If you drive along the east side of Maple Lake in Forada, you might catch a glimpse of a curly-haired great-grandmother walking down the road toward the Sunset Campground.
This is Lorraine Sellgren, who at age 94 still hosts campers on Maple Lake, a role she has played in various forms for nearly 65 years.
"They get to be family for you," said Sellgren, who sold the neighboring resort in 1991 after her first husband died but kept the campground. "That's why I am so reluctant to let go of the campground."
In the evenings, she'll join the campers around the bonfire near the lake to watch the sun set. She does the books and hires someone to mow and to get the campground ready in the spring, and the campers -- long-term visitors who own their camper trailers and lease the lots from Sellgren -- plant flowers and take care of their own areas. Her tasks are light, she said. Until this year, she wheeled the garbage to the curb every Thursday. This summer, a new resident, Al Kramer, offered to take on that task, but she still does it when he's not there.
"I'll tell ya, I must say I have been blessed. God has blessed me to have the health I have," she said. "I've always had a lot of energy."
Hospitality and hard work are two of Sellgren's hallmarks. As a young mother helping her husband and parents run the nearby Sunset Beach Resort, she washed the sheets by hand, using a wringer-washer and then hanging them on the line. Young guests liked to watch her "squish wash" the bedding, which took her four hours. She also cleaned the cabins, ran a store selling penny candy to kids from around the lake, and bait to their guests. Some bait they bought and resold, but mostly they caught it themselves. They seined minnows and picked night crawlers. Noonan's Park in Alexandria was a favorite night crawler hunting ground. Somewhere along the line, she went to school and got her real estate license. Her daughters helped when they got old enough.
They operated the resort during the heyday of Minnesota mom-and-pop resorts, in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Guests checked in at 2 p.m. on Saturdays, and out at 10 a.m. the following Saturday. Their cabins were small and simple, and at the beginning, the two-bedrooms rented for $45 a week and the bigger ones rented for $55. Guests tended to return year after year. In fact, when they left, they would pay a deposit to hold their cabin for the following year. Almost always, the cabins were booked a year in advance.
The children of Sellgren's first guests would grow up and bring their own children to the lake. She recalls a 6-year-old boy saying, "When I grow up, I'm going to live on this lake," and sure enough, she said, the little fellow grew up to become a doctor and now lives in a house on Maple Lake. People come to the lake to relax, to fish, to let the sunshine and sunsets wear away the stress that builds up during the rest of the year.
But they also experience hardships, and Sellgren listens to them and suffers along with them, knowing full well how sorrow can strike suddenly. Her father, a bricklayer, dropped dead of a sudden heart attack when he was just about to retire and move into their new house.
She's also lost two husbands. She has been married twice, first to Ed Sellgren, who died suddenly of a heart attack at age 53, and then to Miles Davis, an educator. Davis developed dementia and died in 2019. Each marriage lasted about 31 years, and each husband was a wonderful guy, she said.
" I was so fortunate to have good husbands," Sellgren said. "I had a good life even though I had a lot of heartaches."
At 94, she's not immune to health setbacks. Several years ago, while she was still caring for Davis at home, she suddenly found herself unable to open a magazine. Then she fell to the floor and could barely speak. Her concerned husband said he would carry her to her bed. She tried to tell him to call 911, but between her sudden difficulty in speaking and his dementia, he didn't understand what she was saying. Finally she told him to fetch the renter who lived downstairs, and the renter came up, saw her, and called 911.
She had suffered a stroke and was hospitalized in Alexandria. Doctors gave her the option of a blood clot-breaking shot.
"They said it also could go to my heart and kill me, but I wanted to take the chance," she said.
The shot worked, and she made a full recovery. She's also endured cancer and went through radiation, but in June, the doctors at the Mayo Clinic pronounced her cancer-free, she said.
Last fall, she fell ill with COVID for two-and-a-half weeks. All she wanted was to sleep, and even when her church delivered her a Thanksgiving meal, she only picked at it. She had a fever, but never developed a cough.
"The doctors all said, 'You must have a really good immune system,'" she said.
Her daughters, Sheryl Herschman and Judy Sellgren-Ehle , are now retired from careers in the airline industry. Judy lives in Georgia and Sheryl recently had to evacuate her home in Lake Tahoe, California, which has been threatened by wildfires. Judy still has a baseball signed by some famous visitors to the Alexandria lakes area, players with the Minnesota Twins. Harmon Killebrew and Earl Battey and Bob Allison didn't stay with the Sellgrens, but they relied on their father, Ed, to take them fishing, and also took him out to eat. When a button fell off Allison's jacket, Lorraine happily and proudly sewed it back on.
Sheryl and Judy say they have stepped right back into the resort life — which, for resort owners, means cleaning the beach, pulling weeds and whatever other tasks need to be done. A resort owner's life is not one of ease.
"It was like farming with dairy cows — you had to be there," Herschman said.
Sellgren said she plans to run the campground as long as she can, and then leave it to her daughters.
"Then my daughters will take over or be making a decision about what they want to do," she said.