Gradually, as the snow disappears under the tall pines that encircle McArdle’s Resort on Lake Winnibigoshish, the ice on the big lake softens. Later this month, the white sheet that has covered “Winnie” since December will move away from the shore of the lake, the water will reappear, and spring will have arrived.
This year, when those changes come, Craig Brown, who for 42 of his 57 years has awaited these and other seasonal rotations with the eagerness of a schoolboy, will be present only in the memories of his wife, Paige, and other family members as they prepare McArdle’s for another guest season.
Craig Brown was killed in a car accident on March 9 in Mountain Home, Idaho.
Ironically, given the vast layer of ice still covering Winnie on this cold late winter and the excellent fishing the lake offers, Brown was on an ice fishing trip to Idaho with his son, Nate, and his friends when the accident happened.
Nate, 32, was uninjured and others involved in the crash are doing well.
Longtime McArdle’s owners Craig and Paige Brown, who married in 1984 and danced late into their wedding night to the rousing beats of a band called LeRoy and the Minnows, bought the popular resort from her parents , who bought it in 1979. .
Growing up, Paige started cleaning cabins at a resort near McArdle on weekends when she was 10 years old. She and Craig met at school in the ninth grade.
“We were high school sweethearts,” Paige said the other day.
McArdle’s had 22 booths then and 23 today. Fewer guests owned their own boats at the time, so many rented 16-footers from McArdle’s.
The launch of the station, which can carry a dozen or more anglers, was busy decades ago, and still is today. The quay then, as now, was in full effervescence. And there was a restaurant on site that has since disappeared.
Although it’s not an easy life, running McArdle’s was, and is, a good life. Paige has always been a hard worker, and at Craig she met her soul mate in this regard and many more. Craig might never have been happier than when he was diving minnows for a guest or meeting a load of fishermen at McArdle’s wharf.
“Resort living isn’t for everyone, but we enjoyed it,” Paige said. “We have always arranged for at least one of us to get away to attend our children’s sporting events and other school activities. It was a choice we made together, as station owner, on how we were going to live our lives.”
The fact that Craig is a born fisherman made his career choice all the more fitting. In addition to running the resort’s boat launch and guiding guests to walleye, as well as hunting and fishing with his sons and brothers, he was a successful angler. For Craig, the trip to Idaho was not out of order. He would go anywhere to fish, including Alaska, and he and Paige had only recently traveled to Kentucky to purchase a boat they planned to use this month for Florida vacation.
That all changed when Paige’s phone rang on March 9.
What hasn’t changed in this busiest offseason for resort owners is Paige’s pre-opening workload.
On May 13, the day before walleye season opens, Minnesota’s highways will be filled with trucks and SUVs pulling boats in all directions. Whatever the weather, with the arrival of these rigs to their destinations, including McArdle, winter will have ended and summer, or some semblance of it, will have begun.
Prior to that time, Paige wanted to spruce up the interior of five cabins, a chore she planned to undertake after returning from a short vacation in Florida.
Much to Paige’s delight, two of Craig’s brothers and their buddies finished the painting while she was away.
Fortunately, Nate and his wife, Tessa, are the managers of the resort, and their contributions, along with those of Craig and Paige’s other son, Matt, 33, and other family members and friends, will be essential. to help Paige get through the summer. .
“Even though Craig loved the station, his first love was baseball,” Paige said. “He played at Bemidji State, then moved to Oklahoma to play for the Cowboys. The Twins offered him a tryout, but he never went. At that time, he was working in Oklahoma. In the end, we decided to come back and work with his parents at the station, and eventually buy him.”
Craig’s funeral was expected to spill over from the small Lutheran church he and Paige attended near Cass Lake. She was therefore moved to a larger church in Bemidji.
Nearly 300 people attended, including many resort guests from Wisconsin, Illinois and beyond.
“We have a very busy summer ahead, and I don’t foresee any big changes,” Paige said. “Until now I just wanted to make sure I had people around me. It’s been good the last few weeks to have people telling funny stories about Craig. He would have liked that. We want to continue to to advance.”
At 9 p.m. the day before the opening, on the eve of another summer fishing season, Paige, Matt and Nate will toast Craig and his memory, and she hopes her many friends across the country will will join them.
Then, sometime after their opening weekend guests return home, when the three of them and other family members, including Craig and Paige’s three darling grandchildren, have a moment, they’ll power up on Winnie and scatter Craig’s ashes over his favorite fishing spot – the same spot where his father’s ashes were left a dozen years ago.
Then they will get back to work.