A 'Grand' celebration
Courtesy photo/Grand Hotel R.D. Musser Jr. (left) and Dan Musser III (right) gather with former Michigan governors, (from left) John Engler, William Milliken and James Blanchard during the recent celebration of the Grand Hotel's 125th anniversary on Mackinac Island. (Courtesy photo/Grand Hotel / July 23, 2012)
At first glance, it looked like one of the Grand Hotel's summer dining room events until you saw several large tables below its massive picture windows overlooking its geranium filled front porch and gardens.
There sat 34 years of Michigan leadership from 1969-2003 -- former Michigan governors William Milliken, James Blanchard and John Engler, as well former attorney general Frank Kelley, who had served them all -- being entertained by the Grand Hotel's Musser family. Gov. Rick Snyder proclaimed the week of July 8-14 as "Grand Hotel Week" in recognition of the hotel's 125th anniversary on July 10.
"So much has changed, but here it remains with its larger than life porch," remarked Lt. Gov. Brian Calley after hearing the Michigan governor reminisce about Mackinac Island's Grand Dame being lauded by those who loved her.
"Thank you for a place that families can call home from time to time."
The 385-room Grand Hotel, with its endless front porch perched overlooking breathtaking views of the Mackinac Straits, celebrated 125 years of operation and is no stranger to these kinds of events. The Grand Hotel has hosted U.S. presidents, as well as world, national and state leaders meeting to explore issues and develop solutions on this vehicle-free, 4 square mile island near the Mackinac Bridge.
The 125th Anniversary Governor's Saturday Gala was the capstone of a special weekend celebration with the VIP dinner guest list reading like a "Who's Who" in Michigan's business, industry and politics. In attendance was everyone from Detroit industrialist and philanthropist Richard Manoogian and Blue Cross Blue Shield President and CEO Dan Loepp to Mackinac Park Commission Chairman and Lansing lobbyist Dennis Cawthorne to Detroit Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Sandy K. Baruah, as well as many current and past members of Congress and the Michigan Legislature. Also recognized was Marlee Brown Musser, wife of Dan Musser III and a well-known Michigan artist, who painted the anniversary picture of the Grand Hotel gardens used to commemorate the event. She is the granddaughter of the late U.S. Senator Prentice Brown, who spearheaded the drive to convince the Legislature that building a suspension bridge (Mackinac Bridge) was possible.
Dan and Marlee Musser reside in Petoskey. Marlee is a Petoskey High School graduate and at one time owned and operated an art gallery in Harbor Springs. She is the daughter of Paul and Meg Brown, former Petoskey residents.
After the second of two evening cocktail receptions on the hotel's west porch, guests were treated to a six-course meal with a main entree of Michigan beef medallion and herb Mackinac whitefish along with the famous Grand Hotel pecan ball for desert. Each course was served on covered silver platters with waitstaff holding them above their heads as they marched in to the music of University of Michigan's fight song, "Hail to the Victors!" and Michigan State's and Norte Dame's fight songs.
Rolling out the red carpet and pampering special guests is nothing new for hotel chairman R.D. "Dan" Musser and his family, who purchased the Grand Hotel from his uncle, William Stewart Woodfield, in 1979. Different for the Mussers was them being honored and taking center stage including a standing-room only convention theater to watch Detroit's WJR's Paul W. Smith interview them for a 90-minute question and answer session for the first time in family history. The interview revealed how R.D. Musser and now his son personally review the hotel guest list every morning to make sure everyone's needs are met, including that their room is not the same from previous visits. No two hotel rooms are alike and are individually decorated by New York's Carleton Varney, one of America's best-known interior designers, who is associated with the restoration and decoration of countless hotels and resorts all over the world. The audience also learned the Grand Hotel replaces its red carpeted front steps every season.
When asked about the hotel's secret for success, R.D. Musser suggested it was having clean rooms with functioning bathrooms, good food and smiling guests. His son, Dan III, added Conrad Hilton's last words of wisdom for the world when on his deathbed in 1979, "Remember to tuck the shower curtain inside the bathtub." R.D. Musser, who first joined the hotel staff in 1951 and was appointed Grand Hotel president in 1960, said his uncle never forced him to work at the hotel, but said he would support him in any endeavor he chose.
"I appreciate and I admire him so much getting the hotel through the World War and the 1930s," he said.
His son became hotel president at age 26 in 1989 and recalled his first job raking golf course sand traps at age 8 or 9 for 75 cents an hour and has since worked every hotel job, except the stables.
Both Mussers credited their staff of 600 willing to work for only six months a year at the seasonal hotel that opens May 1 and closes Oct. 31, for their success. Some 125 employees have worked for the hotel for more than 10 years.
The Grand Hotel takes center stage for Michigan political conversations beginning late May with the Detroit Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference continuing through the summer hosting many state associations ranging from the Michigan Prosecutors and Bankers Association to the Michigan Press Association, as well as many private business and industry conferences.
There are probably more politicians spending time on Mackinac Island in the summer than in Lansing, where the only trouble they can cause is eating too much fudge.
Ken Winter, former editor and publisher of the Petoskey News-Review and member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, teaches political science and journalism at North Central Michigan College in Petoskey and Michigan State University.