We have sad news. Bearskin Blog is mostly used for funny stories and happy updates, but we thought this was a piece of information that might be important to numerous long-time guests who regularly read this blog.
Many of you knew that Dee, the amazing woman of multiple talents who was the face at the front desk and the voice on the phone at Bearskin Lodge for years, has been ill with pancreatic cancer. On Saturday Dee passed away. Dee fought a formidable battle against a cancer which had, in her own words, a “grim prognosis.” She described the treatment as “brutal,” but she was blessed to have great faith and a devoted, loving family. Dee spent her last weeks at Solvay Hospice House, a beautiful and comfortable respite tucked in the woods in a quiet niche above Duluth. Her family was at her side when she passed away.
When I visited her at Solvay, her room was full of fragrant flowers sent by Bearskin guests. She seemed to enjoy the e-mails and cards she received from guests and former employees. Dee was one of those special individuals who easily made lasting connections with others, probably because it was obvious that she was a caring person. I also think she took some personal sustenance from her daily interactions with Bearskin guests. She genuinely loved Bearskin and truly wanted to help our guests have wonderful vacations here.
When we bought the resort last year, Dee had her hands full trying to deal with a family full of resort newbies. No doubt she went home every night and rolled her eyes to Jerry and the rest of her family over our ineptitude, but she was unbelievably patient with our slow learning curve. We couldn’t have done it without her and we will be forever grateful. And believe me, we still miss her expertise on a daily basis!
But for many reasons, what we miss even more is Dee as a person. One reason we miss her is that she was funny. And spunky. When I think of Dee, I imagine her chasing down the hall, trailing a long, mistake-ridden cash register receipt, and calling out, “Young man, young man!!” (regardless of the age of the employee). “If you keep this up, you’re going to make my hair turn blonde.”
We could always tell when that cash register tape didn’t properly balance. When she was having a terrible day, she would fall back on her vices – Nut Goodie bars or Peanut M&Ms, washed down with an iced tea.
On her worst days, she’d go home and watch two hours of “Walker, Texas Ranger.” She was a kind and gentle soul, but every once in awhile it relieved her stress level to watch Chuck Norris roundhouse kick the bad guys.
We also miss Dee because she was always right. I do mean always. We would sometimes question how Dee went about a process, but she accomplished an incredible amount of work during her hours at the resort. Honestly, over the past years she did the work of several people. One way she got so much done was to routinely stick to a structure that she knew would function efficiently. Dee didn’t have time to fool around with “What if you tried this…” She had way too much to do and too little time to do it; she was the master of staying focused on finishing the job.
Dee wasn’t just the resort manager, paymaster, human resources department, insurance administrator, front desk manager and accounting guru, she also totally ran the gift shop. It was basically her store; she did as much for that gift shop as she would have if she had owned it herself. Dee and I went to the Upper Midwest Gift Show together last October. I’m so happy that I was able to go with her once, because she was passionate about hunting for the perfect gifts. (And was much better at it than I am.) It was a bit like walking through the show with a gift-buying celebrity. Everyone seemed to know and like Dee. She was ill by the next show in January, so I went without her. It wasn’t at all the same.
I will also always admire her total adoration for her family and grandchildren. She and Jerry would drive to the ends of the earth (or even worse, to Oklahoma) just to support a grandchild in a race or activity. She indisputably was the kind of “Nan” everyone aspires to be.
Pancreatic cancer is an ugly, unfair disease. Dee did not have the risk factors often associated with this. Liquor never touched her lips, she maintained a healthy weight, she was a non-smoker and she lived a healthy lifestyle. Research spending for pancreatic cancer is meager compared to the money spent to fight other devastating cancers; not surprisingly, the survival rate is also very low. Those are tied together, that is not a coincidence. Screening for pancreatic cancer is essentially non-existent. By the time symptoms are apparent, you’ve had it for a long time.
Movie actor Patrick Swayze has been in the news regularly because he is being treated for pancreatic cancer; before that, it was Lucianno Pavarotti in the news. “Stars” mean nothing to me, but Dee did. Maybe the “stars” who battle pancreatic cancer can create more public awareness that will result in more research dollars being donated towards overcoming this excruciating cancer. Breast cancer and lung cancer are examples of cancers with much better outcomes now that our society focused on research for cures; a person who gets one of those cancers usually at least has hope for the future. With pancreatic cancer, an actual 5 year survivor is extremely rare. It’s time to pour some money and media attention into pancreatic cancer research so that in the future good people like Dee have a fair chance to fight it. That’s where our family health dollar donations will go in the future.
If you would like to contact Dee’s family to express condolences, please call the lodge front desk and we will help you reach them. I think they might appreciate hearing your memories of the very wonderful person who was Dee.