Our family’s roots in Coldsprings Township, Kalkaska, Michigan began to grow in the early 1900’s when Tuden Southwell and his son, Grover, rode a train north from Saugatuck, Michigan in search of employment in the lumber camps. After a few good years working in the forests, Tuden’s ultimate dream was realized when he purchased 120 acres of land from a lumber company and built a small homestead. Life was hard, but sweet. Having received a portion of his father’s land as a gift, Grover soon joined his father on the homestead. He worked hard to establish a farm and raise a family through some of the toughest decades our country has faced. One thing that never changed for Grover, though, was his passion for the forest.
That passion for the forest was passed on to Grover's middle son, Rex, who eventually raised his own family across the road from his parents. While Rex earned his living as a welder, he treasured his time in the forest, especially when it was spent with his sons. During the years when his children were young, Rex began tapping enough trees to provide maple syrup for his growing family. Recalling those years with fondness, Rex’s sons have memories of pulling sap-filled milk cans through the forest on sleds. Over time, the kids grew. They mostly moved away. The need for syrup faded. One son, Del, who shared his father’s passion for the forest and deep connection to the land, chose to stay in Kalkaska County and raise his own family just a few miles from where he grew up. Del and his wife, Gayle, continued the family tradition of making maple syrup with their children as they grew.
Although his career took Del across the country and around the world, his heart remained firmly planted in the land of his home. Following in the footsteps of the generations before them, some of Del’s own sons chose to live nearby and raise their families within just a short distance of Tuden’s original homestead. Happily remembering the years of maple syrup making from his youth, Del decided to carry on the family tradition of syrup making with his grandchildren. Over the next ten years the number of grandchildren would grow and the family would amass countless fond memories of making syrup together on their homemade evaporator. Sharing his father’s love for the forest, Del could think of few better ways to spend an evening than in the forest collecting sap with his family. The syrup was good. The memories were better.
As Del neared retirement from his career, he saw maple syrup production as an opportunity for many of his grandchildren to build a strong work ethic, learn about business, and possibly earn a little money for college. The dream of Southwell Sugar Shack had begun. In 2015 that dream became a reality as Del built the sugar shack, installed new equipment, and ran tubing over a twenty-acre section of family land. As to be expected, that first year held a steep learning curve for the family as they transitioned from hobby syrup making to a commercial level. Staying true to his original vision, however, Del carefully involved his grandchildren in as many aspects of the operation as possible.
Today, those grandchildren continue to build strong work ethics as they participate in the many aspects of Southwell Sugar Shack. Whether splitting, hauling, and stacking wood during the summer months, tapping trees, walking the lines checking for leaks during syrup season, or playing with new recipes in the kitchen, the grandkids are often found working on projects around the sugar shack. It is a dream come true. Del’s love of God, family, and maple syrup production have met their perfect match at Southwell Sugar Shack.