Restoration of the Clark Lake Community Center continues to move forward, step by step.  Read on to learn about the tremendous progress made so far.  But first, a look back at how we got to today.

It was a year ago that the Clark Lake Spirit Foundation accepted ownership of this historic structure.  That did not occur without a thorough look of what lay ahead. A lawyer would call it “due diligence.”

The Graziani cottage was built during the winter 1898-99.  For years, it served the family well, and even had tenure as the home of the Clark Lake Yacht Club.  More than that, the cottage watched over Clark Lake for a century from its Kentucky Point location. For many, the historic structure had become an icon, representing what the lake meant to them—all the good times with friends and family over generations, swimming off the dock, water skiing, speedboats, the first motorized raft, and across the lake at Eagle Point–the hotel, roller skating, Clark Lake Players. When it looked like one of the lake’s earliest cottages would be bull-dozed, Clark Lakers were horrified.  Meetings were held, committees formed, and engineering expertise brought into play. On a sunny Saturday in June, 1997, the cottage, now on a barge, was towed to its new forever home in the County Park.

As you can see, the cottage was in rough shape.  Through the work of countless individuals, fundraisers and community love, the cottage underwent its first major restoration.

Fast forward to August 2020.  Times had changed, and the board then responsible for the Community Center asked the Clark Lake Spirit Foundation to accept ownership.  The Foundation carefully analyzed the situation.

  • Was the house structurally sound? Yes, an engineering study confirmed it.
  • Was the house in good shape?  No.  The estimate to restore it eventually neared $200,000.
  • Could Clark Lake be assured ownership and control of the building in the County Park?  Questionable.  The license agreement with the County was renewable in five year increments.  Discussions began with the County.  After considerable work, a new agreement was reached that ensured lake ownership and control.  The new license, crafted by Foundation Vice-President Kevin Thomson, specifies two twenty-year terms before renewal.
  • Would the Clark Lake community support keeping and restoring the building?  The Foundation conducted a survey in spring 2021.  87% of respondents wanted the Community Center repaired.  83% said they were willing to support it financially.  As it turned out, support was enthusiastic.  The fundraising goal was achieved and other means of support came forth.

Restoration began soon after the Foundation accepted ownership in fall 2021.  Work started on the third floor attic and proceeded downward.  What was once the servants’ quarters in the Graziani days, had been hijacked by bats and was full of what they leave behind.  One way exits were installed.  Dressed in hazmat garb, crews cleaned it out.  Mike McKay, who is part of the restoration leadership, personally scraped the windows.  Once opaque, they are now translucent.  Foam insulation was installed.  Lighting was added.  Vents were opened so downstairs warmth would make the area more hospitable.  The space was divided into two rooms—one for storing items for community organizations and an archive room for lake historical documents.

The house was operating with HVAC that dated to the original restoration.  New HVAC replaced it.


Security was inadequate.  Crews installed new door locks.  Front and back door locks operate electronically and can be accessed onsite with a number code.  Once WiFi is available in the house, they can be managed remotely.

Decay in the soffits and fascia was painfully evident.  New, longer lasting materials replaced all sections on both the first and second floors. Rusting ceiling light cans were replaced with new LED versions.

One suggestion had been heard repeatedly.  “The north outside door, which all use, looks more like a utility passageway than a welcoming entrance.”  When the deck around the door was replaced, a new design solved the problem.  A roof now extends over the deck, offering protection from weather.  It also provides a more graceful entrance, appropriate for the look of our Victorian lady.  (The photo shows work in progress).

The Garden Angels continued to work their magic and to rearrange landscaping as necessary.

Critters liked the outside of the house a bit too much, and did their best at home invasion.  Those unwelcome guests have been banished.

Another example of nature’s attack below.

Shutters were removed, cleaned and reattached.

The entire exterior was not only dirty, but faded and showing wear.  The house was power washed.  Mike McKay, with the assistance of a paid helper, repainted the entire exterior.  While on Kentucky Point, colors of the house changed several times.  Terry Leudecking helped choose the colors once the house arrived at the County Park.  She returned this year for an encore performance to match colors to the original 1997 restoration.

Based on suggestions, the kitchen was reorganized.  New counters and cabinets replaced the dilapidated ones.  A new countertop, yet to be installed, will add to convenience on the opposite wall with space below it available to store tables.

Over the years, the house had accumulated a lot of “stuff” of no value.  Volunteers removed those items, cleaning as they proceeded.

Both upper and lower decks had to be replaced, a major part of the renovation.  That work is partially complete.  Just how important is this project?  While Mike McKay was standing on a ladder on the lower east deck, it went through.  Mike, being the tough guy that he is, survived with a few abrasions.  But if there were ever a sign that this costly work must be done, that scary moment offered proof.  Below, the upper deck is being replaced.

Work on the lower deck has been completed.

Then there are several smaller, but important touches.  Through Flip Reynold’s arrangement, the Community Center now flies a new, much larger, flag.  It’s as if to say that in this country, communities can join hands in projects and make things happen.  And it can be done without taxpayer money.

The mission to preserve Clark Lake’s past is only beginning.  Today, artifacts are stored in the newly refinished attic.  Eventually the walls of the house will help tell Clark Lake’s story through the years.  And what a story!

Is there more?  Yes.  Stay tuned to this website for updates, including one that may surprise you.

During fundraising, this website kept Clark Lake appraised of progress.  Mick Thorrez, development director, was in touch with many donors.  Information outreach was further organized by Jaimie Mercer Thomson.  The wonderful outcome of the campaign illustrated that it was through widespread support that preserving this part of Clark Lake’s past is possible.  And if you’re wondering who should be thanked, the answer is many.  Donations from small to large are covering costs that increased beyond original expectations, due to inflation.   Contributors of $100 to $10,000, and the $50,000 matching grant from the Michael Ibold Wilger Foundation, will be respectfully recognized on a large, permanent display on an inside wall that most visitors will see.   Below is a drawing, now in design.

If you made a donation to the restoration, have you confirmed how you want your name to be displayed?

Volunteers are a game changer.  The Clark Lake Spirit Foundation board consists of nine directors.  Their care is evident in how they charted the course for this project.

  • Rick Belcher (President)
  • Kevin Thomson (Vice President)
  • Ann Swain (Treasurer)
  • Josie Hones (Secretary)
  • Tucker Boyers
  • Mike McKay
  • Melissa Owings (2020 photo)
  • Joe Thorrez
  • Mick Thorrez

Some of those directors also serve as part of The Community Center Leadership Group.  The Group below is responsible for the ongoing restoration and day to day operations.

L to R:  Jaimie Mercer Thomson (Events), Mike McKay (Restoration), Ann Swain (Treasurer), Mick Thorrez (Development), Meredythe Hill VanDusen (Rentals), Flip Reynolds (Operations). Not pictured – Rick Belcher (Manager) and Josie Hones (Secretary)

Appreciation extends to several others in Jackson County government who were involved in the transfer of ownership process.  They include David Elwell, former Columbia Township police chief and Jackson County Parks board member; Steve Shotwell, chairman of the County Commission; Phil Duckham, county commissioner; Jackson County Parks board members, and Kyle Lewis, parks director.

Most Clark Lakers like to think back to that day in June 1997 when this historic structure floated from Kentucky Point to the east end of Clark Lake.  This video begins with Laurie LaZebnik.  She, and her husband, Bob, donated the cottage that became the Community Center, and have continued to support it.

Those who love Clark Lake’s history often refer to Ted Ligibel’s book.  If you ever wish to take a deeper dive into the building of, and life in, the cottage, you will enjoy the story written in 1967 by Carlotta Graziani Wilson.  Along the way, she traces changes and events that show Clark Lake’s transformation from a rural outpost to recreational destination.  Click here to read it.