A Day in the Life
Behind the Scenes at the Ohio State Park Lodges
Meet the staffers who make a visit so memorable for guests
The memory of a vacation is defined not just by the things you do in a destination but also by the people you meet along the way. Consider the Ohio State Park Lodges operated by Xanterra Parks & Resorts. The staff members take pride in being a part of your visitor experience whether helping you to your cabin or planning your morning round of golf.
They have a vested interest in your stay. From the front desk receptionist who accommodates special needs in your room to the activity coordinator who remembers your name and experiences from last year, each employee is committed to the small details behind the scenes. Those personal touches are what make your getaway special.
So what is a day in the life like for the people who make your stay so memorable?
Kip Freeman is the Director of Golf for Punderson Manor, logging 23 years on the manicured greens at the northeastern Ohio lodge. In the off-season Freeman manages the golf course at The Oasis in Death Valley. In addition to maintaining the greens, tees, and fairways, Freeman prides himself on making each guest feel special whether they are taking a lesson or hitting the links for a full day.
“This is more than a job because my passion is golf,” he says. “I love to get up and come to Punderson each and every day. I am very hands-on and treat all customers as if they are the most valuable customer that comes through the door.”
Growing up just a few miles from Punderson Manor, Freeman feels personally connected to the historic mansion. He understands that guests want a well-rounded experience so he continually tries to up the ante to make visitors feel welcome. This could mean running a golf member’s tournament, feeding guests at the clubhouse, or accommodating special requests that go above and beyond the norm.
“A day in the life of Kip Freeman is to go to work early and get home late and have a lot of fun throughout the day,” he adds. “I am truly blessed to have the life that I have.”
When beds are made and sheets are changed, setting the stage for a great night’s sleep at Mohican State Park Lodge, Denise Kershner and her staff are the ones responsible. As a 36-year veteran of the team, Kershner starts every day with a task sheet that organizes every facet of housekeeping. First are laundry duties that start with the banquet linens and orders for paper products, cleaning supplies, and guest room amenities. Next is itemizing the lost and found log to make sure that guests who leave items behind can easily retrieve them.
“It’s more than just a job, you get to meet all different kinds of guests,” says Kershner. “In the winter, you can watch the eagles from the dining room glide above the frozen lake. It’s one of the most beautiful places on earth.”
Kershner and her team spend each day fine-tuning the small details that make guests comfortable during their stay. Providing clean towels in rooms and offering amenities like toothbrushes that guests left at home are just the beginning. Kershner’s staff enjoys doing extras like tucking children’s stuffed animals into bed before they return to their room.
Kershner lives just 15 minutes from the lodge and is the first person to show up when a cook calls off for the day or someone needs to fill in other duties. She is engaged with the guests and has trained her staff in the value of a warm hello when they pass guests in the hallways.
When groups book a banquet or meeting room at Salt Fork State Park Lodge, they’ll likely meet Brenda Rose.
Rose manages wedding receptions, business meetings, and reunions in the lodge’s 7,000 square feet of meeting space. She started at Salt Fork Lodge 34 years ago to earn extra money for Christmas but now her work is her passion. She says she cannot imagine a day without helping guests make special memories with their families.
Growing up near Salt Fork and now living just a few miles away, Rose says the lodge is a part of her life. She is committed to sharing the magic of staying and playing in Ohio’s largest state park with visitors.
“Most groups are return groups,” says Rose. “We build relationships over the years and I always get hugs. I introduce my staff to everybody because I want them to feel at home.”
Her secret for putting guests at ease? It is all in the planning to make sure no details are left undone. Rose arrives a half hour before her scheduled work time every day to make a staff agenda and prioritize lounge and banquet duties for the entire lodge.
Zenia Vidal is one of the first faces that guests encounter at Deer Creek State Park Lodge. As the Front Office Manager for 17 years, Vidal oversees all facets of guest satisfaction.
Vidal is often the hello at the front desk while checking in guests and the goodbye when they leave. She is the go-to staff member when guests have special requests, and also serves as the gift shop manager. While most guests never see what Vidal and her staff do, they are the kind of touches that make a difference during a guest’s stay at the lodge.
As a reminder that the behind-the-scenes details matter, Vidal maintains a “Thank You Wall” for her staff to see.
“I have a board that is decorated with thank you cards and letters from guests expressing their appreciation,” says Vidal. “This keeps me going knowing that I’ve touched the lives of our guests. At the end of the day I love to see the smiles on their faces.”
Most guests share stories with her about their experience or family traditions created at Deer Creek. She makes a point to remember names and faces regardless of how many guests come through the door. As an empathetic ear, Vidal has helped guests write out birthday cards or has planned special welcome gifts for first-timers like cheese and crackers in the room.
Such personal interaction with guests is second nature to Vidal, and explains why guests always remember her.
When you walk through the manicured lawns at Maumee Bay State Park Lodge or rent a bike to ride on the paved paths throughout the property, you have seen the work of Chief Engineer Eric Schabel.
Schabel has overseen maintenance, landscaping, IT duties, and the marina for more than 15 years. Whether it is fixing something during a guest’s stay or making sure things are in proper working order before they arrive, Schabel has an impact on every person who arrives.
Having started at the marina while in school, Schabel has a vested interest in the area and believes that the details that matter are the ones that do not fit in a formal job description.
“I’ve always thought the best experiences for a guest were little things,” he says. “They can be as small as holding open a door, helping with luggage, or helping someone with a personal computer or electronic device.”
The logistical operations of Maumee Bay impact every department of the lodge and require constant management. These are the things that guests do not have to think about when they arrive but are essential elements in making the facility function well. Schabel’s job has him on call 24/7, but he takes pride in trouble-shooting and managing the details so guests have a flawless experience.
How to Explore
Ohio State Park Lodges provide opportunities all year round for recreation, outdoor adventure, family fun, meetings and relaxation. For more information and reservations, visit OhioStateParkLodges.com or call 800-282-7275.
For more travel experiences to Beautiful Places on Earth™ available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.
Written by: Anietra Hamper
Ohio resident Anietra Hamper is an award-winning travel writer who specializes in covering outdoor activities.