In a Disney-like moment in the mid-1950s, Bob Emery looked at a plot of seemingly unusable swampland in rural Summit County and envisioned a family-friendly recreation area with a lake at its center.
Legendary filmmaker Walt Disney had a similar experience in the 1960s, when he began purchasing Florida swampland on which to build his Disney World resort.
Bob and his wife, Darlene, bought the swampy property in the Norton area and transformed it into what would become known as Loyal Oak Lake Park.
“His vision was to make a lake out of it— a place where people could come to swim, picnic, play baseball and bring the family,” said Bob’s son Jack.
Bob, who died July 1, 2010, at age 78, dug out an area that became the lake and drained the adjacent land.
He placed water slides and diving platforms of different heights on the spring-fed lake to suit park visitors of various ages and levels of skill.
Teeter-totters, swings and other playground equipment on the surrounding land kept youngsters occupied. Friday night dances for teenagers and parties of all sorts took place in the park’s social hall.
Partygoers of all ages enjoyed the tennis, horseshoe and basketball courts, arcade games, ping-pong tables and the baseball field. The park also featured batting and golf-driving cages, where visitors could hone their sports skills.
Bob and Darlene provided grills in the wooded picnic area where families could cook their meals.
The Emerys ran the park 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, but some folks erected tents or brought camper trailers for overnight or longer stays.
“At one time, we had 1,000 members,” Darlene said.
The park became so popular and its operation ran so smoothly that by its 20th anniversary, Bob was ready to try something new. He discussed taking on a second business with Phil Baker, a fellow member of the Beach & Pool Operators of America.
“He was a personable fellow and was just a good guy,” Baker said. “We were both of us in the recreation business. We went out to dinner one night, and he said maybe we could look to buy a golf course.”
The two men became co-owners of the Oak Knolls Golf Club in Kent in 1976.
Bob and Darlene continued operating Loyal Oak Lake Park until they sold it in the fall of 1985. That December, they bought the long-neglected Ridge Top Golf Course in Montville Township and began working their magic on it.
The Emerys renovated the clubhouse, installed indoor restrooms and built a pavilion. They revamped the course, installed asphalt cart paths and made other improvements.
During his 15 years of operating the Medina County golf course, Bob continued running the golf club in Kent.
For several years in the 1960s and ’70s, he spent the off-seasons selling real estate to support his family.
“He was such a busy person,” Darlene said. “He was always upbeat. He looked forward— to going to work.”
Bob, who was born Robert L.
Emery on Feb. 17, 1932, began working at an early age on the family farm in Copley Township with his 15 siblings. He was the 12th-born of 16.
“We did have a cow that he did milk,” said his sister Mary Pyles. “But other than that, we all planted vegetables. When he got a little older, he drove the tractor a bit.”
All work and no play? Hardly.
“He was ornery at times,” his sister said. “When we would be picking strawberries and we would get hit by one, we knew it was Bob, but he kept his head down and kept picking.
“We had to make our own fun. There were so many kids.”
While attending Copley High School in the late 1940s, Bob started working weekends at a grocery store that his older brothers opened in Copley. He went to a school in Toledo to learn the meat-cutting trade.
Bob also played trumpet in band, played basketball and began dating Darlene Brenner, a Copley cheerleader who was two years behind him in school.
After Bob graduated in 1950, he took a few classes at Akron University and had a short stint in the Navy. He married Darlene on Aug. 17, 1952, a couple of months after her graduation. “When we got married, he came and worked at my family’s business— Brenner’s Market,” Darlene said.
The couple had four children: Denise, Jack, Sandra and Robert Jr., who died in 2007.
Bob Sr., who belonged to Northside Christian Church, Copley Kiwanis and Wadsworth Lions, annually attended conventions of the Beach & Pool Operators and holiday gatherings of the Emery clan.
“Our family would get together on Christmas Eve, usually at one of our older brothers’ place,” his sister said.
As the family grew larger with spouses and children, Bob and Darlene hosted the events at the Loyal Oak Lake Park social hall.
“They made a great couple,” Bob’s sister said. “They were fun to be around.”
Alana Baranick can be reached at email@example.com or at (440) 731-8340.