Jerry Lee Lewis and Eddie Cochran are among the big-name entertainers who performed at the Leaf Lake Ballroom, north of Henning, in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Lewis, a Louisiana native, was a pioneer of rock ‘n’ roll. He was best known for his piano playing and for his hit songs, “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”
Cochran, from Albert Lea, was best known for his hit tune, “Summertime Blues.” He played the guitar, piano, bass and drums.
In those days American performers felt honored to also perform at the famous Palladium in London.
Sadly, Cochran died in a traffic accident on April 17, 1960, after a singing engagement in England. He was only 21 at the time of his death.
The Leaf Lake Ballroom, also known as “the pavilion,” was a popular place for dancing, roller skating and other activities from the end of World War I all the way to the early 1980s.
Don and Ivey Bondy operated the ballroom and nearby resort until the latter 1960s.
Recalling those good times is their son, Jeff, currently a resident of the Twin Cities.
“My grandparents, Iver and Louise Bondy, operated the resort for many years before my parents took over,” Jeff says. “It was a busy time during the summer months while hosting guests at eight cabins and managing the ballroom.”
The family also owned Bondy’s Café in Henning. They had close to 20 able employees who operated the restaurant when family members were busy at the resort and ballroom.
“We also had other popular performers at the ballroom in addition to Jerry Lee Lewis and Eddie Cochran,” Jeff says, “including Whoopee John, the 6 Fat Dutchmen, Odin Budke (Tempo Kings) and the Marlin Bendickson Orchestra.”
Past patrons of the ballroom days still recall silver tinsel shimmering in the light of Grain Belt beer signs. Many patrons referred to that destination as simply “Leaf.”
Families made plans to join the Bondy family for their annual Fourth of July celebration each year.
“We had people coming as early as 8 a.m. to claim picnic areas and secure parking places,” Jeff recalls. “There were all-day activities such as picnics, swimming, horseshoe, dancing, fireworks and of course general visiting.”
High school students often reserved the ballroom for roller skating and year-end picnics. They came from Henning, Staples, Wadena, Perham, Deer Creek, Bertha and Hewitt.
“Other high school kids came to Leaf Lake as part of their annual skip days at the end of the school year, stopping at our ballroom,” Jeff said.
Another special each year was a carnival dance held Labor Day eve, complete with caps, hats, noisemakers and confetti.
In 1985 an auction was held and later on the ballroom was demolished. It was the end of an era when no crowds celebrated at the ballroom during the Fourth of July.
Jeff Bondy sings the praises of the staff who made the resort, ballroom and restaurant in Henning successful for many years. Some worked at two or even all three of the establishments.
They included Orin Fosse, Gus and Elsa Jordan, Ruby Koski, Truman and Alice Torgrimson, Christian and Luanne Haugen, Arnie and Bernice Rortvedt, Ernie and Ellen Hoyhtya, Charlyne Kytonen Kleaver, Charles and May Kytonen, Tony Thompson, Hazel Magneson, Ned and Teddy Harmon, Haddie and Charles Heschke, Tony Schmidt, June Hotchkiss and Martha Nutter.
Ed Darby, currently a resident of Colorado, remembers the days when the Leaf Lake Ballroom was among a mix of good area pavilions in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
“When evening rolled around the activity moved from the beaches to the ballrooms. Leaf Lake, Balmoral and the Detroit Lakes Pavilion provided dance menus that filled our souls with passion and a promise of life outside the protective influence of our hometown,” he said.
Darby is a 1960 graduate of Fergus Falls High School.
Tom Hintgen is a longtime Daily Journal columnist. His column appears Saturdays.