To say that Ansis “Paka” Vilcins is a “regular” at Lake Carlos State Park would be a grand understatement.
Paka first brought his family to the park, located north of Alexandria on Lake Carlos, in the 1960s. Since then he has returned almost every year the first week in August for a week of camping.
Over the years, the trees at the campgrounds have grown from seedlings to towering hardwoods. And his family has also grown with four generations joining him the first week of August.
This is all a great story all by itself. But there is more… Paka recently celebrated his 100th birthday…
“Many, many, many birthdays,” said Paka.
And there’s more. He still sleeps in a tent.
“He was sleeping on the ground until he was 90,” said Ausma Reul, one of Paka’s two daughters. “He now sleeps in a cot.”
Paka doesn’t get around as well as he once did and needs some help getting in and out of his tent, but they have a system for that.
“I zip him in every night,” said Reul. “And if the flap is down, he is sleeping. If it is up, he is awake.”
Paka has only used two tents over his years of camping. The current tent is 25+ years old.
“It is an antique,” said Reul.
As refugees from Latvia, Paka and his wife, Tika, started camping as an easy and affordable option. The two traveled to all 50 states over the years since coming to America in the 1950s. Their love for camping developed quickly for the couple, and they shared that love with their family, who in turn passed down that love to their children.
“And we all sleep in tents,” said Reul, pointing around to the six campsites reserved for the week. “It’s our family reunion. We have gone to other parks before, but this really is the nicest and most efficiently run park.”
One big draw for Paka has been the lake. Since the campground is located right on Lake Carlos, he likes to find a nice lawn chair by the lake, visit with family, listen to the wildlife and watch the kids, grandkids and great-grandchildren play.
“The lake is beautiful, and the kids love it,” said Reul.
Besides the lake, another love for Paka is sweets. And he had a lot of sweets at the park this year as he celebrated his 100th birthday with a large amount of birthday cake.
“He just loves sweets,” said Reul. “He once asked his doctor about eating too many sweets in fear of getting diabetes. The doctor told him at his age he should eat whatever he pleases… and he does.”
Paka was born on March 17, 1913, in Latvia.
Paka’s wife, Tika was a phy ed teacher who liked to keep her family and other interested campers active.
“She would get the whole group doing exercises,” said Reul. “I was often embarrassed. She was always the outgoing and social one and Paka was always the quiet and mellow one.”
Tika died about 11 years ago on Aug. 14, 2002.
Christina Woodside, a grandchild of the two, and the one who gave them the nicknames, said she cherishes her time with the family at Lake Carlos State Park each year. She also loves to see Paka having so much fun.
“He loves it,” said Woodside. “He just loves it. He loves all the fuss and the excitement of the birthday, too.”
The birthday party was attended by nearly all his family, fellow campers, members of the DNR and state park staff and friends in the area. He was even visited by one couple who brought their dog, a boxer. The couple sang and the boxer howled “Happy Birthday” to Paka.
The birthday party was held at one of the family’s campsite and it was actually Paka’s third birthday party. He lives half the year in Fargo, N.D., with one daughter and half the year in Roan Mountain, Tennessee, with another daughter, Rita Vilcins. He has already had birthdays in both Fargo and Tennessee.