Return to Wake Robin: One Cabin in the Heyday of Northwoods Resorts

By Marnie O. Mamminga

Hardcover: $22.95

ISBN: 978-0-87020-491-3

192 pages, 85 b/w photos, 5.5 x 8.5" E-book edition available Now available as an audiobook!


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Recommended to readers everywhere by Parade Magazine

A Midwest Connections pick for June/July 2012 from the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association

Five generations of Marnie O. Mamminga's family have been rejuvenated by times together in Wisconsin's Northwoods. In a series of evocative remembrances accompanied by a treasure trove of vintage family photos, Mamminga takes us to Wake Robin, the cabin her grandparents built in 1929 on Big Spider Lake near Hayward, on land adjacent to Moody's Camp. Along the way she preserves the spirit and cultural heritage of a vanishing era, conveying the heart of a place and the community that gathered there.

Bookended by the close of the logging era and the 1970s shift to modern lake homes, condos, and Jet Skis, the 1920s to 1960s period covered in these essays represents the golden age of Northwoods camps and cabins - a time when retreats such as Wake Robin were the essence of simplicity. In "Return to Wake Robin," Mamminga describes the familiar cadre of fishing guides casting their charm, the camaraderie and friendships among resort workers and vacationers, the call of the weekly square dance, the splash announcing a perfectly executed cannonball, the lodge as gathering place. By tracing the history of one resort and cabin, she recalls a time and experience that will resonate with anyone who spent their summers Up North - or wishes they had.

Now available as an audiobook!

Marnie Mamminga is also the author of the Society Press book On a Clear Night: Essays from the Heartland.

To receive a review copy or press release, to schedule an author event, or for more information contact the WHS Press Marketing Department:

Marnie O. Mamminga has vacationed every summer on Big Spider Lake near Hayward, Wisconsin. Born and raised in the Chicago area, she attended the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, where she earned undergraduate and master's degrees in English. Over the years she raised three sons, taught junior high and high school English, and worked as a freelance writer and columnist. Her publishing credits include the "Chicago Tribune," "Reader's Digest," the "Christian Science Monitor," "Lake Superior Magazine," and several "Chicken Soup for the Soul books." She has been married to her high school sweetheart for more than forty years and is so very grateful that her grandchildren love the Northwoods as much as she does. She is also the author of the Society Press book On a Clear Night:  Essays from the Heartland.

, Eric Hoffer Book Award (Memoir)

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.

Author Interviews
This author interview appeared in on May 23, 2012.

Mamminga memoir celebrates cabin culture

Last summer, visiting a friend's cottage, I chuckled at the phrase painted along the top of a kitchen wall: "What happens at the cottage, stays at the cottage."

It seems like a good rule to live by, although Marnie Mamminga's new memoir, "Return to Wake Robin: One Cabin in the Heyday of Northwoods Resorts," may change my mind. I'm glad Mamminga decided to tell the story of her cabin, Wake Robin, on Big Spider Lake, where five generations of her family have vacationed.

"Return to Wake Robin" is a family memoir and a celebration of youth spent in the idyllic Northwoods of Wisconsin, but Marnie Mamminga expands her reach and looks, too, at the golden age of Northwoods camps and cabins, through the story of Moody's Camp, adjacent to the land where her grandparents built their cabin, which they dubbed Wake Robin.

The result is a nostalgic celebration of summer fun; one with depth and spirit that will draw you in.

Though she doesn't hit Milwaukee until July 19 for a 7 p.m. book signing event at Next Chapter Bookshop in Mequon, we asked the Chicago author – who has, among other things, contributed to several "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books – about Wake Robin and the tribute she's penned to it. What does Wake Robin mean to your family? Clearly, it's not just four walls and a roof next to a lake.

Marnie Mamminga: Yes, Wake Robin means a lot more to us than just a log cabin by the lake, though that is a great part of its charm. To us, it means many things: family history, togetherness, simple pleasures, friends, traditions, fulfilling work, fun, rest and peace. It consistently provides a place for us to pause, renew and to dream.

OMC: Do you think the "up north cabin" idea is one that's fading as people perhaps prefer to take varied vacations rather than invest in a place they'll keep going back to?

MM: To stay or not to stay, that is the question! Although there is an understandably distinct pull for many to seek adventure in various extended travels, the cabin culture is still very strong. Easier access and familiarity are both big draws. For those of us who love it, the cabin offers the best of both worlds – consistent adventure and a place to come home to, a retreat for the soul.

OMC: The lake cabin is sort of a survivor of a simpler age, isn't it?

MM: Yes, the 1920s-1960s era that I write about in "Return to Wake Robin" was a much simpler and quieter time, but it was packed with joyous fun. There were no technological distractions, big boats, or Jet Skis-not even a phone in many cabins including ours – so it was a lot easier to completely unwind and relax. You came to the lake to fish, canoe, visit with friends, see wildlife, swim, picnic and enjoy and appreciate the natural beauty surrounding you. Believe me, no one was ever bored!

I think people are still looking for that calm especially in this busy, high-tech arena that our world has become.

OMC: Was writing "Return to Wake Robin" a labor of love? It sure has that feel.

MM: Totally a labor of love! It took me 15 years to do it from the moment I came up with the idea to its publication by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press this spring. Like the long journey Up North that I write about in the book, there were many stops and starts, delays and detours. Most gratefully, I was able to complete the manuscript and read it to my mother Woody, who is pictured on the cover, before she died.

OMC: What was your mom's reaction to the book when she read the manuscript?

MM: Reading the manuscript to my mother was a very moving experience for both of us. Near the end of her life, although Woody was very mentally sharp, she was legally blind, on dialysis, diabetic and confined to a wheelchair in a nursing home. On each of my visits, I would read a chapter or two to her. We sat very close together with our heads almost touching so she could hear as we tried to block out the various nursing home noises.

After each chapter, we would reminisce and laugh and sometimes shed a tear. I would hold the manuscript up close so she could see the photos, and at times, I think we both felt we were almost back at Wake Robin together again.

I tried to draw this happiness out as long as I could, and we were both sad when we finished the book. She told me how much she loved it and didn't want it to end.

She knew Wisconsin Historical Society Press was considering it for publication and was so excited and thrilled for me. She died in June of 2010 and WHSP accepted the manuscript in August.

OMC: Did you write any of it "at the cabin"?

MM: Not really. That seems odd, but I think when I was away from the cabin, I was better able to separate myself to visualize and articulate what the cabin means to me and my family. When I was at the cabin, I just tried to be still, soak up inspiration and let the memories float back.

OMC: How often do you get up to Wake Robin each year? Sounds like your family has no intention of giving it up; does that make you happy?

MM: Currently, there are 17 third, fourth and fifth generation family members who use Wake Robin in varying degrees of visits throughout the course of the spring, summer and early fall. It is not winterized, so we pack it in. It is our family's intent to try and keep Wake Robin going for as long as we can. On a wing and a prayer, we hope we can do it.

That would make us all very, very happy.

"Return to Wake Robin" is published in hardcover ($22.95) by Wisconsin Historical Society Press and is available at bookshops everywhere.