All Roads Lead to Okoboji

The Oakwood Inn is a Select Registry Bed and Breakfast Inn located in Okoboji near Spirit Lake.

Have you ever looked back on your life to see what led you to where you are?

A year and a half ago, I was in a high-stress job, working my way up the corporate ladder at a big luxury hotel chain. Tomorrow, Bill and I will complete our first year of owning/operating a bed and breakfast inn. Instead of high-powered meetings, high-end events and high-strung clients, my days now involve hand-washing vintage china, watching yeast bloom while mixing up my Great-Grandmother’s raisin bread and inventorying bed linen. Talk about a life-changing adjustment!

My sisters like to remind me that I once wanted to be a truck driver. I think I was 12 years old and already counting the days until I could have my own driver’s license. Then I decided that I wanted to be a business woman who made tons of money due to my double major in finance and economics. In the end, I finished college with a degree in journalism and spent 10 years in small town newspapers before finding myself in the hospitality business.

None of these experiences gave me the desire to open a bed and breakfast – although my career in hospitality helped on the operations side.

I think it had more to do with auctions. The first auction I remember was when I was 10. My friend Brenda invited me. We played in a corn crib and found old license plates from the 40s, 50s and 60s. I took them home and they sat in a box. That was the start of me collecting old things.

There were the stories from Great Aunt Hertha’s auction. Aunt Hertha was my father’s widowed aunt who never had children. Her death in the early 80s prompted an auction to disperse all of her things, which included quite a few family heirlooms. What happened at the auction is Buesing family lore, with family bidding against family (good-natured, of course) for first generation treasures.

I lived in southwestern MN right after college and went to auctions almost weekly. I loved the call of the auctioneer and digging through boxes in search of a treasure. That’s where I found my first dessert plates and fell in love with antique china. I didn’t know when I would use these delicate dishes, but I was determined to put a set together. In the meantime, I stored them in a box in my closet. My grandmother then gifted me her china, which she amassed in the late 40s from the local dime store. It again, went into a box.

I had a friend, Michele, who loved a good cup of coffee in a china cup. She and I discussed fine china and glassware and our shared dreams of a traditionally decorated home where these items were in regular use for every meal. She was the first person I knew who talked about opening a bed and breakfast. The idea sounded so peaceful that I found myself breathing deeply as she described her dream. We had the conversation often, sometimes while bidding on glassware or china at an auction. The thoughts were a welcome distraction from everyday stresses and a sense of peace always came over me.

It would be many years and many pieces of antique dishes found and put in boxes before I would meet Bill, the love of my life. He grew up in a road-side Best Western and we often talked about what it would be like to own a resort in northern Minnesota. We visited Okoboji when we first began dating as it was his favorite place to come as a kid. It soon became mine. We ended up getting married at Camp Okoboji and always planned on coming back and buying a retirement lake home.

As the years passed, my friends and family knew I loved to preserve family history and gave me heirlooms, or their family heirlooms to “hang on to.” Beautiful doilies, table linens, glassware and of course – china. They all went into boxes and were tagged for storage since Bill and I moved a lot with my job. We never unpacked those boxes either, since Bill renovated each house we lived in.

Then came our “what do we really want to do with our life?” – moment. Remembering my long-ago dream, I started looking for a bed and breakfast for sale. On a whim, I looked in Okoboji. We were not disappointed. Everything fell into place last year as we bought the Hotel Okoboji and turned it into The Oakwood Inn.

All the antique dishes I’ve been hoarding (4 large boxes, in fact) finally saw the light of day to the surprise of my husband. He now understood why I was fine with Corelle ware as our wedding dishes since I was holding a secret in the boxes that traveled with us over our many moves.

In the 25 years since I found the first antique dishes and dreamt about owning a bed and breakfast with my friend Michele, my dish collection has grown to include china from both of my grandmas, my great-grandmother, Bill’s grandmother and my great aunt. In addition, I’ve amassed tried and true family recipes going back more than 100 years, including a pie crust recipe I use in making quiche that has a story of its own.

It made sense, then, that Bill and I opened a bed and breakfast inn. I guess you can say that I’ve been on the path to Okoboji my entire adult life . . . meeting Bill, my love of china, fondness of my heritage and the desire to discover what I’m really supposed to do with my life.

So here we are, one year later. Despite owning a small business, our life is simpler. We enjoy meeting our guests and seeing them leave refreshed after their getaway to our treasured bed and breakfast inn. And we tell stories – of the china, vintage recipes, history of Okoboji and how we met.

And I breathe deeply . . . every day.

~ Bridget, Innkeeper

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