Wolverines continue their journey in historic Idlewild

IDLEWILD, Mich. — When I first learned the Michigan football team would be traveling to Idlewild as part of its tour around the state, my first thought was, ‘Where on earth is Idlewild?’

more appropriately, what is Idlewild? As the Wolverines learned on Sunday, it’s a small community about an hour south of Traverse City, about 45 minutes east of Ludington. It has several lakes, most notably Lake Idlewild, which is calm and clear and has attractive beaches. Williams Island, located in that lake, houses a building known as the Flamingo Club.

The Flamingo Club is one of many indications that Idlewild today isn’t what it once was. Its exterior appears mundane, but inside you’ll find walls decorated with painted flamingos and an inviting dance floor. Some 40 members of the Michigan football team spent their Sunday afternoons restoring it back toward its glory days.

In the early- to mid-1900s, Idlewild was known across the midwest as “Black Eden.” It was a resort town and especially popular among Black people during an era when racial segregation limited vacation options.

“Idlewild was a historically black community,” explains Barbara McGregory, township clerk. “It came about because blacks couldn’t go to different areas. They had the money to go, but they really weren’t welcome.”

Idlewild was an “entertainment mecca,” McGregory said, and the Flamingo Club was one of its most popular venues.

Today, fewer than 1,000 people call Idlewild home. When the Michigan football team visits, it’s a big deal. Their buses crowd narrow streets, and their faces are new ones in a community where everyone knows everyone else.

The program first approached community leaders in early July with an offer to help beautify the Flamingo Club and other local landmarks. The township board unanimously approved their visit and welcomed them on Sunday with open arms and a hot meal. Then the Wolverines got to work — and this was no photo op. Over several hours, the team scraped, painted, gardened, shoveled and made noticeable improvements in just one afternoon.

McGregory hopes Idlewild will someday become a more popular tourism destination, as the community has a remarkable history to accompany its natural attractions. On Sunday, she was delighted that the Michigan football team was helping Idlewild tell its story.

“There’s a lot of people — especially a lot of younger people — that don’t know [about Idlewild],” McGregory said. “It meant so much to be able to see the Flamingo restored until we have a plan for what we want to do for it long-term. To be able to ride on Williams Island and see something that is pretty, flowers around it, the murals — it’s wonderful. I’m so excited.”

Below are some observations from Sunday:

  • The day began at Mac Wood’s Dune Rides, where several players lost hats and sunglasses as they caught air time during the scenic trip. Like the beach day in Muskegon, this was another opportunity for coaches to spend quality time with their families before fall camp.
  • After hundreds of fans met the team in Muskegon, Sunday was a decidedly more private day. Mac Wood’s Dune Rides were closed to the public while Michigan was there, and Idlewild was isolated from hordes of fans.
  • The day finished with Dinner at Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club. This was also closed to the public (and to media).
  • Most of the Michigan freshmen will return to Ann Arbor on Sunday night. The remaining players will continue their trip in northern Michigan on Monday.
  • We will attend player-led practices on Monday morning if they are held.

Stay tuned to The Michigan Insider for more stories from interviews with players and coaches. Thanks for reading!

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