“Take your insurance dividends in land ownership in beautiful northern Minnesota” so said the owner of a teachers insurance company in Louisianna. Or at least something close to that is attributed to R.O. Rush who ran the Southern Educators Insurance Company. Many teachers did just that and Wilderness Park began with many Louisianna teachers being the lot owners.
Rush teamed with a wealthy Texan to acquire and develop nearly three full sections of land in Cass County. Much of it was purchased from a corporation named Kaldek, Inc. and it is believed it had purchased much of its holdings from tax forfeit sales. The Abstracts of Title (the history of land transfers taken from the county recording office) show transfers from Kaldek, Inc. to various development corporations set up such as Wilderness Park, Inc., Southern Educators Finance Corp. and Southern Educators Corporation.
Over 20 miles of roads were created and aerial survey established lot lines. Underground electric was put in and the lot sale promotions began. The clubhouse (a Cap Home actually), swimming pool and tennis court, made the property desirable for the dream of many wanting the “up north cabin”. Free gas, and a prize gift to visit the property and take the tour lured many to view the property for their own use or for “investment property”. Minnesota has several such developments started in the 70’s besides Wilderness Park.
A sales office was set up at the front gate and advertising was heavy in the twin cities area. The developer hired a caretaker and a sales manager and sales were booming. A few cabins got built in the 1970’s and many new owners brought their campers or camped out on their lots. A property owners association was formed which the developer gradually turned over control to the property owners who elected a Board of directors to carry out the duties set forth in the Covenants and By Laws.
Title problems began to arise when the developer sold to an investor the Contract wherein a new property owner purchased a lot on time via a Contract for Deed. When the new owner paid off their contract, they often thought that was all they had to do to obtain ownership. They never got a deed to gain title or if they later contacted the developer they learned the developer has sold their contract to an investor who could be difficult to find years after the purchase.
High interest in the 80’s and developing financial problems saw the developer slowly abandon the project, so the existing owners had to manage and keep a budget through the annual property dues payments. Many Louisiana owners never visited and resisted paying any dues since they never used their lots. Finances were extremely tight, but the Board kept working to manage the Park with a great amount of volunteer work. Slowly the clubhouse was improved with entrances to the shower area created with volunteer labor, the well was repaired by volunteers and donations led to Handicap entrances and bathrooms.
Many, many people can take pride for the time and money spent on making the Park what it is today. Title problems are being solved and owners from Louisiana are selling their lots to people who can use them for the intended recreational use. Many lots forfeited to Cass County, but thru the work of the Board, the County is slowly selling the lots to new owners.
While there are still a few owners who resist paying annual dues, liens and foreclosure proceedings are enforcing the obligations. As in any large organization, there are a few “disgruntled members”, but the great majority of members realize the benefits of the work so many have done, and have great affection for the place we call “The Park”.
Gary L. Phleger