50 years in the hospitality business and still going strong
A broken TV set was the impetus that put Gladys Fritz on a hospitality career that has spanned 50 years. For this unassuming and hard working woman, Holiday Acres Resort has been not only a place of employment, but an extension of her family as well.
“When you get treated right where you work, it doesn’t seem like work and that has certainly been the case for me at Holiday Acres over the years,” Gladys said.
Gladys grew up in Rhinelander on a farm that was located off Hwy. G. She helped with all the chores including milking cows, feeding the animals and bringing in the crops. She married Bill Fritz shortly after graduating high school, and the couple were soon parents of four children. In 1973, when her youngest daughter was only six weeks old, Gladys’s friend, Florence LaCrosse, who was an employee at Holiday Acres, asked her to fill in as a waitress, because they were short of help.
“I had worked at Onson’s Restaurant in Rhinelander as a waitress before I got married so Florence knew I could do the job,” Gladys said. “I was a little hesitant at first but our TV was broken and we needed some extra cash to get it fixed so I decided to help out.”
At that point, little did Gladys know she was starting a career that would span 50 years at a place that had already made its mark in the hospitality industry.
George and Hazel Blaesings, along with their daughter, Doris, and her husband, Jim Zambon, bought a piece of property bordering Thompson Lake in 1947 to build Holiday Acres. These families were not new to the hospitality business. In 1926 George and Hazel had built Shorewood Vista Resort and ran it successfully for more than 20 years before they sold it to Hazel’s brother so they could start Holiday Acres.
Jim and Doris took to the resort business with enthusiasm, and over the years made Holiday Acres a destination for families that, even to this day, span three and four generations. Gladys can remember Hazel continuing to putter in the kitchen when she was first hired, and Jim and Doris were very special to her.
“They were not only outstanding employers but really wonderful people,” recalls Gladys with tears in her eyes. “I miss them very much.”
In 1965 Jim and Doris, and their children Kim and Christine, built the Three Coins Dining Room, offering delicious meals not only for their guests, but the public as well. As the years have passed the resort has grown to include a swimming pool, tennis courts, a gift shop, a motel and more cottages.
Today, this beautiful and inviting get-away is operated by Kim and Kari Zambon, and their children, Jamie, Kate and Peter, who welcome guests from all over the United States.
“Lots of families have been vacationing here year after year,” Gladys said. “It’s like old home week when they come back. They rent the same cottages and I have watched kids grow up and then bring their children and then grandchildren here over the years.”
While this fact is a point of pride for Gladys today, she had no intention of making a career in the hospitality business back in 1973 when she helped out that first night. With four children all under the age of five, she had her hands full. But Jim and Doris were impressed with her work ethic, and the friendly and competent way she handled the guests that came to eat at the resort, and eventually offered her a permanent position as a waitress.
Then Gladys’s husband Bill, took a job at the paper mill during the day and she decided she could continue working at night. This left her time to be involved with her children’s activities when they were youngsters, which was very important to Gladys. Over the years she has been a Brownie, Girl Scout and Cub Scout leader, a score keeper for her sons’ ball teams and she was the coordinator for the youth bowling league for a number of years.
Once her children started school, the Zambon’s offered her a marketing position.
“I got to travel all over the Midwest to promote Holiday Acres,” Gladys said. “I really liked that job. It was a lot of fun.”
When her kids became teenagers, Gladys decided to stay closer to home, and quit her traveling but she remained an integral part of the operation of Holiday Acres. She served as a hostess, supervisor and helped coordinate events such a conferences and weddings.
“Even to this day, I don’t really have a job title,” she said. “I have done pretty much everything over the years. But that’s why I like this job so much. Every day I do something different.”
While Gladys works full-time during the week, she doesn’t work too many evenings or weekends anymore, but she has always enjoyed the Jazz events Holiday Acres started hosting when Jim and Doris were at the helm. Today that tradition continues with two Jazz weekends every year on Mother’s Day and Thanksgiving weekend, and these are big favorites with Gladys. Over the years Buddy Rich, Doc Severinsen, Maynard Ferguson, Chuck Hedges and Dave Remmington, to name a few, have played the stage at the resort and Gladys continues to greet the next generation of musicians who come to perform at these festivals.
“I do help during those weekends when we have the Jazz fests,” she said. “I love Jazz and it’s really fun when these musicians come and play here.”
While Gladys has always been proud to be a part of making vacations memorable for generations of guests, she has seen lots of changes in the hospitality industry over the years.
“The old Supper Club mentality is gone,” she said. “People used to party until 1 or 2 in the morning and that doesn’t happen much anymore.”
What resort guests do, especially in the winter, seems to be shifting as well.
“We used to get a lot of snowmobilers and we still do when we have snow,” she said. “But I’m seeing more guests who enjoy sports like hockey, cross country skiing and snowshoeing staying at the resort. The silent sports are really becoming popular now.”
But no matter what season, Gladys doesn’t intend on retiring anytime soon. She feels privileged that Holiday Acres, and generations of the Zambon family, have been a part of her life.
“If it comes to a point where it seems like a job, then I’ll probably think about retiring,” she said. “But I really don’t see that ever happening.”