The Splash: Do famous residents really live on Green Lake?


A secluded home on the shores of Green Lake is one that lake tour guides jokingly tell unsuspecting journalists belongs to such luminaries as Oprah Winfrey. Maic D’Agostino photo

by Maic D’Agostino

I’m not much of a boat person.

I know that horrifies some people in Green Laker country, but it’s true, and I’m not proud of it.

I’ve had a couple chances recently to ride on Green Lake’s waters, most recently at the official inaugural launch of Pierless Boat Rentals’ new tour boat, the J. Lawson.

I wasn’t expecting to take a pleasure cruise that sunny Thursday afternoon.

I’d driven around Green Lake that morning, desperately following stories and failing to achieve my goals.

I met a friend for lunch in Berlin, then high-tailed it down to the Green Lake Conference Center to catch the ribbon cutting for the new boat, owned by Thom and Gennie Lemmenes.

Truth is, I got there late. I took too long eating my tostada, and by the time I showed up the ribbon had been cut and the champagne bottle popped.

Green Lake Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Liane Walsh gave me the hard news.

But, she said, I could join the group gathered to celebrate the occasion and ride around the lake.

Perks of the job, I guess.

Gennie was affable and welcoming as I boarded her boat and took my place on one of its cushioned seats.

But she got me good.

I’m not saying it was karma, but it was karma.

As I looked out at the gorgeous Green Lake scenery — I’d never sailed Big Green before! — I lazily snapped a few pictures and waved to fellow boaters.

We passed many beautiful homes, but Gennie pointed out one particularly large one, mostly hidden behind trees.

“That’s Oprah’s house,” she said.

“Really?!” I said, and snapped a quick picture.

Sure, said Gennie, with an impeccable poker face.

Wow, I thought; I’ll have to follow up in that.

A few days later, I called Thom under the pretense of learning more about his boat.

Quickly, however, I steered the conversation to Gennie’s revelation.

“She pointed out the house and said, ‘That’s Oprah’s house,’ and I was kinda like, ‘Whaaat?’ So I was just curious how she knew about that,” I said to Thom.

“That is probably not Oprah’s house,” he informed me. “That is probably just creative storytelling.”

As my heart sank, I thought to myself, I majored in creative writing; I should have known better.

Thom gently explained to me that it’s a long-time running joke with boat tours to make up rumors about famous people and their alleged homes on the lake.

For some reason, he said favorites seem to be Oprah and actor Tom Hanks.

“There’s nobody quite as famous as Oprah living on the lake,” Thom said. “And the people that are, I don’t know that they’d want too much publicity about them being around. This is kind of a retreat for them to come here and not be mobbed by people.”

But there is at least one rumor of celebrity sightings that appears to be true, he told me:

Actor and well-known Chicagoan Bill Murray.

Murray has visited the area in the past, golfing and patronizing local taverns, according to Thom.

So there you have it: If someone in Green Lake swears to you that they saw Bill Murray strolling the links of Tuscumbia Country Club or sipping a beer at Reilly’s Pub, there may be more to their story than mistaken identity.

(Although, this could explain the Hanks rumors, as a fan photo that recently made the rounds of the Internet went viral when users were confused as to whether the celebrity pictured was Hanks or Murray.)

At least, if Thom is slightly less mischievous than his wife.

Wait … did I get suckered again??

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