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First Class Service: How Dolhun Airfield Got Its Start

Ocie Kilgus

Charles Sanders was a carpenter who relocated to Lake Tomahawk in 1888 to help construct the station building for the Milwaukee Line.  Sanders paid $125 dollars for a plot of land and became proprietor of the Two Jacks Resort, which was the second resort property developed in the Lake Tomahawk area.  The Two Jack’s Resort had six cottages and served guests for nearly sixty years.  By 1945, however, the resort was considered primitive, run down, and well past its prime.

This is when Theodore Dolhun entered the picture.  Dolhun was a Ukrainian immigrant who in 1939 founded the Wisconsin Steel Treating and Blasting Company in Milwaukee.  Dolhun started small, but wartime production helped build his steel company into a prosperous enterprise.  By the time World War II ended, Dolhun was a wealthy man.

Credit Wisconsin Historical Society
The shore of Lake Tomahawk circa 1955.

Like many others, Dolhun enjoyed relaxing in the Northwoods, but unlike the average tourist happy with a weekend of fishing, Dolhun wanted an upscale place suited to his own personal tastes.  Therefore, in 1945 Dolhun purchased the Two Jacks Resort, razed the old cabins, and started rebuilding from scratch.

Dolhun replaced the cabins with modern facilities.  He added two motels, a recreation center, the Beacon restaurant, the Starlight Cocktail Lounge, a small theater, an arcade, and a Gay 90s Room.  College girls were brought in from Madison and Milwaukee to serve guests during the summer season.  As spectacular as all of this was, it was not enough for Dolhun.  He wanted first class service for guests coming to Dolhun’s Resort, and to do that he figured he needed to provide direct air service to Milwaukee and Madison.  This meant an airport.

In 1949 the trees were cleared out, the ground leveled, and a grass landing strip built on the sight.  Although it originally was a grass field, Dolhun Airfield was a modern facility offering a full array of aviation services.  Rodney Barnes hired on as a charter pilot to fly guests into the new airport and became the first airport manager for Dolhun Airfield.

Around 1955, Dick Cavenaugh became chief pilot and airport manager for Dolhun.  For a brief time, he flew a daily scheduled flight between Milwaukee and the resort, but there were never enough paying passengers to justify the service.  None of that deterred Dolhun, and around 1958 he instructed Cavenaugh to go to New York and purchase a DC-3 for passenger service.  It was never to be.

1958 was a busy year for the airfield.  A May Fly-In brought over 100 pilots and planes from all over the country.  So many that overflow was directed to both the Rhinelander and Lakeland airports.  As successful as the Fly-In was for Dolhun, he decided to get out of aviation.  His Milwaukee accountants convinced him that aviation was a bad investment, so plans for the DC-3 were scrapped.  By the end of the year, Dolhun announced that the property was for sale.

In 1959, the property was subdivided and sold off individually.  The resort continued but was never quite the same again.  The airfield today is paved and continues to serve a private home-owners association.

In addition to being a historian and educator, Gary R. Entz serves on WXPR's Board of Directors and writes WXPR's A Northwoods Moment in History which is heard Wednesdays on WXPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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