by Ting Joven-Giovanelli
November 1, 2011
Life is full of surprises. It’s like opening presents on a Christmas day – you never know what you’re going to get. Some will take your breath away, and some will make you grope for words to say.
Indeed, an early September adventure to Woodhaven Lakes Resorts in Sublette, Illinois took our breath away. When David Belbis, a friend and a business associate, graciously invited us to camp in Woodhaven, our expectations were quite mixed. The one and only time I went camping in my entire life was when I was a Girl Scout in grade school in a small village known as Katidtuan, a small barrio of Kabacan, North Cotabato in the southern part of the Philippines. It was where we were taught how to build fire , cook our own food, and sleep in open air, staring at the stars in the sky. That is my memory of camping.
David picked the perfect day for an adventure. The sun was out with its early September breeze. Our three car convoy drove through cornfields and breath taking sights of windmills along the way. I have never seen so many windmills in one place. This is what I have missed in life – the country side.
Woodhaven Lakes is the perfect “get away from it all” place – a true commune with nature without sacrificing the comfort of your own home. It is the world’s largest privately owned camping resort. It was established in 1971 as a gated, member-only campground, and is comprised of 1,756 acres of woodlands, seven man-made lakes and over 15 miles of hiking trails. Among the amenities are two swimming pools, a tennis court, a nine-hole golf course, a beach, and a Pavilion for dancing with live bands during summers. It is open year round with full schedule of activities for kids and adults.
As it turned out, all the nature around us was just the “icing of the cake”. After wandering all over the place, David surprised us by introducing us to his neighbors – I mean, a whole village of the most wonderful Filipinos we have never met before (except for Mila de Guzman) – all part time residents of Woodhaven. It was his neighbor, Bal Cena’s birthday that day and before the night was over, you think we have known these Filipinos all our lives. Just like any other Filipino gatherings, food and laughter was plenty. We fit right in. My husband Ben and me, Mabel Estabillo and her two kids, and Rachel Pamintuan, all fell in love with Windhaven Lakes Resorts, not only because of its natural beauty, but because of all the wonderful people we met. Ben and I also had the opportunity to have coffee with long time Woodhaven resident and “Godfather to all”, 88 year old Len Koeling. A very interesting man indeed. I enjoyed talking to him. At his age, he still reads a lot of books and loves to paint. He gave me one of his paintings that I admired. I wish I get another chance to sit down and have coffee with him again.
We know in our hearts that saying goodbye the following day to all the wonderful Filipinos of Woodhaven was temporary. Deep in our hearts, we know we will be back. Our sincere gratitude to our host David Belbis for bringing us there. To Val and Marilyn Cena of Franklin Park, thank you for allowing us to crash your birthday party and eating a lot of your food. To Bernie Santa Ana of Plainfield, (a pioneer resident of Woodhaven – 37 years) for inviting Ben and me to sleep in your place – and introducing us to Len. To Len Koeling, thank you for the morning coffee and of course, for the beautiful painting. To all the people we met, thank you for being so nice in welcoming us to your beautiful haven.