Our Legacy

April 2014 Brady L. Kay

In historical terms, a legacy is something that is handed down from one period of time to another. For the Nelson family from Minnesota, their legacy means a whole lot more than just having multiple generations share in the memories of having a family cabin on Lake Minnewawa.

Tom and Mary Nelson consider themselves city people and live in Maple Grove, Minn., which is just over two hours from their cabin in McGregor. They spend their summer weekends at the cabin, as well as many of their vacation days throughout the year. The Nelsons inherited the cabin after Tom’s father, Bob, passed away in February 2011. The memory of his parents, Bob and Marge Nelson, who built the cabin years ago, lives on with the family members who continue to enjoy their northern escape from the city.   

“My dad really is the main reason the legacy continues at the cabin,” says Tom’s daughter Carly Mandler who visits often with her husband, Doug. “He has such great memories of growing up on the lake and has always worked hard to ensure that we are making great memories of being at the cabin as well.”

The Cabin

Tom’s motto has always been to "work hard so you can play hard" and it’s clear he fully emulates this motto. Tom and Mary’s son Kyle and their daughter Carly stepped up when they were asked to help fix up the cabin in 2011.   

“Fixing up the cabin after my grandparents passed away was a lot of hard work but we knew there would be a great payoff and reward after,” says Carly. “My dad is really the motivating factor behind the fun we have at the cabin. His excitement, humor, and his desire to put others’ happiness over his own makes him one of the best things about the cabin.”

In 1918 Bob and Marge bought one of the first lots on Lake Minnewawa and built what the family refers to as “the old cabin.” Back then it would take the family half a day to drive up from the Twin Cities because most of the roads outside of the city were gravel back then. The rebuilding phase of the current cabin structure started in the mid 1960's on what Bob and Marge referred to as the “10-year plan.”

“My parents never took out a loan of any sort to rebuild, they would only take on the next phase of cabin construction when they had saved enough money to move forward,” explains Tom. “My parents and my sister and I did all the various stages of construction (with the exception of the foundation and outer wall shell of the cabin) by ourselves. It was truly approached as a family project.”  

The family all worked hard in the rebuilding and it gave them pride to know it was a collective family effort that continues to pay major dividends today. 

“I often think of the way the whole project involvement affected my current approach to my work style and work ethic,” says Tom. “We continue to look at the cabin as a family legacy and I know my parents would be beaming with pride and joy over us carrying on the tradition.” 

All In With Premier

The Nelsons were all in when it came time to buy a pontoon boat for their cabin and knew a Premier pontoon would be able to adapt to the different stages of their lives. Growing up, Tom’s father owned an 18-foot pontoon that he used for fishing, but this Premier pontoon purchase would be the first for Tom and Mary. And because it would be their first pontoon purchase, they wanted to do their homework first.

The state's nickname, “The Land of 10,000 Lakes,” is no exaggeration; there are 11,842 Minnesota lakes, so finding a variety of pontoons to look at from local dealers wasn’t a hard task. After a thorough search of the different pontoons available, the family kept coming back to Premier as their top choice.

“For me, Premier is the Cadillac of the pontoon industry,” says Tom. “There are a lot of other great manufacturers out there, but the style and aesthetics of Premier just clicked for us.”

The family decided to purchase a Premier 221 Gemini with 75hp Mercury four-stroke from Willey’s Marine in nearby McGregor. Tom had already established a good relationship with the Premier dealer after buying a four-wheeler from them earlier.

“We bought with zero regrets because we spent a lot of time looking, talking and asking the dealer questions so we felt we were well educated on what we thought we needed,” says Mary. “We also talked to our neighbors who own Premier pontoons to find out what the liked about them and everyone we talked to only had good things to say.”

Adds Tom, “Jerry Hoover spent a lot of time with us and was very helpful in answering our questions. From the showroom and actual purchase to the boat launch orientation, the whole experience at Willie's was helpful and outstanding.”

Two Foot Itis

Looking back now, the family has no regrets about the pontoon model they chose, other than they wish they would have gone just 2 feet longer.

“I was originally going to go with a 20-foot model, but with our expanding family we decided to go with a 22-footer,” says Tom. “So while I wish I would have gone 2 feet longer, I’m just thankful we didn’t stick to the plan to go with the 20-foot version.”

Tom and Mary wanted to get input from the entire family when they were looking at the variety of pontoons that Premier offers and that included getting everyone’s opinion on what would be a perfect floor plan.

“I was pushing for the front recliners so my mom and sister wouldn’t complain when we wanted to fish,” says Kyle, who is an avid outdoorsman who lives to fish. “So we got the loungers, but I wish I would have pushed harder for a grill.”

The Gemini is a fish and cruise model from Premier that has a great designated fishing area in the stern, separated from the rest of the pontoon.

“It was the fishing seats in the back that really sold us on the boat,” says Tom. “It was important to the guys to have fishing chairs and we just had to decide which end of the boat we wanted them to be fishing from.”

Adds Carly, “My mom and I just wanted space to lounge while Kyle and Doug fished, plus enough room for my dog Baya to move around and everyone to be comfortable. I would have traded the fishing area for a mini bar, but I know the fishermen in our family wouldn’t have liked that.”

The Premier is loaded with a lot of great features the family either selected specifically or that just come with the boat. But of all of the amenities there was one they didn’t think they really needed. Having grown up on this lake, Tom didn’t feel he’d use a Humminbird depth finder and questioned the need for it. However, it came with the package so he didn’t complain.

“I already know the lake well so I was surprised at how handy it is,” admits Tom. “I like to know the depth as well as water temp at all times, plus you really can spot fish with it.”

Other upgrades include a second removable table and additional speakers with the sound system upgrade. 

“The pontoon boat was the ideal fit because there is something for everyone and being able to take the entire family out at once is a huge advantage,” says Mary. “It’s a very appealing boat for family life.”

Since purchasing the Premier, the family has discovered that it offers a platform for multiple uses that you can do from a boat such as fishing, swimming, pulling tubes or just cruising, which means the vintage 1978 Glastron Carlson CVX hardly ever leaves the boathouse anymore.

The Name Game

Back when Tom and Mary were dating and even after they were first married—which is over 32 years now—they used to host what they referred to as “the bash” with Tom’s sister Ann Carlson and her husband Jim. So when it came time to name the pontoon, some thought a party name might be the best choice.

“We held a family contest to name the pontoon and it included a $50 prize,” says Tom. “We sat down and read through 75 names and had a lot of laughs as most of them were clever with a few that weren’t exactly appropriate. We whittled down the list to our top 10 boat names and felt like The Legacy was the right fit and I know it would have made my parents proud.”

Adds Mary, “We considered a party name, but that’s not the message that you necessarily want to give everyone. We hope grandchildren will be coming in the future so we needed a name that was appropriate for all ages.”

With a unanimous decision, the Premier was named and to celebrate the family went out on the water and toasted to The Legacy and the tradition that Bob and Marge first created.  

Work & Play

Tom grew up on the lake at this cabin and is still close to his friend Jim Antolik whose family used to own the cabin next door. Tom’s mom would pick him and his sister up on the last day of school and they’d head to the lake. His dad would join them on the weekends, but he would spend his entire summer at the cabin until it was time to go back to school after Labor Day. Some of Tom’s best childhood memories included spending time with his friend Jim.

Today, Tom works as an environmental, health and safety manager at 3M in St. Paul, Minn., which after 18 years with the company and a total of 32 years in the business, has become his passion. His wife Mary worked as a teacher’s assistant for years, which allowed her to be there for her children after school as well as in the summer. She retired after their son Kyle graduated from college, but still keeps plenty busy.


Lake Minnewawa is nearly 2,500 acres and around 19 feet at its deepest point in the center. Growing up, Tom didn’t like the way docks and lifts cluttered the lake, but now he realizes that lifts are really a necessity and that’s why he loves his FLOE lift.

“We want to make our time up here as maintenance- and as hassle-free as possible,” says Tom. “Having the FLOE lift is like having a garage; you just back it out and you’re ready to go.”

Another decision the family made that goes along with their desire to enjoy their time at the cabin was to hire a groundskeeper.

“I didn’t want us to spend our limited time pushing a lawn mower when we were here so I hired my sister Ann who lives nearby with her husband in a home on another lake,” says Tom. “She does a great job keeping the place up so that our time here is truly relaxing.”

Kyle and Carly have another reason to be thankful for their aunt. When their grandfather passed away and left the cabin to Tom and Ann, it was Ann who felt it was important to keep the family tradition alive, so she ended up signing over her half of the estate to Kyle and Carly.

“Ann, being a generous person and already owning a place on the water, wanted our kids to be part-owners so the legacy of the cabin would continue to the next generation,” says Mary.

Jungle Cruise

One tradition that both Kyle and Carly hope will return someday is Tom’s famous Jungle Tour, which the kids admit used to really scare them when they were little.

“He would tell us about the Minnewawa alligator and as we’d float slowly through the shallow channel he’d start asking us if we heard something,” says Carly. “He’d go to the back of the boat and look into the water and then pretend that something pulled him in. He’d then go under the boat and start banging on the pontoons and thrashing like something was grabbing him. We can’t get him to do it anymore, but maybe when the grandkids come.”

Living Legacy

The pontoon is really just the icing on the cake for the Nelson family. They loved the cabin before when they only had a speedboat and fishing boat, but the pontoon now completes the dream for them of having a place to relax.

“Spending hours on the lake together as a family was our dream and because of the legacy my grandparents left behind and the legacy my dad is creating, the cabin is our family retreat and our happy place,” says Carly.

Tom still gets a little choked up whenever the topic of his dad is mentioned. He’s grateful to his parents for passing on this lifestyle and that’s why he knows for certain the family made the best choice when they named their Premier The Legacy. This is one family tradition that will forever continue to be passed down to future generations.

For More Information

FLOE International



Mercury Marine






Willey's Marine



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