Bill Geist calls it the “Midwestern Shangri-La." A lively, happy place. A place where you'd make fond memories cruising the Strip, take a scenic cruise on the Larry Don and have a nice meal at Arrowhead Lodge.
He calls it the “Midwestern Shangri-La." A lively, happy place. A place where you’d make fond memories cruising the Strip, take a scenic cruise on the Larry Don and have a nice meal at Arrowhead Lodge.
It was the 1960s at Lake of the Ozarks, and for author/columnist/television journalist Bill Geist it was his home away from home during the summer. Geist has published a new book, “Lake of the Ozarks: My Surreal Summers in a Vanishing America,” and with vivid clarity, and the humor he’s known for, explains his experience from seven summers working at his uncle Ed’s Lake Ozark restaurant and resort, Arrowhead Lodge.
Many of Geist’s fans may have never heard of Lake of the Ozarks but the Lake was the place Geist credits for developing a knack for the odd and unusual. For 30 years Geist traveled the country featuring things you never knew existed for his segment on CBS Sunday Morning. And it all started right here at the Lake.
“I realized after I retired that the experiences down at the Lake, the characters I met, kinda formed my entire career in newspapers and television,” Geist said.
In over 200 pages, Geist’s book details the many jobs he had at the 42-room resort during his high school and college years. He was assigned to kitchen duty or was put in charge of maintaining the dreaded chili pond (the lodge’s open-air septic system). It was hard to complain, he said, since he earned $5 a day.
His job didn’t leave a lot of free time, but when there was a couple of hours to kill they’d walk the Strip, see a show at the Ozark Opry, and because his uncle was a big shot around town, they had great seats at the Camdenton Rodeo. Of course there was plenty of beer drinking and dancing at the hall below Bagnell Dam. As long as they showed up to work at 7 a.m. the next day, nobody really cared what they did, Geist said.
“We were as free as we wanted but had a lot of personal responsibility,” Geist said. “I met a lot of characters with big ideas.”
He remembers Larry Albright, who would meet up with other entrepreneurs for coffee at the lodge, and while these individuals were thought of as “nuts”, Geist was drawn to them and their gimmicks. They owned businesses that lured in tourists, like the two-headed deer attraction just outside of Eldon, the underwater mermaid show, and Dogpatch (which is still open today).
Geist shares the many memories he made at the Lake — falling in love on the Larry Don, staff pool parties, exploring the Lake and surrounding hillbilly country (down Hwy. 42), and his many other escapades. Those were the days where there were no condos, no golf courses, no hospitals, no stoplights and no law enforcement. He also speaks of the demise of Arrowhead Lodge and how the Lake has changed.
Arrowhead Lodge is long gone, torn down in 2007. It had been built in 1936, just a few years after Bagnell Dam was completed. Geist returned to the Lake a few years ago for a reunion with former Arrowhead employees, trading stories and reminiscing.
“It was very sad to see it go,” Geist said. Something is gained and something is lost by progress, he noted.
Geist said he likes to remind people what it was once like because “you forget.”
“I love people and finding out the truth about things. There are fewer insane characters in America than there used to be.”