cornfields, mostly. Not a lot of lakes in Iowa. When I moved to Minnesota, I became a “live on the lake wanna-be.” The closest I ever got was living across the circle drive from Bass Lake in Plymouth. Believe me, there is a difference between being able to see bits of the lake through the trees or from someone else’s yard than actually seeing it out your picture window or from your deck. I discovered that standing on the association dock, looking very forlorn got me a lot of sympathy boat rides from the neighbors and was even more effective if I had the kids with me. But, again, it’s still not the same.

When Loren and I decided to make a move to Alexandria, we contacted a realtor and looked at a bunch of homes on various lakes in the area. Loren had two requirements: 1. home is not on a cliff. 2. water is clear. We tromped around in the snow and frigid cold of January and February looking at house after house finally coming upon this lovely German style Tudor home on the southwest side of the little lake. We walked in to a cozy fire burning in the fireplace, arched doorways, crooks and nannies and charm galore and a connection we hadn’t felt in the other homes. That was even before we saw the view! Even in the cold and bleakness of winter, the vista was breathtaking. We imagined what it would look like in all the seasons. Being cautious, we put it on our short list and kept looking. But something kept niggling at us to give it serious consideration. The third time we looked at it we brought our five grown children we have between us. This was either a really smart move or a big mistake depending on how you look at it. Of course, they roamed all around and thought it was very cool. Meanwhile, Loren was at the lake with his ice auger and underwater camera checking on water clarity. My daughter, Keri went down with him, tromped back up and said “Mom, Loren doesn’t like surprises”. That meant that if he found something he didn’t like under the ice, it was over. Well, even if he had, try telling that to the kids after they have already moved us in the place in their minds. Fortunately, all was well and in fact, we learned that Latoka was one of top cleanest lakes in the state! We put the earnest money down that day.

Then came the long anticipated moving day. Good grief! Only in Minnesota do you have a blizzard on April 9th! I white-knuckled it all the way up from Plymouth riding behind the moving truck with my entire house inside gasping in terror at all the cars and trucks in the ditch. For the entire agonizing trip, Loren was patting my hand and speaking in a low, calming voice while driving like a pro. The man is a saint. We arrived safely but worried (at least I worried) about how we were going to get down the steep driveway with nearly a foot of snow. Unbeknownst to us, our realtor had contacted someone to plow out the drive and the 12-year-old daughter of our new neighbor was shoveling the walkways as we drove in. This was only the first event in a long line of neighborly kindnesses to come.

We got here just in time to watch the ice go out. What an incredible sight! We waited impatiently until we could put the dock in (a weekend with daughter, Keri’s friends and – according to Loren – lots of strong backs) and get the boat in and start fishing when opener came around. Although I’m still waiting to reel in my first walleye ever, we caught our share of fish, which we either threw back or fried up. Now, I’m sort of a fishing novice and found that you know someone really loves you when he ends up losing his pole and jumping in after it fully clothed because he’s helping you get your fish off the line. I’m getting better, however, and plan to do the baiting and unhooking all by myself next year.

One spring day, a lovely gentleman representing the Lake Latoka Property Owner’s Association stopped by to welcome us and invited us to the annual meeting. We thought, “Hey, what a great way to meet people and see what’s going on with the lake.” What we found there was a lot of friendly people and a well-run board. However, you might want to avoid that front row seating if you don’t want to be nominated or elected for something because Loren is now on the board and I am coordinating the website! We say that tongue-in-cheek, though, as we are happy to serve and have learned much and met some incredibly hard working and dedicated people who have the best interest of this lake and its inhabitants (people and wildlife) at heart.

Spring turned into summer and we spent our days enjoying the greens and blues of lake, land and sky. We learned how to tend a perennial garden and mow the lawn on steep hills. We saw such a variety of birds that we got a book to help us identify them. We learned about loon behavior and stopped what we were doing to observe them each time they graced us with their presence. I learned that when you see a gigantic mama turtle roaming around looking for places to lay her eggs, you probably shouldn’t swim in front of your dock that much. We decorated our boat, complete with a plywood cow cutout adorned with an Uncle Sam hat for the annual Lake Latoka Boat Parade on the 4th of July and tooled around with our “Lato-kow” to cheering crowds on docks. We also learned that family and friends like to come and stay in the summer. Needless to say, it was busy and sometimes exhausting, but always fun. New traditions were formed and plans made for the following year.

Summer left too quickly and fall arrived with its beautiful palette of color and lots of oohs and aahs. It was also special because Loren and I got married. All the sudden, we had this amazing expanded family (see photo) and where else to have that family photo taken but down at the lake.

Loren’s lake journey that began when he was a boy has now brought him to this lake. There are a couple of spots on Vonderheide that he slows down to see each day – one with a floating dock that brings back childhood memories. His face turns into a sea of calm, and a slow smile spreads across it. For me, anything we did to get to that moment was worth it. We’re home and life is definitely good.

Fall 2008
Kathryn Liesemeyer
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The Big Lake – The West side by John Herdan
The west side of Lake Latoka was hard to get to when I was growing up. When you went up the hill past the beach and went aroung the corner the cabins ended where West Latoka Drive starts today. The cabin that beloongs to the Hollingsworth family was pretty much the end of life for quite some time. You actually had to continue west and turn down Town Hall Road to get to the west side.

West Latoka Lane provided the only access to the lake on that end. That was the area first developed. One of the first families to move out there that I knew where Mickey and Dorothy Quist and their three kids, Mike, Peggy, and Terry. They lived next to my cousins when they were in town so I grew up playing with them. There were a few driveways along Town Hall Road that had apparently thrown Dorothy off track a few times on her way home so Mickey installed a giant sign high up on a telephone pole that said “Dorothy Quist turn here!”  It became a fairly famous sign. Mike and Terry live across the lake on Bradford Bay today.

The west side was also the location of a few abandoned farm sites that we always referred to as ‘haunted houses’. We actually had a pretty large selection of these houses all over Douglas County that we visited on a regular basis. We would find a few cute girls and convince them that they weren’t cool unless they had been to a haunted house and survived the visit. Of course all visits to these houses were conducted by candle light as a flashlight would be out of character. If you knew the house well enough and if the wind was strong enough from the right direction you could approach an open window and reach out with the candle in front of the window. When the wind blew the candle out the girls would scream and grab on to you so tight you could hardly breathe which was the point of the whole exercise. We did have a few scary run ins but that would be a whole other story.

Most everything I did as a kid on the west side was away from the lake. There were some great hills out in the country in an area we called “Little Switzerland”. Usually we took tobogans out there but one time we took one of the great sleds of all time. If you remember my description of the 1947 Buick I learned to drive in you will remember I said “the hood was as long as the rest of the car”. Well, that hood opened from the sides and if you opened both latches you could remove the hood completely from the rest of the car. We had purchased another ‘Woodie’ just like the first one which really didn’t run, that we used for parts. We would take the hood out to the beach in the winter and tie it on behind the car with a long rope, fill it up with kids, and then drag it around the ice at a high rate of speed. If we had ever hit a fish house we would have gone right through it. Which brings me back to “Little Switzerland”. One time we took the hood out there and dragged it to the top of the highest hill. Since hoods are hard to steer, gravity took over and we went were the hood wanted to go. We left quite a collection of fallen trees behind us by the time we stopped. As usual we laughed ourselves silly.
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Lake Latoka Memories by Arlue Beheng
 
1943-1944
When my brother, Merle, and I were about 12 years to 14 years old we stayed in a cabin near Latoka Beach. Our cousins came to visit from southern MN. We would swim often but liked to take a picnic and go up on the high hill west of the beach. We’d go up to the top where we could see our town Alexandria, from up there.It was our favorite place. Now there are many homes up there.
1944-1946
The Ekman farm was located at the west end of Lake Winona. My husband, Marlo, often visited his grandparents when he was in grade school and high school. In 1945 I visited there with Marlo. We walked the woods just west of the farm to Lake Latoka. Marlo’s grandparents had bought the property called Ekman Beach in 1902. Now the new highway #45 runs through Grandpa Ekman’s woods, cutting it in half. There were 9 children in their family and each of them got a lot at Ekman’s Beach. There was nothing there for years but they all came down to the property to fish, swim and have picnics.
My mother-in-law, Sara Ekman, Beheng, told us how the girls in the family would walk over to pick the many wild flowers in the woods by the lake. Then they would go to town to walk in the Memorial Day parade and carry those flowers out to Kinkead Cemetery for the service held out there. Those wild flowers are still there in the one vacant lot that has not been built on.
 
Carl Ekman and his wife, Tillie, had the first cabin. Christine and husband Conrad Lund were the second to have a home and live there, on the south end of grandpa Ekman’s property. Elvera and her husband, Clifford Deaton, had a small cabin next. My in-laws, Sara and Henry Beheng, brought in a small one bedroom trailer that they spent the summer months for several years, 1950’s and on. Hank was an avid fisherman. He knew the good spots.
 
Marlo and I were married in 1951. We would come out to Latoka to enjoy the lake the same as the Ekman children. We bought two lots that belonged to Sara’s older members of the family who lived in California, in 1962. A larger motor home replaced the smaller one. Our home that I live in now was built in1994.
 
Grandpa Hank had a green wooden boat and a 5 horse motor. The guys would all fish and we would have those wonderfull fish fries outside with everyone there. Uncle Conrad would fry bacon first, then flour and fry sunfish and crappies over an open fire. The Aunties always brought the salads and other goodies. We ate at picnic tables or on blankets. Water was heated on the fire for coffee and washing the dishes for the next picnic.  
 
Later wells were dug. The pump would go dry and we would always have to prime the pump again to get water. We all had outhouses because of no running water. The mosquitos were always bad, especially after sundown. There was no spray for them back then.
 
Fishing was fun for everyone. We dug our own worms in the woods. The grandparents made “droplines”on small wooden boards for the chidren. They could always feel the sunnies bite while holding the line in their hands. Grandma Sara helped clean the fish but we didn’t fillet them. That would be to much waste. Adults would have to clean out the bones, especially Mom and Dad for their children. Our children would help Grandpa Hank catch frogs for fishing big fish. There used to be alot of frogs around. He had a frog box with a rubber top with a slit in it.. They put the frogs in and then they could watch them jump around through the wire cage on one side.
My children enjoyed boating over to the “bass pond”. Adults would tell the stories about those big rocks used to enclose the area for rearing fish. We had those severe dry years which made the pond area possible. The rocks are still there but it is no longer a rearing pond. The loons have made their nests back in there. Our Aunt Christine could do a great loon call that we liked to hear. Our family was also told that we must wait 1 hour after eating before swimming or they would get cramps and drown.
 
My family remembers going to Little Latoka, climbing the high hill there by the channel for our picnics. We also went across the lake from our place to what was a great point for fishing and then a picnic on a blanket to sit on. We know it as Trout’s point now. There were no homes in the areas around the lake. Farms and fields, trees and brush surrounded Lake Latoka in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
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