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Louise Cragun, Co-Founder of Northern Minnesota's Largest Year Round Resort,
Cragun's Resort and Hotel on Gull Lake, Dies at 96
By David Hanners, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

June 28, 2006 Louise Cragun was blessed with 96 years of life, and she made use of every one of them.

Working either alone or with her late husband, Merrill, she helped turn Paul Bunyan into a Minnesota icon, served as a welfare caseworker, sang in a church choir, traveled the world and led the fight in Minneapolis to save Prospect Park's most visible structure, the "witch's hat" water tower -- which her father had helped design.

It was in the realm of the state's tourism industry where Cragun made her biggest mark. In 1940, she and her husband began building a six-cabin resort near Brainerd. Six decades later, Cragun's Resort and Hotel on Gull Lake is Minnesota's largest year-round resort.

Cragun died Friday at the Woodland Good Samaritan Village in Brainerd. A memorial service is scheduled for noon Friday at Cragun's Resort.

"My wife and I were at her side, and Maxine Russell, the poet," said her son Merrill Cragun Jr., known to everyone as "Dutch." "Maxine was mother's bridesmaid at her wedding. From childhood days to her death, they were pals."

Louise Clousing Cragun was born in 1909 in Minneapolis. Her parents were Dutch immigrants, and she was the last of four siblings. She graduated from the city's Central High School, then the University of Minnesota.

In college, she met Merrill K. Cragun, and they married in June 1931. They had a one-night honeymoon, then went to Luverne, where Merrill had gotten a job as a reporter for the Rock County Herald.

"I was born nine months and two days after the wedding and the honeymoon," Dutch Cragun, 74, said in an interview.

After their first son was born, the Craguns moved back to Minneapolis, and Louise took a job as a caseworker for the Minneapolis Department of Public Welfare. The Depression had hit and hit hard, and the number of people needing assistance was staggering.

"In those days, folks were very proud and not willing to be known that they were on welfare," said Dutch Cragun. "She'd borrow her brother's car and park around the corner and unobtrusively walk up to their home and tell them they were eligible for welfare."

Merrill Cragun had started his own printing business, and the couple hit upon an idea: copyright Paul Bunyan, the mythical woodsman of tall tales, and then start marketing all manner of items with his name on them.

"This went back to the college days when she and dad were both very active on campus," said their son. "They had a carnival and they thought they'd have something about Paul Bunyan. He decided to copyright Paul to have things to print, and would have books and postcards and outrageous lies to keep his presses working. That was the genesis of it all."

The couple traveled all through the state trying to sell their Bunyanesque goods. In 1936, they were able to get Brainerd to begin hosting a Paul Bunyan celebration.

During their time in Brainerd, they became interested in buying land there. They bought some lakefront property on Gull Lake in 1940, and a year later opened their resort.

They expanded it over the years. Cragun's Resort now has 280 units and employs more than 300 people. Dutch Cragun said an estimated 3 million people have stayed at the resort since it opened.

After Merrill Cragun died in January 1986, his ashes were interred in a monument on Gull Lake. This Friday, the family will add the ashes of Louise Cragun, and the couple will be together again.

David Hanners can be reached at dhanners@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5551.

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Copyright (c) 2006, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

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