Reporting Mike Binkley
BRAINERD, Minn. (WCCO) — As a new season opens at Madden’s Resort on Gull Lake, familiar faces start to return. The resort owners recognize many of the parents checking in — from when they were much younger.
“On Mother’s Day, I’ll be putting little girls on the railing and talking to them,” said owner Brian Thuringer, “and it was their mother that was on that very same railing not too many years ago.”
It’s a familiar feeling around Madden’s. The resort itself has been passed down within the same family for decades.
“My dad was Jim Madden,” said owner Deb Thuringer. “His brother was Jack Madden.”
The family’s involvement dates back to the 1920s, when people were arriving by rail or driving Model T’s over primitive roads.
As the owners grew the business, their own children would step in. Deb Thuringer and her husband, Brian, became involved in the 1970s.
Their daughter Abbey helped on the golf course. Their son, Ben, could be found in the main lodge at the age of 10.
“I’d come to work in my little 12-foot-3 horse boat and serve coffee all mornings and evenings,” he said.
Abbey and Ben will be the next generation in charge of the 1,000-acre peninsula in the Brainerd Lakes area.
“We owe it to grandpa and our parents to continue on the tradition for all the families that have been coming for so many years,” Abbey said.
This family business, though, is not just being handed to them. The family is well aware of statistics showing that most family businesses fail by the third generation.
“My father set the guidelines,” Ben said. “He said, ‘if you guys want to even consider coming back, come back and see me with a four-year degree and at least three years experience at another four-star-plus property.’”
Brian said that’s because this business isn’t a 9-to-5 kind of job.
“If you’re in the family resort business, it’s all encompassing,” he said. “This is your life.”
While the original Madden brothers catered to guests who’d been through the Depression and World War, the second generation changed things for baby boomers. And now, Abbey and Ben have helped the resort connect with social media, for Generation X and Y.
It’s been a pretty good workplace, surrounded by eagles’ nests and blue herons. Ben developed an early appreciation for nature.
“My grandfather, we were sitting on a deck,” Ben said, “and he said, ‘look at the water. It’s more valuable than oil.’ And when you really think about it, water is more valuable than oil, so we really cherish our lake.”
Brian and Deb aren’t ready to retire soon, but they won’t be worried when that time comes.
“It’s not like we’re wondering what the kids are going to do,” Brian said, “because they grew up here, and they’re not stepping into anything. They’ve been in it their entire life.”