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MRCA awards Operators of the Year, Hall of Fame inductees

MRCA awards Operators of the Year, Hall of Fame inductees

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Resort & Campground Association is pleased to announce its 2016 award winners:

  • 2016 Minnesota Hospitality Hall of Fame – Wally and Sue Heise from South Isle Family Campground, Isle, and Richard and Ruthann Holetz from Camperville, Mora
  • 2016 Operators of the Year – Harold and Rosemarie Kraft from Canary Beach Resort, Villard

The MRCA also recognized Carol Altepeter, who will be retiring from Explore Minnesota Tourism in a few months after 22 years. The awards were presented during the MRCA’s Fall Conference Oct. 25-27, at Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center in Alexandria.

Minnesota Hospitality Hall of Fame

The Minnesota Hospitality Hall of Fame recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the development of Minnesota’s resort and campground industry and are deemed “legends” by their peers. The award honors lifetime achievement and exemplary leadership in the industry. This year, two couples were recognized for their contributions to Minnesota’s campground industry:

Wally and Sue Heise – South Isle Family Campground, Isle

A downturn in the electronics industry led Wally and Sue Heise to explore second careers in the campground business. They purchased their campground near southeastern Lake Mille Lacs in March of 1991. They call the next five years the hardest of their lives, trying to fix up the campground (including removing 100 tree stumps throughout the property), build a customer base and pay the bills. They ran the campground in the spring, summer and fall, and worked other jobs during the winter to make ends meet. Wally and Sue expanded the property from 65 campsites to its current 130 sites, of which 85 are seasonal.

There’s a reason the word “family” is in the title of South Isle Family Campground. The Heises emphasize a family atmosphere and summers are packed with fun family activities including free ice cream socials, horseshoe and Frisbee golf tournaments, dances, hula hoop and talent contests, corn feeds, wacky Olympics, Christmas in August and much more. Children of all ages enjoy rides on the Rainbow Express train and hayrides. For the past 23 years they have held a Labor Day weekend White Elephant auction with proceeds going toward the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Current and former campers make donations, as do local businesses and generous bidding makes a big impact. This year’s proceeds of more than $10,000 put them over the $100,000 total donation mark.

Wally and Sue have always been involved in community organizations and activities, including coaching their children’s sports in earlier years. They have also been heavily involved with the Jaycees organization. Sue served on the board of the Minnesota Association of Campground Owners for several years before it merged with the Minnesota Resort Association in 1996. Shortly after the merger, Wally became an MRCA board member and served as president in 2007. He continued as a board member for 16 years, retiring just last year. He also has been a member of Explore Minnesota Tourism’s advisory committee and he attends meetings of the Mille Lacs area tourism committee whenever possible.

The Heises have enjoyed mentoring others who are considering purchasing or building a campground. After 26 years at South Isle Family Resort, Wally and Sue are looking toward retirement. Their children, Kim and Bryan, now manage the campground’s daily activities.

Richard and Ruthann Holetz – Camperville, Mora

Richard and Ruthann Holetz have owned Camperville Campground just north of Mora for 37 years. Richard had a successful career as an insurance agent while Ruthann became a realtor. They made a home for themselves in Edina and raised four children. In 1979, on their way home from touring vacation condos in the Brainerd area, they took a detour that would shape their lives. Richard had heard of a campground for sale and persuaded Ruthann that they should check it out. Over the next few months, they visited Camperville regularly, envisioning the potential of this campground that had been carved out of the woods 16 years prior. They purchased Camperville in December of 1979.

Although the grounds were open all week, most of the revenue in the early years was derived from weekend rentals. Fridays through Sundays was “all hands on deck” for the entire family. Marketing efforts in those days consisted of delivering brochures to every gas station, convenience store and business related to camping within a two-hour drive of Camperville. Richard was also a fixture at the Minneapolis/St. Paul RV, Vacation and Camping Show in Minneapolis with his orange awning display and flashing lights.

Over the years, significant improvements were made to the property: building a house, paving the driveway, replacing buildings, erecting a machine shed to store maintenance equipment and planting many, many trees. All of this was accomplished while maintaining their respective careers in financial services and real estate. Richard resigned from his “day job” in 2006; Ruthann continues to help families buy and sell homes in the Twin Cities with Edina Realty, where she has worked for 46 years.

Richard served on the board for the Minnesota Association of Campground Operators and was instrumental in bringing about a merger with the Minnesota Resort Association in 1996. In 2002, he was the first Minnesota Resort & Campground Association president who came specifically from the campground side.

Today, Camperville is a seasonal-only campground. Daughters Kris and Cathy and their families work in the store and organize activities. Sons Rich and Michael help out occasionally, as do Richard and Ruthann’s nine grandchildren. The family is also grateful to have reliable work campers who help maintain the grounds and keep the operation going.

MRCA Operators of the Year

MRCA’s Operator of the Year award recognizes leadership and excellence in areas such as management ability, active participation in tourism-related local/state organizations, community leadership and other criteria.

Harold and Rosemarie Kraft – Canary Beach Resort, Villard

Harold and Rosemarie Kraft are on “chapter two” of their career in the resort industry. They first owned Train Bell Resort in Merrifield and retired for a few years but couldn’t shake the resort bug. They’ve operated their current resort, Canary Beach Resort in Villard, for 13 years.

Harold and Rosemarie met on a blind date, then had a long-distance relationship while Harold served in the Vietnam War. When he returned in 1972, they married. After retiring from the military in 1990, Harold remembered his great family experiences at Minnesota resorts and he began investigating resorts for sale. In 1990, he and Rosemarie purchased Train Bell Resort, which included 10 small cabins. They remodeled the cabins and landscaped the grounds, built four villas and a six-bedroom lodge, which gave guests more accommodation options.

They had pre-determined that 10 years was the maximum time they would operate a resort so in 2000, they sold it and retired. But three years later, they were itching to get back in the business. In 2003, they purchased Canary Beach Resort, about 22 miles south of Alexandria. Harold focuses on building projects and greeting guests while Rosemarie is in charge of decorating and getting the units ready for occupancy. They have built a new lodge along with two-level vacation homes, added campsites and expanded the property. Next year they plan to replace two small cabins with more vacation homes. Their daughter, Christine, and her husband Scott, also help manage the resort.

SOURCE: Minnesota Resort & Campground Association press release

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About Darian Armer

Darian Armer is the assistant editor for RV Daily Report. She lives in Billings, Montana, where she enjoys spending time with her husband and three stepchildren. Introduced to the RV industry in 2012, she is happy to be writing for one of the greatest industries around.

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