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Minnesota Resorter of the Year award winners welcome new guests, grateful for long-term families

Following 2020, the owners of Sunset Bay Resort on Dead Lake near Richville, Kristin and Jim Wherley, were recently awarded the "Resorter of the Year Award" from the Community of Minnesota Resorts.

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Kristin and Jim Wherley hold their "Resorter of the Year" award from the Community of Minnesota Resorts (Elizabeth Vierkant)

The past year may have been stressful and strange for many, but this didn't stop two Otter Tail County residents from helping others find something positive in their lives. Jim and Kristin Wherley own, operate and maintain the Sunset Bay Resort on Dead Lake near Richville.

Following 2020, the two were awarded the "Resorter of the Year Award" from the Community of Minnesota Resorts. According to Jim, this award is given to a progressive resort. "This means it's not given to the biggest or best resort, but one that's constantly improving and meeting guests' needs," he said.

The award is given to resorters who participate in the Community of Minnesota Resorts. They are nominated by other resorters. From there, a committee of three previous winners will visit the resort and interview the nominees. Because of the pandemic, this took place over phone in 2020.

Kristin believes that, though the past year has been strange, winning during it wasn't any more rewarding than it would have been in any other year. While she was thrilled to be recognized by her peers because they understand what running a resort takes, knowing their guests appreciate them is most rewarding to her.

"I think it's pretty special that they take their vacation time and spend it with us," Kristin said. "It's nice to be recognized (with an award), but it's not what we work for."

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There are multiple cabins for guests to stay in with their friends, family or even on their own (Elizabeth Vierkant)

This will be Jim and Kristin's ninth summer running a resort. Both spent their younger years at resorts and liked the family-oriented atmosphere. In 2012, they found the Sunset Bay Resort and decided to take a leap.

"Our daughter called and said, 'Mom, is dad going through a midlife crisis?" Kristin recalls, "I was like, 'Well, I don't think so, but at least I'm going with.'" While all of them were worried, buying the resort turned out well.

This seems to be a running theme with the Sunset Bay Resort, as 2020 began with uncertainty and ended in success. Though they didn't know whether or not they would need to close until two weeks before opening, the Wherleys had many last-minute bookings from guests who needed somewhere safe to get away and relax. They also had several new guests who already rebooked for 2021.

According to Jim, with limited activities available, many people rediscovered resorts and outdoor activities last year. He hopes and expects to see this trend continue in 2021 since Minnesota has a lot to offer.

Though there are many new guests coming to stay at the resort, some regulars have been coming for many years. Kristin said some of their longest guests have been coming on vacation to the Sunset Bay Resort for about 38 years, since before the Wherleys owned it. Because of this, Jim and Kristin get to see kids grow up and multigenerational families grow.

"(These families) have a lot of opportunities to go elsewhere, and the fact that they consider this their place is very special to us," Jim said.

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The resort has multiple fire pits for guests to relax around (Elizabeth Vierkant)

Once the couple received their "Resorter of the Year Award," they posted about it on their Facebook page. Their guests commented on this post, showing how happy they were for the Sunset Bay Resort. Kristin said it was nice to see that the guests recognized all of their efforts.

When the award is presented, the Community of Minnesota Resorts starts by telling the winning resort's story. According to Kristin, they knew it was them right away because the story started with, "they met in college on a blind date."

"I got all teary," Kristin said. Some of their friends are retired resorters in the Community of Minnesota Resorts, so they showed up at the Wherleys' door during the Zoom conference to present the award. Jim and Kristin were thrilled.

The Sunset Bay Resort is at 38274 County Highway 44, Richville, MN, 56576. If you're interested in visiting, the resort can be contacted at info@sunsbay.com or 218-758-2080.

Elizabeth (she/her), 23, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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