I am a baby boomer. I was born in 1948 in Buffalo, New York when my parents returned there after spending the war years in Newport News, Virginia where my father, a Bell Aircraft engineer, worked with the Army Air Corps on the P-39 Airacobra. By 1950, he had taken a position managing an engineering laboratory in Toledo, Ohio.
While still commuting from Buffalo to Toledo, a coworker suggested to my father, Harry, that they rent cottages for a week at a lake he knew about not too far away in Michigan. That lake, of course, was Clark Lake. I was two years old that first summer and don’t remember much, but I do have a vague memory of playing with the coworker’s little girl. Our rental was essentially a one-room cottage on the north side of what is now Mugsy’s Party Store on Ocean Beach Road. A remnant of one cottage remains (sort of) to this day and is used for storage for the store. Pictured also is the Moyer family (sans photographer dad) in a rented boat (but with Harry’s trusty old Evinrude outboard): mother Mae, sister Sally, and the author—all in our Sunday finest. My mother was a stickler for putting one’s best foot forward.
Thus began my lifetime association with Clark Lake. For the next three summers, we rented a cottage on Russell Court on the southeast end of the lake. It is here that my sister Sally Moyer (Picazo) met Jackie June while swimming—the start of a lifelong friendship with the June family, then of Bowling Green, Ohio: dad Max, mother Bee, Jackie, Sally (June/Doren), and Ron. Max was a car dealer and he and my dad became best of friends over the next summers. The three girls played together and rode horses on North Lake Road, while Ron and I played two-person baseball and never left the water for long. Ron June and I remain close friends as he and his high school sweetheart, Beth (Noe) now live across the lake on Lakeview Drive. (See Ron June’s My Clarklake Story for more on the family friendships).
Richard Moyer, mother Mae, sister Sally in front of Russell Court rental cottage
Each of those summers had certain “musts” in addition to lake activities. There was always an evening at the Jackson Cascades, which to Ron and me seemed like one of the wonders of the world. Both families got on their good clothes for a trip to Marshall and lunch at Win Schulers. We ate lots of the meatballs. There were also lots of cheeseburgers at Elsie’s store and diner. Later, Ron and I would spend our allowance nickels on Elsie’s pinball machine and then walk back to the cottages with a frozen candy bar purchased with our last five cents. Elsie never seemed to care that we hung out and didn’t spend very much.
In 1953, Leo Steinem (Gloria’s father) drew out a plat map for a proposed subdivision on property he owned, or hoped to acquire, across Ocean Beach Road up Elwyn Court (Elwyn Court is between Riverside Road and the Beach Bar off of Ocean Beach Road). The plat was indeed never recorded by the county but it included streets and many lots. To my knowledge, he sold about seven lots—one to my father and one to Max June, side-by-side at the top of the hill. Dad and Max built identical redwood cottages on those lots beginning phase two of our Clark Lake summers—we were now cottage, albeit humble, owners. I was still only 5 years old, but remember being on the roof as the shingles were going on—I recall having a little hammer as well. I also can still remember coming to the lake with dad on weekends so “we” could work on the interior of the cottage, eating burgers at Elsie’s and sleeping in the back of our brown 1953 Chevrolet station wagon. That little red cottage (as it has come to be known) is still in the family as my nephew Steven Picazo, inherited it from my sister Sally when she passed away in 2012.
My memories of Mr. Steinem are sketchy but vivid. Based on what my father told me Leo was quite the entrepreneur—or maybe wheeler-dealer. I remember Leo visiting us at our home in Toledo. To a 6 year old, he was a striking figure, of enormous girth. I can still see him on our living room sofa taking up what appeared to me to be two cushions of the three. Dad told me that he was offering to sell some diamonds, and pulled them out of a small bag at his waist inside his pants in the folds of his stomach. Dad didn’t go for the diamonds. While the proposed East end subdivision never panned out, my sister insisted on using the subdivision address for the little red cottage, 3175 Surf Drive. There is no Surf Drive except on Steinem’s plat map (and, due to my sister, in the local phone book for many years). And there are now only 5 cottages (two were trailers) and 1 home in Steinem’s Clarklake East end subdivision.
Mr. and Mrs. Prentice Dickey (sp?) were neighbors on Elwyn Court. The elderly couple summered in a one-bedroom trailer at the bottom of the hill. Ron June and I found ourselves often at the Dickey’s where Mr. Dickey would regale us with countless stories of fighting bad guys—he had a curl in the front of his hair that he convinced us was caused by a bad guy’s bullet that just missed. We often watched his favorite show on TV with him—“professional” wrestling. He insisted that it was all real action and not a staged performance. Mrs. Dickey kept us in cookies. The Dickey’s, from Toledo, believed Clark Lake had curative properties, for everything from cataracts to arthritis and regularly took therapeutic swims.
One summer, my dad’s boat was stolen and Dad, Max June, and Mr. Dickey positioned themselves on the dock after dark to see if the thieves returned. Dad and Max were sitting but Mr. Dickey continued to stand. Finally Max said, “Prentice, sit down and relax, we could be here a while.” Mr. Dickey pulled a two foot-long billyclub from his pant leg and took a seat on the dock. A great neighborhood character. Our dads referred to him as the “mayor” of the little neighborhood.
The little red cottage is cemented in my childhood memories. While we lived in Toledo, we spent most of the summer at the lake, Dad taking his three weeks of vacation there and then commuting to work the rest of the summer. Many meals were two-family affairs with the Junes. One favorite was chicken on a grill that Dad fashioned out of cement blocks and an old sewer grate we purchased from the dump where Lake Columbia is now. Mom and Bee cooked the chicken turning it constantly and basting it with melted butter. Pork chops were another favorite, purchased from a Hop’s Lakeside Grocery on Vining Street on the west end—we always took a boat to get them and we’d all get an ice cream bar as a treat.
Speaking of boats—there were many, usually 14 foot runabouts with 25 or 30 horsepower Johnson’s or Mercury’s, although Max suffered through one summer with a fussy Scott-Atwater. Once our fathers were convinced we were competent (we had to swim a mile—Harry set up a course for us to lap) we were allowed to use the boats alone. I think I was about 10 when this feat was mastered. Ron and I would pull each other on skis until both boats were out of fuel (remember those 6-gallon red Johnson fuel tanks?). This was long before required boating classes, an observer in the boat, or rear-view mirrors. We survived none-the-less. One summer a few years later Ron and his cousin, Doug, and I were skiing. Ron and Doug thought it would be fun to go over the ski jump anchored on the west end of the lake. I was up first. They assured me they would follow. I made it over the jump, but was separated from my skis on the way up and the landing wasn’t pretty. Needless to say, I was the only jumper that day. It was my last jump as well.
In 1958, dad was transferred to Kenosha, Wisconsin. We no longer spent the entire summer at Clark Lake but still did the three-week vacation and most weekends and this was before the Kennedy and Dan Ryan Expressways made it (sort of) easy to travel through Chicago. We took Lake Shore Drive, ate homemade sandwiches in the car and would arrive after 10 pm Friday night. On Sunday afternoon we did the whole trip in reverse. People thought we were crazy. “There are lots of lakes in Wisconsin, why don’t you go to one here?” There’s only one Clark Lake.
After college (ours is the only house on the lake flying the University of Wisconsin flag) I married Lois, nee Vanevenhoven. She had been initiated to Clark Lake several years earlier and we drove over for a period each summer. In fact, I took graduate classes in Ann Arbor one summer and we lived in the little red cottage. (Dad added about a 7 x 8 foot addition to the porch to make a tiny bedroom for us).
We spent several years living in Colorado while we both pursued graduate studies and didn’t return to the little red cottage until late summer of 1975. I was about to begin an assistant professorship at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Lois was pregnant with our first child, Jessica, due in November. The little red cottage had no phone and little heat—basically portable electric heaters. For telephone use in an emergency, we had always relied on our good neighbors Pete and Katie Petersen who lived on Ocean Beach Road. We had one car. I was starting a new job 85-miles away. I left at dawn and got home at dusk. The isolation was so intense that some days Lois would come with me and spend the day either at a mall or exploring metro Detroit (we were also frantically house hunting).
It was a bitterly cold and rainy fall. One chilly morning shortly after I left, with all the electric heaters going, Lois popped a piece of bread in the toaster and bingo—too much current for the 1950s circuitry. The fuse box contained exactly that—screw in fuses rather than circuit breakers. Being pregnant, she was cautious having not encountered this type of fuse box before. Lois walked in the rain down a muddy Elwyn Court to the Peterson’s to call me for advice about remedying the outage. The Peterson’s were not home. She walked on down to the County Park where she knew there was a pay phone and learned that said phone was seasonal only. It was removed each fall. Finally, she encountered a neighbor who came and rectified the problem. We stayed in the little red cottage with one car and my commute until mid October when we moved into our house in Plymouth (with a phone, a landline of course, but a phone)! What did we do without cell phones?
Lois and I and our growing family, (Emily was born three years later) made much use of the little red cottage, but things were getting crowded. It had two bedrooms, and two additional “porch” bedrooms and one small bathroom. My parents were now retired and spent most of the summer at the lake and my sister and her husband and their two kids spent at least two weeks there as well. Eventually, my parents parked an Airstream trailer in the back yard as another bedroom. Lois and I began to think about building on to make more room. My sister would have none of it. She was against changing anything from the way our father had built it.
Lois and I began to search for our own cottage on the lake. We wanted to be on the water. We looked at dozens of places. It seemed like they were always $25,000 too much. We looked for several years until finally, in 1998, we located a nice cottage with an extra lot on west end of North Shore drive and we pulled the trigger. We now actually owned a place with a furnace and air conditioning. We could come and spend a cozy winter weekend.
We were attracted to this site for a reason—the extra lot. For some time we had contemplated retiring on Clark Lake. The empty lot was a draw. For more than a year, we planned how to add an addition to our existing cottage. Finally, we decided we needed to start with a clean sheet. With the help of a former student who had been a successful Birmingham architect, we designed our dream house during the spring and summer of 2004. That fall we razed the cottage and began construction on our home and in June of 2005 we moved in for summer use. In the fall of 2007, we sold our home in Plymouth. Lois retired and we became permanent residents of Clark Lake. I continued to commute to U of M Dearborn until December of 2012 when I retired. We have lived since 2007 full time on North Shore Drive (with winter excursions to a condominium in Vero Beach, Florida).
I’ve been a Clark Laker since I was two years old.
Richard Moyer participated in Dam Strong. You’ll see him about a minute and 15 seconds into this video from 2017.