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Third generation notches 50th year at Dilley's Resort on West Norway

Carolyn Lange / Tribune Since he was 12 years old, Ron Dilley has worked at his family resort on West Norway Lake. He just finished his 50th season in a business his grandfather started in the early 1950s.1 / 6
Carolyn Lange / Tribune In the early years, Dilley's Resort catered to come-and-go campers with tents and pop-up campers. The resort is now home to 30 families who have campers there year-round.2 / 6
Carolyn Lange / Tribune Since he was 12 years old, Ron Dilley has worked at his family resort on West Norway Lake. He just finished his 50th season in a business his grandfather started in the early 1950s.3 / 6
Carolyn Lange / Tribune A photo of Jack Dilley shows a big northern caught on West Norway Lake, where the Dilley family has owned and operated a resort since the early 1950s. Ron Dilley, the third-generation owner, just finished his 50th year at the resort.4 / 6
Carolyn Lange / Tribune A wall of photos at Dilley's Resort displays photos of big fish stories.5 / 6
Carolyn Lange / Tribune Many things have changed at Dilley's Resort since it was started on West Norway Lake in the early 1950s – and some things have not, including this well-worn sign at the entrance.6 / 6

PENNOCK — Ever since he was 12 years old, Ron Dilley's life has been tied to the waters of West Norway Lake and the people who have stayed at his family's third-generation resort.

He's just finished his 50th year at Dilley's Resort, which he now owns and operates.

"I'm proud to say it's been in the family all these years," Dilley said.

Like all Minnesota lake resorts, much has changed at Dilley's over the years.

In the early 1950s his grandfather, John "Jack" Dilley, started the business by renting out boats and motors to people eager to catch their limit of fish on West Norway Lake, back when fishing was good.

People would be lined up waiting for a turn with one of the 20 boats his grandfather had, Dilley said. Oftentimes people would catch their limit in an hour, return to shore and someone else would get in the boat.

A photo pinned to the wall at the small resort store shows a scrappy Jack Dilley lifting a 16-pound northern pike caught on West Norway Lake.

In the fall, Jack Dilley would take his boats to Mud Lake near New London for the duck hunters.

Ron Dilley's parents, Lawrence and Mabel, took over the West Norway Lake business in 1967.

When it started, guests would come with tents and campers to spend a week or weekend at the small resort, which has 400 feet of sandy lakeshore on its 1.3 acres that is thick with mature oak trees.

In 1968 they began providing seasonal camping for people who parked campers — and later RVs — on site for the entire season.

Licensed for 30 sites, the resort now only provides seasonal camping, for $1,400 a year plus electricity expenses.

Most leave their RVs and trailers there year-around and most of the guests have been there for years — and some for decades.

There are regulars who started coming as young parents and now have camping units next to their adult children's trailers who have children of their own.

"We're a big happy family," Dilley said.

In its heyday, hamburgers made by Dilley's mother and grandmother and cases of 3.2 beer and pop would be served out the sliding window at the small store at the resort.

It was common to sell 20 cases of beer or pop in a single week back in the 1970s, he said. Now he's lucky to sell a few 12-packs of pop all summer.

"Most people bring their own food now," said Dilley, who still sells gas, bait, ice and treats during summer weekends.

"Things changed over the years," Dilley said of the store. "It's nothing like it used to be."

Water quality on West Norway Lake has also changed over the years. When the resort was young, there were "cattle for neighbors" on the adjacent land. Now there are year-round houses.

Dilley, who serves on a variety of local watershed and county water and soil conservation committees, said agriculture and lakeshore housing developments both contribute to water degradation and that it "takes everybody to work together" to restore water quality.

Although much of the resort looks the same as it did 50 years ago, utility options have been expanded to provide water, sewer and electricity services to each site. Three years ago Dilley added 28 solar panels that generate between 12,000 and 13,000 kilowatt hours of electricity for the resort each year.

With the energy and tax credits, Dilley said he hopes to recoup his investment in 10 years.

When he was younger, Dilley said he had hoped to expand the size of the resort but now said it's "big enough for me" the way it is.

At 62, Dilley said he intends to keep the resort operating but at this point there is no one in the family ready to carry the business to the fourth generation.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750
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