Cabin Country: My place for 'purposeful work'

  • Updated: September 9, 2013 - 4:03 PM

Carolyn Engstrand sits on the steps of her privately owned cabin, a property she parceled out from the resort she once owned with her late husband.

Photo: Provided by Carolyn Engstrand,

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In order to get my hideout, I had to buy a resort. Not one of the resorts of today but Idlewood, a “Ma and Pa” hideaway with eight cabins on a spring-fed lake in the North Woods near Rhinelander, Wis. My husband, Darwin, called it a security blanket against the whims of the business world and “purposeful work” for our two teenage sons Dan and Brad. I thought of it as his midlife crisis and a lot of work for me!

The story began when our youngest son, Jon, was 5 weeks old and our family vacationed at Idlewood just before his brothers returned to school. We had lived in Rhinelander from 1954 to 1961 and had all learned to love the North Woods — especially Darwin. It was during that week, after sitting at the end of the dock one moonlit night, that Darwin posed the question: “How would you like to buy this place?” Completely astonished, I responded, “Are you kidding?” I had never before stayed in a cabin, and I certainly did not want to run an entire resort.

It took Darwin two years to convince me. In 1968, after I came to believe I had been standing in the way of Darwin’s dream, we deposited our life’s savings on Idlewood. Dan and Brad became the beach boys, with plenty of “purposeful work” for all of us. Saturdays were changeover days, with guests leaving by 9 a.m. and new guests arriving after 3. It was often said, “ You don’t sleep in, get sick or die on Saturdays!” At times I was completely overwhelmed, but we successfully finished that summer, returning to Bloomington in the fall. Darwin kept his traveling sales job and I continued teaching special education. For 23 years we spent our summers at Idlewood and the remainder of the year in Bloomington.

In 1985, after 17 years of resort ownership and 35 years of marriage, my sweetheart suddenly passed away. I had told him many times: “If anything ever happens to you, the first thing I would do is sell this place!” Jon was in college by then and he convincingly said, ”Mom, with your experience and my youth and good looks, we can do anything!” We continued on for a few more years. The property is now a condo association, owned mostly by my family. I have my own cabin, and at age 84, I still spend my summers at Idlewood. Here my grandchildren have learned how to swim, water ski, tube, drive boats, canoe, bake pies and help with “purposeful work.” This is my heaven on earth! I can still hear Darwin exclaim, “Just smell that clean, refreshing northern air! This is God’s country!”


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