Childhood days at Gull Lake, near Battle Creek, Mich., were spent swimming, tubing, sailing, attending church service at the tabernacle, and eating Rice Krispies sprinkled over ice cream at Kellogg's factory. I remember the excitement of catching the first glimpse of the lake when my father's car rounded the last hill after the long drive from Adrian in the late 1930s and '40s.
Last weekend's trip to the lake must have been at least three hours shorter in a 2002 model car. I was equally excited to return to the lake, even though my water sports activity now is limited to boating. But, I did add a new page to the Gull Lake Memory Book that is more suitable for seniors than tubing, and comes highly recommended. My first-time visit to the Barn Theatre was a delightful experience and I hope to return during the current season.
The greatest joy gained from visiting Gull Lake at any age is the lake itself. Now that five golf courses offer packages with lodging, more people in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan are getting to know the lake.
I have always said it is the most beautiful lake in the world. Stretching seven miles long and two miles across in some places, it is a stunning turquoise blue. The best way to see it is by boat. There is an excursion boat for those who do not have access to a private craft. The small cottages that once lined the shore are just about gone and have been replaced by large homes that make a tour of the lake a fascinating study in architecture. Even the W.K. Kellogg mansion and estate grounds, now owned and operated by Michigan State University, does not command the attention it once did because of the many palatial private homes that are there now.
My family became anchored at Gull Lake in the early 1900s when my grandfather, the Rev. Ruel Chancy Powell, was active in the Midland Bible Conference there. Since the Powell generations have considered Gull "our lake," and one cousin, David Powell, a retired Detroit teacher, lives there in a lovely lakefront home. Thanks to him, the rest of us can revisit the lake, reminisce, and enjoy his several boats.
The big round tabernacle remains the focus of the church conference, but the grounds have expanded considerably to include a large hotel. Many small cottages were torn down to make room for upscale housing facilities for conference attendees. That's progress, but it would have been nice if the old country store and the Cooler where we bought "preacher sodas" had been salvaged. A preacher soda is any ice cream with any pop poured over it.
Lovers Lane, the tranquil tributary that feeds into the giant lake, is lined on either side by homes high on the embankments.
As children we didn't listen to the history lesson of the lane. We had a good teacher, my 98-year-old uncle Vance Powell, who loves the lake even more than the rest of us.
The Barn Theatre in Augusta, Mich., is one of the state's oldest Equity resident summer-stock theaters. The theatre was packed for the performance of Fiddler on the Roof last weekend. Li'l Abner is playing through July 10. The Graduate is scheduled July 12-24. The theater is 15 minutes from Gull Lake and not much more from Battle Creek.
Brendan Ragotzy, owner-producer, has continued two traditions introduced by his late parents, Betty and Jack Ragotzy, who founded the theater in 1945. After the play, budding actors from the current cast entertain in the Rehearsal Shed adjacent to the theater. Barnies, the people who have been a part of the Barn Theatre's resident company, are another tradition. Their careers in film, stage, and television are tracked and reported in the theater program.
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