Member Spotlight: Justin and Katie Herman of Giant Goose Ranch and ‘Lake Life’

By Mike Miller

Oct 01

Justin Herman Family pic

By Jaclyn Lewis

Justin Herman, heavy equipment operator and handyman, polishes diamonds in the rough.

Only his gems aren’t actual stones. Rather, Justin and his four brothers, the core of Herman Brothers Lake and Land Management, take rugged, undeveloped land, and optimize it for fishing, hunting, camping, and enjoying God’s creation. They also invest their efforts in people.

As fourth generation builders, the Hermans’ specialty is crafting “the unique.”

For example, on their DIY Network TV build show Lake Life, the Herman Brothers built an enclosed ice fishing dock and sunbathing patio in the shape of a volcano. The floating “cave” was a gift for the Herman brothers’ parents, and is fitted with solar power to operate lights, heating and cooling systems, and a big screen TV. “We come up with the crazy,” says Justin.

At first, the Herman Brothers mainly helped other landowners optimize use of their properties. Now, the Hermans have expanded their business to developing their own property—Giant Goose Ranch, in Canton, Illinois—and watching God spread the good news of the Gospel in the process.

Giant Goose Ranch is an 828-acre campground with 52 named lakes and ponds, and custom-built cabins with all the comforts of home, including private lake docks. The rescued horses, free-range chickens, hobby farm, and events for Ranch members, like outdoor movie nights and Saturday morning breakfasts, create a haven for those “who want to escape the city hustle and bustle, and have a place to come sit and relax.”

But life on the Ranch hasn’t always been so relaxing. “When we bought this place in 2013,” says Justin, “it was pretty rough.”

The Ranch had been a campground since the 1950s, and it was abandoned a decade ago by campground management. Herman Brothers had to remove 35 semi loads of trash from the property. There were few roads and lots of underbrush and poison ivy.

Justin and his brothers were able to clean up the land and establish new rules and regulations. Soon, friends and extended family were requesting lots and cabins, even before any infrastructure existed.

“Now we have the power, water, and electric to them all,” says Justin, “We’re going to pave the roads next year and develop more lots. If they’re enjoying it right now, and we’re in just the infant stages of this business, it’s exciting to know the future holds so much potential and that they’re going to enjoy it that much more.” Lots are filling up fast, and plans are under way for a big lodge at the Ranch entrance, with a restaurant, workout rooms, banquet centers, and a walkout to the nearby lake.

As they continue to work on land renovations, Justin sees God working on hearts, including his own.

In his role as general Goose Ranch overseer, he deals in every kind of work: office, sales, moving dirt, installing utilities, and conducting meetings. He works with employees, some of whom are ex-convicts or others who employers are slow to hire. He also interacts with Ranch residents and members as he drives throughout the property, working on renovations.

“I went from driving machinery all day long, and working kind of by myself on different projects throughout Illinois, to now being in charge of 250 people and a campground,” says Justin. “I had to learn how to be a people person really quickly, because I definitely wasn’t.”

While it might be simpler to treat people with a “just business” attitude, Justin says that “we’re called to be more than a business. We’re called to spread His Gospel.”

Justin says this call to Gospel ministry through overseeing the Ranch has ultimately showed him how to give true love to God’s people.

“We had a lady whose husband died, and it was her first time coming back to their lot. Her husband was the kind of guy who would feed the ducks in the dead of winter. He loved it out here, and they were out here all the time. One day I was driving by, and she was standing in her yard, just bawling. And I thought, ‘Oh, what do I do?’ … but God was just like, ‘You need to go show her love.’”

“So I jumped off the skidsteer, ran over there, gave her a big hug and told her that we’re praying for her, and anything she needs, we’re going take care of her. … I can see God working in my life, refining me, teaching me how to love His people, and that’s been a challenge for me, because I’m not that way. It’s been really good to watch God through all of this.”

Justin and his family also have the unique opportunity to share the Gospel through Lake Life, which features the Herman Brothers and their families coming together to build fantastic structures in different locations. It’s both an incredible blessing, and a trial God is using to refine the Herman family.

“Definitely the TV show is putting a big glass window right to your heart,” says Justin, “You bring out a lot of ugly in your lives. … That’s God’s way of refining you and getting it out of you. It’s been exciting to see Him work through our family this way, and how it’s brought our family closer on a whole new level. We all love each other, we get along great, but this is taking that to a whole other, deeper level.”

Justin also has the special benefit of getting to work with his wife, Katie, on the Ranch, and enjoy spending time with their kids, Crosby and Scarlett, during the weekdays.

“I’m out here a lot,” Justin says, “So what’s really exciting, is my wife loves it out here. She runs a lot of the activities and events. She helps with the store, keeping it stocked. Two to three times a week they’ll come out here and be setting up stuff.

“It’s been really cool to watch our whole family growing through this,” says Justin, whose son, Crosby, takes great joy in the Goose Ranch playground and riding tractors with Daddy.

“As we’re growing, this is growing,” says Justin, “I’m excited for my son’s future out here. I flash back to when I was his age. If I had an opportunity like this, that would’ve been so cool. So I’m excited for him and what God’s going to do for his life and the opportunities he’ll have out here. We’ll have all the heavy lifting done for him, and then they can be real creative with it all.”

As Justin and his family, the Herman family, and the Herman Brothers look to the future, “We’re excited to see what God’s going to do with it. We have a lot of really fun ideas, with different family camps and ministry opportunities, and we’re just excited to see where God will take it.”