Emberly Leitz’s Journey to Create a Sanctuary to Bring People Together on the Lake
By Marla DeFoe
As Emberly Lietz sat alone on Christmas evening 2020, she pushed the “publish” button on the Facebook Business Page for The Lake House Retreat. After months of renovations, sweat, and tears, she was ready to share her dream with the world. “As I sat at the kitchen table, I was getting notifications every few minutes – another ‘like’,” Emberly recalled. “I called my sisters, so excited. In the first hours, we had over fifty ‘likes’ on our page. It became real.”
The dream of “The Lake House Retreat” began in 2018, when she attended a scrapbooking girls’ weekend with her cousin, Laura Joy, in Denton, Minnesota. “I went into the weekend not knowing anyone,” Emberly said. “By the end of the weekend, like magic, lifetime friendships were formed.”
Two years later, in November 2020, the home adjacent to her sister on Cameron Lake in Erskine, Minnesota was available to purchase. Emberly took it as a sign. “I called my sister and told her I was going to purchase the home and renovate it into a retreat house. It was a tumultuous time in my life, and I felt that this was a project that I wanted to take on, to find respite,” Emberly said.
The Lake House Retreat has a long history. The house was built in 1954. It served as the Sisters of St. Joseph’s Convent, located in Red Lake Falls, Minnesota. It was moved to Cameron Lake by previous owners twenty-five years ago. One of the things that Emberly loved most about the home was the original craftsmanship in the interior. “Every room has a story,” Emberly said. “I really wanted to make a cozy retreat full of the most modern conveniences, but still retain its historical charm.” All the bedrooms are former classrooms, and you can even see the sign that says “Classroom 2” in one of the rooms.
The Lake House Retreat is 3,000 square feet with 150 feet of lake shore, including a private dock. There are 5-7 bedrooms, which sleep up to 10 people, and 2.5 baths. The retreat home also includes a reading nook, living room, large kitchen and dining room on the main level, and a large recreation/crafting room on the second level. The home has a large lakefront deck with seating and beautiful lake views. There is also a private fire pit.
When Emberly purchased the home in 2020, there were many renovations that needed to be made before her dream of a retreat home could be realized. The home was only seasonal, the plumbing and wiring needed to be upgraded, a boiler heating system installed, and a fresh coat of paint was needed in every room. That’s where she turned to family and friends. “This was a huge project,” Emberly said. “The house made me be vulnerable. I had to learn to ask for, and accept help. There is no way I could have done this alone.”
For four months, Emberly spent every spare minute at The Lake House Retreat. She works full time as the Director of Development at CVIC. She is also the mother of four children: Derrek, Aaron, Ella and Brynn. She recalled, “There were many times I doubted myself. Could I do this?” Her friends and family stepped in to help her with so many projects. “When I talk about the retreat, you will hear me say ‘we’ more than I,” Emberly says. “So many people were such an integral part of the renovations, that part of this home belongs to all of them.”
Emberly’s sisters, Brandy Chaffee and Peggy Raddatz, were a huge part of the renovation process. “Handy” Brandy spent every weekend at the house, even when Emberly could not be there. “She became a master at cutting 45 degree angles,” Emberly laughs. “My sisters and I spent many hours painting, sanding, staining.” Her parents were also a big help, giving a hand with everything from removing copper pipes to painting.
In March of 2021, The Lake House Retreat was ready to host its first guests. A scrapbooking group out of Hankinson, North Dakota travelled to Lake Cameron for a fun weekend of crafts, laughter and bonding. Since the first guests arrived, the house has hosted over 200 people, most who have never been to Erskine before. “We have had guests from all over the country, including Texas, New York and Oregon. I am so grateful to be giving back to the community of Erskine. These guests are supporting this small community.” Emberly is proud to help be a part of revitalizing the town and helping it grow.
Since its first guests, The Lake House Retreat has hosted a multitude of events, including family reunions, girls’ weekends, scrapbooking, quilting and crafter retreats. It has also hosted class reunions, wedding parties, writing and wellness retreats. “That’s the thing that makes this house special. It brings people together, new relationships form, and old relationships are made stronger,” she said. “I am proud to provide a space for people to ‘retreat.’ We all need to let go sometimes – to be better for ourselves, our families, our friends, our jobs.”
The peaceful tranquility of Cameron Lake provides that respite. The small lake is not a recreational lake, so there aren’t many boats that pass by. It is perfect for swimming, canoeing, and kayaking. “One of my favorite spots at The Lake House is at the end of the dock,” Emberly said. “I spend most mornings there with a cup of tea, watching the sun rise. It’s so quiet.”
The interior of the house is filled with sentimental items that have been in Emberly’s family for generations. Her goal is to make each guest feel like they are the first people to ever stay at the house. Guests are greeted with a unique welcome basket filled with items specifically chosen by Emberly. Her sister Peggy, owner of PJ’s Baking, provides custom cookies which are included in each welcome basket. “I have never made two baskets that are the same. If there are young children, I put children’s books in the basket. If they are a group of women who love wine, I include a bottle.”
It’s all part of what makes a visit to The Lake House Retreat unique and special. Guests each find a spot that connects with them. For many, it’s the seating area in front of the glass doors. The different themed bedrooms provide a special connection for many of the guests as well. One of the bedrooms, labeled the “Joy Room,” holds a very special place for Emberly. Brandy and Peggy, along with Emberly’s children, worked in secret on the room, revealing it to her during a special Facebook Live video. The room was named after Emberly’s cousin, Laura Joy, who inspired her to start this adventure. Laura Joy passed away unexpectedly a few years ago, so this room has special meaning to Emberly and her family.
In the end, Emberly is grateful for all the support she has received as she opened The Lake House Retreat. “This experience has been so humbling,” she said. “I learned that I can’t do it all alone. But why would I want to? We all have whole communities that are willing to help us, we just need to ask. Putting yourself out there, taking that risk, is transformational. I have so much to be grateful for.” G
// To view the full story, check out the digital issue here
From Issue 1, 2021
PHOTOS by Dimensions Photography, Loveleigh Moments Photography, and Emberly Lietz