MidwestLiving.com/Videos//Wandawega Lake Resort, Part 2: Camp History

Wandawega Lake Resort, Part 2: Camp History

Camp Wandawega co-owner David Hernandez provides a brief history of the resort and shares stories of his times as a youth at this rustic camp.

So this place has a really kind of interesting and colorful history. I think it was originally built during Prohibition specifically to be a Speakeasy. So it started out kind of below the radar, and it stayed that way for a long time. During the Prohibition era, in addition to having a speakeasy, they also started running a brothel here. After Prohibition was repealed, the brothel stayed in business, so to speak, all the way to 1951, when the property was bought by a Polish family from Chicago, and that’s when it became a legitimate lake resort for 10 years, from 1951 to 1961. In 1961, it was bought by the Catholic Church, and it was run by an order of priests called the Latvian Marian Fathers, and that’s how my family connection came to be with this place. My mom’s side of the family were all refugees from Latvia. They all fled during World War II, and this was a place where the Latvian refugees could come together and enjoy their kind of traditional Latvian folk songs, and they would wear traditional Latvian clothes and have big bonfires up on the hill and sing folk songs and things like that. We’d start every day by raising the flags, and we would sing the Latvian national anthem and the American national anthem, and then we would do calisthenics on the basketball court. During the day, we would do traditional camp projects up on the hill and then just basically run around all day and be kids: fishing and boating and camping, playing flashlight tag and things like that. There could have been maybe 20 or 30 of us little Latvian kids running around—a lot of my cousins and a lot of my friends. In the early 2000s, Tereasa and I started renting the bedroom in the top floor of the hotel from Father Baginskis, I think maybe for two seasons. We just had our own room here again, and we started getting reconnected with the community and reconnected with the place. We ended up telling Father Baginskis, “Hey, if you ever have to sell this place, do us a favor and just let us know before you put it on the market.” One day we got the call from him, and he said he got the call from the Vatican and they wanted him to sell the place and come back to Latvia. Before we bought the place—when we were renting—there was probably five or six families that were all in some way either Latvian families or somehow connected to the Latvian community. But part of the deal was that you had to support the place in terms of labor and gardening and landscaping and making repairs, and that goes back to the history of this place originally with my family going back to the 1960s. A lot of the things that you see around here—the church pews for Mass in the grass, all the picnic tables up on the hill, the terraces over the beach—my dad and all of his buddies built all that stuff originally back in the 60s and 70s. So now, we’re kind of repairing the things that my dad and his friends originally built. My daughter now, Charlie, who’s about 21 months, she’s the fifth generation of my family to be able to enjoy this place. We’re hoping that when she grows up, she cares about this place as much as we do and will want to keep it in the family for another generation or two.