National Commander Fang Wong recently visited Wilwin Lodge in Michigan. (Eldon Lindsay/The American Legion)

Wong tours Wilwin Lodge

Many poets, authors and statesmen throughout history have escaped into the wilderness to find solace and peace of mind. Wilwin Lodge, a retreat center sponsored by the Legion’s Department of Michigan, gives veterans that same therapeutic opportunity, inviting them to a secluded resort deep in the woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for rest, recuperation and relaxation.

American Legion National Commander Fang A. Wong visited Wilwin Lodge recently, touring much of its 600-acre premises, historic landmarks and buildings, many of which are almost a century old.

"This is certainly a peaceful setting for people to sit and collect their thoughts or whatever baggage that may trouble them," Wong said.

The center’s historic lodge, which was built in 1914, and the sprawling wooded land that surrounds it was donated two years ago to the Department of Michigan by Bob Considine, a Legionnaire and Korean War veteran. Caretakers from the Department of Michigan currently maintain Wilwin Lodge and are actively trying to procure funding to ensure that the property fulfills Considine’s vision of becoming an open-sky oasis for veterans who are dealing with PTSD or merely need a break from the outside world.

Wilwin currently relies heavily on funding from the Department of Michigan. Its administrators are asking for donations from veterans supporters and other organizations so that it can become fully self-sustaining within three years.

"They have a very ambitious plan on how to get it up and running, but it will take a lot of hard work and support," Wong said. "I think right now what they need more than anything else is to build awareness and publicize it to more people so that they will get more visitors and, in turn, build awareness and gain revenue."

Veterans anywhere in the country can book time at Wilwin by filling out and submitting the application on its website. The facility is open from May 1 to Nov. 1 each year, weather permitting.

Veterans who served during modern conflicts – from the Gulf War to the present operations in Afghanistan and Iraq – can stay with their families free of charge. Veterans of earlier eras and their families are charged $50 a night, per room. The fees go toward maintaining Wilwin and its surrounding trails and paths, which are carved inside the same thick wooded areas that were mined throughout the 20th century as a generous source of timber.

Wilwin can provide a relaxing vacation destination for its visitors. Or it can serve therapeutic ends, giving veterans a secluded spot to process the stresses of war.

"The silence out here is deafening," said Lou Oberle, Michigan Legionnaire and Wilwin caretaker.

Wilwin’s main lodge is a time capsule from a different era. Much of its inside and outside is original from when it was erected nearly 100 years ago as a lodge for lumber buyers who were in the Trout Lake area to do business with the nearby mill. The two-story building features an atrium with two dual stone fireplaces, a kitchen and six bedrooms – all of which have been updated with modern amenities.

A guest house was recently built a short walk away from the main building. It has five bedrooms, a modern kitchen and a screened porch. It often houses the groups of veterans who visit Wilwin as peer group.

Administrators from Wilwin have ambitious long-term plans for the resort and would like to build more guest houses or cabins. But the lodge’s future depends heavily on whether it can become self-sustaining within the next three years.

"The folks here have done a really good job in two years, from the time they’ve acquired the property to now, in making the necessary improvements," Wong said. " I’m very impressed. When more veterans and Legionnaires become aware of it, they will step up and help make the dream of making Wilwin a fully developed camp a reality."