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FAMILY AFFAIR

Aronson Boat Works celebrates 100 years of business

Aloysia Power
Posted 7/19/14

TOWER – The days of wooden ships and barge-delivered groceries on Lake Vermilion are long gone, but Aronson Boat Works, which began during that time, is still as busy as ever.

This summer marks …

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FAMILY AFFAIR

Aronson Boat Works celebrates 100 years of business

Posted

TOWER – The days of wooden ships and barge-delivered groceries on Lake Vermilion are long gone, but Aronson Boat Works, which began during that time, is still as busy as ever.

This summer marks the family-run marina’s 100-year anniversary, and the Aronsons want to celebrate this landmark with the community.

“Without the community, we wouldn’t be here,” said Gretchen Niemiste. “We’re thanking them more than celebrating us.”

The centennial celebration held July 24 to 26 at the marina on Pike Bay will allow boating folk from around the area to join in various boat-related educational opportunities. Boat experts will give tips on how to properly care for boats,;boaters will be able to try out different propellers on their motors and learn how to use electronic boat gadgets to their fullest abilities. Refreshments will also be served.

On top of this summer being the marina’s 100th year, the business is also in its third generation of the Aronson family. Gretchen’s grandfather Walter Sr. Aronson and his brother Hillard built the marina on the East Two River in Tower in 1914.

Hillard was killed fighting in World War I in 1918, so the marina’s ownership was carried down through Walter’s family, first to Gretchen’s aunt and uncle Walt Jr. and Ruth Aronson and then to her parents, John and Joyce Aronson. Now, she and her husband John and their kids keep the marina going, while parents John and Joyce still keep an eye on the family business.

Originally, there were no roads going around Lake Vermilion, and so the marina was used as a delivery service to lake settlers. The Aronson brothers used two large, hand-built wooden boats named the Maryland and Mayflower to ferry people, mail, groceries and building supplies across the wide lake.

In the ‘40s, the marina moved from its location on the East Two River to Pike Bay to get out of the way for the construction of the Hwy. 169 bridge and later, converted to more modern, faster wooden boats to keep up with the growing demand of delivery on the lake.

Today, the marina’s demands have changed, but the lake is as busy as ever. Their main business is in catering to the lake’s recreational boats through marina storage, sales and services, including boat repairs. The marina employs 10 people in the busy summer months, and four in the winter, including two full-time mechanics.

The marina also operates a mail boat during the summer months, contracting with the local post office since the 1920s, delivering mail to about 70 stops on the lake’s islands and water-access properties. The mail boat also offers visitors a chance to see remote island cabins and summer homes across a huge swath of the lake.

“It’s a fun business because of the people,” said Gretchen. “We got to grow up on the lake and meet the people we serviced and got to know them and their grandkids.”

And it’s a good thing it’s fun, she said, because it’s a seven-days-a-week commitment.

“You have to have grown up in it to understand the amount of work it is,” she said.

“We felt that, being that it was in the family so long, we had to keep it going. And the demand was there.”

Gretchen isn’t sure if the marina will stay in the family, since their two children, both in college, are pursuing other interests. But both Gretchen and John started out in different careers, and then decided to move back to the lake to take over the marina, so there is still the possibility that a fourth generation of Aronsons may call the marina home.

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jtormoen

Very nice story. We were customers at Aronsons from June of 1951 for many years before moving to a marina up the lake ... at least for our winter storage. Remember Walt Jr. the first years and then John, I think from before John even married.

Great folks, great service. Congratulations on 100 years.

Joel Tormoen

Friday, July 18, 2014