An unofficial and slightly biased “history” of the Crandon, Wisconsin Ski tradition—–Crandon Ski Serpents to Crandon Water Shows. Compiled by Patricia Meisinger Becker July 2010
OUR COMMON THREAD IS A TOWROPE
In 1954 Lake Lucerne’s community was different than it is today. The standard “ski” rig was a 16 foot fiberglass or aluminum boat with a 25-50 hp outboard, Evinrude, Johnson, or Mercury. The sounds were distinctive and friends were identifiable by sound as they came down the lake. Ski towropes were hemp and they SANK when wet so each rope had a plastic float near the handle. Ropes tangled in propellers were a common irritant. The safety devices in use foam ski belts and those horrendous “Styrofoam” bubbles strapped around your waists, ready to float you face down in case of a bad fall. Life jackets were bulky kapok things and the only available color was orange and most skiers hated them. There were no such things as barefoot suits, and snug, body-hugging vests.
There were 7 resorts around the lake; Timber Shores, Radiola (now Water’s Edge), Twin Maples, Island View, Johnny’s Lake Lucerne Resort, Rustic Haven, and Planets. Several had full service bars along with a variety of snacks like candy bars and potato chips. And Johnny’s had the best onion rings around. Most of the resorts have gone the way of the old drive-in “motor hotels.” There are still a few cabins available for rent at some locations but many of the old housekeeping cabins have been converted to private homes.
It was a simpler life, teenagers rarely had their own cars, going to Rhinelander was a big deal, dates were generally group functions. Kids had very little money, they shared frosted root beer floats at the old A & W, picked raspberries, and climbed the Sugarbush Tower. There were annual events when 2 or 3 kids would arrange treasure or scavenger hunts and groups would go from house to house or from the great white pine tree to County Park searching for scavenger items or clues. (Try suggesting those activities to today’s teenagers and you are guaranteed to get eye-rolling.) Mostly the kids and teens stayed around the lake, no television, no phones, just plenty of friends, boats, and water. On cold or rainy days there were old 45's and 33's to be heard by the hour, puzzles to be worked, and card games to be played. Common snacks were popcorn and Kool-aid (yes, the real stuff). On hot, sunny days, swimsuits were donned in the morning and worn all day long. There were a few morning chores but once those were done the activities were on, and in the water until sundown.
There was a lot of skiing, even with rigs which would be considered very under-powered by today's standards. Kids taught themselves to ski, then to slalom, barefoot, build pyramids, and sit on barstools on saucers, do 360's on trick skis, and even set up regulation buoys for a slalom course.
A few teenagers from town, several from the north end of the lake, combined with the group on the east shore became known as the Teen Tribe. Boats, skis and other equipment were shared without a qualm. The Teen Tribe even offered a very primitive type of ski show presented to parents, families, and non-skiing friends. Mom and Dad paid for the gas and 8 or 10 private boats were used. They gathered in the evenings at homes of any member whose parents agreed to have them there for popcorn and Kool-Aid, listening to Allen Sherman, Kingston Trio, and Pat Boone records. Those get-togethers happened 4-5 nites a week.
By the early 1960's, the "Teen Tribe" kids had mostly gone off to college or regular jobs, leaving the business of a ski club to the younger brothers, sisters, and friends. The SKI SERPENTS were born and became an organized club. The old Jack Shuster v-hull, and Hydrodynes were still powered by outboards but they finally had enough power to pull multiple skiers out of the water. Now barefooting and pyramids became standards of the shows which were free to the public. Donations were requested to support the needs of the club's boats, gas, skis, ropes, and costumes though the costuming originally consisted of black cut-offs and orange jackets. Skiers provided their own life jackets and occasionally private boats were commandeered when needed.
Many of the Ski Serpents have left legacies over the years. Looking back over the old rosters and pictures we find multiple families carrying on the ski tradition in the Crandon area. Johnny and Lois Marvin raised 11 kids in Crandon. For years Johnny drove the primary tow boat. His ski club kids included Cindy, Perry, Penny, Mary, Candy, Jody, and Jill. Penny married Pete Meisinger and they continue to live in Crandon. Mary Marvin Kircher now lives in the area and her daughter, Candace, skied with Crandon Water Shows for several years. Bill and Mary Jane Schultz parented 3 Ski Serpents, Kirby, Candy, and Stephany. Candy later married Bucky Daily. Candy is currently the driver of the Crandon Water Shows Triple rig. Bucky continues to ski in multiple acts of every show. Candy and Bucky patiently train many young skiers. Additionally, Stephany (now Mattson), has served as skier, and observer with the club and her daughter Kathryn has skied with the Shows for several years. Bucky's sister, Alana, skied with the Ski Serpents for many years and now makes an occasional appearance with Crandon Water Shows and Candy’s daughter, Libby, has skied with Crandon Water Shows. Bill and Mary Jane continue to come to nearly every show. Water's Edge Lodge owner, Roger Hilberg, was a boat driver with the Ski Serpents. He maintains his involvement by offering his waterfront facilities to Crandon Water Shows every summer. Kurt Marshall skied with the Ski Serpents. He now has a daughter Hunter, and a nephew Eric Miller with Crandon Water Shows. George and Lee Meisinger had 7 water skiing children summering on Lake Lucerne. Five of them, Paul, Joann, Pete, Jim, and Phil skied with the Ski Serpents and Pat Meisinger Becker announced for the Ski Serpents for several years. She is now the announcer for the current Crandon Water Shows. Pat's oldest daughter, Jennie Weber is the dock manager for Crandon Water Shows and two of Jennie's son's, James and Jacob, are with the club, and are involved in multiple acts. Jacob is currently president of Crandon Water Shows and James is vice-president. Joann Meisinger O'Connor continues to summer on Lake Lucerne and is a champion barefooter in her bracket. One of the original barefoot pyramids for the Ski Serpents consisted of brothers Pete and Jim on the bottom with 5 year old Phil on top of the barefoot pyramid. Lee attended nearly every Ski Serpent and Crandon Water Show ski show until her death in 2007. Two of Art and Naomi Carlson’s girls from Lake Lucerne were involved in the Ski Serpents. The younger, LexAnn Carlson Hitchcock continues to summer on Lake Lucerne and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Lake Lucerne Advancement Association. Jay and Angie Shaefer are long-time members of the clubs. Along with their son, John, the couple remains very active with the current Crandon Water Shows, barefooting, saucering, knee boarding, etc. Tamarr Vollmer of the old Ski Serpents has 2 daughters, Zatrina and Zandrea, who now ski with Crandon Water Shows.
Throughout the years, club members and families have bid farewell to several members. The Meisingers have sadly lost 2 brothers, Paul in a traffic accident in 1967, and Phil to a fatal heart attack in April 2010. Candy Marvin Warning died tragically in 1979. Ted Rathert passed away in Colorado in 2005 of multiple organ failure. George Zydock was an amputee who skied with pride as the Ski Serpent's one leg slalom skier for many years before passing away from cancer in 2004.
Their memories linger, their families and friends continue to grieve their loss but the show goes on. The "fallen" skiers and all who have skied with the old and new Crandon clubs are leaving their legacies of fun loving spirits, friendships, love of the water and skiing in all its variations. It all shows today in the spirit and professionalism of Crandon Water Shows. New members join, learn the acts and continue to WOW us all summer long. But if you look carefully you'll see the influence of these "old-timers" in each performance. That common thread, the towrope, still wends its way from the old Teen Tribe, through the Ski Serpents and on through Crandon Water Shows.