The Secret Behind Big Molly’s
Jun. 08, 2018
Guests enjoyed our ultimate Aikens trivia challenge earlier this spring, but a key question remained about an Aikens mainstay: Who is Big Molly? Many have wondered who Big Molly’s is named after, and so we thought it high time we devote an article to our popular bar’s beloved namesake.
The original Big Molly and legendary character in Aikens history for whom Big Molly’s is named is none other than … drumroll please … Pit’s uncle, Bernie Turenne.
When the Turennes first bought Aikens Lodge, as it was called then, Bernie came to the lodge with two close friends in 1989 to help prepare the camp for the upcoming season. Bernie and his buddies jokingly referred to themselves as the Mollies, after a popular rent-a-maid company in Manitoba that called its cleaners “Molly Maids.”
Bernie, a hefty man, was nicknamed “Big Molly,” to go along with his friends and fellow cleaners “Short Molly” (Rene Pelletier) and “Tall Molly” (Mitch Monnin). To Aikens’ extended family members and all who knew him, Bernie was indeed larger than life.
“My uncle Bernie had something special to him––he was a gem of a man. He knew how to make people feel good, it just felt good to be around him,” said Andrina Turenne, Pit’s sister. “No matter where I’ve gone across the country, if someone had known Bernie, they would recognize my last name, and upon learning I was his niece, share all their memories of him. And what rings true across the board is that he knew how to make people feel important and good, and he was a very loved man.”
He was also a man who knew how to enjoy life and have fun with those around him.
“Bernie had a contagious smile and laughter and was the gentlest of giants,” Andrina said. “I have a memory of us going fishing when I was a teenager, and I’m trying with all my might to push the boat off the skids with him sitting at the back motor to weight it down, just laughing and laughing, waiting for lift off.”
Aikens friend and former staffer, Megan Schwabiuk, also has many fond memories of Bernie and his profound sense of joy. She recalls Bernie was a master on the floor polisher each spring during Molly Week volunteering to prepare Aikens for the upcoming season, and that even while he was working with his “sidekick” Pecker he would be having a ball.
“Who knew that two men could have so much fun together cleaning floors,” Megan said. “They were hilarious to listen to, joking around the whole time ... and those old lodge floors looked brand new once Bernie was done with them!”
Megan has volunteered at Molly Week for 19 years and counting, and over the years enjoyed many an evening with Bernie at the bar.
“I was fortunate to play a lot of crib with Bernie and Gerry and hear about their moose hunting adventures,” said Megan. “He taught me the value of the Bernie Boogie, and it is a strategy we still use to this day. And of course, you could never have too much clamato or too many tomatoes when Bernie was up there.”
Perhaps the Aikens family member who learned the most from Bernie is Pit.
“He was like my second dad,” Pit sad. “He and my dad were tied at the hip, they did all their hunting together, watched sports together. All their knowledge of fishing and hunting was self taught because my grandparents weren’t into the outdoors very much. Once they moved out from my grandparents’ house, they just decided to learn how to hunt and fish by themselves – they had no mentors. It’s amazing how good they became at both just through trial and error and reading a bunch of magazines and books. I learned a lot of what I know about the outdoors from both my dad and Bernie. And if my dad was out-of-town at a sportshow and I had a “dad” question, like how to wire up a ceiling fan, I would call Uncle Bernie. Unfortunately, that specific incident did electrocute me because he was not that experienced in electrical!”
Pit can easily picture Bernie sitting at “his spot” in the corner of the bar, across from the beer taps, which was another of Bernie’s great strategies. “He would just plug away at his crossword puzzle, but could lean right over from his chair without standing up and get more beer whenever his glass got empty,” Pit said, adding that the bar was known as the Master Angler Club Room at the time.
Unfortunately, Bernie was one of the great ones who died far too young, passing away unexpectedly in November of 2004 at age 59. Pit still remembers his parents calling him with the tragic news.
“I was playing a hockey game,” Pit said. “When I got the call after the game in the locker room, I could barely get up and leave the room. I sat there for a long time with a towel over my head. By the time I looked up again, there was only one guy left in the room – he was waiting to drive me to go to the hospital. He knew I had lost my second dad.”
In the months that followed, the family decided to honor one of their favorite family members by naming one of his favorite places after him.
“My other uncle, the Captain, made a sign the following ‘Molly Week’ that said ‘Big Molly’s Place.’ He presented it to my dad at supper one night and told him to place it anywhere he wanted in camp,’” Pit said. “Everyone was joking we should put it in the kitchen, but in the end the whole crew decided it was best to rename the “Master Angler’s Clubroom” to Big Molly’s Bar. So the original plaque is still on the outside of the bar above the door as you enter, and after the bar was renamed, my same uncle carved out the large wood sign you see today above the bar.”
Some days, Pit can still see Bernie sitting there.
“When I think of Bernie, one of the first images I see in my mind is of him sitting in the corner of the bar doing crossword puzzles.”
As for Andrina, when she thinks of Bernie an overwhelming sense of his spirit fills her. And she is grateful for Big Molly’s continued impact on those he loved and those who loved him back.
“For sure Bernie was like a second father to Pit as he was the one my brother would call if he couldn’t reach my dad, or if he thought Bernie might have a better idea. There was a deep trust between them,” Andrina said. “I think both my dad and Bernie had a big impact on Pit. He wouldn’t be who is without the example of those great men, who worked hard, had integrity, and loved their families more than anything.”
In his own humble way––with a constant spirit of fun––Bernie taught many life lessons.
“He taught me it’s OK to take your time,” Andrina said. “And that love is strong.”