This is a story of two young boys growing up at Clark Lake each summer. A friendship that grew through a small store/restaurant that is no longer with us.
Written by Ron June in memory of my “brother” Dick Moyer
In the late 40’s, 50’s and early 60’s, if you were a visitor to the East end of the lake, there was a hidden gem along Ocean Beach Road. If you were coming from Jefferson, just as you started down the hill, on the left was a store/restaurant. If you arrived coming from Brooklyn and you used Riverside Road, when you came to a stop at Ocean Beach, just slightly to the left across the road was Elsie’s. It was extremely small, physically, but it was extremely large with “friendliness.”
Elsie owned, operated, cleaned, and did the cooking for this establishment with love and kindness. My mother loved Elsie for two reasons. First, it was a safe place where her children could go. Elsie ran a tight ship with a loving hand. Secondly, my mother always claimed that her height was “five foot even.” Mom, how tall are you? Her reply was, “I am five foot even.” Actually, Mom never came close to “five foot even.” My mom towered over Elsie!
There were only a few parking spots along Ocean Beach. You would then walk around the North side of the building along a wooden walkway to the side door. As you looked to the right you could see where Russell Ct. meandered into Clark Lake. The wooden walkway gave way to a short staircase that went down to Elsie’s very small bungalow where she lived, right next to the restaurant.
Another interesting side note was that Elsie had an image of a cow affixed to the side of her store. At the time, Borden’s ice cream and milk was being advertised with a cow called “Elsie.” Elsie the cow was the face of Borden’s. Elsie simply made a replica of the cow and put it on the side of the building and everyone knew it was Elsie the cow and therefore Elsie’s Store. You would not be able to do that now with our litigious society.
The June family rented a yellow cottage just to the South of Elsie’s on Russell Ct. A favorite treat was for the family to enjoy a night out eating the hamburgers that Elsie’s was known for along with a nickel Coke. Upon entering from the side door to the left was a very small area with chips, candy, bread, and milk along with other typical items that people along the lake might need. Elsie had a small counter with a cash register straight ahead from the door. To the right was the seating area for the patrons who visited and ate in. They were very small tables and there were no more than three or four. Those tables were surrounded by small wire chairs with a heart shaped backing. In the back left corner was a very, very small bathroom. So small one wondered if the door would even close if a person tried to use the facilities. In the right corner was my pride and joy – a pinball machine. It cost a whole nickel to operate but the thrill of the small silver ball cascading around under the glass was mesmerizing. In those early years I needed to pull up a chair and stand on it to see under the glass as the shiny metallic sphere bounced from bumper to bumper making exhilarating sounds and flashing lights as the scoreboard racked up points faster than the eye could see. My biggest fear would be that all tables were being used and a chair was not available for me to stand on, and therefore no pinball that trip.
Photo of Elwyn Court cottages today. Formerly Moyer, June, and Ron’s grandmother’s
Two cottages up from our yellow cottage on Russell Court. was a green cottage that was being rented by the Moyer family from Toledo. My sisters, Jackie and Sally, became friends with the Moyer girl, also named Sally. They were the same age, and that led them to be friends and swimming companions as they frolicked in the cool waters of Clark Lake. In 1950, I met Dick Moyer on the dock we shared at the end of Russell Court and we became more than friends. We were like brothers. His parents, Mae and Harry, soon became a second set of parents in the summer as we spent time at Clark Lake.
Bee & Max June, Mae & Harry Moyer, Ron is on the dock
In 1953, the Junes and Moyers were now close friends. So, side by side lots were purchased from Leo Steinem on Elwyn Ct. where cottages were built at the top of the small hill. The cottages were great, and we now could spend our summers at Clark lake. But the bad news was we were far away from Elsie’s and the pinball machine. Dick and I loved to play pinball at Elsie’s. Unfortunately, our parents felt it was too far away for us to travel that long distance by ourselves and navigate Ocean Beach Road safely. Then around 1960 it happened. Dick and I were deemed old enough to travel all the way to Elsie’s by ourselves. Our wishes had come true. Since we did not have a phone at the cottage, we were really on our own. Mom and Dad could not call ahead and tell Elsie we were coming. We traversed through some back yards so we did not walk along Ocean Beach Road. After several back yard crossings, we emerged at what is now Muggsy’s. On the entire route I was clutching the quarter my dad had given me to use for our recreation at Elsie’s. Dick and I looked both ways several times as we had been warned, and then crossed Ocean Beach Road. We were there. Hopefully the pinball machine was waiting for us and no one else was there. We walked across the wooden walkway to the side door, opened the door, stepped in and there it was beckoning us to come play and tickle those side buttons that operated the flippers to keep the ball in play. One more important item for us was to see if Elsie had customers because we were not allowed to play pinball if her restaurant was busy. I did not like the rule but Dad did not want us to bother her customers. We were to either sit quietly until patrons left or return home. Thank goodness Elsie did not have anyone eating one of her delicious hamburgers that day.
Then that friendly voice we knew so well greeted us. “Hi Ron, Hi Dick, how are you boys today?” We were safe and knew why our parents felt comfortable allowing us to make the long journey to her place. The most important thing that was needed at that point was to convert the quarter into nickels that we could slide them into the small silver slot on the side of the machine next to the flippers. The other thing that Dad had told me was to buy a Coke when I converted the quarter. I did not like this because now I only had 4 plays on the machine instead of five. But looking back on it I now understand the reasoning behind that demand. First, my dad was a businessman and he knew that buying a Coke would help her bottom line, and when I played four games that also meant Dick was playing four games, so those eight games were enough for Elsie to put up with. Dick and I knew we were to behave but that was never a problem for us. Elsie was so friendly and such a happy, welcoming person that we wouldn’t think of misbehaving. Hugs often greeted us along with her warm smile when we entered the premise. Even though I was young, I could look eye to eye with Elsie.
I can remember times when we would be done and Elsie would walk over to visit with us as we would be finishing our Cokes. As she was picking up our glasses she would say, “Look what I just found!” and magically there would be a nickel on top to the pinball machine for us so we could have one more game. We enjoyed this tradition for years.
As seems to happen, boys grow up and thoughts turn to cars and girls. In the summer of 1964, I met a girl at a dance at the park in my hometown of Bowling Green, Ohio. We fell in love, and Beth was soon accompanying me to Michigan to enjoy Clark Lake and to begin making memories of our own. One of the first things I shared with her was a hamburger at Elsie’s. Elsie was smiling and still giving hugs when Beth made her visit.
Ron and Beth June today
Unfortunately, that little store did not last much longer. I don’t know exactly what happened to Elsie but I sure miss her. Every time I travel down Ocean Beach and start down the hill, I look at the cottage we rented and the place where Elsie once had her small store. The wooden walkway, the side door, those small tables and wire chairs are so vivid in my mind. I think about going through back yards to get there when Dick and I were old enough to go on our own. I think about pinball and sliding those nickels into the slot and watching and hearing that machine come alive. But most of all, I remember Elsie and how she treated Dick and me. So small in stature and so big as a loving, caring person. Elsie is truly a fond memory and an important piece of my Clark Lake history that I will never forget.
Dick (L) and Ron (R) at their homemade Alamo
I feel so fortunate that in the summers I grew up on the East end of Clark Lake. Dick and I would scuffle along the dirt road to the lake or play in the woods behind our cottages. Our neighborhood went from Elsie’s to the dam. However, as I look back now, I realize that Clark Lake had many neighborhoods. Pockets where one would spend most of their time when enjoying summer breezes and the hum of boats on the water with those families in the immediate area. Along Elwyn Ct. was the Dickey family from Toledo, the Tuckers from Jackson, the Eddington’s from Toledo, the Czelusta’s from Toledo, my grandmother who lived at Clark Lake in the summer and Seminole, Florida in the winter, along with the Moyers who were now traveling from Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Junes. I hope everyone has an “Elsie” memory or perhaps a neighborhood memory like Elwyn Court, and if you are really lucky, a friendship memory like mine with Dick Moyer. Clark Lake is a wonderous place that I am sure molded and guided so many young men and women as they were growing from impressionable children into adulthood.
Note: Elsie was laid to rest in Toledo Memorial Park. Thanks to Tom Schoen for the photo. He, like others, has his own memories of Elsie’s and Clark Lake.
My brothers and I also visited Elsie’s but travel by boat for our burgers and Coke–12 foot aluminum boat powered by a 5 hp Johnson with a self-contained gas tank. The motor had a neutral lever but no reverse unless you consider turning the motor around 180 degrees to be reverse. Don’t remember the pinball machine. We spent hours turtle hunting in the bay before Elsie’s. Our greatest prize when turtle hunting was a rubber back (spiny softshell). Caught a few small ones but never the garbage can sized ones.
What a great story. I do remember Elsie’s. She used to tell us to be sure to stop by that evening,” there will be a Jam”. Such similar stories probably shared by many. My pinball machine was in the lobby of Eagle Point Hotel.
Oh, what a great story. I grew up on Virginia Ct. in the summer. We would walk down to Elsies for the penny candy. On a good day when we saved our money we would get some french fries. I, like others still look at that place and smile with the memories of Elsies, the burgers and best of all the penny candy. Thank you for this wonderful story.
Oh my! Dianne and I would take the whaler over and get Frenchfries and Diet Coke! Loved that place.
Just down the road from Elsie’s… Lots of memories from that place! GREAT memories!!
My favorite as a kid. Elsie was hardly taller then I was. Clem Moller and I would collect bottles so we could go to Elsie’s than the Burg after collecting more bottles. Those Were The Days.
Mary Hawkins Jacobs
Remember when we would walk around the Lake ? We always stopped at Elsie’s for a pop. Loved that place
Bonnie Lentz Hatcher
We did that too. What fun it was and to have a stop off place. We also drank from all the fresh wells that emptied into the lake. Freshest and coldest water ever.
Patricia Wright-Kopp Duckham
Beautiful story, I lived on Ocean Beach just a few homes from Elsie’s. I have so many beautiful memories of her.
Terri Ann Pease-Huffman
And the milkshakes. Our first restaurant experience in our bathingsuits alone. Treasured memories.
Lived on North Shore Dr and would go to Elsie’s. She was one of a kind lady. I did wonder what happened to her.
Spent many days at Elsie’s, she was a close friend of my mom’s and looked after us as her own.
Thanks for posting Fritz. It brought back lots of great memories
Great story. I remember rowing down from South Shore Dr in our Jon boat with my sisters and brother . This had to be right before it closed in late 60s. Vaguely remember the inside, but I do remember getting a Pixy Stix for the row back to our cottage.
Emilie Wilger Dressler
Fritz Wilger and I remember Chum Gum. Elsie’s was a place a kid could live out summer at Clark Lake. Fond fond memories!
Loved Elsie! Wonderful memories
I Love this. Beautifully written. Thank you!
I remember the restaurant and Elsie
Loved going to Elsie’s when I was younger
Bonnie Lentz Hatcher
This sure brings back memories as we use to take our little boat down there for candy and treats in the early 50’s. We had our cottage in the Cove of Kentucky Point and spent every summer there until I was about 15. We loved our summers at Clark Lake growing up. We also walked down there. Quite a trek but things were safer back then and we would stop and drink from the fresh wells that seemed to be every where that emptied into the lake. I loved this story and shared it with my brother and sister.
I remember we would go out to Consumer’s to swim and lie around then we always went to Elsie’s! Her jukebox always had the latest hits!!
Jim Henley Sr.
I asked Elsie to add peanut butter on my burger. She laughed and thought I was nuts.