Boy has time flown! The snow is on the ground and it’s nearly Thanksgiving already. Bill and I haven’t had much “down time” since we moved into our house this past July. I think all of us agree, as we age, the details of our lives seem to multiply and the minutes in a day dwindle. Always so much to do!
One of the reasons we decided to move from Ely to Soudan was because we had accepted an arrangement with the owners of Soudan’s Vermilion Park Inn. We were to be the Winter Caretakers! There are four co-owners of the Inn, all kind and colorful characters, the majority over sixty-five years-old, and two have roots on the Iron Range. I met the primary owner, Mary Batinich, a couple of years ago when she would whirl into the Timberjay newspaper office to have my boss Jodi assist her with an invitation or something she needed for one of her many enterprises. I remember thinking, “Wow, that lady moves...and she gets lots of stuff done!” Mary is that way.... she swirls and whirls with abundant energy and many of us are trying to keep upright in her wake.
Last spring on a random Tuesday after work, I stopped by the Inn to drop off some rate cards we had printed. Mary had previously invited Bill and me, the newlyweds, to be her guests and stay in the honeymoon suite, so I was planning to thank her and book the room. Mary greeted me, offered me a beverage and said, “Dear, let’s go visit.” I followed her down a wide carpeted hall to the room we’d booked and we sat on the pair of white wicker sofas in one corner. I was busy admiring the ornate black and gold fabric on the cushions, a tassled lamp nearby, and other furnishings and artwork in the room. In a lively discussion about our eventful pasts and mutual friendships, I also learned that Mary and the other owners, Mary Genalo, Tom Burns and Jane Turner, were in need of winter caretakers for the upcoming season. After what turned into the most casual and fun interview I’ll ever have, (in which Mary had me sing a show tune for another of her passions, the Vermilion Cultural Center’s Annual Midsummer Festival), we were adopted into the group!
The Vermilion Park Inn-Bed and Breakfast-Retreat and Convention Center (its full title), is located right next door to the historic Soudan Store at 30 Center Street. It has been newly renovated and is a wonderful, cozy and uniquely-decorated part of Soudan’s past. To shorten a long story, it was built in the late 1800s as a hospital and served the mining community for decades. Then it became a group home for developmentally-disabled adults, and has now evolved into the 12-room bed and breakfast it is today, moving through a few previous owners. The rooms, mainly decorated by Mary herself, are filled with antique furniture and beautiful decor and have names such as Nordic Room, Italian Room and British Garden Room, to name a few. The various names are reflected in the colors and styles of each room.
I’d never been an innkeeper before, neither had Bill, so we started hanging around the place during the summer to learn the ropes. It’s been BIG fun! Mind you, I have not left my post at the Timberjay. I will remain the “graphics person” I am, well into the future. But we’ve all heard that it’s good for the mind and spirit to take on new challenges...and add more details to an already busy life! Busy is good.
During the summer, Bill was helping with maintenance and became the constant gardener, caring for all the flowers in the window boxes and garden beds. I refreshed my memory on bed-making with hospital corners and pillowcase-tucking techniques. Mary showed me how to “mangle,” in other words how to run an old-fashioned mangle iron to efficiently press sheets and pillowcases. I was instructed that towels, washcloths and hand towels must go into all rooms along with little soaps, shampoos, paper cups and T.P.
I started learning the computer system for booking and tracking guests and handling payments. My head was swimming a bit at first but it is getting easier.
There are plenty of rules to be followed in the kitchen area as well, especially with only specific food items allowed to be served in our bed and breakfast set-up. While the Inn has cooking facilities if guests choose to fry an egg or something, in the mornings we set out a very nice Continental breakfast.
There has been a great cast of new characters to acquaint ourselves with at the Inn such as Margaret and Shirley, housekeepers who come regularly or when needed. There is Pete the maintenance man whom I liked from the moment we had an exchange on the grand staircase to the second floor. I remarked, “This staircase reminds me of Gone With The Wind!” He stopped, turned, and replied, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!” With my name being Scarlet, his response humored me to the core and the friendship was sealed.
We met Pastor Doug, of Tower’s St. James Presbyterian Church, who has office space at the Inn, serving as administrator for another one of Mary’s passions, the Lake Vermilion Cultural Center. We cannot forget lovely Linda, who lives between the cities and Lake Vermilion and is the queen of helpful, at the top of the list of those bringing a bright spot to any day. Let’s not forget Cousin Steve either, a rather dashing silver-haired man who isn’t really Mary’s cousin at all, but a close friend of the Inn who travels from Grand Rapids periodically to visit. Then there is a nice couple renting a small apartment; they provide a constant presence and assist with keeping it all running smoothly.
Our official take-over was mid-October when one set of owners and summer caretakers, Tom and Toni, headed south to Arizona for the winter. With a lighter flow of guests in the fall season, there was going to be time to ease into the new role. That’s what I thought ...but the first weekend, we had nineteen people come and stay at the Inn. I made a flow chart for myself on paper, chewed my fingernails, drank too much coffee and stressed out! With help from other staff and owner Mary, who was just twenty minutes away at her lake home, we sailed through it and all of the guests had a delightful time. The Inn is located on the Mesabi Trail and we have had summer guests who are strictly interested in hiking and biking. Guests also tour the nearby Soudan Underground Mine and like to drive to Ely and visit the Wolf and Bear centers, plus do some dining and shopping as well.
It is a goal of mine to find out more about the history of the Inn itself during all of its past lives. Friends from here and there, and locals, have shared stories of their relatives being born in the second floor delivery room. My friend Mona Meittunen, from Side Lake, recalls her uncle being born at the hospital. In fact he was the first Caesarean birth ever performed there and the doctor on duty had to call the Duluth hospital for instructions on how to proceed. It was a success, as he (Mona’s uncle) lived to tell the story!
After the upcoming holidays there will be more time to delve into the rich history of the Inn’s past. Now we are anticipating getting the place decked out for Christmas and hosting some festive events in the newly-decorated meeting room downstairs. There will be a poetry reading in mid-December and between Christmas and New Year’s we will host a lovely meal with entertainment. If you can find time to squeeze in a visit to the Inn this holiday season, please give me a call. I’ll be dashing through the snow in either Tower or Soudan, tending to the details of Scarlet’s bustling life!
Vermilion Park Inn invites you to LIKE their Facebook page and visit the website at www.vermilionparkinn.com.