The Abbey's ambassador speaks from the heart
FONTANA The Abbey Resort might just have found the perfect ambassador in Beverlee Bartz Conrad.
Her affection for the iconic complex on Geneva Lake only keeps growing half a century after she began working there.
"I love the hotel," 91-year-old Beverlee said. "I have loved it since I watched the pilings put down."
Fifty years ago this month, she started as a waitress at the resort when it opened its doors to host some of the world's biggest names in politics, sports and entertainment. Twelve presidents and vice presidents, legendary Packer Bart Starr and singer-songwriter Dave Matthews are among those who have walked across the A-frame threshold.
"We were not supposed to introduce ourselves to any of the celebrities," Beverlee recalls. "Many gave generous tips. I had a knack for getting tips, but I did not really expect them."
Today, Beverlee continues to impress guests with her-eager-to-please attitude, emphasis on hospitality and awareness of the resort's history.
"They call me if a V.I.P. group is coming," she explains. "I tell the group all about the hotel and the area."
Beverlee will be on hand to greet guests Friday when the resort celebrates its 50th anniversary. People can enjoy dining and dancing to a 13-piece band in the newly refurbished Harbor Ballroom, part of a $50-million renovation at the property. The gala will benefit Walworth County's Open Arms Free Clinic in Elkhorn, which provides health care to low-income people who do not have health insurance.
"The Abbey is a classic American resort," said David Lindelow, general manager. "We are trying to prepare it for the next 50 years, but we realize its heritage is valuable and unique."
He praises Beverlee for being genuine.
"For 50 years, she has been caring for our guests," he said. "I believe everyone who comes in contact with her senses that it comes from the heart."
Beverlee was among hundreds of women from across the country who applied for work at "the Jewel of the Lakes Area," she said.
After all these years, she remembers how she served all kinds of people, even the empress of Japan. One morning, she carried a pot of hot tea to the woman and officials of the Kikkoman Company, who brought their own teapots with bamboo handles.
"Just as I was getting ready to pour her tea, the handle broke," Beverlee recalls.
The hot water burned Beverlee's hand.
"Everyone gasped," she said. "Our manager grabbed me and put my hand in ice. Every morning after that, they asked me how my hand was."
The Kikkoman group was in the U.S. to celebrate groundbreaking for the soy sauce brewing plant in Walworth, which opened in 1972.
Beverlee has no scar from the incident, not even have a bad memory. She smiles in telling the tale.
Eventually, she was put in charge of the coffee shop and dining room. In the next five decades, she rose through the ranks to become head concierge from age 66 to 90.
She loved it when a man called to tell her that he planned to propose to his girlfriend in the elegant La Tour de Bois, the upstairs dining room that is now closed.
"We ordered roses and put the ring in a velvet box," Beverlee said. "It was the most pleasure I had to help in a special way."
Sometimes, she had to tell men that they could not enter the posh dining room unless they wore jackets.
"Who wants to pay $25 for brunch and look at a man's hairy underarms?" she asked.
She recalls when the waiters dressed in tuxedos to serve, and the women slipped into chic gowns to dine.
"It's not that way anymore," Beverlee said. "It never will be again. It was gorgeous, but people don't want to dress up like that anymore."
Beverlee always wore impeccable outfits.
"I had people tell me that they wished they could see what was inside my closet," she said, dressed in a dark blue suit and black high heels.
On her 90th birthday, Beverlee was honored at a party on the grounds. Many former waitresses attended. Waitress Chris Wadell got her training from Beverlee in 1972, when Chris was a teenager.
"She took me on when I didn't know anything," Chris said while serving breakfast at The Abbey on a recent morning. "She was very strict, but we learned, and we made fabulous money."
Beverlee has no plans of leaving The Abbey.
"Before I turned 90, I told them I would retire," she said. "Then, I decided against it. I don't know how they will ever get rid of me. I don't ever plan on retiring."
Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.