For nearly four decades, families and friends shared fun and created lifelong memories at a place built for enjoying the summer. That place was Vacation Village.
The Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum has collected a number of artifacts from this place of memories.
“Vacation Village, located on the northwest shore of West Okoboji Lake, was a family resort where the living was easy. Over 600 persons lived in style and comfort in the 115 completely modern and furnished cottages. Cars parked right outside each cottage and groups stayed together as neighbors,” according to a historical document by Larry Ross and Mary Kennedy, the curator of the Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum.
All of the units were furnished and featured heat and kitchen facilities. There was a launderette, a dining room and a store on site as well.
This vacation destination for hundreds of families over the years was begun by Hobart Ross of Des Moines. He was developer of resorts in the Iowa Great Lakes. Manhattan Cottages was opened in 1933 and Vacation Village opened in 1949, according to Ross’s obituary in the “Spirit Lake Beacon” in 1984.
Construction for Vacation Village began in 1947 and they opened for their first season in 1949.
Vacation Village sat on 20 acres and featured a quarter of a mile of lakeshore. Vacation Village offered up more to its guests than a place to rest their head at night. They had softball, badminton, volleyball, horseshoes, tennis, basketball and hiking.
Water sports included a diving platform, water slide, eight docks, fishing, ski boats, rowboats, canoes, kayaks, paddle boats, sailboats, skis and surfboards. In the event of rain there was also indoor fun including dances, movies, table tennis, billiards, bridge and other card games, television and books.
They had even more planned for the kiddos to give parents a break.
A Vacation Village brochure read, “You can tell that Vacation Village was designed as a family resort. Scores of things to do to keep the youngsters beaver-busy all day long. Five well-equipped playgrounds give them lots of ways to work off all that energy. Two recreation directors hold weekly beach carnivals, fishing derby, watermelon busts, Kiddie Karnival and free prizes. Cartoon movies are a regular feature. Swimming lessons and baby sitters are available at modest rates. Vacation Village is a wonderland for children.”
“We try to think of everything people want — babysitters, swimming lessons. Anything they ask for we try to provide — except television, phones, air conditioning or carpet,” said Bob Ross, the son of Hobart Ross, in an interview with the “Spirit Lake Beacon” in 1978. “It’s good to get away from television and phones. There are plenty of other things to do around here - particularly with kids it’s great. They don’t have to worry about messing up the carpet, just shoot them out the door to the playground or beach.”
At the time of that interview the resort had a full season staff of 35 and a summer staff of up to 100 full and part-time employees.
The Ross family operated the resort for 35 years until it was purchased by another group at the beginning of 1985. At that point Vacation Village became Village West and has been converted to timeshares and a hotel.
Though Vacation Village might be gone, you can still hear the whispers of fun in the pictures and artifacts that are on display at the Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum.