- Associated Press - Sunday, April 27, 2014

SALMON LAKE, Mont. (AP) - Just before 10 a.m. on a weekday morning, Jim Teafoe eased the boat from the docks and set his direction across the channel. With the ice off the lake, he guided the craft to a small island claiming a very large house, one that hasn’t been used since the closing days of fall.

On this day, work to prepare the Montana Island Lodge on Sourdough Island for the arrival of the season’s first guests is in full swing. A maintenance team added batteries to the power blinds, replaced the boards in the floating docks and gave the 18,000 square-foot building an upsized version of a spring cleaning.

“There’s so much to do,” said Jane Fisher, standing in the building’s expansive sitting room. “Our first guests are coming in on Tuesday, and we need to get everything ready for their arrival.”

The work facing Fisher and her part-time crew, including Teafoe, is monumental, though it’s nothing new. As the property’s general manager, Fisher has operated the lodge on behalf of the University of Montana for 18 years, playing host to weddings, pajama parties and Los Angeles television producers looking to surprise their wives on notable birthdays.

But last year, Fisher gave UM notice of her intent to retire, lending new significance to this year’s spring cleaning. With her departure looming, the university opted to place the property on the real estate market for an asking price of roughly $6.5 million.

It goes up for sale this week, listed by Clearwater Montana Properties in Seeley Lake and Cabela's Trophy Properties.

“I’ve got groups booked this summer, but I’ve also got a 90-day clause in the real estate agreement,” Fisher told the Missoulian (http://bit.ly/PHUVep). “We’ll adjust our decisions as we go. All my guest groups know we’re up for sale.”

Mike Reid, vice president of administration and finance at UM, said Fisher’s retirement as general manager gave the university an opportunity to evaluate its options moving forward.

The property’s title is held by the UM Foundation, though the lodge is operated by the university. The school considered keeping the lake retreat as a guest lodge and conference center, just as it has done for the past 18 years. But Reid said doing so didn’t fit the university’s educational mission.

“It came down to asking where we needed to focus our energy,” Reid said. “If we kept it, we’d need to start looking at making long-term improvements to the facility and updating things. Given the timeliness of (Fisher‘s) retirement, we thought we’d look at divesting it.”

Scientist and businessman Bruce Vorhauer resisted public opposition in 1984 when he began building the home on Sourdough Island, an arid nub of land rising above the waters of Salmon Lake.

Vorhauer was 43 at the time and had made a fortune manufacturing the popular Today contraceptive sponge. By all accounts, he was a rising star in the business world and something of a cultural icon, prompting him to launch a bid for the U.S. Senate in 1989 as a Republican candidate.

Yet Vorhauer’s upward trajectory would change directions by the end of the decade, and rapidly so. The problems first surfaced when Vince and Joan Wright filed a lawsuit against the millionaire for the wrongful death of their daughter and his fiancee, Sarah, who died in 1984 when Vorhauer lost control of his car while returning to Salmon Lake.

The lawsuit was settled in 1990, just as Vorhauer’s bid for the Senate failed. It left his campaign $300,000 in debt - including a $137,000 loan he owed to a Seeley Lake bank.

Facing a mountain of financial and personal hardships, Vorhauer “accidentally” burned his 85-foot yacht in Seattle in 1991. He’d bought the craft from Dennis Washington, but had fallen behind on the payments and was unable to sell it. The insurance company suspected Vorhauer of arson and refused to pay the $1.3 million claim.

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