Praise for "Return to Wake Robin"
Jim Peck, Host of Milwaukee Public Television's "I Remember"
"What wonderful memories from my almost forgotten youth this book stirred. Slamming screen doors at first light; sunrises that only God could orchestrate and people. Wonderful, outsized, loving, adventurous people fill 'Return to Wake Robin.' My parents, my older brother and I took many summer vacations in the North woods of Wisconsin. Those were days of pumps and outhouses and myriad adventures in woods and on water for city kids. Marnie O. Mamminga takes us back to those more innocent and certainly more fun times. If you were there, this book will take you there again. If you never had the pleasure, sit down and read about it. Then you'll know why 'Up North' holds such magic for those of us of a certain age."
Howard Mead, former editor of Wisconsin Trails magazine
"All thanks to Marnie Mamminga for her splendid collection of recollections about the heyday of Northwoods resorts. She has caused a flood of memories of some of the best times of my life. In the 1940s and '50s, for my family, Up North was a magical, almost mythical place where we spent three weeks every summer. We always stayed at Ross' Teal Lake Lodge. The cabins and lodge were rustic and simple, perfect for Up North and so different from our home in Madison. Here the air seemed fresher and the sky seemed bluer. It was a memorable and wonderful time. This book is full of similar memories and stories, each unique and glorious."
This starred review appeared in "Publisher's Weekly" on February 27, 2012
With liberal doses of gratitude, humor, and charming period details, Mamminga, a contributor to Jack Canfield's Chicken Soup for the Soul series, recounts her family's more than 60-year history vacationing on Big Spider Lake in Wisconsin's Northwoods region. While her story centers on Wake Robin, their 1929 cabin named after a common area wildflower, much of Mamminga's story draws on the swirl of activity at Moody's Camp, a popular resort opened in 1922. Short chapters and black and white photographs provide glimpses of Moody's founders and subsequent owners and how, through a love of people and generous spirit, they gathered camp guests, employees, fishing guides (the lake's "Houdinis"), private cabin owners, and townspeople for weekly feasts, square dances, fishing expeditions, picnics, and other adventures. Weaving potent symbols (e.g., a clock with no hands in the lodge dining room) and traditions (preparing a family of five children for the 450-mile drive from Illinois cornfields to Wisconsin forests; bringing future spouses to the lake) into a world view and way of life, she persuasively argues for the restorative benefits of letting time stand still, if only for a few months of the year. While her reports of the inevitable changes brought by modernity and the closing of the camp are disheartening, Mamminga leaves a hopeful message that even in our consumer-driven electronic age, Wake Robin's old-fashioned routines continue to bring joy to a fifth generation.
This review by Andi Diehn appeared in "ForeWord Reviews" on April 23, 2012.
It's easy to idealize the mid- to late-century tradition of spending a month or two up at the family cabin. And it's easy to forget the long drives spent stuck in the backseat with siblings, the time the dock collapsed under partying teenagers, and the sorrowful goodbyes to dear summer friends. It's very difficult, however, to include all these elements in a book about one family's generational camp experience and still convey the blissful sense of wonder and magic that greeted family members every time they drove into the woods.
Marnie O. Mamminga accomplishes just this in her memoir about her family's camp in Wisconsin's Northwoods. Wake Robin, named after a white wildflower, was built by Mamminga's grandparents, Clara and Erle Oatman, after they enjoyed staying at different camps for several summers. Moody's Camp, with its amazing dinners, fishing trips, and social atmosphere, was especially sweet for them. When they decided to build a cabin of their own, Ted Moody sold them a piece of neighboring land.
Though Erle only enjoyed nine summers at Wake Robin before he died of a heart attack, Clara spent every summer of her long life at the cabin, entertaining family and friends. One memorable party was in celebration of the author's sixteenth birthday. Towards the end of the day, the crowd of dancing teenagers caused the dock to collapse into a slippery slide, which only made the festivities more fun.
Mamminga writes with warmth and obvious gratitude for her family's treasure. A freelance writer, she strikes just the right balance between stories of reminiscence and reflections on the emotional value of the camp. Where another writer may have found herself reduced to saccharine descriptions, Mamminga keeps her prose clear and concise, a pleasure to read.
It's easy to smell the woods, the lake, the delicious grilled food. It's just as easy to feel the stickiness of four hot kids trying to endure a long car ride. "Our happy dispositions had evaporated like the heat waves on the blacktop, and we were now five crabby kids crammed in the belted seats of our steamy station wagon as it rolled down the highway." Mamminga’s powers of observation translate well into a wide range of descriptive passages that offer good memories and frustrating, funny memories alike.
Mamminga's memoir will make readers wish for a cabin of their own to call home for a couple of months out of the year.
This review by Sammi King appeared in the "Chicago Daily Herald" on May 30, 2012.
Batavia author's book relives Northwoods memories
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. Publishers 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.