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Nebagamon's DQ may be the oldest in Wisconsin

The Lake Nebagamon Dairy Queen is said to be the oldest DQ in the state of Wisconsin and one lady's craving for hot fudge sundaes is responsible for its establishment overlooking the village's public beach.

Bonnie Nepstad, owner of the Lake Nebagamon DQ since 1996, recounted a visit she had with the original owner, Evelyn Kangas Johnson, who grew up in Lake Nebagamon.

"Evelyn and her husband Eric were living near Chicago area when she became addicted to DQ hot fudge sundaes. In 1950 Evelyn and Eric moved back to Lake Nebagamon to care for her ailing mother." Her mother, Anna Knoll Kangas, was the daughter of Lake Nebagamon pioneers Joseph and Catherine Knoll, who settled in the village in 1898.

"Evelyn missed those hot fudge sundaes so much she and Eric decided to apply for a franchise and build the sweet treats business on their property across the street from the popular Lake Nebagamon public beach and its historic auditorium," Nepstad said.

The new DQ opened for business in the spring of 1952, but its menu was a lot simpler than it is today. In those days the menu included cones, sundaes and milkshakes. The famous DQ hot treats weren't added until many years later.

"Evelyn had a bad knee and she told me she called it her Dilly Bar knee because she had to step back and forth to make that round DQ specialty," Nepstad said. "Even after she went to live at the Middle River Health Facility, Evelyn was still able to keep up with her DQ appetite. It was too difficult to bring her hot fudge sundaes, but friends brought her Buster Bars regularly."

Nepstad bought the DQ in 1996. "I was working for St. Louis County at the time, but I had always wanted my own business and every week I would read for sale ads in the Sunday Duluth Tribune. I never felt I would be able to do it, but one week I saw an ad for the DQ and decided to check it.

I jumped on a motorcycle and went out to see it for myself. I looked it over and fell in love with it. Then I walked down to the beach and people smiled at me!"

Those smiling faces on the beach convinced Nepstad that she wanted to buy the DQ and two days later she made her dream come true.

While the menu has changed at the DQ, the building itself has remained pretty much the same since it opened 57 years ago. When the national DQ organization changed the appearance of its franchisee buildings, it recognized the historic significance of the Lake Nebagamon DQ and decided it should retain its original character.

That was good news to Nepstad and all of the DQ's loyal customers. When Camp Nebagamon for Boys alumnae were asked recently to recall some of their favorite activities at camp, scores of them wrote fondly about their weekly trips to the DQ.

Other visitors who came to Lake Nebagamon for its popular teen dances or to see the annual concert by the Duqesne University Tamburitzans also count on being able to visit the DQ during intermissions. Each year when the Tammies return they head straight for the DQ.

A few years ago, Nepstad decided to buy the Solon Springs DQ. "I had looked at it several times and I liked its location on a busy highway in the business district," she said. During a recent winter vacation in Arizona, Nepstad said she would be heading home to Wisconsin early in March to get both DQs ready for their May openings.

Meanwhile, up north residents wait anxiously for what Evelyn Johnson craved in 1952, hot fudge sundaes and Dilly and Buster bars.