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Paynesville Press - December 1, 2004

Koronis resort owner receives Pioneer Award

By Michael Jacobson

Jack Bugbee, 81, remembers when the only roads to Lake Koronis were wagon trails. He remembers when it was easier to paddle across the lake in a rowboat than it was to drive around it in a car. He remembers his family carving a resort out of 60 acres of "wilderness."

Jack Bugbee Bugbee has spent summers on Lake Koronis since he was born in 1923. The first cottage at Bug Bee Hive Resort is only a year older than he is.

Jack Bugbee became the tenth winner of the Pioneer Award from the Minnesota Resort and Campground Association in October.

So, fittingly, in October, Bugbee earned the Pioneer Award from the Minnesota Resort and Campground Association.

The Pioneer Award was established in 1989 to honor individuals who have made a significant contribution to the resort industry in Minnesota, said Dave Siegel, general manager of the Minnesota Resort and Campground Association. Bugbee is the tenth resort owner in the state to receive the award, joining names like Jim Madden (Madden's Resort) and Dutch and Irma Cragen (Cragen's Resort).

The Minnesota Resort and Campground Association always names a Resorter of the Year, but the more prestigious Pioneer Award is only given to a deserving nominee, someone who "represents the spirit of the industry," like Bugbee, according to Siegel.

Bugbee received his Pioneer Award on Monday, Oct. 18, at the annual conference for the Minnesota Resort and Campground Association at Sugar Lake Lodge near Grand Rapids.

The award was a surprise to Jack, who did think it was funny when his family started showing up at the conference, especially since they had just gotten together the previous weekend to watch his son Bruce run in the Chicago Marathon.

But the family told Jack that they were just coming to celebrate his birthday. Jack still didn't realize his coming award when his children (Bruce and Jill) made him get a new suit. But when they announced that they were giving a Pioneer Award at the banquet, Jack knew why his family had come.

"Holy smokes!" he remembers thinking. "I didn't know a thing about it," he added.

Not only is Bugbee a pioneer in the resort industry, he is a survivor, said Siegel.

Resort History
Jack's father, Bill, who was born in Paynesville in 1874, bought 60 acres on Lake Koronis in 1920 and built the first cottage 1922. Bill worked for the North American Creamery, traveling across the state to establish buying stations where the creamery could purchase milk from farmers.

Old dock at resort Jack doubts that his father bought the land to build a resort, but his distant cousin, Bert Hooten, was running Stone Gate Lodge at the time. Hooten's success might have spurred his father to try resorting, too, Jack figures. "It looked like he (Hooten) was making a nickel doing it," said Jack, so his father must have figured, "By golly, we can do it."

Jack Bugbee's father bought 60 acres on Lake Koronis in 1920, built the first cabin in 1922 and started Bug Bee Hive Resort in the 1920s.

Soon after Jack was born in 1923, his father built another cottage, supposedly for Jack's grandmother, but Jack never remembers her using it. Instead, his father started renting that cottage.

Jack remembers taking a wagon path to town back in the 1920s. It ran roughly along the path now taken by NW Koronis Road, except it continued straight across what is now the airport and came to town like Cemetery Road does now. "The closer you got to town, the more like a road it got," Jack recalled.

"I've wondered what possessed a man to buy 60 acres of wilderness," said Jack. "There was nothing here. No roads."

He remembers playing on Third Island as a kid and keeping sheep on the island. He remembers a drought in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, that was so severe that you could see the sandbar between Second and Third islands.

He remembers rowing to Van's Beach on special occasions as a kid. Driving there was out of the question so instead they paddled across the lake!

Jack, who was raised in Paynes-ville, with his family living in town during the winter and at the resort in the summer, attended high school in Benson after his parents divorced but continued to spend summers on Lake Koronis.

Joining the Business
Jack attended Macalester College for several semesters and then served for three and a half years in the U.S. Navy during World War II. (During his stateside service, he did flight training in one of the first flight simulators, he said.)

In 1946, Jack joined Bug Bee Hive Resort in partnership with his mother. By then, the resort had five cabins for rent - Lazy Bee, Honey Bee, Hornet's Nest, Wasp's Nest, and Yellow Jacket - plus the Keeper of the Bees for the Bugbee family.

Fishermen In 1947, he joined the Minnesota Resort and Campground Association. In 1948, Jack used money from his G.I. Bill to build four new cottages.

Starting in 1950, Jack worked on the road for the Star Tribune for ten years supervising carrier routes, so his mother Mary and wife Audrey ran the resort during the week, while he worked on weekends.

These fishermen from Iowa (above) staying at Bug Bee Hive Resort, proved in October that a stringer of walleyes can still be caught in Lake Koronis, rivaling the stringer caught years ago at the resort (below).

Then for two years he ran a Sears catalog store in Paynesville. In 1963, he started working full-time as a rural mail carrier for the post office, something he had done on the side, as well as driving school bus. He continued to work for the post office for 23 years, and he also served as the clerk for Paynesville Township for 12 years.

Old fishing picture Owning a resort "wasn't thought of as a vocation," said Jack. "It was thought of as a good way to make an extra nickel." And it was a great place to raise a family, he added.

The leanest time for the resort was the early 1960s, said Jack, when he had five children to feed. He sold six cottages and 24 acres of property in the late 1960s. Selling a cottage was like cutting off a limb, he said, but it had to be done to survive.

Resort Trends
The resort industry in Minnesota shrinks by eight percent per year, said Paul Bugbee, who began leasing the resort from his parents in 1988 and is now a third generation in the resort business. "There's not a resort in Minnesota whose business value is more than it's property value," Paul said.

The state is especially losing ma-and-pa resorts, according to Paul. "Ma and pa are getting tired, and they can sell their resort to developers and make far more money than they ever could running the resort," he explained.

Siegel compared resorts to family farms, since they both are weather-dependent, have sporadic yearly profits, and require a large capital investment in land and buildings. A resort, with guests on vacation, eating out, etc., generate more economic activity for a community than the lake residences that replace them, said Siegel.

Disappearing resorts are closing an avenue for all Minnesotans to enjoy the lakes, said Paul, who thinks it's a question of when, not if, resorts vanish in Minnesota.

"The magic is through all those years Dad hung on," said Paul.

Jack, though, credits his own mother for weathering even more difficult times with the resort during the 1930s (with the Great Depression) and the 1940s (with World War II, which caused gas rationing, for example). "I have no idea how they did it," said Jack.

Resorting has changed tremendously in the 80 years since Bug Bee Hive Resort was founded, said Jack.

Resorts on Lake Koronis date back to the turn of the century, earlier than Bug Bee Hive. In the first couple decades - the 1900s and 1910s - fishing and hunting were the main attractions, and anglers and hunters came to Paynesville mainly by train.

By the 1920s, when Bug Bee Hive was established, resorters were coming for recreation, too. And people were driving to Paynesville from Minneapolis or from southern states. Before air conditioning, said Jack, Bug Bee Hive would rent cottages for the summer to guests from Nebraska and Oklahoma, who wanted to escape the heat down south.

By the 1950s, weekly rentals were getting common, from southern Minnesota and the Twin Cities as well as from southern states. Jack remembers switching from Sunday-to-Sunday rentals to Saturday-to-Saturday rentals. It was tough to staff the cleaning and changeover on Sundays, said Jack.

By the time Paul remembers the resort, in the 1960s and 1970s, weekly rentals were standard.

In 1975, King Bee Camp was established, which now has 44 sites for seasonal rentals to recreational vehicle owners.

Now, Bug Bee Hive Resort has 26 rental units that can accommodate 175 guests on 40 acres (including King Bee Camp). Nine of these units are still cabins, all winterized now.

The new trend is multi-unit buildings, and Paul has built four duplexes, a tri-plex, and two four-plexes in recent years. A niche market that he tries to fill is for large gatherings, such as family reunions.

Resorts are still a cost-effective family vacation, said Paul. Though more activities are offered now, the real draw is still the lake and the relaxed atmosphere for a family get-together. While more and more families struggle to eat family meals together due to their busier and busier lives, for example, families often eat all of their meals together during a week's stay at the resort.

Jack and Paul take pride in having guests who have come to Bug Bee Hive Resort for decades and decades. The resort has always been a home that they have shared with their guests. "Money can buy you anything, but it can't buy you roots. Our roots are strong and deep here," said Paul.

The resort, said Jack, "has been a wonderful place to raise a family." Spoken like a true pioneer.

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