Rustic charms: precious but fading on Waupaca’s Chain O’ Lakes

signLet me tell you about my long weekend at Camp David. It is closer to home than you’d expect, on Waupaca County’s lovely Chain O’ Lakes.

Camp David is a well-worn and frozen-in-time property that survives, for now, in a neighborhood of million-dollar homes. You’ll find wasp nests, TVs that don’t work, a knob missing on the gas stove, a bed that creaks with nearly every toss and turn. Boat rides, breezes and fans – not central air – are what ease the swelter.

What adds charm and value? Windows and a porch face a lake so calm that it looks like glass in early morning. Puttering pontoons and motorboats abuzz with skiers don’t emerge until hours later.

Precious is the history, perhaps the longest legacy any family has on these lakeshores and dating to 1922. Three simple buildings, one a post-war prefabricated housing unit, still stand with flower boxes full.

Tender is the sentiment. Easy to find are paintings and family photos of simpler times. Add a much-used leather chair and work desk. Wooden duck decoys, letters worth saving, musty reference books.

Left unspoken, it seems, is a strong desire to not forget the people who most loved spending time here.

What eventually led me to Camp David was a hunt through a jungle of online hype, only to discover – again and again – cottages that required a one-week stay and payment higher than a monthly mortgage. Other rental listings included no rates, and asking for answers was no guarantee of getting them.

I found roughly 40 waterfront rentals – meager, considering these 22 interconnected and spring-fed lakes have 20-plus miles of shoreline. I came close to giving up on the area, tired of trying to crack the code for reasonable lodging and sensing little opportunity for spontaneity or short stays.

Then came this discovery: “Rustic cottage on quiet road,” “large lot with 120 ft. of lake frontage,” available for a three-night stay when I needed it.

“Rustic” means no working television, radio or Internet access. “If you’re there, you should be outside,” rationalizes Dave Sebora, who owns the property with sisters Nora Sebora and Peggy San Felippo.

The framed law and doctorate degrees earned by their father, the late Calumet County Circuit Judge David H. Sebora, hang on walls of “the bar,” a converted garage where the judge at an older age worked, entertained and painted as a way to relieve stress.

“He would have liked to study art, but it wasn’t practical during the Depression,” Dave says.

Judge Sebora was raised in Stevens Point, battled polio as a boy and relied on crutches for 65 years. When his grandparents built a cottage one lake away from Camp David, so he could exercise more easily, he took to the water for a lifetime and eventually bought 25 acres where his own children would learn to share his passion for the Chain O’ Lakes.

Now property taxes are more than what Judge Sebora built an A-frame for in the 1960s. That cottage, no longer owned by the family, is on the market today for about $400,000.

“We were surrounded by woods and had frontage on two lakes,” Dave says, to describe his childhood summers. “We’d wait two or three days for electricity to return after a storm,” and having a big boat meant owning one with a 35 horsepower motor.

“Our beach was more of a community space for picnics and cookouts,” he explains, “and we’d race go-karts on a gravel road.”

Dave acknowledges the property hasn’t changed much since his father died 11 years ago. It is rented so often that relatives barely enjoy it anymore.

“We’ll get squeezed out,” he believes, because neighboring developments mean higher taxes, and “someday we’ll get to the point where we decide to sell. I don’t know when, but we’ll hate to see it go.”

Until then, modest Camp David remains a gem for travelers with an appreciation for connection more than entertainment. The property sleeps up to six people, rents for $165 per night and a three-night minimum stay is required. Bring your own linens, and learn more at

A state Department of Natural Resources report describes Waupaca’s Chain O’ Lakes as unusual and ecologically significant because they are “very deep in comparison with their surface area.” Parts of six-acre Manomin Lake, for example, are 30 feet deep.

Only slow, no-wake boating is allowed on all but four (Rainbow, Round, Columbia and Long) of the 22 lakes. Some of the smaller lakes are only accessible by kayak or canoe.

Upcoming Waupaca County events include an annual pig roast, Sept. 28 at The Wheelhouse Restaurant, E1209 Hwy. Q; and Chain O’ Lakes Blues Festival, Oct. 4-5 at Indian Crossing Casino, E1171 Hwy. Q.

To learn more about the area:, and 888-417-4040.