SIDE LAKE, Minn. — Every Sunday that the Chapel of the Pines Church in Side Lake has been open, Mariann Lowen has faithfully filled it with hand-picked flowers.

And she's done so for the past 50 years.

"I think it adds a lot to the service," she said with a grin. "We have beautiful trees and pine needles and it's a lovely site, but the building is kind of barren. So I bring a quilt and a wood carving with Bible verses on it to make it look a little more homey."

Lowen believes the small touches help beautify the space for services and the occasional funeral. Then, each winter when the church is locked up for the season, she brings them home again.

It's a tradition that goes back to the church's early days. In fact, Lowen is one of the organization's founders, Hibbing Daily Tribune reported.

"When we first started, we didn't have anything," she reflected. "A family named Anderson had a cabin at one end of the lake, and a few of us used to go there in the boat with the kids. If it rained, we'd move service into Anderson's garage."

It was a simple service: just a few families sitting on the beach under an open sky, their feet in the sand, listening to a minister while trying to get closer to God. Lowen chuckles as she admits it all came about because it seemed easier to bring church to them than to drive into town when the weather was so beautiful.

Lowen can't remember a time when she didn't summer at McCarthy Beach. Even the cabin she brought her own children to every year was the very one she helped erect as a child in the '50s.

"The cabin we have now was built during war time," she said. "You couldn't get men to work because they were all gone, and you couldn't get the materials because they just weren't available. So we finally got wood from Erickson Lumber that came in on a coal truck."

Her job at 12 years old was to clean the coal dust off the lumber before it was used.

Those early days hold many wonderful memories, which is why she tried to replicate the experience for her four kids by bringing them to McCarthy Beach every year.

"Oh we love it," she reminisced. "And the kids love it. We all grew up there."

Yet Lowen's favorite memories are going to church.

As the years passed, the number of people attending their small beach service grew. They eventually moved them to the school that's now a post office, then gradually built the building everyone now knows as the Chapel of the Pines, located off Sturgeon Road.

"It just grew," Lowen marveled. "We made up the rules as we went. Starting on the beach, there weren't any rules down there. Everyone had different ideas. It just grew from what we all wanted. And the building was donated labor. We had little money to buy stuff."

The group's efforts paid off. Today the charming building hosts a revolving door of ministers who take turns delivering sermons to a faithful congregation of about 50 to 60 cabin dwellers. Sometimes deer peek in the windows during service.

Part of what makes it so special is that everyone pitches in. Some clean the walkway, others rake or fix supper.

For decades, Lowen was the first on site to open and clean the chapel in the spring. Now she leaves those duties to the younger folks with strong backs, who she pays in chocolate chip cookies.

And, of course, she has her flowers to contribute.

"I think that the flowers are part of the church now. I'm happy to share them," she insisted. "You'd be surprised how many men come up and say they like those flowers. I was really surprised when that started happening. And the children like them too."

The flowers hold special meaning for Lowen, as well. The peonies, irises and daisies she hand-picks from her yard were planted decades ago using slips from her father's garden.

It was one tradition that literally blossomed into another.

Lowen recently cut her flowers for the year. And as the Chapel of the Pines gets buttoned up ahead of winter, she's already looking forward to attending next season with her husband by her side.

Until then, she has book club and oodles of grandchildren to keep her on her toes.

"We're grateful to be able to continue," Lowen smiled. "Most of the people my age and older aren't there anymore. We're just grateful that people come and visit from the park. That's nice. It helps."

An AP Member Exchange shared by the Hibbing Daily Tribune.