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PROGRESS 2019: Creating a draw

Matthias put Hillman on the map with Thunder Bay Resort

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Thunder Bay Resort owner Jack Matthias sits near the fireplace at the cabin where the horse-drawn carriages bring guests for the resort’s dinner and wine-tasting.

HILLMAN — One can’t drive through Hillman without seeing a project that hasn’t, in one way or another, been influenced by longtime resident and businessman Jack Matthias.

MediLodge of Hillman, the Industrial Park, and Hillman Community Center all were projects he had a hand in bringing to fruition — either through his involvement on the Village Council, the village Planning Commission, or his personal business ventures.

Yet, he is reluctant to take any credit for those accomplishments.

“I do want to say that everything that’s happened here has involved the efforts of a lot of people, so I don’t want to take credit for them,” he said.

Matthias moved to Hillman in 1965. Shortly thereafter, he decided to open a nine-hole golf course, now known as Thunder Bay Resort. Matthias soon became involved with the village and wanted to help when the village was ordered by state officials to create a sewer system.

Creating the new sewer system was extremely expensive, Matthias said, and the village did not have the resources to fund the project on its own. He said officials turned to grants and economic development opportunities so the project could pay for itself. They also needed to create more housing and opportunities for people to use the water and sewer system.

“At one point, there were more jobs in the village of Hillman than there were citizens,” he said. “We were drawing people in from a number of communities, whereas, earlier, a lot of our people would have to go somewhere else to work, and a number of them still do.”

BUILDING A RESORT

Matthias is most well-known for owning Thunder Bay Resort, which now offers an 18-hole golf course and resort in the summer and is renowned for its horse-drawn carriage rides and elk-viewing in the fall and winter months.

It started as that nine-hole course, but Matthias saw an opportunity in guests’ repeated questions.

Because Michigan’s wild elk herd edged into Hillman, Matthias would occasionally have guests ask where they could view the elk.

“We always sent them off with a couple of county maps, and, usually, folks would come back with a very dusty car and were not successful in finding any wild elk,” he said. “So, when we thought about what we could do to bring folks back in the wintertime, we thought maybe we could convince those folks to come back and take part in the elk-viewing and carriage rides, or sleigh rides, and gourmet dinners and wine tasting.”

Matthias said the resort has offered elk-viewing for 29 years. The first seven years involved the wild elk herd, but, when tuberculosis in the deer herd became a concern, he created an 160-acre elk preserve.

He said the elk-viewing and carriage rides received national recognition, with both USA Today and Fox News counting them among the 10 best sleigh rides in the country. Recently, Destinations Magazine said Matthias’ resort was among the top attractions in North America.

“That was kind of nice to hear, and that publicity should certainly help us bring people to Hillman,” he said.

Matthias said the resort does about 60 sleigh rides a year and draws people from 16 to 18 states and provinces to Hillman. Matthias said he loves guiding the rides and estimates he has guided 3,500 in the last 28 years.

“You would think it gets old and boring,” he said. “It does not. I hate to miss one. I rarely miss one, and it’s just fun for me to show people these remarkable animals.”

THE AMERICAN DREAM

Matthias was raised a first-generation American in the Detroit suburbs of Berkley, Birmingham, and Bloomington Hills to parents Hans and Gertrude Matthias. His parents immigrated from Germany.

Matthias graduated from the University of Michigan in 1965 and earned a business administration degree. Matthias said he worked for Ford Motor Co. for a year, but ultimately decided he “wasn’t a corporate-type person.”

Matthias’ family had a hunting camp northeast of Atlanta and he decided to move to Hillman in 1965.

Matthias met his late wife, Jan, in Hillman, and they each had two children from previous marriages.

He is currently serving his second term as a board member for Hillman Community Schools, where he is a proponent for the district purchasing a new propane bus-fueling system and six propane school buses, which he says will pay for themselves.

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.

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