Four Generations of Caring for Lake Vermilion

If you live on or near any lake, you are there for one specific reason.  It’s because you love the lake and want to share that love with everyone around you.

Harold and Shirley Korpela knew the first time they laid eyes on Lake Vermilion that this place is so special they wanted to live there forever. The two of them built a family cabin and set off on an adventure to enjoy, respect and preserve the lake they loved.

In 1978 Harold contacted the lake association and decided to sign himself and Shirley up to volunteer. For many years he found himself heading up the Spring Sucker Sale program at the DNR Hatchery and he even volunteered to be on the lake association board of directors.

Shirley had a love for the many Common Loons that call Lake Vermilion their home. She decided to participate in the yearly Loon Count and was assigned to a 5-mile territory on the lake to count loons. All the designated loon counters around the lake count on the very same date and within the same time frame. When the count is ended they call their numbers in and wait for the results. This went on for over 26 years with Harold steering the boat while Shirley counted.

As time breezed by like ripples on the water, Shirley decided she needed a little help counting the loons, so she asked her daughter Jill Korpela-Bontems and Jill’s husband Jerry Bontems to assist them. Jill was always more than willing to help her mom and dad. During the 2010 count Jill brought along her son Ryan and his boys, Evan and Drake. A family tradition of volunteering had been passed down to the next generations.

Harold passed on about 5 years ago and Shirley now resides in Senior Housing in Virginia. The love they felt for Lake Vermilion lives on in the hearts and hands of those who continue to volunteer on the lake.

Today, Jill along with Jerry are still counting Loons as her mother and father did for 30 years. Jerry spends most of his volunteer time helping the Vermilion Lake Association to maintain the Night Navigation Aid Program.

This program is a series of flashing night navigation lights located along the major travel routes on the lake. Inconspicuous by day, the lights assist boaters and snowmobilers traveling the lake at night by helping them visually locate the main routes of travel. The solar powered lights are placed at shoreline spots and are not intended to indicate navigational hazards.

Anyone traveling Lake Vermilion at night should refer to a Boater’s Map of the lake which will indicate exactly where the lights are located. Boater’s Maps can be purchased at many commercial establishments around the lake.

The Korpela-Bontems families along with many others “Give back to the lake by giving of their time and ability, their hearts and their hands.” Would you like to help? Many other opportunities are available to you. You can check them out at or contact Pat Michaelson at

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