BY R. AUBREY LA FOY
Wow! "A sword." What could be more exciting to two nine year old boys than discover a sword in a sheath in my cousin's grandparent's attic? Sam Holcomb is my 1st cousin and lived in Osage, Iowa but both of his grandparents lived in my hometown. His parents came to visit and it gave us an opportunity to play together. Finding the sword was a worthy event that I still remember after all these years. Sam and I played Robin Hood and King Arthur the rest of the afternoon. We finally descended from the attic and Sam's Grandfather told us it was a sword he used while a member of the Knights Templar. Didn't make much sense to nine year old boys but we listened as he explained how the sword was used in ceremonies performed by the Knights. Several days later my parents took us up to Templar Park on Bib Spirit Lake and watched the Knights parade in full uniform, hats, swords, flags and even a band.
This article was born when I chanced upon a 1921 Okoboji Protective Association Bulletin #17. I'm not sure what your idea of what is a bulletin but this particular one is 250 pages. The editor was Dr. Ferdinand J. Smith who lived at Miler's Bay. Dr. Smith produced many OPA Bulletins and they are a Historian's dream. What a storehouse of information with photos, articles, cottage names & owners, launch names and owners and advertisements.
I quote from the article "Summer Home Knights Templar of Iowa at Spirit Lake by N. Parvin. "In the year 1884 the Grand Commandery of the Knights Templar secured ten acres of land on what was then known as Kingman's Point but it was not until 1890 they held their first meeting on the ground. This concave was held in a tent and a little later a building and dining room was erected with offices on the first floor. This building was destroyed by a cyclone (tornado) in 1898. A new frame building was built to accommodate the Knights and their families, building first a north wing with fifty rooms, later a south wing with like number of room and lastly a wing on the west with a rotunda in the center. This gave the Knights 150 rooms. They also erected a large frame structure; the lower floor was used for dining room, the upper floor for an assembly room, with the west wing being used for kitchen and quarters for the caretaker. In June 1917, all the buildings were burned to the ground leaving only a building used as headquarters for Grand officers. The fire also destroyed nearly 200 beautiful shade trees.
A new structure was erected on the site of the old one which was fireproof. The new structure was patterned after the old apartment building. The social center of the whole park is maintained in the rotunda of the main building, 40 x 80 feet in dimensions and two stories high. All rotunda porches were glassed and screened in and heating was provided by a furnace and four large fie places. The main building was over 300 feet in length with three floors having 150 rooms all alike in dimensions, equipment and ventilation. The dining room was on the main floor of the north wing and its dimensions were 40x90 with a seating capacity of 350. The Knights added to their holdings until today (1921) have forty-two acres along the shores of Spirit Lake. Many fine cottages were also erected near the park.
The home is a club house and was operated for the exclusive privilege of every Knight Templar in Iowa. Meetings were held in the morning and the afternoons spent in social entertainment. A dress parade was held by the Knights in full uniform on the parade ground." It was quite a place for many years and the entry arch to Templar Park is still there. The DNR has taken it over and a few of the original buildings and lagoon are maintained but it is still a wonderful place to visit.
I contacted several people who had experiences at Templar Park. Jack Bedell wrote this, "When I was in Spirit lake High School band, we played a concert out on the east terrace of the hotel and then marched with the Knights in a big parade on the grounds our on the west side of the hotel. I think they paid the school for our band helping them. The hotel was so well built that no one could figure out how to enlarge them for modernization. They were concrete walls. The held dances there every weekend during the summer and we locals would go to dance. There was also a little three hole golf course with sand greens on the west side of the grounds."
Another one I contacted was Barbara Mendenhal as I recalled that her husband Dr. Walter Mendenhall parent's Wally and Alice Mendenhall met at Templar Park and later married. "Alice was the "Program Director" during the summer of 1946. She came to Okoboji to have a fun summer before she started teaching in the fall. The end of dinner each night, she was in charge of the "grand march". She was always seeking a partner to lead the march and Wally's parents volunteered him. (You can imagine how thrilled he was." At any rate, Alice spent some time explaining to Wally what the grand march was all about and how it worked. After they had finished the"procession" Wally told Alice that he had attended military school and had participated in many grand marches! What a teaser he was!" It was the beginning of a long and wonderful marriage and one had to know Wally to appreciate this story.
In the recesses of my mind I recall one and only one experience associated with actually going into Templar Park. The Okoboji Yacht Club used to have social parties at member's homes and other places and one was held at Templar Park on Saturday July 1, 1973. Thanks to Lois Powers for the following information gleamed from the 1973 Okoboji Yacht Club's Annual Program booklet. Lois had it stashed away in her house and after looking through many located the following information. The Commodore of the OYC that year was James Gerhard, Head Judge-Harley Whitfield and Regatta Chairman-Aubrey LaFoy. The OYC Party at Templar Park was planned by Tom and Robin Hamilton. Others on the committee were: Bill & Natalie Brenton, Ray & Claire Carlson, Lea and Bruce Crary, Patty & Yac Jacobsen Pokey & Colin Jensen, Sally & Eric Nielsen, Marilyn & John Offutt, Joyce & Tom Egebert and Sue & Dutton Goodman. I recall that we, Connie and I, were accompanied by Harley & Syrena Whitfield, Joe & Helen Morton and Wally O'Donnell. It was a very warm July and that night was no exception as there was no air conditioner. It was quite warm, dancing. Our son, Carl LaFoy, was one of the bartenders. He told me it was really an "elegant" dance party. He was impressed watching the couples dance and have such a great time. Some of our wine was emerged in a horse tank full of ice. The band was great as they played many of the big band music. We danced and perspired just like in the "good old days" but had a delightful time. One of those memories that lasts a lifetime.
We still drive by and into by Templar Park but the grandeur have disappeared and we caulk it up to "bygone days" of what it was like.