Insider's Guide to Spas
The Osthoff Resort


Aspira Spa

Mary Bemis

Sitting on my desk is a small china dish that belonged to my grandmother. The dish, which my grandmother kept on her mantle, was just for display, but I’ve filled it full of soft, soft powdery sand and a beautiful piece of polished jade in the shape of a circle. There’s a small hole in the center of the stone, making it ideal for stringing on a necklace, but I love having it close to me, atop the sand, as an object that not only gives me pleasure to gaze upon, but that brings me back to Lake Elkhart, from which the sand was gathered.

I received the jade stone from Lori McCoy, my therapist at the Aspira Spa at the Osthoff Resort. She gave it to me, along with the sand that she collected from the shores of the lake, after I had experienced the powerful and relaxing Chakra Garden treatment — one of the best spa treatments I’ve had in all my years of spa-ing. It was developed by Lola Roeh, the general manager and the brains behind the spa, who researched the vibrations of plants and herbs that would correspond to each of the seven chakras (points in the body that run in a column from the base of your spine to the top of your head, and that are believed to be centers of life force or vital energy; each has a corresponding color and crystal).

“Surprisingly, some of them are not the colors you’d expect,” notes Lola. “For instance, the hawthorn berry is a big heart chakra herb and plant, and they’re red, while the color associated with the heart chakra is green.” The various plants used in this treatment are bundled in the growing season (the indigenous plants are grown and picked here), and only live plants are used. “We thought about using dry plants, but they don’t exude the right energy,” explains Lola, which is why this treatment is offered seasonally. The bundled plants and herbs represent the particular chakras, and for the most part, correspond with the colors of each chakra. During this body treatment, the bundles are placed atop each chakra point in an effort to balance and create harmony. The massage consists of soothing and light strokes along this energy channel, as well as a bit of Reiki and other energy work. It left me feeling both grounded and oddly exuberant.

The Lake: A Sacred Spot
The Osthoff sits on the shores of Lake Elkhart, named, as you may have already guessed, from its shape: that of an elk’s heart. Centuries ago, this was home to three indigenous tribes: the Potawatomi, the Ojibwa, and the Menominee. They lived peacefully together around the lake, for it was a place of abundance, and there was enough of everything for everybody.

There’s a story that Lola shared with me about a conch shell ritual that takes place on the shores of the lake. Today, and for as long as anyone in the town can remember, it has been a summertime tradition to blow a conch shell at sunset. But nobody knows where this tradition comes from. Lola tells me the story of the giant, 17-pound conch shell that was discovered in the late 1880s in an ancient Native burial mound at the nearby Henschel Site. “There’s a lot of speculation about how that conch shell got here, but it was truly considered sacred, as it was placed in the center of the burial mound. The tradition of blowing the conch shell must have originated from a Native ritual, but there are a lot of people around the lake who don’t know the history behind it. When I hear it, I’m taken back into that time, long ago. I can almost feel what it may have felt like to live then, and how that was part of life on this lake.”

A Little Bit of History
A man named Otto Osthoff opened the resort in 1886. He lived and worked in Milwaukee —and he had a wife who had become ill. At the behest of his doctor, he brought his wife to Lake Elkhart, a town with a reputation for healing. And guess what: His wife became well. It was then he decided to move to Lake Elkhart and build the hotel. The community had a reputation for being a place to heal, and it had the necessary elements: fresh, clean air and the pristine waters of the lake. (This water is actually at the heart of the spa’s Sacred Water massage. The therapists go to the lake to gather water and give thanks. The lake water is then put into deerskin pouches and placed along the chakras during the massage.)

Aspira never changed course — it didn’t need to, it just kept doing what it had all along — delivering authentic wellness experiences.

The spa didn’t open until 2005. “We really wanted the whole philosophy behind it to be that of a place of healing, that is it’s mission, and we really do mean it,” enthuses Lola, who has picked up an impressive number of prestigious awards since its opening. “The beauty of the recession is that it got rid of all of the superficial junk [in spas]. That’s when people started to see spa go from something extra-luxurious to a holistic experience that everyone needed.” Aspira never changed course — it didn’t need to, it just kept doing what it had all along — delivering authentic wellness experiences.

A Visit to Henschel’s Indian Museum
During my stay, Lola took me to meet Gary Henschel, author of Prehistoric Tools, Points & Arrowheads (2006, Henschel’s Indian Museum). I spent hours in his museum, which is chockfull of Indian artifacts — bone tools, copper implements, pottery, and much more. He gave me a fascinating and wonderful glimpse into the area’s Native history and roots. Gary, a member of the Wisconsin Archaeological Society and the Central States Archaeological Society, is directly descended from the first Henschel homesteader who settled in Sheboygan County in 1849. In fact, it was his great-great grandfather Herman who, when plowing over a large hill in the late 1880s, broke through the earth and into the Native burial mound mentioned above. The family’s land has been proof of 10,000 years of human occupation, and several archaeological digs have taken place over the years. Gary’s prehistoric artifacts are one of the most complete in all the state.

I had a hard time leaving the museum; I was completely mesmerized by his knowledge and his family’s stories. But we had a lot of other ground to cover. Soon, Lola and I were on a great bumpy ride through the surrounding hills, where Gary gave us a history lesson about the land and its original inhabitants.

Perhaps it’s because I live on sacred Native land in Southern Oregon, or perhaps it’s because I have a personal sensitivity to the history of Native Americans — whatever the reason, I felt the spirit of the past at every turn during my stay at the Osthoff and during my time spent at Aspira.

Mary Bemis

Mary Bemis

Mary Bemis is editorial director of She is an award-winning spa journalist, honored with Folio's Top Women in Media Award, and the distinguished ISPA Dedicated Contributor Award. In 1997, she launched American Spa magazine, and in 2007, Mary co-founded Organic Spa magazine. A pioneer in the sustainable spa and beauty worlds, Mary is co-curator of Cosmoprof North America's Discover Green Pavilion. She sits on the board of Wellness Warrior, is a Global Wellness Day Advisor and a co-founder of the Washington Spa Alliance.