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Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge Celebrates 120 Years of Family Fun

By Meggan Reinoso

It was in the spring of 1898 when F.I. Boone took the long and arduous journey by train and carriage from Manhattan, Kansas, to the doors of Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge in what was then the wilderness of Deerwood, Minnesota. Upon his arrival, he and his family were greeted by Joe and Josey Ruttger and the untouched beauty of Bay Lake.

This was the unlikely and humble beginning of a century-plus Ruttger’s tradition of homespun hospitality and good old-fashioned Up North family lake vacations that continues to this day.

Joe, an immigrant from Germany who settled in the area to work in the saw mill, and his new bride Josey, didn’t plan to open a resort. Ruttger’s just kind of happened, mostly because Josey was an excellent cook with a gregarious personality.

Legend has it that when travelers and fishermen ventured onto Bay Lake, she would wave them to shore to chat about the fishing. Sometimes she would prepare them a home-cooked meal and offer them a place to rest. People enjoyed the food and hospitality so much that word spread—all the way to Kansas and Oklahoma. Soon people were coming from far and wide to escape the heat of the Plains states and to enjoy the beauty and relaxation of Minnesota’s lake country.

Ruttger’s was born.

At first, the guests stayed in Joe and Josey’s home, but soon a lodge was built, followed by a cabin, then another and another. Ruttger’s grew steadily, adding the state’s first resort golf course in 1921, a second 18-hole championship golf course in the 1980s, meeting and convention facilities, a full marina, deluxe villas and more.

It turns out that the resort business runs in the Ruttger’s blood. Joe and Josey had four children, all sons. Each of them played a significant role in developing the tourism and resort industry in the Brainerd Lakes area. At one point in the 1930s there were five Ruttger’s resorts in the state of Minnesota.

Joe and Josey’s oldest son Alec took over the operation of Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge in 1920. He worked tirelessly to grow the resort, and promote tourism to the Brainerd Lakes area. He was the founder and first president of the Minnesota Resort Association, and is credited with spearheading the effort to get “The Land of 10,000 Lakes” added to the Minnesota license plates.

Jack and Ann Ruttger became the third generation to operate the resort in 1952, and are both still around the resort daily during the summer. The resort is currently operated by their son Chris Ruttger and his wife Joanne.

Though much has changed, the essence of Ruttger’s remains the same as the day Joe and Josey first opened their home to fishermen 120 years ago … the peace of a northern Minnesota lake, time spent with the ones you love, a good meal and, as always, a Ruttger will be at the door to greet you at the end of your journey to Bay Lake.


Ruttger’s is celebrating its 120th anniversary on June 1-3, 2018.

Ruttger’s will be throwing a party in celebration of the resort’s 120th anniversary. The Ruttger’s team will be turning back the clock to different eras at the resort by bringing back events, activities, features and specials from the past. The weekend will include a Ruttger’s museum (and antique road show-type of event), a car show, hickory shaft long-drive contest, a slip ‘n slide, ‘50s malt/soda shop burger lunch and a 120th celebration open house (all-employee reunion). The team will host a garden dedication, wacky hat contest and a talent show featuring the triumphant return to the stage of magician Chris Ruttger. Staff will dress in historically accurate clothing.

Joe and Josey would be proud that Ruttger’s keeps their German heritage alive with one of the state’s most popular Oktoberfest celebrations, attracting thousands of guests annually. The 2018 Oktoberfest celebration is Oct. 17-19.


Meggan Reinoso has been the sales manager at Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge for two years. She previously held the same title at Buca di Beppo for six years. Meggan is a foodie with over 15 years in the hospitality industry, and is a member of MPI, IAAP and Associations North. When not assisting planners and devising creative outdoor, lakerelated team-building events, she is keeping up with her three kids, cooking authentic Latin recipes or binge-watching Destination Travel.