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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. 

Lydia Sanchez, Engineering

"Family away from home"

Lydia Sanchez’s role has evolved during her 25 years at Grand Geneva. A true testament to all the positions you can have at the resort, she was originally hired as a dishwasher in stewarding and spent time bussing tables in Grand Café before becoming a housekeeping inspector and office supervisor. In 2001, she found her forever home in the engineering department where she does prevention maintenance in guest rooms.

“I care about the people I work with,” she says. “Most days you see your coworkers more than you see your own family most days. They are my family away from home.”

After moving to Lake Geneva from Milwaukee, Lydia met her husband and started a family in the lakeside community. When she needed more flexible hours to be with her kids, Grand Geneva worked with her to accommodate a better work-life balance.

“Before we had the technology in housekeeping, I would write out by hand daily boards as to whom was cleaning what rooms,” she recalls. Now she carries a radio and iPad with her to efficiently track work requests and send updates to the team.

Lydia learned everything she knows on the job. “The team is always willing to teach me, from the chief engineer and carpenters to painters and plumbers.” Lydia didn’t speak English when she started and now she’s a go-to translator on property. She knows work can be hard but it can be done. Her track record of helping in every department from HR to banquets sets the standards high for every associate who aspires to have a long, successful career at Grand Geneva like her.

Change Me

Bob Vyskocil, Engineering

"It's so much more than a hotel"

If you have enjoyed the two million holiday lights at the resort, you have Bob Vyskocil and the engineering team to thank. Bob initially started working at Grand Geneva to help set up the first Christmas in the Country. Every year since, he helps screw in thousands of light bulbs so visitors can enjoy the festive holiday spirit along Grand Geneva Way.

“The first-year response was undeniable,” Bob remembers. Cars still line up down the front drive full of families gazing at the decorations. The displays continue growing every year.

Bob has worked in the engineering department since the Marcus Family created this Christmas tradition for guests and local community members for years to come. And it’s never a problem staying busy the rest of the year. “With more people, we needed more room,” Bob says, describing where he has help remodel spaces into offices since the opening of the resort. He’s been involved with nearly every renovation project, including the recent renovations in meeting spaces and board rooms.

Bob loves keeping busy and the resort has no shortage of carpentry projects. A trained mechanic, Bob hates the idea of doing the same thing on repeat. Luckily, Grand Geneva is full of different improvement projects. “I’m not nailing the same board every day and that’s what I love about my job.”

“There were only six associates in the engineering department when I first started,” Bob said. “Now there are more than 20  who keep the resort in tip-top shape.”

Bob’s favorite part about working at Grand Geneva is the beauty of the resort. “When you think of a hotel, you see a parking lot and building,” he said. “But here it’s so much more than that here.”

geneva chophouse servers

"views are still spectacular"

The view from Geneva ChopHouse is unbeatable. You get lost looking out on the 18th green of The Brute, fountains jetting out of the water amongst a forest of trees continuing to grow with the resort. A team of associates has served at Grand Geneva since opening in 1994 and they all gaze fondly at the view, feeding their soul as they feed our guests. 

Candice Wiendenhoeft

“This is the best place to work in Walworth County and it has been since it opened 25 years ago,” said Candice. “It’s the largest employer with the best quality product, plus there are lots of opportunities to grow.”

Candice started as banquet captain and has worked in all three main restaurants at the resort. Geneva ChopHouse is her favorite because “steaks and seafood are my kind of food!” She is still flattered when returning guests ask for her service. Patrons she’s served in banquets now dine in ChopHouse and remember her over the years.

“The most exciting part of my job is being able to meet and serve celebrities, dignitaries, even U.S. Presidents,” said Candice. “It’s been my biggest honor.”

Juan Huerta

Juan started working one of the most important jobs at the resort known as coffee breaks. He was part of the banquet set up team who brewed coffee before the sunrise, making sure the coffee stations for meetings, events and suites were ready for guests before they arrive.

“I’ve done more coffee breaks than you can count,” Juan said. “Making a good first impression with hot coffee is so important because it starts the day on the right foot.”

Juan moved to Geneva ChopHouse after many years in banquets, recruited by his fellow 25-year associate, Candice. They have worked their entire careers together.

“I love doing my job because everything I need to succeed is provided,” said Juan. “Management makes sure we have all of the tools we need to provide the best service for our guests. And since we’re busy year-round, I see hundreds of people happy every day – it’s the best feeling!"

Darlene Slupianowski

“It doesn’t feel like 25 years!” Darlene says, thinking back how long she has served in the restaurants at Grand Geneva. “If you love where you work and the people you work with, the nights go fast.”

Darlene started as a server in Ristorante Brissago for 10 years and then moved to Geneva ChopHouse for the last 15 years. She jokes she “needed a change of view.”

She keeps working because she adores her caring customers. Both local residents and vacationers return after 25 years. Whether it’s a date night or special celebration, diners enjoy the view, seasonal menu and Darlene’s service.

“I’m eager to hit my 25-year anniversary so I can get the unlimited Marcus movies,” she said. “But I’ll probably fall asleep during the film these days!” 

Angela Slaght-Mogensen

Angela has spent her entire Grand Geneva career in Geneva ChopHouse. She a perfectionist at polishing wine glasses, shining silverware and all the other details that go into preparing the restaurant for exceptional dinner service.

“I’m passionate about passing down our tradition of Four Diamond service,” Angela says. “I’m not going anywhere, so I learn new things from the new servers who join our family at ChopHouse.”

Back when the restaurant was known as the Newport Grill, Angela remembers stocking matchbooks for the smoking section by the kitchen. Transforming with the alfresco dining trend, outdoor patio seating was introduced and has become the most popular feature.

“This view never gets old,” she says. “Covered in snow or sunshine, it’s lovely.”  

We often hear guests who loved their experience at the resort restaurants. Paired with exceptional culinary creations, these top servers who have stayed with us for the last 25 years are the main attraction. We look forward to the next 25 years! 

Nina Wilson, Banquet Captain

"Full of opportunities"

Nina Wilson (pronounced “Nine-a”) was destined for a career in hospitality since she was old enough to work. She has the adaptable temperament to thrive in the banquet department at Grand Geneva and has been a member of the team since August 1994.

Nina started as a hostess at Grand Café, one of the resort’s popular restaurants. Bustling morning, noon and night, Grand Café has been a hot spot since day one for meeting friends, business lunches and family dinners 7 days a week.

“Grand Café was busy nonstop,” Nina said. The restaurant is one of the first things you spot when you walk in the door of the Main Lodge. “It’s one of the most challenging restaurants to work in due to the nonstop flow of guests and that’s what I liked about it.”

Nina also supervised in-room dining and Newport Grill, eventually renamed Geneva ChopHouse. She fondly remembers how much fun she had working with servers and chefs. One of her regular diners even named their baby after her because of her unique name!

“We would hand write letters to our guests after their meals,” Nina recalls. “It was such a memorable touch and built a loyal local crowd.”

For the last 10 years, Nina became responsible for banquet billing, making sure each and every group function has accurate accounting. From coffee breaks to extravagant weddings, her eagle eyes capture covers, service charges and labor costs. She keeps the banquet team moving smoothly as they strive to provide each group with Four Diamond service.

“I like new challenges, otherwise you get bored,” Nina said. “Grand Geneva is full of opportunities for individuals interested in a career in hospitality.”

Kathy Rex, Food & Beverage

"We've always been the best - it's all I know"

Due to her wealth of knowledge, Kathy Rex is one of the most reliable sources of information on campus. If you have a question, she can find the answer. A living catalog for everything from menus to furniture over the last 25 years, Kathy calls Grand Geneva Resort & Spa home. She started serving in the restaurants in 1994 and became the administrative assistant in the food and beverage department 15 years ago.

Kathy is familiar with the countless updates and investments made at the resort since it opened! Difficult to decipher the differences between then and now, Kathy remembers the consistent and luxurious evolution of our Four Diamond resort. “We’ve always been the best and changes are always for the better.”

“I do anything that comes my way,” Kathy says. “That’s key to a successful career in the hospitality industry.” Eager to help, Kathy is the biggest advocate for going above and beyond your daily duties.

Coworkers fondly call Kathy “the momma bear of F&B.” She knows where things go and who to find. Kathy seeks involvement in all levels of the resort and the team is happy to have her help make events and services better every year.

“Discover your work family,” Kathy recommends to new associates. “Find coworkers who support you and make this your home together.”

Kathy eats lunch every day with the same person, her counterpart in events, Arlene Zilske. After 25 years, these two are part of the woodwork at Grand Geneva. 

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.”

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.”