Fishing opener emphasizes tourism in Minn.
NISSWA – When Jim Benson was a student at New Ulm High School in 1980 he began working part time in hospitality at the New Ulm Country Club under the direction of Club Manager Bill Remmert. Today he is director of operations for Grand View Lodge on Gull Lake in Nisswa and just completed the 67th Governor’s Fishing Opener this past weekend at his lodge.
“Bill was my mentor in the hospitality business,” Benson said.
The Governor’s Fishing Opener is sponsored by the Department of Tourism. Communities bid to host the massive event to kickoff the Minnesota tourism season. This year’s event was three years in the planning with all 500 guests staying and dining at Grand View.
Benson graduated in 1981 from New Ulm High School, and he headed off to the University of Minnesota. In summers he worked at another large Minnesota resort – Madden’s on Gull Lake. Soon he was working full time at the resort and stayed for 20 years. In 2005 he left Madden’s to open a lodge and water park in Baxter.
Grand View came calling in 2007, and he was hired as director of operations. His responsibilities include food and beverage for the seven restaurants on the property, housekeeping for up to 1,000 guests, maintenance of the many buildings including the historic main lodge, grounds that are kept immaculate and the 24-hour front desk. All these tasks require up to 650 employees in the peak summer season.
Grand View is one of Minnesota’s big four resorts – Breezy Point, Madden’s and Cragun’s are the others – all ironically located within miles of each other in the Brainerd Lakes area.
The resort will celebrate 100 years in 2016. It was purchased in 1937 by Brownie and Judy Cote and is still owed by the second and third generations of the family. The operation is left to General Manager Mark Ronnei, who has been there for 37 years, and Benson.
The resort has seen massive improvements in the last 20 plus years with the opening of the Pines 27-hole championship golf course. It was followed by another 18-hole championship course in 1996. A full-service spa opened in 2002. The 25,000-square foot Gull Lake Conference Center, which can accommodate up to 500 people, opened in 2009.
The sleeping accommodations have also been expanded to include eight bedroom reunion cottages, town houses along the golf course and many family cabins and single rooms in the lodge.
Guests to the fishing opener are invited by the Department of Tourism to promote Minnesota’s many vacation opportunities. They include newspapers, outdoor writers, radio and television personalities and others. There is no tax money paying for the event. It is financed by corporate sponsors including Minnesota’s many outdoor retailers and local businesses in the host community that hope to benefit from the publicity.
Television and radio stations broadcast live from the host community. Newspapers and magazines write and take pictures. All the guests have a chance to go fishing Saturday morning with a fishing host from the area and return for a traditional shore lunch. The event closes with a celebration banquet on Saturday evening.
Benson has been married for 17 years and has two sons.
“In the New Ulm tradition they both play baseball,” he said.
He also gets to New Ulm to visit his mother Virginia Benson and sister Lori Faerber.
Next year the event goes to Lake Vermillion near Ely.