Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pat Shunn, ambassador of Sag Lake landing, dies

Sam Cook - 01/29/2010 -The ambassador of Sag Lake landing, the woman who always had an open door, a good story and fresh cookies, died Monday in Cloquet. Pat Shunn ­ Patsy, "Chickadee," Grandma ­ was 69. "She was a part of Sag, and she always will be," said fishing guide Mike Berg, who lives on nearby gull Creek. From about 1985 to 2007, Pat rolled Cook County's two parking lots at Saganaga Lake's public boat landings. She was the tiny woman with the frizzy hair and the orange vest who greeted nearly everyone coming and going on the popular lake. "It was a big deal," Berg said. "She made a lot of people laugh and smile. Her presence there was great." I was privileged  know Pat and her husband, Frank, visiting many times through the years, staying at their home on occasion and fishing with Frank. If I wanted to know what was happening at the end of the road or just needed a "Sag fix," I'd call Pat and Frank. Sometimes, Pat didn't wait for me to call her. She would call me if she thought there was something I needed to know.

Pat had one ear on the scanner radio that suawked in the kitchen and another on the CB radio that kept remote Sag Lake residents in touch with each other. Her CB handle was "Chickadee," and this bird knew every detail of life at the tip of the trail. Pat and Frank's door was always open, and Pat usually had fresh cookies waiting. "She was one of the most giving people ever. She always had a cup of coffee for you," said UPS driver Bill Simonowicz of Grand Marais. The Shunns' home was near the end of Simonowicz'
60-mile run up the Gunflint Trail. "I'd stop in for coffee. They were almost like mom and dad," Simonowicz said. "She always had stories or jokes," said Cook county deputy sheriff Tim Weitz, another regular
visitor. Pat loved her fishing guides, too, Berg said. They called her "Grandma." She gave them cookies and often left little notes on their windshields at the public landings. Pat and Frank had moved from Cloquet to the end of the Gunflint Trail in 1973 and lived there until 2007, when the Ham Lake forest fire took their home on a dge above Saganaga Lake. They had worked for and of the Trail Lodge on Saganaga and later for
Borderland Lodge on Gunflint Lake.

"She was the funnest employee we had," said Nick Helm of Hayward, who owned End of the Trail Lodge
in the late 1970s. "To Patsy, life was just a bowl of cherries." But it was her presence at the parking lot that
defined Pat's later years. She loved to talk, and she engaged nearly everyone who passed through. Woe be to the visitor, though, who failed to disconnect his boat trailer from his pickup or otherwise parked in an unacceptable manner. Let's just say Pat was not hesitant to point out the correct parking procedures at her lots. "She considered herself kind of a cop," Helm said. "She liked the uniform." Under that sometimes brusque exterior was a woman with a huge heart and a deep love for the little community at the
end of the trail. I think a lot of us who are a few years behind Pat and Frank on life's path felt the same way that Berg and Simonowicz and Weitz felt, that Pat was like a mother hen, always welcoming us back to her nest, always sending us out happier than we arrived.That modest home on top of the ridge that Frank
built himself, in the dark that first winter, was an oasis of light and warmth where we were always
welcome. "When the real world was clickin'," Berg said, "you'd get to Pat's and the world would
stand still. And that was a good thing."

Down the hill, at the Sag landing, the anglers and paddlers still come and go without Pat's
presence. She and Frank had returned to Cloquet after the fire. But perhaps, Weitz suggested, her
legacy should be memorialized at Sag. "They should maybe change the name of that landing," he said. Pat Shunn Landing. With a little plaque, maybe, where we deposit our parking fees. So we could all hold on to her a little longer.

SAM COOK is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and

outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or Follow him on Twitter at "samcookoutdoors."


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