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Column: Facts about Lake Okabena you may not know

WORTHINGTON -- Gov. Mark Dayton will be in Worthington this month for a public forum. He should be urged to appoint a task force focused on the algae growths that are making slime ponds of Minnesota's lakes. Enlist the University, Mayo Clinic, the DNR, Minnesota industries. Mobilize Minnesota.

This prospect stirred memories of what Lake Okabena has been for Worthington.

1. In the last years of the 19th century and the first years of the 20th century, there were as many as three steamboats on Lake Okabena. They had no purpose but to take passengers on sunny day excursions. George Kunzman, captain of the Little Sioux, offered rides around Lake Okabena, "seven miles," for 25 cents

2. Jim Vance became a publisher of the Daily Globe. Aileen Watson, the Vance family's neighbor, told the story of putting Jim, then a kindergartener, on her shoulders one afternoon in 1933, a drought year, and wading with him all the way across the lake. She said the water was never deeper than her hips.

3. When Worthington razed its fabled "castle school" in 1930 to build the new grade school, stones and bricks from the old school were dumped and strung along the northwest bay to create the foundation for The Grade, the roadway through the lake which exists to this day.

4. There was no round-the-lake road until after the end of World War II. To that time, the lake's south shore remained farmland. One part of this farmland was the fabled Ludlow apple orchard where the Okabena apple was featured.

5. The late Art Kirchhevel fished in Lake Okabena nearly every day. One year Art caught 47 Northerns. Another year Art had stomach trouble that sent him to the lake shore even at night. That year, day and night, summer and winter, Art caught 3,000 bullheads, crappies "and all the others."

6. From, nearly, the beginning of settlement and through the 1940s, there were ice boats on Lake Okabena. There were sails on the lake nearly every fair winter day. A Worthington boy was killed in a black-night ice boat collision. Pat Seifert continued sailing his ice boat to the end of the 20th century.

7. Chautauqua Park was first known as Lakeside Park. It was a camp ground for Civil War veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic, the GAR. After Worthington joined the Chautauqua Institution, a pavilion was build in the park for visiting speakers and entertainers and the site became known (although not officially) as Chautauqua Park.

8. Centennial Park was begun in 1949, the 100th anniversary of the creation of Minnesota Territory. Ehlers Park is named for A.J. (Hap) Ehlers, longtime Worthington park superintendent. Slater Park is named for Dr. Sidney A. Slater, longtime superintendent of the Southwest Sanatorium. Olson Park is named for E.O. Olson, founder of the once-sprawling Worthmore creamery, poultry plant and ice cream plant. Vogt Park is named for the Vogt family, which has conducted the adjoining lakeshore farm since the 19th century.

9. In a time when picnics were popular, families sometimes designated someone to spend all of Saturday night to stake claims on shelter house tables at Chautauqua Park.

10. Through the first half of the 20th century, Worthington kids learned to swim at Red Cross swim classes conducted on the rocky shore of Chautauqua Park.

11. Amelia Earhart, her parents and her sister, Muriel, all of Kansas, spent a part of five summers in the M.P. Mann house on Lake Avenue, present-day site of the Wayne Freese house. Amelia learned to swim in Lake Okabena. Amelia and her friends also rented row boats from the Twitchell family, which had a boarding house at the intersection of Lake Street and Lake Avenue. The girls rowed, fished -- and stole apples in raids on the Ludlow apple orchard.

12. The best beach -- probably the most sandy beach on Lake Okabena -- is the beach opposite the Vogt Farm, just off Vogt Park.

13. Whiskey Ditch, which provides a flow of water from Okabena Creek to Lake Okabena, was named after Worthington voters approved licensing saloons with the tax earnings designated for the digging of the ditch. Worthington was a prohibition community which, every now and again, made exceptions to its no-drinking rules.

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.