Bob Ellison (1939-2006)
Robert J. Ellison, Jr., was a Tomahawk staff member in the fifties and early sixties; he died November 19, 2006.
Although they did not know each other at the time, Bob Albright and Jim Frost both knew Bob Ellison and during different summers served with him on the camp staff. Bob Ellison’s brother Bill also was a Tomahawk staff member in the fifties. Here are their reminisces about Bob.
Bob Albright thought his life would end one time while setting up for an Order of the Arrow conclave at Fred C. Anderson River Camp. He and another young man were bouncing along in the back of a jeep that Bob Ellison was driving when it headed too fast toward the river cliffs. While his two passengers baled out and watched to see if the driver would do the same, Ellison turned away just in time and then laughed at them for being scared enough to jump off.
Albright also remembers collecting bull snakes with Bob Ellison for the OA pageant at Tomahawk. The snakes were kept in 55-gallon drums and fed field mice. Bob Albright sometimes joined in the snake dance but says it was really Ellison’s domain. He has a favorite picture in his Scouting collection that shows Bob Ellison dancing in a beautiful set of blue and white bustles. He later bought the bustles from Bob and used them for several years himself.
Bill Ellison says that his brother felt Tomahawk was a touchstone in his life and that he returned to northern Wisconsin often after his years on the staff. Bill’s reminisces confirm Bob’s exciting and diversified life, including time in the U.S. Army as a tank platoon sergeant in Germany from 1959 to 1962, between his years at Tomahawk.
Bill also talks about Bob’s later career as a trainer who instructed many Northwest Airlines pilots in instrument flying at ITC in Minneapolis, and as a result was sent cocktails compliments of the cockpit for many years whenever he flew. He was also a premiere bush pilot who flew hunters into remote areas all over North America. Some might remember Bob’s whittling at camp, which might have hinted at another of his accomplishments. According to Bill Ellison, Bob was a well-known sculptor and wood carver with Ellison galleries in both Taos and Telluride. Bill has a cherished bronze buffalo that his brother produced for a limited edition offering.
Jim Frost knew Bob as Bobby and recalls how in 1962 Bobby and a few other counselors started the Saturday night “functions” at Flathers Island Resort on Long Lake. Guys and gals from around the lake and the town of Rice Lake would gather with camp staff members for dancing to the jukebox and singing led by Bob Ellison and Don Kelsey on their guitars. Eileen Flathers would preside at the bar and the last song of the night was always “Eileen (not Irene) Good Night.”
A couple of years later Bobby and Jim visited Eileen and she talked with them about selling the resort and its property, which encompassed the south half of what is officially known as Kunz Island. Her price was $50,000 and she wanted her young friends to buy it. That night after a beer or two, lying under the stars at the edge of a cornfield in their sleeping bags, and the next day driving back to the Twin Cities, they talked excitedly about running a resort. But both were working hard in the real estate business, where Bobby had helped Jim get a job, so nothing came of the prospect. Eileen later sold the place in condominium parcels and the resort with its bar that Bob Ellison helped make famous is no more.