The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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December 3, 2007

Krohn column: A country boy came calling

Ben Martell still runs into many who remember the 40-year phenomena of his family’s Holiday House dinner club on the banks of the Minnesota River outside of St. Peter.

But it’s been some two decades since it served as the place to go for company parties, special dinners for prom dates, anniversaries and numerous wedding parties.

Fewer people remember the dinner club’s and the family’s place in local history for one particular wedding party.

In 1966 a young musician named John Duetschendorf was playing the college circuit with The Mitchell Trio and made a stop at Gustavus in St. Peter. After the show, Duetschendorf met college student Annie Martell.

The two were married in the First Lutheran Church in St. Peter on June 9, 1967, with the reception at the Holiday House.

A couple of years later, Duetschendorf would change his name to John Denver and set out on a solo career that would immortalize him — and Annie Martell, for whom he wrote his No. 1 hit, “Annie’s Song.”

Ben, Annie and two sisters grew up working and playing in the Holiday House, owned by their parents Jim and Norma Martell.

“When my father came out of the service he worked with my grandparents who ran Martell’s Cafe in Le Sueur,” said Ben. A few years later they scouted for land to build a small dinner club and settled on an inexpensive piece of land off Highway 22 along the river and across the street from a junkyard.

“Everybody said they were crazy building next to a junkyard, but they said it made it look like their parking lot was always full,” said Ben, who lives in Le Sueur.

The little cottage-like dinner club, looking out over the river and dedicated to quality food and service, was an instant hit.

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