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Published: Sunday, 7/23/2006

Island visit is saved by interesting people

PUT-IN-BAY, Ohio - The old adage about lemons is one of my favorites, and it seemed appropriate for a two-day excursion to Put-in-Bay last week. The first day was such a lemon I simply had to make lemonade to account for my time and expense.

After walking around town in the rain, having two very disappointing meals and ghastly wine, and wondering why I get such crazy ideas, I retired to my $165 room at the Bay Front Hotel. Yes, Put-In-Bay is pricey. All evening while the other tourists played in the rain and patronized the hot drinking spots I wondered what people see here that I don't. Do you have to be young and a beer drinker to enjoy this place?

I was determined to correct things; to make lemonade as it were, the next day.

Because the hotel does not have a restaurant, my options for a breakfast spot included a 20-minute hike, a drive in a rental golf cart, or a $3 cab ride to the downtown area.

Driving a golf cart is a big part of the Put-In-Bay experience. The carts are all over the place, but I was too chicken to try it, especially in the heavy traffic areas. So I saved the 10-hour $54 cart rental in favor of walking or taking cabs.

The morning walk to the Frosty Bar was the turning point, and I did it by getting to know some of the folks who keep the Lake Erie island humming for the tourists.

About 1,000 summer island employees are college students who graciously talk about their schools and vocation plans. Many of the students attend eastern schools but I also met two university students from Romania who work as hotel maids. A few kind words along with the tips soothe the homesickness they feel at this point in the summer season. The students are housed in dormitories.

The Frosty Bar started with Louise and Romer Stoiber, who opened a carryout in 1949. June Stoiber, their daughter-in-law, tells the story that on a trip to Florida, Louise was fascinated by orange juice served in frosted mugs. She ordered two dozen mugs for the next summer season and changed the name from Stoiber's Carryout to Frosty Bar.

The bell behind the bar is another Frosty story. June's husband, George, was the cook on the USS George Washington Carver, a submarine, from 1960 to 1970. He rang the bell to announce meals. When he left the boat to return home to take over the family business, somehow that bell went with him.

Although the Oddfellows fraternal lodge is not as active as it once was, there are still a few Oddfellow halls, where the Oddfellows and the Rebekahs meet. On Put-In-Bay, one of the old lodge halls is a meeting place, but for food and drink customers, not lodge members. Ryan Stoiber, George and June's son, opened the business this summer. Rather than dream up a cute new name for the place, Ryan kept the name Oddfellows and added Tavern.

The morning walk continued to Ashley's Island House, one of several beds-and-breakfasts on the island. I arrived to chat with Bob and Judy Bransome just as their guests were checking out.

The Bransomes have operated the 13-bedroom house since 1996. On balmy summer evenings guests gather on the long front porch to get acquainted and sip mint juleps.

A bronze statue in the parlor of a woman with wings is a tip of the hat to island history and Mrs. Bransome's talents. A sculptor, Mrs. Bransome created a smaller version of a 14-foot statue that stood in front of the Victory Hotel. The 125-room waterfront hotel, built in 1892, was destroyed by fire in 1919, but it is still talked about, proving that Put-In-Bay goes back a long time as a tourist destination.

Mrs. Bransome's statue, named Winged Victory, was exhibited in the National Sculpting Society atrium in New York. The original statue was not destroyed in the fire but was donated for scrap metal in World War 11.

John Doller built the Ashley's Island House in 1863. His ships' supply store downtown provided a customer base for a boarding house that catered to ship captains, so he built the Victorian mansion.

No doubt 200 years ago ship crews needed a rest after a long harrowing voyage. Today the 40-mile trip from Port Clinton to the island on the Jet Express takes 22 minutes.

Will I go again? Probably, but on a Miller's ferry from Catawba Island with my car on board. I wouldn't be timid about driving the car on the island. It's bigger than a golf cart.



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