Someplace special

There are two places that feel like home to me:

  1. Wherever my family is at the moment
  2. A United States Air Force base

Let me explain number one.  It shouldn’t be difficult because it means exactly that.  I have no roots.  I have no home.  I have no place to go to that screams “The town of ______ has been waiting for you!”  I’ve never had that.  So when I say home is wherever my family is at the moment, that’s probably a little bit of the military nomad-child in me still trying to figure out where I belong, geographically.  Any shrink would come to the conclusion that my anxious search for home stems from my lack of having one.  Ever.  See, I just saved myself about $120 an hour.  The Psych 101 class paid off.

As far as number two, again it’s self-explanatory.  I was born at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas while my father was in basic training.  I never knew civilian life until my dad retired nearly 21 years later.  A few weeks ago, Dad and I talked about how difficult that transition into civilian life was for him.  That is also the first time we both acknowledged how difficult that same transition was for me. 

I can remember every address I’ve ever had since 1984, and there have been alot.  Phone numbers, too.  When I worked for the military lodging office at Andrews AFB, I was the authority on zip codes, DSN prefixes, and area codes (before cell phones made it necessary to add a bazillion more!).  To this day, I could probably tell you where most Air Force bases are/were located without having to look them up on Google. 

Because of all the moving around I did as a kid, I tended to develop some fairly strong emotional bonds to places.  Maybe because I knew I would not always be there and I was naïve enough to believe that those places would always be there.  I mean, it’s pretty hard to close down a town or completely erase it from its very existence.  Right?

 It turns out that it’s not so hard after all. The government is very good at it, in fact.

I came across these photographs this afternoon:

I lived here from 1984 to 1989.  Back then, K.I. Sawyer AFB in Upper Michigan was a thriving community anchor and a major player in the success and prosperity of neighboring civilian towns.   It was here, at this base, that I lived out many of my firsts: babysitting job, school involvement, community dance, real kiss, cheerleading team, boyfriend, heartbreak, best friend.  I had an active social life for a preteen and the opportunity to play outside without having to worry about the big-city crime in other parts of the state.  In other words, I got to be a kid.

And then K.I. Sawyer AFB was closed down, renamed the town of K.I. Sawyer (you have to drop the AFB now) and the flightline was turned into an international airport.  The buildings that military personnel and their families once called home, if only temporarily, were emptied of their residents and sold off to a contractor.  The housing units are now rented out during the winter’s ice fishing/snowmobiling season or sold for the unspeakably low price of $40,000.  There is no police force and the remains of the recreational buildings scattered across the old base have been neglected.  Or so I hear.

This is Leo P. McDonald Elementary School located on what was then K.I. Sawyer AFB.  I walked into this school in January of my 2nd grade year and completed 5th grade there.  In that time, I was the Student Council secretary (4th grade) and on the Patrol Team (5th grade).  A forest fire that surrounded the base one summer threatened to take out the building but was stopped just short of the playground.  Unfortunately, the realities of the base shut-down and the subsequent abandonment of all its facilities pretty much did what that forest fire could not.  That picture kind of makes my chest hurt.

The movie theater:

The first movie I ever saw here was Who’s That Girl? starring an up-and-comer named Madonna.  The roller rink was nearby.  It was the mid-80s and a preteen girl needed nothing more than a pop music soundtrack and some skates. 

Here is the base hospital:

My younger brother was born here shortly after we moved to K.I. Sawyer AFB.  Thankfully, I was a healthy child and didn’t spend a lot of time in that place.  I think all three of us were lucky in that sense.  But behind the hospital were a few baseball fields that didn’t mean anything to me except during the Fourth of July.  My friends and I would find our spots on the top of the bleachers and stare up into the sky as the fireworks shot off one by one.  Then we would all go home with our families and eat s’mores while running up and down our block with our sparklers in hand.

I hadn’t really thought of it until just now, but I wonder if the town of K.I. Sawyer holds a fireworks celebration on the Fourth of July for its new residents. Is the hospital actually in use? Does the shoppette still exist and are people allowed to fish at the old Base Lake?  Are the floating docks still out there in the summertime, covered with those nasty leeches?  What about the ball fields at the end of Liberator where I went to meet my 4th grade bully who, incidentally, never showed up?  Are they still there?  And that trail in the woods that led to the most incredible snowball fight battlefield in the world!!  Do kids still play there or has the need for it declined along with the population?

It’s hard for me, mentally and emotionally, to even consider that my old home is in ruins now, discarded like used-up rubbish.  The place is no longer necessary, it was shut down, closed, left behind. But unlike most places, it wasn’t locked up or sealed or even secured.  If anything, it was made more vulnerable to the elements of real-life, unsheltered and without protection.  The residents were all instructed to leave, the jobs were taken away, and the surrounding communities suffered as a result of the lingering effects of a military base closure.

I have often considered returning to K.I. Sawyer just to visit.  It is one of those places I once considered home, but never could again.  The proof that this wonderful speck of the map was once my favorite place in the world is in my often-present Midwest accent (think Fargo but diluted by twenty years), but I could never go back.  There is no point now.  I would be searching for memories that are no longer there because the place itself is not what it used to be.  Where most communities grapple with the growth and sprawl of urban development, K.I. Sawyer was subjected to the exact opposite.  Deserted, abandoned, and reclaimed by civilians who are still struggling after 15 years to make it a welcoming community once again.

It is hard to look at those pictures and not be at least a little upset.  Like I said, I have spent most of my life putting emphasis on place and home and to see my old school boarded up and tossed aside really, really sucks.  To see the guard gates torn down means that just anybody can drive on up and treat the site like it’s just any other old place.  For people who never lived there, it is.  And maybe even for some who did live there.  But for me, for someone who still wrestles with the idea of having roots and a home and a healthy sense of place, K.I. Sawyer AFB cannot be that easily wiped away. 

Would you believe, after all these years, that I actually found a picture of my old house? (fourth house on the outside loop of the horseshoe-shaped street in the foreground):

 

I guess, in a way, home is still there. 

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About Dena

I'm a suburban Clevelander by way of Oklahoma City, by way of North Florida, by way of Southern Maryland, by way of Upper Michigan, by way of Northern Italy, by way of Lower Michigan, by way of Texas. Because of living in so many places, I have something in common with almost everyone I meet. I love reading, writing, and American history (especially reading or writing about American history). I'm interested in culture of place, historical trauma, and writing about the kinds of histories most people don't know about.
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66 Responses to Someplace special

  1. Jerad says:

    Hello Dena, I enjoyed your story. Very touching to say the least. I was born and raised in Marquette, MI. My uncle was based at K.I. Sawyer from ’85 to ’93 when he was relocated to Okinawa Japan due to the base closure. I remember going here very often to visit him, the most vivid memory I have is waiting to be checked into the front gate (it always seemed to take forever!) I often times go back out to Sawyer and think what would have been if Sawyer was not closed. It’s so sad to see the current condition of the community.

    To answer a few of your questions, K.I. Sawyer does not have Fourth of July fireworks. The Base Hospital has not been in use since the base closure in 1995, and sadly has fallen into great disrepair. The Shoppette still exists, however no longer offers gas, which to this day, with almost 2200 residents living on the base, there is STILL no gas station! The old Base Lake still allows people to fish there, and they have actually recently built a new park/playground there. They also opened a few campgrounds around the lake.

    • Dena says:

      Oh, Jerad! Thank you! How sad about KI. It’s like seeing your childhood home fall apart and there’s nothing you can do about it. What did your uncle do? Do you remember what street he lived on? I spent many years there and might even recognize the name (certainly, the street!). Thanks for the info!!

      • Jerad says:

        You’re most welcome! My uncle’s name is Dave Gardner. He was in the 46th Air Refueling Squadron and was the Crew Chief of a KC-135A Stratotanker. I would have to ask him what street him and my Aunt lived on. If memory serves me correctly, I believe they lived on Daggar St.

      • Dena says:

        I knew a Leslie Gardner in school – she’d be in her mid-30s now. (Don’t know if you had any cousins!) I’d love to go back but I don’t want to see it in this condition. I’d much rather be 12 years old again!! That was a great place to live! Where did you live? Out in Gwinn or Marquette?

  2. Jerad says:

    They have two children, however I do not know a Leslie. My cousin Kristen was around a year old when they were relocated to Okinawa, and their second daughter, Chelsea was born on Kadena afb. I lived in Marquette, actually a little town outside of Marquette called Harvey. Lived in Marquette up until 2007. I’ve heard from many people that K.I. Sawyer was a favorite afb amongst many people in the Air Force. It truly was, and still is a beautiful place. Its just so unfortunate that some people just don’t care about the history of the base, and continue to vandalize vacant buildings.

    I’m not sure if you have seen any of these, but here are a few links for you to check out when you get a chance:

    http://kisawyerafb.150m.com/
    http://members.fortunecity.com/kisawyer/

    • Dena says:

      Thanks so much! My mother was from Northern Wisconsin so when my folks got the transfer to KI from Italy, she was ecstatic to be going “home”, at least close to it! I think i’ve been on those sites, but I’ll certainly look again because there are so many. I’m happy to find so many people (military and civilian) who care so much about the integrity of KI’s history and what it meant to us. By the way, did you share the link to this blog post because my page has blown up with visitors…lol!!

      • Jerad says:

        I did not share the blog post. I happened to stumble upon your blog by doing a bit of google searching. K.I. Sawer was in the local news paper today (check out the link if you’re interested)

        http://www.uppermichiganssource.com/news/story.aspx?id=619532

        While bored at work today, I did a little searching on Sawyer to bring back some old memories. I agree, it is nice to know people still care about the history of Sawyer, and hopefully will continue to carry on the history. I’m not sure if you saw as well, but, there was recently a K.I. Sawyer Heritage Air Museum recently opened.

        http://www.kishamuseum.org/museum.html

  3. Dan says:

    Great blog. And you were right, I could see my house.

  4. JD says:

    Thanks for posting this. My family moved to K.I. from Dyess AFB, arriving on December 31st 1976 in the middle of an hellacious snow storm. I spent 4 magical years on that base, attending Leo P. McDonald elementary, sledding, snowmobiling and cross country skiing in the forests beyond the playground/baseball fields there. We lived at 512 Mitchell, about 100 yards from the school entrance. I attended 3rd through 6th grade. I remember a Mr. and Mrs. Barto, Mr. “Crazy-stach” Mitchell, Mr. Larsen and my music teacher Ms. Zdunek. I remember there was a crazy red-headed principle that wore braces on her legs. Since I spent a lot of time in the hallways (I was a hyper kid and my teachers would just put out on the hallways whenever I got on a roll) I always dreaded that metallic clanky sound of her braces getting closer then she would suddenly appear at the end of one of those long hallways and then here she’d come!

    In the summer months there was this cool little trail that ran from directly behind the school out to the road that led to Sporley Lake. My friends and I spent many hours and days combing through those forests looking for new trails and sasquatches if they were to be found (it was the 70’s, the height of the Bigfoot craze).

    Anyway, I was searching tonight for info on K.I. Sawyer and came across your post. Like you, I too have that weird sense of displacement due to my nomadic childhood. Still have that wanderlust and am constantly compelled to seek new places to live every few years. I do want to go back and visit the general area someday. Upper Michigan remains one of my favorite places after all this time.

    • Dena says:

      I love that this brought back happy thoughts for you! Mrs. Barto and Mr. Larsen, I remember those names. I had Mrs. Larsen as a teacher but got moved over to KI Sawyer Elementary for my 6th grade year. After getting filtered through the system to 7th grade in Gwinn Middle, I moved to Andrews AFB outside D.C. and learned what life in a big city was really like. Marquette was no longer a big city! I hope you make it back one day and that it brings the good memories of our childhoods back to you. It’s truly sad how decrepit this place has become but it will always be special to me.

  5. Angela says:

    Dena, thank you for sharing your story and taking me down memory lane! My dad got into the Air Force in the early 70’s, when I was about four years old, and K.I. Sawyer was one of the first bases where we were stationed. It sure was an amazing place for a kid. I attended part of kindergarten there, then we were reassigned to a base in Denver, and then reassigned back to K.I. Sawyer where I attended 2nd and 3rd grade at Leo P. McDonald Elementary (the Bulldogs). I remember the long walk to school from our building on Stratafort St. I had some of the best friends while living there. There lots of kids and it was a special place.

    I remember the B.X. My dad would take me there and buy me gummy bears when gummy bears were a fairly new thing. I got my first Mirriam-Webster student dictionary at that B.X. My little brother and I spent some time at the daycare that was either on or right next to the base. I also remember there being a commissary where we went to get our groceries; it might have been located off the base a ways but it was set up for military personnel.

    I remember the long winters with ten-foot snow drifts in front of our buildings. We could climb to the top and see into the upstairs windows. We built igloos with the neighbor kids. Our school bus that drove us in the winter was blue.

    I had to go to that base hospital quite a few times for throat and ear infections, but it wasn’t too bad. I don’t remember if we ever went to the base theater or if we went to see films in Marquette.

    This place was a true good childhood experience. I am so sad to see that it looks like a deserted and neglected ghost town now. It used to thrive with life. It’s sad when these kind of things have to change like this. At least we have our memories.

    Again, thanks for sharing. The photos are great! Brings back a lot of memories.

    Angela

    • Dena says:

      This blog post is my most popular – at least a handful of people are linked to it everyday, so it just goes to show you how much people really miss the place. Thanks for commenting – it’s always nice to find a fellow Sawyer kid!

  6. Angela says:

    JD, I had Mrs. Barto for third grade, and I do remember her husband Mr. Barto. He always looked like a very serious guy to me. I can’t remember who my second grade teacher was because she was sick for most of the year after surgery and we had substitute teachers most of the year. I remember a Mrs. Anderson, too.

  7. Scott says:

    Great memories for sure. We were stationed at KI from 74 to 79. My dad was the Squadron Commander for the 46th ARS in 1976 (Col. Donald S. Croston). We lived at 351 Marauder. It was close to the Youth Center and “Family Store”. It was a great place to live. I attended LP McDonald for 5th and 6th grade, then Gwinn Middle School, and then Gwinn High. I was a “Model Towner”! The principal at McDonald with the braces was Mrs. Haynes. We referred to her as “Hurricane Haynes”. I too got scared when I heard her walking down the halls. I remember “Mean Mitchell” too. He was our flag football coach when I was in 6th grade. He made us run for what seemed like miles. At least it seemed like it. We did go undefeated though, Go Bulldogs! I still have friends that live up there and I have been back to visit them. It was fun to see Sporley Lake. It hasn’t changed at all. We used to swim there almost every day in the summers. The water never got warm. There was always stuff to do if you liked the outdoors. I have so many great memories and some heart breaks. In 1976 my best friend’s dad was killed in an airplane crash (KC 135) not too far from the base. In 1979, my dad was stationed to Offutt AFB in NE. I really missed the U.P. I enjoyed reading all your blogs. Thanks!
    Scott Croston

    • Dena says:

      Scott,

      Thank you for posting! I was at 315 Skybolt and 624 Hercules and spent nearly every Friday night at the Youth Center (remember their dances??! And you could participate in the dance-off for free tickets to the next week’s dance!?) KI Sawyer will always have a special place in my heart – it was truly an ideal place to grow up! I’m so glad my blog post brought back so many good memories for you. I love sharing stories with people from KI and have noticed that no matter our ages, it’s a common thread that keeps us in this “club”.

      • Scott Croston says:

        Hi Dena,

        The dances! I remember them well. There was a DJ by the name of Harry Sean. He had red hair and always did a great job. I remember my dad would take us kids on the tarmac and let us walk through the airplanes. I don’t think that would be possible anywhere in this day and age. I had so many friends up there and it was hard to leave them in the middle of my sophomore year at Gwinn High, but as an Air Force Brat you had to overcome, right? I still stay in touch with a few of my friends. It sounds like I’m a bit older than you but I bet we know some of the same people. My dad frequently sends me articles on anything to do with the UP. It was a great childhood. Thanks for your webpage.

  8. Hugh Brown says:

    I just read your blog on KI Sawyer and like you I’m an Air Force brat also although a bit older than you. I had pictures posted on Picasa but they have been removed. Go to Flickr and type KI Sawyer into the search engine. That should pull my pictures up. I went back in 2004 with my father and brother-in-law. The base was still in good shape then but since government funding to maintain the base ran out in 2005 it has gone downhill. Enjoy the pictures.

    • Dena says:

      Thanks! I will certainly do that – glad you got a chance to go back. I think my heart would break into too many pieces if I ever did.

  9. Gary Lalim says:

    Hey Scott Croston. I was your Brother Craig’s roomate at NMU in 1979/80/81. When I was in the Army I visited Craig in Nebraska when I was on the way to Kansas. I talked to him a couple years ago and I’m glad he is doing well in Phoenix.
    -Gary Lalim

    • Scott Croston says:

      Hey Gary, I just read your post….4 years later. That is awesome you are still in touch with Craig. He is still in Phoenix. If you need his contact information just let me know, and thank you for your service.
      Scott
      scott.croston9147@gmail.com
      360-771-0602
      Vancouver, WA

  10. Larry E. Hudlemeyer, SMSgt, USAF-Ret (1971-1997) says:

    Hi Dena,

    9 September 2012
    My wife and I just returned from a trip to the Gwinn, K.I. Sawyer, Little Lake, and Marquette areas. My wife was an RN at the base hospital from ’75-’77 and worked the OB ward. I was stationed there from from May 1974-June 1984. I was a medic at the hospital and worked as NCOIC of the Med/Surg Ward, NCOIC Outpatient Clinics, NCOIC Physical Exams and NCOIC OB/GYN Ward-Med/Surg Ward. I kind of got moved around doing jobs others couldn’t or wouldn’t do! In 1981, I left the hospital and became NCOIC, Airman/NCO PME (Professional Military Education). We were there for a little over 10 years as part of a 5-year controlled tour. I married my “brown-eyed girl” (with regards to Van Morrison) in September 1974 and brought her to the U.P. from the Kansas City area (our original home). Two weeks after we got back from our honeymoon, it snowed 4″ and she hasn’t let me forget that for the last 37 years we’ve been married! We lived at Lake Haven Estates, Lot #35, in Little Lake and I made countless trips to the base using the back gate to housing. We used to pick blueberries out by Moccasin Lake, just south of the school, every summer! We eventually moved to a house out CR460, then down CR545-S and lived there until I was re-assigned. Both of our sons were born at the base hospital.

    My family and I made a return trip to K.I. Sawyer in 1995, just after the base had closed. We stayed at Queens Cottages on Big Shag Lake. We visited a retired Charge Nurse I used to work for, Major Gladys Bartol. My wife and oldest son visited the newly closed base while I and the youngest son drove down Johnson Lake RD in Gwinn, turning at the power station to follow the Middle and East Branches of the Escanaba river about 5-6 miles south until it deadends. We hiked back to some old hunting/camping/fishing ground that I used to go to. The youngest son is our outdoor youth and he was amazed by the woods. I never did go on base. However, just being in this area of the U.P. was like being “home” again. Just like you said, my home is where my family is or where I was stationed at the time. I had been gone only 11 years prior to this visit.

    We arrived at the Horseshoe Lake Campground on Tuesday evening, 4 September 2012, 28 years after departing K.I. Sawyer ready for our return visit. My old Charge Nurse, Major Gladys Bartol still lives just off of CR480 and M553 and is doing well. It was a pleasure to visit her!

    Dena, it wasn’t a pleasure seeing the state of the remains of a once great base! My advice, enjoy your memories and only go there if you truly must. I needed to go to see Gladys who is now 85 years young and I needed to go and see for some validation to the time I and my family spent there. To say we were disappointed is putting it mildly. I needed to find the old main gate, and did! It looks just like the one photo which shows a raised curb and nothing else but the water tower in the background. Had to go around a couple of unlocked and haphazardly open gates to get there but I did! Next, the Red Fox Run (old officers quarters and officers club) is shut down, the buildings are abandoned and grass is growing in cracks in the parking lot. Moving on, the dorms on the main base are closed and not in too bad of shape. The Base Theater sits abandoned, too and grass also grows in cracks in the parking lot. The main BX appears to be in use but the Annex isn’t. The Commissary is abandoned. The Credit Union is abandoned and the building is for sale. The gym with olympic-sized swimming pool is abandoned and the building is beginning suffer from the weather. The SAGE building is still standing but also abandoned and also suffering a similar fate in regards to siding in dis-repair. The Base Softball fields are abandoned and over-grown in weeds. The announcer’s booth and dugouts remain but the chain-link fencing is gone from around every field! The dorms and chow hall in the “Hole” (just south of the hospital) are totally abandoned and completely vandalized!!!! Just imagine any end of the Earth or zombie apocalyspe film and you’ve pretty much described the shape these building are in! Weeds surround the buildings and the parking lot is in great dis-repair!

    Now for the hospital….weeds fill the cracks in the parking lots and surround the entire building. This is in stark contrast to the golf course which is still manicured and pristine only about 50 feet from what was once a thriving military medical facility! If there’s one window pane remaining in the building, it’s because the vandals got tired from breaking all the other windows! They beat a hole in the ambulance garage door. Someone tried to weld some plates and bars over the windows to discourage trepass to little avail. I drove around the parimeter of the building and even walked up to a couple of the broken windows and took some photos of the inside. As a parting gesture to the men and women who served, I collected 6 small crab apples from the tree just outside the door to the main clinics area and plan to try to get them to grow here in South Dakota (Ellsworth AFB was my final base assignment prior to retirement). Otherwise, what could have been a home for the elderly or a satillite VA facility for veterans in the Marquette area now simply awaits its demise at the hands of the U.P. weather, 28 years of wind and rain and snow plus the cycles of freezing and thaw continue to beat down upon this once, fine facility, Building 850.

    It would have been far kinder to simply have taken a bulldozer and knocked down these relics. A side note-We also drove by Lake Haven Estates in Little Lake which used to be a large trailer park. All that remains are empty pads and the two old laundry buildings. We did locate Lot #35 where our first home sat until we moved out in 1977. The small tree, once outside the bedroom window at the rear of the trailer is now a large, well-established tree. Out of the ashes raise the new growth!

    It didn’t feel like “home” anymore and that saddens me. We almost wish we hadn’t gone to see what remains of this once-giant of Northern Tier bases. Politics and a bad economy make things worse and I know there was no easy answer for what happened to K.I. Sawyer. My hat is off to the industry which is working to be successful on the base. Hopefully, their efforts will help keep the memory of K.I. Sawyer from completely disappearing. I can tell you one thing, there’s at least one guy who works in the old nose docks who remembers and respects the former importance of the base. I was standing on a small rise of ground overlooking the display aircraft, by the old credit union, which have flown out of K.I. Sawyer at one time or another, i.e. B52 “D”, F-106 Delta Dart, F101 Voodoo, FB-111 and the Quark. As I stood in silent reverence, I could hear his vioce booming from behind me as he shouted out, “Hooorahhh!” I raised a clenched fist shoulder-high to acknowledge his greeting. I turned to salute him but he was gone.

    As I left what remains of the base on Thursday, 6 September 2012, it felt like a door was closing for the final time on a special place, like it was disappearing into the mists of time. I was alone again, a gypsy with no home, no compass point to call my very own, just an old GI waiting for my next PCS move. Be safe and be well.

    Here’s hoping you still check this site from time to time. If not, at least I got this out of my system by writing about my recent impression of our visit. Thanks for that and sorry for making this so long.

    Larry E. Hudlemeyer
    SMSGT, USAF-Ret (1971-1997)

    • Dena says:

      Larry, I appreciate you reading and commenting on this post. I am always surprised by the amount of people who have emailed me or commented on this particular story. This place meant a lot to quite a few of us, adults and kids alike.

      Good luck with the crab apples – I am a true believer that history travels with its caretakers and its storytellers. And I will take your advice to heart: my husband and I (we are now living in Oklahoma City) have thrown around the idea of visiting Northern Wisconsin (where my mother’s side of the family is from) and making a special trip to the Gwinn area. Maybe I will stay away from the base and only visit the city of Marquette because I am afraid of finding exactly what you found and losing a piece of what I considered one of the best places to ever live.

      Take care Larry!!

      • Larry E. Hudlemeyer, SMSgt, USAF-Ret (1971-1997) says:

        Dena,

        By all means go visit the area, just let K.I. Sawyer be a fond memory of the past. Visit the Marquette area and see the changes they’ve gone through. You’ll be amazed at NMU! And, don’t forget to make a drive out around Presque Isle and visit the lake. Also, don’t forget to take a big enough (and empty) cooler to be able to bring home some pasties! I got some from the CrossRoads Bar at CR480 and M553 (they have carrots in them). Then, I went to Lawry’s out by the old Marquette Mall, next to the Villa Capri, and picked up a case of their small ones. Lawry’s also has the dry ice you’ll need to keep them frozen for the trip home. If you take three days to get back, like we did, you’ll probably need about 10-20 pounds to keep them frozen (a whole case, a little over $100). I had to stop in Minnesota to get more dry ice and lost five of my pasties due to thawing. Of course you don’t have to get a case/24 like I did. Also, remember, don’t put the cooler in the main compartment of your vehicle as dry ice sublimating (it doesn’t melt) forms CO2 and that’s not good for you as you’re driving down the road!

        We actually did come back to South Dakota by way of the UP to northern Wisconsin (spent a night at the fine city RV park in Ashland, right by the old ore dock). We left Ashland and drove down through Hayward (spent a couple of hours visiting shops in town), then headed on down to MN by way of St. Croix Falls. The colors were starting to turn and the drive was great! The people we met along the way were great, too!

        Best wishes and safe travels!

        Larry E. Hudlemeyer
        SMSgt, USAF-Ret
        …a gypsy waiting for orders…

      • Dena says:

        Will do! Oh, the pasties! When I lived in Florida, I reconnected with a friend from Gwinn who now lives in South Florida. She always has a relative send her pasties each year when they visit!

      • Larry E. Hudlemeyer, SMSgt, USAF-Ret (1971-1997) says:

        Dena,

        After some thought and after getting my emotions about K.I. Sawyer under control with the help of your blog, I’ve had a change of mind about my previous post about letting the past remain the past. You should go see where your grandmother grew up and you should go see the U.P., to include stopping at K.I. Sawyer. You should lock your fond memories deep within your heart and you should conduct an “inspection” of the base.

        Why an “inspection”? As I got to thinking about it, your comment about the federal government being real good about closing places down came to mind. You’re right, the federal government/BRAC is real good, maybe too good at shutting facilities down without staying in the process long enough to make shure the negative impact on local communities is as minimal as possible. By now, they/BRAC should be so good at this that they should have solid plan that can be followed by any community and garauntee them success, no matter the size and scale of the closure. I began to wonder what it would be like if Tinker AFB closed in Oklahoma City. I hear they are the single largest one-site employer in your state. How much impact would that have. Would there be enough dynamic people around who could steer such change as a closure would bring? Answer-probably so for Oklahoma City. However, let’s look at Altus AFB. What kind of impact would a closure have on the base and the community of Altus? Would there be enough people to champion the cause to insure a smooth and effective closure? Maybe yes, maybe no! One thing is certain, if you go and see K.I. Sawyer and let the state of dis-repair and neglect burn into your retinas (as well as take lots of photos) then there will be at least one “voice in the wilderness” who can speak objectively about the effects of the closure process and its devestation on the local communities surrounding a base. If you go and see it then you can add your voice to those who will have the job of making the transition work.

        So, put on your armor and go forth in the name of St. George the Dragon Slayer! An informed public is one who appreciates their liberties, knows the cost paid for those liberties and is less likely to give them up meekly and go “quietly into that gentle night.” An informed public is one that actively participates in activities “of the people and by the people!”

        The only other thing I would suggest, go in the Fall and see those vibrant Northwoods colors that we all have come to measure Fall Color by no matter where we’ve ended up in this ole world! Thanks again for letting me comment and best wishes to you and yours.

        Larry E. Hudlemeyer
        SMSgt, USAF-Ret (1971-1997)

      • Dena says:

        Thanks again, Larry! I will keep this in mind. Especially when you put it that way…in a way that some places need a voice, if only for the stories and tales of how things “used” to be.

        It’ll be a few years before we make this trek, but I honestly don’t know if I could be so close to it and NOT take a peek. Like a car wreck, if you know what I mean. Maybe not a good analogy, but emotionally it’s probably on the same scale.

  11. Bruce R. Lowe says:

    Dena,
    As with the many entries of others, I found your story to be refreshing to my memories of time spent at K.I. Sawyer. I was there a few years before you, I’m certain that things had not changed from when I left and you arrived; our perspectives were just in opposition because of our vast age difference.
    When it was time for me to depart Kadena AB, Okinawa, I wanted an assignment that would provide me some stability because until Oki, most of my tours of duty had been one to one and a half years. It seemed as though I was always packing my bags, and never really getting UNpacked when I arrived at a new location. As much as I enjoyed going to new and contrasting places, I longed for the time when I might be able to make a friend or two before having to pack up and leave.
    My first friend after joining the AF was Ted Peterson, and at that time we all had AF sevice numbers instead of the use of SSANs as they did later. He was a special person to me, and for some odd reason, to this day his service number of AF19820304 is locked in my brain. When we came back from what was our first assignment out of tech school, both of us were happy to say good-bye to Wheelus AB, Tripoli, Libya and know we would still see each other on occasion since I was headed to Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque, NM and he was down the road at Cannon AFB in Clovis, NM. When he came up to visit me around the Thanksgiving ’66 timeframe, I introduced him to a lady I’d met and he and she married two weeks later. Susie emailed me yesterday morning and told me that Ted had passed away at 10:50 that morning. My longest AF friendship came to an end without my ever telling him that he and his service number will forever be in my brain and I will take it to my grave.
    Keep close those you knew back then, because you never know when they will leave you with an unspoken thought on the tip of your tongue, and a heavy heart.
    My reason for requesting K.I. was the fact they offered a 5-year controlled tour…I was elated. I arrived there in early January ’78 and was stuck in a HUGE snowbank the first day after getting a motel room in Gwinn…I was on my way to sign in on the base and go to work. Nobody told me the base was closed down to everyone except “essential” personnel who lived on base. It all went downhill from there.
    I had a love-hate relationship with that base for the next 5 years. After duty hours, I enjoyed the fishing and the hunting and the snowmobiling and the picking blueberries in my back yard, but working for a lazy, good-for-nothing civilian who came to work at about 9am, newspaper in hand, and went to lunch at the officer’s club at 11am, returning at 1pm, and then generally left for home around 3:30 “to beat the traffic” was a big drag on me.
    My guess is that if Larry Hudlemeyer was to think about it, he would know who I am speaking of.
    Hey Larry, you should call me some time (if you read this), and we could meet up for a cup of coffee or a cold beer. I’m in the book under C and B in Black Hawk. Heck, maybe we even met once while we were sharing the same base!
    Dena, I’ve spoken often to my wife (we were not married back then) of my time at K.I. and the beauty of the area, and I will take her there next year I think. Despite the state of disrepair that Larry spoke of, and you don’t want to see, I’m going to explain to my wife the way it was so she may see it in her mind’s eye. She has a wonderful, half full glass, attitude about things in disrepair…she’d rather buy a house that is a fixer-upper than she would a pristine home. If you go back to the U.P. and just “peek in” the gate, it may become for you that unspoken thought on the tip of your tongue that will keep you wondering the rest of your life…What did I miss?
    Thank you for all that you do here.

    Bruce R. Lowe, SMSgt (Ret.)
    Longest, continuous serving enlisted
    Disaster Preparedness NCO
    15 Dec ’66 – 31 Dec ’90

    • Dena says:

      Bruce,
      I have tears in my eyes right now after reading about your friend. I’m so sorry for your loss. Those kind of people are hard to find and it’s worth it to have known them.

      I must say, I never thought this blog post would affect so many people. I never thought it would affect me this way. Isn’t it nice to be reminded that, no matter our ages or our lots in life up to this point, we all truly have something in common?

      You and your wife will have a wonderful time – it’s good she only knows KI Sawyer as what she sees, colored with a few of your personal stories so she’ll know how it used to be. And if you talk with Susie again, let her know that even more people now know about what a wonderful man her husband was. Thank you for sharing him and your story, Bruce. Take care.

  12. Pingback: Community Stories | Ludowe

  13. Suzie says:

    We were there from about 84 to 89 too. I lived at 213 fortress street. Never forget it.

  14. Tanya Manning says:

    Hi Dena,
    I am so excited to have found you and the others who share wonderful memories of K I Sawyer AFB. I lived in K I Sawyer from 82 to 85 at the very last house on Banshee St. I attended 4th through 6th grade at K I Elementary. Does any one remember Mr and Mrs Friedgen?
    Like you, I struggle with where I am from. (I have picked up accents of every place we have been stationed) every time someone asks me its always ” I am a YOOPER!”
    Happy Holidays My Friends!
    Tanya

    P.S. I remember my Dad would always decorate the huge tree in the front yard for Christmas and we would have the entire base driving by. The huge tree is no longer there.:(

  15. Tanya Manning says:

    Dena,
    I also remember the fire that surrounded the base that summer. I was the end of my 6th grade year. Is it possible we might know each other?

    Tanya

    • Dena says:

      It’s unlikely – I attended McDonald Elementary that year of the fire, but I lived on Hercules (I was rezoned for KI elementary during my 6th grade year…1988?). I don’t think we knew each other, but my best friend was Kim Malone who lived on Banshee. She had a brother named Chuck. The Banshee street sign is also where I was dared to stick my tongue to the pole. 😦 I should’ve paid better attention to poor Flick in A Christmas Story. LOL

  16. Shaun Robinson says:

    Wow, thank you for the article. I was just thinking of the old base a few days ago. I decided to do some research to see if I could drag up any old memories. This really hit the spot. I was there from ’84-’89 (K-4th). Dad got out of the military after that, but I did go to KI for 5th grade. The picture of McDonald Elem brought tears to my eyes. I remember our class built a snowman where the tree is in the center. I also remember playing soccer during recess on the field in the foreground. I was also able to see my old house in the aerial photo, too. (That is Liberator snaking up through the picture, right?) I sure do miss that place. Good times with good friends. Thank you again for the trip down memory lane.

    • Dena says:

      Absolutely! And yes, that is Liberator! I lived on Skybolt and Hercules during my family’s 5 1/2 year stay. I’m sure I could even find my way to the Shoppette and the base lake from my old house.

      I’m glad this brought back good memories for you. In fact, everyone who has contacted me about this post mentions what a wonderful place it was and how lucky they were to have lived there. I hope you feel the same. 🙂

      • Dan says:

        We lived right around the corner from you on Liberator the same time you were there. do you remember the big sled hill my kids used? I remember the fire too. When we left in 88 we all had tears in our eyes as that 6 year assignement came to a close.

        SmSgt Dan Little
        USAF retired

      • Dena says:

        I remember your name on a that house on Liberator! You had a daughter, right? I keep thinking her name is Heather but I am probably wrong. Did you live near the Krafts? That big sled hill is the one all the kids from Liberator, Hercules, and Skybolt used to meet at and have sled hill wars. It got brutal sometimes! We’d build snowbanks at the end of a run so that any kid would hit it and go flying in the air. Or we’d hide in trees and throw snowballs at the kids from the “other streets”, like some kind of snowgang.

        So nice to see a familiar name! My father is Dennis Norman, SPS, was a TSGT when we left to Andrews AFB in 1989.

  17. Dan says:

    Dena, Heather is my Daughter- it is a small world. What we loved about KI (and as mentioned in your blog by many) was it was a safe place to raise kids. Kids could go out after lunch and not come back in till dinner parents knew you were ok- just out running the neighborhood. My son Jason who was 9 when we left in ’88 says he remembers your name. Thanks for sharing your memories. Where else but KI would kids trick or treat with winter coats because it was snowing? Or sit in your drive way in a lawn chair and watch the northern lights? Bear alerts? Good memories.

    • Dena says:

      Oh, man. Bear alerts. Hahaha! I remember one of those very specifically. I don’t remember Jason but I’m not sure why I remember Heather. I don’t think any of us were the same age as each other. I hope to return in the next few years during the summer and show my daughter and husband around. I have family in Northern Wisconsin so it’s a nice detour – I know it won’t look the same but it would be worth the extra hours’ drive.

  18. tbonehjr says:

    I don’t know whether my wife and I had wonderful memories. she loved the UP, I didn’t. I made great friends with the neighbors in Little Lake, and wish I could contact them now. However, it is part of my past life that I will never forget. The Finlanders were fantastic and I never forgot them.

    • Dena says:

      You might be surprised by who you’ll find on Facebook. There are entire groups comprised of Yoopers! I wish you luck in searching them out.

  19. W. L. Jolley says:

    Dena,
    I was at K.I. from 1968 to 1973. 3rd grade to 9th. Many good memories!
    Dr. William Jolley

  20. Michael says:

    I used to live there too. It breaks my heart to know its gone as I knew it.

  21. Pete Buotte says:

    My dad was stationed there. I lived on Hercules St. from 68 – 70 I believe, I was approx. 5 years old when I left. I fondly remember the woods and snow.

  22. Kevin Peterson says:

    Does anyone know what the Credit Union on base was called. Was it the Sawyer Credit union or Federal Credit Union? trying to track down some account information. Thanks

  23. Richard says:

    We were stationed at KI Sawyer from about 1960-1962 ( I was only born in 1958 so hard to remember :)…..My dad was RCAF, I guess he was on some kind of exchange programme, my brother remembers starting school there and having to recite the pledge of allegiance every morning, which he still laughs about since we are not American. sorry to hear the base closed down, but I enjoyed the stories about retirement and fitting into civilian life, same for Canadians as it was for you guys.

    • Dena says:

      That’s kind of hilarious – having to recite the pledge! I never knew of any families stationed at KI that were from another country’s military, so this is an interesting tidbit to learn. Hope all is well and thank you for sharing your memory. I started working on my Masters in American History last year and have been seriously considering doing some kind of research paper on KI Sawyer and its affect on the people and the community it served. Your comment is timely, seeing as I have been milling this idea over very recently! If I decide to go forward with it, I’ll let everyone know (since I would love personal insights into the base). Take care!

  24. Leslie Watson says:

    I moved to K.I. Sawyer in October, 2012 and have rented two places and bought my home on Provider’s cup de sac last year.

    I read your blog about living here. NMU professor Dr. Martin Reinhardt and his siblings bought MCDonald School. Apartments have become home to him and his uncle. The sandhill cranes love to frequent the grounds.

    Blueberries are being picked on the hills near my home. There’s a trail out the back of my lot. Wonderful breezes blow. Eagles fly overhead.

    The Shopette needs a good cleaning and is quite shabby. The government gave the hospital to the county with a promise of jobs that never materialized. They have permitted it to fall in disrepair and don’t mow.

    I’m on a committee planning a family event at Little Trout Lake on September 17th: Fishing with Friends.

    • Dena says:

      I miss blueberry picking so much! I literally just moved from Oklahoma City to the Cleveland ‘burbs, so apple picking might be as close as it gets for me. But I love that I’m this much closer to the UP. I might just make it up there for some blueberry picking and aurora hunting. Thanks for taking the time to share with us what KI is like these days.

  25. Gunner sullivan says:

    Hey Dena,
    I cant imagine what it would be like to come back to sawyer after gtowing up here in its glory days, but i can give you my perspective which is a little different. This is the second closed base I’ve lived on, Loring AFB from 2001-2006, an equally small town and equally run down base. The difference is is i was born here in september of 1988 and left in 1990. So i dont have any actual memories of my time here. The base may not be in the same state as it used to be, many buildings in disrepair, but its also amazing to just walk around base and look at areas and just look at an area and imagine what it might’ve been like. Its also an odd feeling to move back here after so many years not knowing what it was like back then, and see your old house on falcon, the empty trailer court you lived in that is now empty pads, and the sad hospital in disrepair that you were born in. We now own a house on liberator, visible in the picture and i think we might just stay here for quite some time. Oh and side note, my dad and step dad were also crew chiefs on kc135s here in the late 80s.

    • Dena says:

      My brother was also born at KI and we moved when he was when he was about 5. He tried to get a passport a few years ago, they wouldn’t issue him one because KI Sawyer no longer exists. His birth certificate was no longer valid! He had to have another one issued to him showing Forsyth Twp as his birthplace. Haha! Poor kid. The irony of it all is that he now works as a passport specialist. At least he can pass on this knowledge to others. Ha!

  26. Hi Dena,
    Thanks so much for this post, photos, and providing a place for so many of us to recall our experiences and paint a vivid picture of this special place. Thanks also to all the other posters for sharing your heartfelt memories, which have triggered so many of my own.

    My family was at KIS 1968-69, and was my dad’s last base posting before he left the AF. For a 9/10-year old, the natural surroundings were was a wonderful environment, especially coming on the heels of Lakenheath and Prestwick (UK bases) – and prior to moving to suburban Southern California. Just running around through actual woods with friends and discovering the huge ants, grasshoppers, mosquitos (and leeches! blech!) was a fantastic experience. The small on-base lake (name?) was likewise a great place to hang out. I know that for those of you from many parts of the country being around nature is not so exotic, but growing up on AFBs and then in the outskirts of Los Angeles, my KIS time was magical. Even the leeches, I suppose (although LA has its own special ones!).

    I also recall my contact with aspects of the base’s designated military role via my dad, who worked as a flight line ground support person (I have forgotten his technical title, although he was a MSgt). Few people in the US today realize the enormous resources that were deployed as a trip-wire and retaliatory force all along the northern tier (DEW Line, anyone?), of which KIS was a part.

    Part of my dad’s role (as I vaguely recall it now) was to inspect the B-52 runways for any debris that could affect takeoff or landing. In the winter, of course, it would be ice and drifts – in the middle of the night, a challenging job. A vivid memory was when my dad took me (during the day, and in relatively fair weather) on a brief trip down the tarmac in a car, and we passed innumerable B-52s, impossibly huge, their wingtips drooping almost to the ground and tied down (I guess to avoid bouncing in a wind?). Their hulking, grey forms were reassuring somehow, but also ominous, although at 9 years old you can’t really grasp things like potential nuclear war, or the megatonnage that was perpetually in flight above our heads ready to strike if all hell broke loose.

    My dad probably broke some rule to take me out there, but I’m glad he did.

    Because he’d have to leave in the middle of the night to go on duty, my dad had an engine heater, that was kept under the hood of the car to prevent the engine from freezing and seizing. It was a mysterious machine, and I couldn’t quite get the idea that a car engine could freeze. I kept wondering how big the heaters were for the B-52s!

    What a winter wonderland the base was for kids (although it was a headache for all the adults). We lived on Stratocruiser, and had huge drifts from the plows in our front yard (that winter we had 200+ inches of snowfall, or so my mom said). It was a lot, in any case. Igloos, forts, caves, sled runs, snowball fights, snowmen – who knew that snow was so versatile?

    Tanya Manning – I just saw your note about Mr. Friedgen! He was my best teacher ever (other than a high school teacher years later) – I loved to hear him regale our class with his tales of snowmobiling, skiing, and hunting. Thanks so much for mentioning him! I loved going to school there.

    I’ll wrap this up for now (and keep expanding my own notes offline). Dena, thanks again for making space for all of us, and thanks to all posters for sharing your great memories.

    • Dena says:

      Sorry I haven’t checked in lately – I just moved. STORY OF OUR LIVES? Probably. I’m so glad you found this and that it helped you remember good things about your childhood. I certainly miss it.

      I’ve just moved to the Cleveland area so lucky me gets to experience lake-effect snow after 20 years down south. IT NEVER ENDS. hahah

      • Kerry Kugelman says:

        Dena, sorry, I’m laming out on using WordPress. My long post got duplicated, my fault, you can delete it & the errant one under lakunstler. -Kerry

        On Thu, Sep 8, 2016 at 11:58 AM, Two Girls and a Road wrote:

        > Dena commented: “Sorry I haven’t checked in lately – I just moved. STORY > OF OUR LIVES? Probably. I’m so glad you found this and that it helped you > remember good things about your childhood. I certainly miss it. I’ve just > moved to the Cleveland area so lucky me gets to e” >

  27. Hi Dena,
    Thanks so much for this post, photos, and providing a place for so many of us to recall our experiences and paint a vivid picture of this special place. Thanks also to all the other posters for sharing your heartfelt memories, which have triggered so many of my own.

    My family was at KIS 1968-69, and was my dad’s last base posting before he left the AF. For a 9/10-year old, the natural surroundings were was a wonderful environment, especially coming on the heels of Lakenheath and Prestwick (UK bases) – and prior to moving to suburban Southern California. Just running around through actual woods with friends and discovering the huge ants, grasshoppers, mosquitos (and leeches! blech!) was a fantastic experience. The small on-base lake (name?) was likewise a great place to hang out. I know that for those of you from many parts of the country being around nature is not so exotic, but growing up on AFBs and then in the outskirts of Los Angeles, my KIS time was magical. Even the leeches, I suppose (although LA has its own special ones!).

    I also recall my contact with aspects of the base’s designated military role via my dad, who worked as a flight line ground support person (I have forgotten his technical title, although he was a MSgt). Few people in the US today realize the enormous resources that were deployed as a trip-wire and retaliatory force all along the northern tier (DEW Line, anyone?), of which KIS was a part.

    Part of my dad’s role (as I vaguely recall it now) was to inspect the B-52 runways for any debris that could affect takeoff or landing. In the winter, of course, it would be ice and drifts – in the middle of the night, a challenging job. A vivid memory was when my dad took me (during the day, and in relatively fair weather) on a brief trip down the tarmac in a car, and we passed innumerable B-52s, impossibly huge, their wingtips drooping almost to the ground and tied down (I guess to avoid bouncing in a wind?). Their hulking, grey forms were reassuring somehow, but also ominous, although at 9 years old you can’t really grasp things like potential nuclear war, or the megatonnage that was perpetually in flight above our heads ready to strike if all hell broke loose.

    My dad probably broke some rule to take me out there, but I’m glad he did.

    Because he’d have to leave in the middle of the night to go on duty, my dad had an engine heater, that was kept under the hood of the car to prevent the engine from freezing and seizing. It was a mysterious machine, and I couldn’t quite get the idea that a car engine could freeze. I kept wondering how big the heaters were for the B-52s!

    What a winter wonderland the base was for kids (although it was a headache for all the adults). We lived on Stratocruiser, and had huge drifts from the plows in our front yard (that winter we had 200+ inches of snowfall, or so my mom said). It was a lot, in any case. Igloos, forts, caves, sled runs, snowball fights, snowmen – who knew that snow was so versatile?

    Tanya Manning – I just saw your note about Mr. Friedgen! He was my best teacher ever (other than a high school teacher years later) – I loved to hear him regale our class with his tales of snowmobiling, skiing, and hunting. Thanks so much for mentioning him! I loved going to school there.

    I’ll wrap this up for now (and keep expanding my own notes offline). Dena, thanks again for making space for all of us, and thanks to all posters for sharing your great memories.

  28. Hi Dena,
    Great memories! Are comments closed for this post? I tried to put in a comment but it didn’t show up.
    Kerry

    • Dena says:

      I usually approve my comments first since this blog is mostly inactive. Sorry for the delay! I was in between Oklahoma City and Cleveland, moving yet again. It’s like a bad habit. haha

  29. Great comments, all, really brings back good memories.

  30. lakunstler says:

    Thanks, Dena, you can delete the duplicate post, sorry about that. 8^p

  31. Great blog, thank you Dena! I lived at KI Sawyer from 76-79 when my dad was stationed there and I attended K thru 2nd grade at LP McDonald. We lived at 232 Fortress, what a great place it was to be kid!

  32. Here’s a link to my post from 2010. Hope all is well. I’m presently revising a novel–The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club. it’s about 14 yo boys who rove the woods off base, with some embellishments. I think you guys will like it if I can get it done and published. God bless you all. –Donny Claxton, GrammaticArtist.com (http://traverseadventures.com/?p=46)

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