Ruttger Family Honors Its Legacy
The Ruttger Family is the first family of Minnesota's resorting industry. In the 1890s Joseph and Josephine Ruttger and their four sons, who were farming on the north shore of Bay Lake near Deerwood, began providing fishermen with hot meals and a place to stay. In 1898, they opened Ruttgers Bay Lake Lodge - guests paid $5 a week for bed, board and boat - and became pioneers in an industry that rapidly became a major component of Minnesota's economy. Eventually all four sons and some of the grandsons went into the business, operating five resorts in Minnesota and three in Florida. Today, the family operates three resorts in Minnesota - Ruttger's Bay Lake Lodge, the oldest resort in the state still owned by the founding family; Ruttger's Birchmont in Bemidji; and Ruttger's Sugar Lake Lodge near Grand Rapids.
In 1998 the Ruttger family prepared to celebrate 100 years in the resort industry. Shirlee Ruttger Bates, a granddaughter of Joseph and Josephine, worked with her cousin Terry Ruttger to collect historical materials - china, advertising brochures, etc. - for donation to the Society. She also approached the Society about developing a way to commemorate this special occasion. After consulting with several family members, Shirlee and her cousin Jack Ruttger led an effort that raised $50,000 to create the Joseph and Josephine Ruttger Descendants Fund - an endowed fund that would be a lasting legacy of the family's leadership in the resort industry. Family members across generations made large and small gifts to establish the Fund. As Shirlee recalls, "We created this Fund to honor and memorialize our much-loved grandparents and parents and to help preserve and share the stories associated with Minnesota's tourism industry. This special centennial project brought our greatly enlarged family together in a way we had never had before."
Built with gifts made over several years and investment earnings, the Ruttger Fund has increased in value to more than $60,000. Since its creation the Fund has provided nearly $24,000 to support several MHS Press publications including Minnesota Vacation Days and Prairie, Lake, Forest: Minnesota's State Parks, oral histories with resort industry pioneers, and public programs designed to celebrate the industry's important role in Minnesota history. This year the Fund supported a special Seniors in Mind program at the Minnesota History Center on Minnesota's tourism industry featuring Minnesota Vacation Days authors Linda Koutsky and Katherine Strand Koutsky, singer Charlie Maguire, and On the Road host Jason Davis.
In addition to their leadership gift to launch the Fund, Shirlee, and her husband Sam, have provided for a future gift to the Ruttger Fund through their charitable trust.