Kurt J. Kolka
JANELLE GATES NORMAN: MEMORIES RUN DEEP WITH AUSABLE RIVER
2017 / by Kurt J. Kolka
FREDERIC -- Janelle Gates Norman of Frederic remembers the year 1970 very well. It was the year her family moved from Oscoda to Grayling and established Gates AuSable Lodge on Stephan Bridge Road.
Their five-child, two-parent family squeezed into a two bedroom cabin on the site to get started. A sixth child was in college at the time.
“I don’t think my parents could have run this place without us kids,” recalls Janelle of the work it took to keep the lodge going.
“My oldest brother Jim taught my mom how to cook for the lodge. He had worked at Big Boy in Oscoda. His wife waitressed here. My sister Jody waitressed. Rusty and Tom did dishes and lawn work. I was sent up to work with the maid at the beginning.
“So, I cleaned. Made the beds, cleaned the bathtubs and ran the trash at age 10. That was until the next year when I started waitressing. No one wanted to work the lunch shift. So, it was up to me. That’s just the way it was. The older you got, the more you did.”
When the family first moved to the site, they stayed in a small cabin on the property. It had two bedrooms and one bathroom. Janelle’s parents slept in a hide-away bed, her married brother and his wife took one bedroom, Janelle and her sister took the other, and her brothers slept out on the porch.
That winter, their furnace was condemned and they had to move out. They managed to survive the winter taking up three of the lodge rooms.
The next year, Janelle’s father bought the house across the river from the lodge.
Janelle spent her school years working at the lodge. There was little time for much else. Janelle played basketball for one season, her sophomore year.
For entertainment in the summer months, between meal shifts, Janelle and her friend Tanya Sojka often played “tippy canoe.” The idea was to stand on the canoe while in the water, with their feet on the side edges and rock back and forth. The objective was to see how long they could keep the rocking going before one of them fell in.
Now, growing up while running a family business tends to create strong bonds. So, it was between Janelle and her mother.
“My mom and I would do breakfast, lunch and dinner all summer long. It would be just her and me. I would run the whole dining room and she would be the only cook. We did it summer after summer. I’d run home and take a nap between lunch and dinner and then come back and work.”
“I remember one summer night I was sick with the flu. I started getting sick. I had this bucket in the fly shop and I’d throw up into it. I’d rinse my mouth out and go back and serve food.
“My senior year, I was often late to my first hour class with Howard Lehti, because we needed a waitress. Luckily he understood.”
Janelle says she made some good money doing all that work and it paid her way through college at Ferris State. It was there she earned her degree to become a hair stylist.
Several years later, she would establish her own business in Gaylord called A Nu/U Salon and have two sons, Ryan and Brett, now adults. Yet, even through her adulthood, Janelle continued to do occasional work at the lodge when needed, both for her parents and later when brother Rusty took over.
After Rusty passed away in 2009, the lodge was taken over by Rusty’s business partner, Joshua Greenberg, who continues to run it today. Janelle says she hasn’t been able to work there since Rusty’s passing, although she does visit periodically.
Today, Janelle is retiring and selling her salon in Gaylord. With husband Scott Norman, she plans to do some traveling and kayaking. She is a member of the Just for Kicks cloggers group which performs at various venues. With work behind her, her bucket list is ready for check marks.
But life in Crawford County continues to hold a special place in her heart.
“The river is home. The beauty. Clean water you can swim in and fish in.”
She remembers swimming in an area of the river behind the lodge which they called the Bread Hole. So named for the fact her family member would cast bread into this particular deep area to attract fish. She taught her own sons to swim there as well.
While the lodge may be no longer in her future, the river will always be a part of her life.