My parents, William “Tiny” Zehnder and Dorothy Zehnder co-founded the Bavarian Inn restaurant in 1959. Their ethics in working alongside their staff and engaging them as “a work family with family work” has guided personal and professional decisions for me and my siblings our entire lives. Our parents also instilled in us an attitude towards giving that goes back to the values they taught us in childhood – those who have been given much have a responsibility to give back to the community and to those who may have fallen on hard times.
Since the Bavarian Inn Lodge opened in 1986, I bring our family of employees together each November for our annual charitable goal meeting where we decide which charities we, as an organization, will support for the coming year. This a lot more challenging than it sounds. The Lodge receives over 50 donation requests each month and makes many in-kind donations to organizations. The demand can be overwhelming, so we decide as a group where we will invest money. Employees may recommend their preferred charities and we all vote on who we will support. The top three charities selected are announced in December. We encourage all employees to make a donation and all their donations are matched by the Bavarian Inn Lodge. We also encourage our employees to get involved by volunteering at an organization that is personally important to them—in the community, at their place of worship, etc. In fact, our leadership team even earns extra credit towards their yearend bonus program for volunteering.
Last year, the Bavarian Inn Lodge employee family raised a total of $2,959 in employee donations that were matched dollar-for-dollar by the Lodge. The employees voted to have the total contribution of $5,918 awarded equally between Child Abuse and Neglect Council (CAN Council), the American Cancer Society and the Make-a-Wish Foundation. This annual exercise proves to me that doing charitable things as a work group is one more way that binds us together as a “work family.”
2017 has required all of us to dig a little deeper than normal. Floods, earthquakes, devastating hurricanes, wildfires and various tragedies across our nation seemed more frequent this year. As fellow Americans, our first response is usually to send a contribution to our favorite disaster relief organization. I encourage employees to do their research and study the impact their money has on the causes they support.
All of us at the Bavarian Inn Lodge encourage you to join us in making a difference in the lives of those who may be facing unexpected and devastating challenges. Give whatever you can, but make sure to give wisely. Together, we can help make our community, our nation, and our world a better place for all.
Judy Zehnder Keller is president of the Bavarian Inn Lodge and Convention Center in Frankenmuth, Michigan. Nestled along the Cass River in one of Michigan’s top tourist locations – Frankenmuth – the Lodge has 360 European-themed guest rooms, including whirlpool and family suites, four indoor pools, three whirlpools, two water slides, a miniature golf course, two gift shops, two lounges and two restaurants — all under one roof. In addition to being president of the lodge, Judy is also president of the Frankenmuth Cheese Haus and the Frankenmuth Gift Shop. She is recognized statewide for her leadership in promoting tourism in Michigan.