Eagle Lake — Tim Carpenter always wished he could fish for a living.
“My mother and father always said that, even at two years old, they could fill up a bucket of water, put a stool there, and put a little cane pole in my hand, and I’d sit there all day hoping to catch a fish,” joked Carpenter.
The road to fulfill Carpenter’s dream was littered with a few puddles and some detours.
“I told my dad early in life that I wanted to coach during the school year and run cottages during the summer,” recalled Carpenter. “I worked hard toward that, but my life took a slightly different direction. They weren’t paying teachers much more than $6,500 when I graduated. I knew I’d never make enough money to buy cottages, and figured I’d better look into something else.”
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Carpenter’s family moved to Michigan, West Virginia and Kentucky following his dad’s successful retail career before Carpenter returned to Columbus to attend Ohio State University. After college graduation, Carpenter dabbled in retail, but found his niche working for Reader’s Digest’s fundraising subsidiary, QSP.
“I worked there for nearly 30 years,” said Carpenter. “I was a professional organizer and motivator and sold Reader’s Digest products to help schools raise money through magazine and gift sales.”
After working in Alabama and Florida, Carpenter chose to live in Mississippi, settling in Florence, where he also raised Labrador retrievers. He kept his business dream alive by building relationships with customers who enjoyed hunting and fishing.
“We’d load up the boat with grills and tables and gumbo and all kinds of drinks and I’d treat them,” he explained. “After a while, it got to be more than a treat. People would want to pay me a little bit to take them hunting and fishing, and it evolved nicely to where I wanted it to go. I kept this vision of these cabins and outfitting business in the back of my mind, and I kept building on experience so that when I left Reader’s Digest, I could better meet my clients’ needs.”
In 1999, Carpenter and his wife, Melinda, bought property at Eagle Lake with a five-year plan to retire, “to build a bridge to a new career,” he said. Now the Carpenters own and operate Eagle Lake Lodge & Outfitters, located on Eagle Bend, the north side of Eagle Lake, 17.3 miles from U.S. 61 North.
“It’s a place dedicated to hunting, fishing and experiencing Mississippi-and to the simple things in life we often overlook,” he said.
Sportsmen agree. The lodge, which accommodates 30, stays busy during hunting seasons. Revenues have doubled every year since 1999, and Carpenter projects 2005 revenues will double last year’s.
Corporate business has grown rapidly, with groups routinely shelling out $1,500 to $2,000 for a weekend adventure. Not long ago, State Farm Insurance Company executives took over the lodge for three nights. “We’re so encouraged that we’re putting our energy into building a conference center,” said Carpenter.
A typical stay during duck season begins with a 16-ounce ribeye upon arrival, take-out breakfast for the morning hunt and soup-and-sandwich upon return to the lodge. “We don’t have crystal glasses and white tablecloths, but we also don’t meet you at the gas station and ask you to stay in a motel,” said Carpenter. “We offer a middle-of-the-road experience, great guides that care about people and enjoy being outdoors. We don’t have a three-night minimum. You can stay for just one night, that is, if you can drag yourself away from the food. We have great home cooking by a local lady who really knows how to make fried chicken, turnip greens and banana pudding from scratch. It’s some good cookin’.”
Carpenter is also fond of taking guests to Lo-Sto, so named because local folks have referred to it as “the low store below the levee” since it was established in the 1940s. Owned by Johnny Rollins, Carpenter’s friend and a guide, the nightspot is known for its blues music and Delta ambience.
The business opportunity also allowed Carpenter to fulfill another lifelong dream. He has a taxidermy studio featuring a collection of waterfowl.
“The killings or catchings are fine with me, but sharing experiences with people of like minds brings me a lot of satisfaction, especially around a fire pit,” he said. “It’s a great life here at Eagle Lake.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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