This summer, it all began with a trip to the Maritime Museum in Arnold’s Park, Iowa. I saw this arched structure made from rocks. The sign said it was on loan from Clark Museum in Milford, Iowa. It did not say who made it, or when.
It made me think of my Great Grandpa Goecke who made stone sculptures. The one I specifically remember was a big stone basket in front of Grandma and Grandpa Schelle’s farmhouse. Grandma, Mary Ann (Mamie) Goecke Schelle, was his daughter.
I wondered if he was inspired by the rocky shorelines of Spirit Lake, Iowa’s largest natural lake, where he spent many years, or if it was a popular craft of the time.
Mom (Jean Schelle Thelen) talked often of her Grandpa Goecke’s cottage on Spirit Lake. She gave me a photo from 1981 of her and our 2 older sons, Bryan and Brandon, on a rock bench at that cottage (now with a new owner). She told me that her Grandpa Goecke tied his boat to it.
I LOVE that picture and the idea of an ancestor making the bench. I wanted to see it, but I had no idea where it was located. I guess Mom had never taken me there, that I remember! And now, I couldn’t ask her, because she went on to her heavenly reward in 2014.
So, I asked around. I asked my brother Ed first. He’s a long time resident of Spirit Lake, and Mom and Dad visited him often, renting a cabin each spring and fall (the unbusy times), near him.
No, he had no idea either.
Next, I asked my Kennebeck cousins. They come to The Iowa Great Lakes (Okoboji) every summer for a week of pure fun, and their Mom was my mom’s sister, so she must have talked about it also.
No, they didn’t know where it was!
My Uncle Ron (Mom’s brother) had done a detailed family history for our files. That’s where I found information on William Goecke. He was married and lived in Carroll, Iowa. A few years after his wife died (in 1930), he moved to Spirit Lake (in 1934), and lived there until 1956, when he returned to Carroll. In Spirit Lake, he owned a house in town for the winter, and a lakehouse for the summer.
I went to the courthouse with that information, sleuthing my way to the cottage with the stone bench. The helpful workers led me to the basement, through a dark corridor into a large bright room, and left me there.
It was quite fun! Searching through a massive, tabletop sized index of handwritten deed transfers (today, they’re all digital), sorted by year, and alphabetized, I found one address really fast—the one in town.
The lake cottage was pretty easy too. He bought it in 1941.
Then, I went upstairs to the offices to get the actual address, after finding the division name and year of the sale. I got both addresses, and the current owners’ names. The lake cottage has an Omaha owner, and I knew the name!
After contacting my Omaha friend, I learned that her husband’s brother had purchased the property 3 years ago. They weren’t staying there until the weekend, and encouraged me to go have a looksee, although they couldn’t recall a bench.
I went the next day, very excited and hopeful. My imagination saw it along the shore, and I thought we could maybe take a new family photo there, with grandkids and myself, to hang on the wall, alongside the other.
Well, it had been 38 years since the stone bench photo was taken. I really thought it would be there, but it was not. A sea wall, several feet wide has been built, taking over the original shoreline.
However, I’ll always appreciate hand crafted stone sculptures, and think of my Great Grandpa Goecke, who gave me joy long ago, when I gazed at the basket on my Grandparent Schelle’s farmhouse steps, near Breda, Iowa.
Just for fun, here are a few stone photos from my walks, along West Lake Okoboji.
I hope you enjoyed this little story, and can go sit on a favorite bench somewhere in your world!