Oakwood Club History
The Gopher State Sun Club
The Oakwood Club came into existence in 1942. Originally called the Gopher State Sun Club, it was a group of about five families who would gather on pleasant weekends to soak up sunshine and socialize on Grey Cloud Island, located between St. Paul and Hastings, MN. A brief listing in Sunshine and Health magazine attracted kindred spirits and led to a desire to have a more private and permanent location.
One of these pioneer Minnesota nudist families owned a 40-acre plot of heavily wooded land about twenty miles north of St. Paul in Circle Pines, MN. This tract of land, also known as the “Lexington grounds,” became the club’s first permanent home. A single one-room cabin was the only structure on the property. There was an open sunning area about four hundred feet square, surrounded by heavy woods. The only neighbors, on the east and south, were both farmers who were content to mind their own business and let the nudists mind theirs. However, the farmers did provide a watchful eye for unauthorized visitors.
The first improvements, except for some play equipment for children, were a well that provided excellent drinking water, and a swimming hole. The members excavated an egg-shaped depression in the ground and lined it with concrete. There was a drain at the deepest point and a narrow deck around the pool. A filter for the 5000-gallon pool “swimming hole” was added the second year, as were solar-heated showers.
The club operated uneventfully for the rest of the 1940s. Outside the therapeutic nudist refuge, World War II raged in Europe and the South Pacific. Members planted victory gardens on the club grounds. The produce they grew afforded them access to additional gasoline during the years of rationing.
In the September 21, 1948 edition of the Minneapolis Tribune, Cedric Adams devoted a couple paragraphs of his “In This Corner” column to the club and nudism. This caused quite a stir among several club members who wanted to keep a low profile. (Staying out of the public eye seemed like a good idea as local officials were not always friendly to nudist clubs. A December 1948 nudist magazine tells of police raids on Fern Hills Nudist Club in Bloomington, IN.) In the spring of 1950, the name of the club was changed to The Oakwood Club. This was seemingly an effort to present an even lower profile.
Ownership of the Lexington grounds changed in the mid-1950s, when the original owners left the area and sold the property to another couple who were club members. In March 1958 the club entered into a lease agreement with the new owners. This change was to lead to the club’s first crisis.
Discontent began to develop among members regarding the operation of the club, which was becoming increasingly heavy-handed under the new owners. The members were concerned that the club was becoming a proprietorship instead of a cooperative organization.
On May 10, 1961 the club became The Oakwood Club Incorporated, under the Minnesota Nonprofit Corporation Act. During that summer, several members of the board of directors and the general membership resigned. Four of these resigning members, Elmer and Bonnie J. & Charles and Betty Jo P., were among the founders of Avatan. In November 1961 the Oakwood Club agreed to sponsor the formation of Avatan, Inc. with the ASA. Today, both clubs operate within twenty miles of each other and relations between the clubs are friendly and courteous.
A New Home
In late 1961, Oakwood began in earnest to look for new property. In May 1962 the club put down $2,300 earnest money for a 40-acre parcel of land about 20 miles north of the old grounds. In September 1962, legal proceedings between Oakwood and the holders of the lease on the old grounds terminated to the satisfaction of both parties.
On the new property—after the little structure with the crescent on the door was put in place—a sand volleyball court was set up. A second volleyball court was added a short time later. When families complained that they had to drive to a nearby lake to take their kids swimming, the club purchased an above-ground Futura Fiesta Swimming Pool in 1963. The pool was 16 feet wide by 32 feet long, and ranged in depth from three to seven feet. This pool served the club until it was replaced with a 20- by 40-foot concrete pool in the early 1970s.
For the first few years, members waited out rainy weather in a moderate-size circus tent set up during the summer months. Two stoves set up back-to-back inside the tent were used for cooking and the weekly potluck lunches. In November 1967, the club obtained a building permit for a permanent clubhouse and construction started during the 1968 season. The large cinderblock structure continues to serve as the center of social activities during the summer season. Other buildings and amenities have been added as energy and finances permit.
Jim Cossins, one the original founders of the Oakwood Club, served as the club’s first president. Jim was very active in the American Sunbathing Association (ASA)—known today as the American Association for Nude Recreation or AANR. He worked with Rev. Ilsley Boone, better known as “Uncle Danny,” in the early days, getting the ASA underway in Mays Landing, NJ. (Jim’s widow, Lu, remembered Uncle Danny as a person who could always tell a story.) Jim served as president of the Central Sunbathing Association (CSA), which had member clubs from both the ASA and the National Nudist Council (NNC) in its ranks during the 1950s. He served on the ASA board of trustees from 1968 until his death in April 1971. To honor Jim Cossins and his tireless work on behalf of nudism in the Midwest, the Midwest Sunbathing Association (MSA) created a lifetime achievement award in his memory. It was first awarded in 1972 when ASA president George Blicker presented it to Tom Goin.
Jim Cossins was posthumously inducted to the ASA Hall of Fame in 1973.