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Sandwiched

In the midst of great change, it’s imperative to maintain perspective, lest you risk over-reacting or making mistakes. But where one finds that perspective is often surprising.

As I was driving past the ongoing developments at Yacht Harbor Shores and Liberty Park Lodge recently I couldn’t help but be struck by the sight of the sliver of property sandwiched between the two condominium projects, where the home of George and Annette Erickson stands. I arranged an interview with them at their home, and if I’m honest, I’ll tell you I expected bitterness and ill will.

What I got was an astounding dose of realism, acceptance and wisdom.

Door County Originals

Everyone on the peninsula thinks they know what Door County is, what the “real” symbols and styles are. Most would be humbled by a couple hours with George Erickson, who knows those images are always changing.

He speaks of the days when a well-maintained Highway 42 meant oiled and tarred gravel. He refers to the old Burns Lumber Yard, the Wiltse dock, and Camilla Anderson’s chocolate cake.

Many think tourism began with modern motels and is being ruined by condominiums. He recalls a time when the lodging of choice was a small cottage outfitted with a single light bulb hanging from a wire and a primitive shower.

“The visitors weren’t so transient in those days, most staying for at least a week and many for the entire summer,” he said. “You’d get to know them. They came back every year.”

He grew up in the cabin that still stands across the driveway from his home, on the property he resides on today, the property his family has lived on since World War I. He moved into his present home with Annette in 1963, the year John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

In his childhood, the property to the south was a farm where cattle grazed, enjoying the view from where luxury condominiums now stand as they chewed on grass. Barbed wire from the farm is still scattered in the woods behind his home. To the north was Hotel du Nord, the pre-fire version, after which his dad modeled the family cabin. In later years, George and Annette would celebrate their 45th, 50th, and 55th wedding anniversaries at the post-fire du Nord.

Given such quaint memories one would expect him to despise the traffic and noise surrounding him today, but you don’t get that from him.

“Now you see long lines of cars for Yachtworks and JJ’s,” he says. “Years ago you’d see another long line. There was a cherry processing plant and in cherry season you’d have a line of trucks hauling cherries to the plant. There would still be a line at midnight.”

At other times it was the fishing industry that kept the area busy, or the produce at the Wiltse dock, or passenger boats. Erickson has watched so much come and go and so much change in his 83 years he’s hard-pressed to get worked up over the latest wave.

“It’s sad, sure,” he said. “But it’s a foregone conclusion. It’s sad to see things go because we’re so intertwined with everything and everybody. But we can’t condemn it; it’s just part of change. If not now, it’s going to happen some other time for some other reason.”

The construction hasn’t bothered them so far, and the builders have treated them very well. Their main problem with the condo dwellers? It’s hard to get to know them.

“I just wish all these neighbors were here in February,” George said. “Those condos look awfully lonely when they’re empty. We’d like to bring them a hot dish or invite them over for dinner; after all, it’s our job to welcome them to the neighborhood. But we never know when they’re going to be there to answer the door.”

They say they hope the condo owners think of them as their neighbors and they hope they can be good neighbors themselves. In Door County it’s common to label people as natives versus outsiders. While few could be more native than George, he dismisses such talk.

“We all came here from somewhere,” he said. “We owe an awful lot to those who came here in later years. They’ve gotten behind a lot of big projects here.”

He mentioned Scandia Village Retirement Community and the Northern Door Children’s Center as two projects heavily supported by “non-natives.” This is one reason they feel a responsibility not to condemn new blood in the area.

“We look around now and hope we’re not the slum area of the neighborhood now,” George said.

Surrounded by condominiums, it’s now their home that doesn’t mesh with those around them.

They wonder, however, what this latest transition means for younger residents. George was a guidance counselor at Gibraltar Schools for 30 years. Annette taught kindergarten (including myself) for 26. They’re keenly aware of the dwindling enrollment numbers at their old school and the aging population of the area.

“This creates jobs to build and maintain these homes and condos,” George said. “But will the people who do those jobs be able to afford to live here and pay taxes on property here? We bought our house when I was making less than $5,000 a year. We paid it off the day my wife retired. Will they be able to do that? Will this be sustainable? We don’t want to see all the young people leaving the area.”

Annette said they can only hope for the best.

“The worst thing would be if the developments failed,” she said. But her husband also said he harbors reservations, despite his optimistic outlook.

“It’s sad to see the change, but I’m a realist,” he said. “But as a realist, I have to wonder if all this is going to go as [the builders] say it is.”

No Plans to Move

One would think the Ericksons would want to move, to not be the filling in a condo cookie, but they’re not going anywhere.

“At our age, we’re don’t want to change our lifestyle,” Annette said. “We think our family will be here another generation or two.”

Their children and grandkids stay in the old cabin when they visit, and they look forward to their trips to the family homestead.

“When you hear the grandkids and the happiness when they get out of the car and run into the woods you never want to sell,” Annette said.

Times change, as do communities. Change isn’t necessarily good and shouldn’t be accepted without question, but talking to the Ericksons reminds you that today isn’t the first day of change, and this generation isn’t the first to face it.

They could be rightfully bitter, sad, and consumed by anger in their retirement, but they aren’t. They are a couple with a rather simple philosophy.

“We want to have a good feeling.”

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