Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Guests checking in again at Lake Lawn

by Chris Schultz

July 28, 2011

Delavan — A late start to Lake Lawn Resort’s summer season apparently hasn’t slowed the flow of guests who are just happy to see the venerable vacation lodge has reopened.

The resort opened its guest rooms Friday. Also reopened on Friday were the fitness center, the gift shop and the Frontier Restaurant

The golf course, the Lookout Bar and Eatery, pools and marina were opened earlier.

Joe and Cathy Willems, of Spring Grove, Ill., were at the check in desk early Friday afternoon.

“We’ve been coming for 15 years,” said Joe. “It’s just a nice get-away.”

He said he and his wife like the traditional look of the lodge.

The resort was closed since December. But a new owner and management team took over the property in March and then worked hard to get the property opened for at least part of the summer.

Delavan Mayor Mel Nieuwenhuis was there along with Jim Drescher, who led the effort to buy and reopen the resort, as was television media from Milwaukee and Chicago.

“I am just thrilled to see Lake Lawn back in business,” Nieuwenhuis said.

Located on Delavan Lake, the lodge has a 132-year history, and is located on one of the original wintering sites used by traveling circuses.

It has two miles of lake shoreline on a 250-acre wooded site.

Drescher said the primary focus at Lake Lawn is to create jobs, preserve one of Walworth County’s important assets and to provide guests with top-notch service.

The lodge has 222 rooms of its 283 rooms available for booking.

“I haven’t missed a year since 1969,” said Deb Kibby of Schaumburg, Ill. She was at Lake Lawn with her two daughters. She said she honeymooned here in 1991.

Kibby said her family has a long-time connection with the lodge that goes back to the 1930s.

She said that was when her parents, Alice and Carl Selke were still dating and they would hitchhike from the Rockford-Freeport area to Lake Lawn. At Lake Lawn, they would camp near the ballroom, where they could hear the music of Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra.

After Kibby’s parents married, they settled down in Hoffman Estates, Ill., where Carl went on to become the community’s first fire chief.

Starting in 1968, the Selkes again started making regular trips to Lake Lawn, said Kibby, this time with her, and her two sisters and brother in tow, Kibby said. She said she was 12 when she made her first family visit here.

Kibby said the ritual of Lake Lawn arrival pretty much remained the same for years. First they would go to the room.

“Then my sister and I would go the stables and make reservations for our trail ride,” Kibby said.

On weekends, the lodge would have bands and free dancing under the stars, Kibby said.

“I’m a die-hard Cubs fan. You know the feeling when you walk into the friendly confines of Wrigley? You get that comfortable feeling? I get that same feeling here,” Kibby said.

She said she was saddened to hear the lodge was closing, but then was excited to hear it was going to reopen.

“I still have matchbooks with Bucky on it,” she said, referring to the nonpoliticaly correct cartoon Indian that used to be the Lake Lawn mascot.

Kathryn Maag, of suburban Chicago, said her family has been coming to Lake Lawn annually since 1993, when the family came to the resort to celebrate her mother’s 80th birthday.

“We chose Lake Lawn initially because it seemed to offer entertainment for all four generations of relatives,” Maag said. “We never intended for this to become an annual event, but it was so much fun that we’ve been coming back every year since.”

In August 2009, Anchor Bank of Madison filed for $51.9 million foreclosure action against Delavan Resort Holdings and Lake Lawn.

In March 2010, a Racine County Judge ruled in favor of foreclosure against Lake Lawn.

The lodge was sold at a sheriff’s auction to Anchor Bank, Madison, for $19.97 million on Oct. 7, 2010.

By December 2010, nearly 300 full- and part-time Lake Lawn employees lost their jobs.

After months of negotiations, a consortium of buyers headed by Drescher, a Lake Geneva businessman and philanthropist, signed the papers to buy the resort for $9.5 million from as many as 13 banks who were listed as stakeholders in the foreclosed property.

Drescher’s group had raised about $12 million to buy and renovate the lodge. Drescher owns J.D. Development and runs the W.C. Food Pantry. He’s promised to remain involved in opening and running the facility.

About 130 employees are now working for the lodge, said Lake Lawn spokeswoman Regina Dolan.

Lake Lawn began accepting reservations July 1 and is now taking reservations through the rest of the year. According to Dolan, the resort has already booked many large events and weddings starting in August.