Traverse City Record-Eagle

Generation Why

November 7, 2011

Book outlines Hickory Hills history

Note: In celebration of Hickory's 60th anniversary, "Light the Night" will be available on shelves in time for the 2011 holiday season. For more information, visit

In April 2010, our moms asked us to join them at a breakfast meeting. Although we were high school sophomores who both grew up skiing at Hickory Hills, we really didn't know each other well. A breakfast meeting seemed a bit weird, but we're always looking for free food and were intrigued by the invitation. We agreed to go.

Moms have a special knack for making jobs sound easy. Their pitch was smooth: "Would you be willing to write a short history of our local ski hill, Hickory?" After listening a while, we figured the task would be relatively simple -- take a few photos, do a little research, dig up some facts and maybe interview a few family friends about their own Hickory ski experiences. No big deal, right?

Our first interview had a strong impact. Larry Bensley, the son of Hickory's visionary, Loren Bensley, opened our eyes to Hickory's rich history.

Larry spoke eloquently about his father's vision for an affordable ski area in Traverse City and about meeting his own wife of more than 50 years while skiing under Hickory's "romantic" lights. His eyes sparkled as he shared memories, and his excitement for the project inspired us.

Larry also suggested we seek donations for the book's publication so we could donate all of its sales proceeds back to Hickory Hills. From that first interview, our project evolved from a seemingly simple historical documentation to a community-wide volunteer effort that has taken nearly two years to complete.

At first, our research consisted of days spent sifting through old microfiche news articles and photos -- we were overwhelmed. We were uneasy and didn't really know how to proceed.

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