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25th Birthday Stories
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Read more about the last 25 years at Grand Geneva

25th Birthday Stories

Read a collection of stories from Grand Geneva associates and guests about 25 successful years of the resort and what it means to them. Click here to share your own memories. 

John Ray, BAnquet Server

"When you love your job, you never work a day in your life"

John Ray is a People Pleaser through and through. His friendly demeanor exemplifies the Midwest hospitality Grand Geneva hones. After 25 years as a banquet server, John Ray has seen it all, serving everyone from dignitaries and music stars to presidents and CEOs.

Days before opening in May 1994, John Ray was hired as a banquet set up assistant but the first thing he remembers doing was landscaping. It was all-hands-on-deck making sure everything was perfect for opening day. Everyone’s willingness to help roll sod and plant flowers at the entrance is one reason why the banquet team still has five associates, including John Ray, who’ve worked at the resort since day one. In an industry with expected turn-over, their longevity is unheard of.

John Ray knew he wanted to work in hospitality while growing up in Milwaukee. He’d observe the grandiose service at The Pfister and wanted to make that magic happen. He is still passionate about creating a memorable experience for every guest he encounters.

John Ray’s mantra is: “When you love your job, you never work a day in your life.”

A key staple in the banquet department, John Ray is just as much a part of the resort as the original chandelier hanging in the lobby. He remembers when they installed the deer antler centerpiece before opening in 1994. “We’re sitting on 1,300-acres of Wisconsin countryside where you don’t expect to see many crystal chandeliers,” John Ray said. “The antlers fit the rustic atmosphere we’ve created with our natural surroundings.”

John Ray has installed light bulbs for Christmas in the Country, lent a hand with loss prevention, delivered food to rooms and washed dishes. He’s willing to pitch in wherever help is needed. His ever presence is the reason why many guests remember his smiling face years after he’s served them at a wedding or cleared their table at an event.

“People will forget what you said or what you did, but they’ll never forget the way you made them feel.”

Newspaper Headline from 1994
Airplane at Grand Geneva Airport in 1994
Construction at Grand Geneva in 1994
Grand Geneva's Entrance in 1994

Events team since 1994

"talk of the town"

The days of carbon copies, electric typewriters, pagers and bulky fax machines are long gone, much to the relief of the events associates who’ve worked at Grand Geneva since it opened in 1994. While technology has changed, the polite etiquette and hardworking attitude is still at the core of the events team.

Jerry Fenner was one of the four original associates who worked with groups to make their events successful when the resort opened 25 years ago. Marcus Hotels and Resorts added 12,000-square-feet of function space with a Conference Center, expanding the options for ballrooms and boardrooms. The resort quickly built a reputation for being a premier meeting destination.

With his attention to detail, Jerry reminiscences all the places where departments and offices have moved through the years. And since no two events are the same, he is just as passionate about being an events manager as the day he started. 

“I helped plan many events that became the talk of the town,” Jerry said.

Kristi Johnson moved from her hometown in Minnesota to work at Grand Geneva in 1994. She was initially hired at a Marcus hotel in Minneapolis and quickly came to help train the banquets team at the new resort.

“It was the busiest place I’ve ever seen,” she said about the banquets and restaurants. Instead of online scheduling systems, Kristi remembers the giant Hodges and Irvine function diaries. She helped dig them up from storage to show pages of penciled-in event names, chronicling the first few years before the resort went digital. Jerry and Kristi can easily spot their handwriting amongst the scribbles.

Kristi helped hire key banquet associates who have been part of the Grand Geneva team for 25 years. She quickly became an events manager when the opportunity presented itself and it’s been her home ever since. 

Arlene Zilske has been the backbone of the events team since it first opened in 1994. The office construction wasn’t even finished on her first day. She would hand-write event details and banquet event orders, manually updating boards with the day’s events. Arlene remembers stuffing envelopes with surveys to mail out. Much of her work became quicker and easier as technology developed.

“I’d page managers when they were out of the office,” Arlene recalls. “The convenience of emails and cell phones didn’t exist.” Texting has made a big difference in the way the events team communicates.

After 25 years of working together, Jerry, Kristi and Arlene are like family. They’ve been together since neck ties, nylons and closed-toed shoes were the required dress code. 

“We’ve watched each other have babies and now their babies are having babies,” Kristi said. “People stay at their jobs because of the people they work with – and we have a great team here!”

Andrew Kozelou, GroundsKeeper

"Championship Course deserves the best after 25 years!"

One of the first people to hit the golf greens every morning, Andrew (Andy) Kozelou is a master mower. He starts his shift at 5am, the same time as when he started working on the grounds maintenance team back in 1981. Andy loves working outdoors – anyone in his position must when you spend the bulk of the day, every day outside.

“I’ve covered almost every square inch of this place throughout my years,” Andy said thinking about how much he travels around the property.

Andy is at home on The Highlands golf course. Originally called the Briar Patch, Grand Geneva renovated the course in 1994. Andy was an integral part of the team that made the transition to a more playable golf course. He used to walk mow the greens when it first opened, “no riding mowers back then.” Mowing performance and industrial design make it much easier these days.

Andy learned with a lean team and now he’s the leader teaching the next generation of interns and associates how to tend to the course. Mowing the lawn, repairing irrigation systems and keeping away pests – the grounds team is always moving. Calm and collected, Andy has taught hundreds of associates over the years.

“I love teaching people how to take pride in their work,” said Andy. “I want them to be confident and care about what they’re doing. Our championship golf courses deserve the best after 25 years!”

Practice makes perfect is his mantra and he’s mowed The Highlands so many times, he can practically do it in his sleep. The technology of the equipment has advanced in the last 25 years, making it easier and more efficient to mow. Andy remembers using his first electric mower – “I was happier than heck!” Not many people have a passion for lawn perfection after 25 years like Andy.

If you spot someone riding the lawn mower on The Highlands, there’s a good chance it’s Andy – be sure to wave “hi!”

Dave Hallenbeck, Director of Golf

"Marcus family truly had a vision"

Dave Hallenbeck didn’t know he found his lifelong career when he picked up a part-time job working at the resort as a seasonal lifeguard to help pay for college in 1973. After working his way up as golf professional at the resort, teaching lessons and rubbing shoulders with celebrities, today Dave is the Director of Golf at Grand Geneva Resort & Spa.

Dave was the associate honored to give Ben, Steve and Greg Marcus the tour that sold them on the property. He knew there was something special about the Marcus family “because they showed such a passion for this place.” Dave was actually the first person who heard the board of directors made the decision to purchase the resort because he was working late that evening.

“They understood what this property could be before they even signed on the dotted line,” Dave says. “They truly had a vision for it. And they successfully turned it into the Four Diamond resort you see today.”

Dave helped work with Bob Cupp on renovating the Briar Patch into The Highlands the first year Grand Geneva opened. He also helped Bob Lowman change a few holes on The Brute, both while staying open to drive business and grow the loyalty of our golfers.

The humble winner of the Ben Marcus Humanitarian Award, Dave helped fundraise millions of dollars during his career at the resort – his proudest achievement. Several golf tournaments continue to plan their charity fundraisers at Grand Geneva after more than 25 years. Dave has sat on so many committees and boards, he can’t even count them all. His passion for philanthropy found a home in a company whose mission is “People Pleasing People.”

Extremely thankful for the 25 years he’s worked for Marcus, Dave is beyond proud of the championship reputation our golf courses maintain. Beautiful from day one and even better now!

Debbie Booth, Payroll Manager

"Feels like coming home"

As the payroll manager, Debbie Booth handles every associate paycheck at Grand Geneva Resort & Spa – EVER. She has been with Grand Geneva since day one (and even a few years before then). When Debbie started working at the resort, she would type everything on a typewriter and collect punch cards at the time clocks. Technology has advanced over the years but she’s still one of the most beloved associates at Grand Geneva.

“There’s always been this sense of family and camaraderie at the resort,” Debbie reflects. “People really care about each other here.”  

Debbie can’t even imagine how many names have come across her desk. “There’s a lot.” When Grand Geneva opened in 1994, they hired 800 people who joined Debbie at the Grand Opening party at WELL Spa + Salon. She remembers the many chairs set up in the giant indoor tennis courts and watching the Badger High School Marching Band perform. The sense of excitement was contagious! 

Debbie has watched Grand Geneva grow over the last 25 years. Its impact in the regional community keeps maturing. Every time a new addition was made to the property, first Holiday Inn and Club Vacation and then Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark, she helps onboard every associate – and she remembers nearly everyone from the paperwork passed her way.

“It feels like I’m coming home when I drive to work every day,” says Debbie. “This is my other family and I’ve made lifelong friends here.” She describes the sense of friendship she feels amongst her colleagues as “the hospitality effect.”

Whether you’re here now or looking for the right position, Grand Geneva is a great place to start a lifelong career in hospitality.

Tim Kayser, Area director of revenue

"Exciting time"

Tim Kayser was one of the first people you’d see when checking in on the day Grand Geneva Resort & Spa opened in 1994. He was the front office manager and also the sole IT supporter since he had his own computer, making him “more technologically advanced than other people” at the time. Kayser remembers carrying couches through the lobby the night before opening to make sure every detail was perfect.

“Marcus had just gone public on the big board during the renovation,” Kayser recalls. “It was an exciting time to be part of the company – and it still is today.”

During Kayser’s tenure on property, he went from working security after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to property night manager, up to the rooms division and finally to Area Director of Revenue, his title today. After 25 years, plus more from his time at the property prior to it becoming Grand Geneva, Kayser is still passionate about working at the best resort in Lake Geneva.

“When you’ve worked here as long as I have, you see generations of associates working together for the same purpose,” Kayser said. “Today I’m working with the kids of parents I used to work with when I started.”

Kayser’s journey is truly full circle since his teenage children started working as ski instructors at The Mountain Top. A lifelong resident of Walworth County with a heart for hospitality, Kayser’s legacy helps elevate Lake Geneva to be one of the best vacation destinations in the country. 

Shelly Clapp, 25+ year grand geneva associate

"25 years later - still the best!"

A proud member of the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa 25-Year Club, Shelly Clapp always participates in the special activities honoring the longevity of the company’s associates. Her tenure at Grand Geneva supersedes the hotel’s era by a few years. She was part of the original team who helped open Grand Geneva in 1994.

“I started working at the resort because I lived so close,” Clapp said. “I needed to ride my bike or walk to work and it was less than 5 minutes away.”

Clapp has done a little bit of everything. She worked in housekeeping, room service and as a cashier and server at golf and ski before moving from operations to accounting, where she has worked for the past 22 years. Clapp remembers when the Grand Café used to be called Annie’s Country Kitchen and Lobby Lounge was an indoor pool.

“Geneva ChopHouse was always a steakhouse, but it was called Newport Grill when it first opened in 1994,” Clapp said. “25 years later and we’re still serving the finest steaks in southeast Wisconsin.”

When Marcus purchased the property in 1993, it took one year to restore, renovate and enhance the entire main lodge, creating 355 comfortable guestrooms and suites, corporate event space, restaurants and a large, inviting lobby. Clapp remembers how transformational the renovation was, breathing life back into 1,300 acres of beautiful Wisconsin countryside.

“Everything is bigger and better after 25 years,” Clapp remarks. “From Christmas in the Country to Independence Day, our traditional annual events keep growing every year.”