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North end of Lake Bemidji is destination for family

Sally Patterson of Bemidji stands in front of her family's former summer home on the north end of Lake Bemidji. Today, she and her husband, Steve, live in the home next door at left. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Sally Patterson has enjoyed summers in Bemidji for as long as she can remember.

"I came up here when I was 2 weeks old," she said.

Sally summered with her family along the north end of Lake Bemidji and later became a permanent resident.

"I've never missed a summer in my life and now I live here," she said.

Today, the lakeside area remains a destination for locals and tourists alike. Along with summer and year-round residences, it is home to Ruttger's Birchmont Lodge and Bemidji Town & Country Club.

While spending summers on the north end of Lake Bemidji, Sally said she enjoyed hanging out at the lake. She said her sister, Terry Bessey, enjoyed riding horses at a riding stable west of town and her brother, Bob O'Neill, enjoyed golfing.

"We used to come up and basically have fun in the summer," said Sally, noting that their family lived out of state.

Bob, who now lives in Beatrice, Neb., said he learned how to play golf on the golf course at Bemidji Town & Country Club. He played his first Birchmont Golf Tournament in 1953 at the age of 14.

The siblings' grandmother, Bess Terry, first visited Bemidji in 1919 with a friend. They stayed at Birchmont Beach Hotel. After that initial trip, Bess and her husband, Bill, and their daughter, Jane, who was the mother of Bob, Sally and Terry, traveled to Bemidji each summer. They stayed at the hotel during those summers until they bought a lot on the north end of Lake Bemidji in 1933 and built a summer home there.

Sally said people would venture north for vacations and to escape cities and the heat.

"There was no air conditioning in those days," she said.

As a newborn, Sally began visiting Bemidji in the summer of 1953. One summer during her teenage years, she met her future husband, Steve Patterson, a Bemidji resident. They married in 1974 at the summer home belonging to her and her siblings' parents.

Sally's brother and sister also met future spouses in Bemidji.

Bob said his wife, Sue, and her family also summered in Bemidji. They were from Nebraska. Bob and Sue were married in 1963 at her parents' summer home on the north end of Lake Bemidji.

Bob said he and Sue still return to Bemidji every summer. They stay at Ruttger's Birchmont Lodge, where Birchmont Beach Hotel once operated.

While growing up, Bob visited Bemidji every summer except for two years during World War II. His and his siblings' father, Buck, served in the Navy during the war.

Bob said he remembers very well the day the war ended. He was 6 years old and was playing outside at the family's summer home on Lake Bemidji. He said he went inside, and his mother said, "Guess what? The war's over. Your dad's coming home."

In the summer of 1950, Bob, who was 11 years old at the time, walked by a neighbor's house. The neighbor introduced him to former Minnesota Gov. Harold Stassen. Bob recalled asking Stassen, who previously had run for president, if he was going to run for president in 1952. He did.

Throughout the years, said Sally and Bob, the area has changed.

"When I was growing up it was mostly summer houses," Sally said.

In the past, Bob said, many of the summer homes on the north end of Lake Bemidji were owned by Bemidji residents who lived along the lake in the summer. Now, he said, many people who summer there are from Grand Forks, N.D.

Sally added that many of the summer homes in the area have been converted into year-round homes.