GENEVA ROTARY TALK
by Bill Schickel
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on the history of Geneva On The Lake – and the shape it has taken as a small resort, a place of beauty, with a developing tradition of hospitality – a place striving for perfection in all that we do.
I have been thinking about the past 23 years – it was Thanksgiving of 1981 when we welcomed our first guest. My father, Norbert, was our founder, a man of vision, excited, practical, passionate about the human family and its good, about the classical concerns of the human person…goodness, truth and beauty.
The words of the Psalmist "Yahweh, I am your guest" captures something of the spirit my father brought to thinking about the development and the shape Geneva On The Lake would take. He was a mechanical engineer by training at Notre Dame, a Navy aircraft carrier pilot from 1940 – 1945, a dairy farmer from 1945-60 (and during those years, a student of St. Thomas Aquinas, the church fathers and the philosopher, Jacques Maritain), then a real estate developer in Ithaca from 1960 – 78 and finally developer and innkeeper of Geneva On The Lake from 1978 – 1994.
Growing up and working with our Dad on the farm he would share many rich ideas with the family:
In addition to Aquinas, Norbert's thinking was especially shaped by Jacques Maritain who was a chief architect in drafting the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1949. His books: The Person and the Common Good, Art and Scholasticism, Man and the State, and Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry (This last book developing from the Mellon lectures delivered at The National Gallery of Art in Washington in 1952) had a profound impact on my father's thinking about the world and his vocation as a business man, developer and finally innkeeper. Everything he did was directed toward creating something beautiful and efficacious - building up the world in some small way.
He and my uncle Bill, the artist who designed the 1979-80 renovation of Geneva On The Lake spoke of their company like this:
Regarding "Design" he would write:
In 1977, Dick Mulvey, Jack's brother, saw Dad one day on a street in Ithaca and suggested they drive up to Geneva and look at the old Capuchin Monastery. It was empty and no one quite knew what to do with it.
I remember the early report – 700 feet of lake frontage, city sewer and water, 10 acres right on Seneca Lake, Italian Villa and garden, and Excitement!
The summer of 1979, my wife and I were visiting from Boston and we were going to Sonnenberg Gardens for an afternoon picnic. Pop said - you must stop by Geneva! The next spring, I got a call about needing some sculptures on the Terrace. And by the next summer, we were moving back to help on the project - opening a small resort, a place of hospitality.
The renovation of Geneva On The Lake as luxury apartments in 1979-80 led my father very shortly thereafter to rethink the whole future of the place. I remember Dad showing me the back of an envelope where he had outlined the market we would appeal to as an inn, a small resort, a place of hospitality. He was imagining then the kind of place it has become in these 23 years. Who would have imagined then that a week from now we will be in Rochester to receive the AAA Four Diamond Award for the 21st time.
This brings me to the heart of what we do - extending hospitality to the stranger. All of the beautiful brick and mortar or great furniture has little value in our enterprise if we fail in hospitality. Day-by-day our guests come one at a time. And day-by-day we strive to extend friendly hospitality. Hospitality, of course, has been an important human experience throughout history. I especially like the story of the medieval monastic tradition of carving over the monastery door the greeting in Latin:
"Hospes Venit, Christus Venit."
We have to admit, that welcoming guests to one of the prettiest little towns in America usually gets us off to a pretty good start. We are grateful to be working in this wonderful community and feel a debt of gratitude to so many who have helped us along the way. Truly, the exceptionally knowledgeable, capable, and dedicated staff that has developed in our midst at the resort brings a magical ingredient to hospitality. Nothing, I mean nothing, can ever take the place of our staff in achieving success in what we strive to do. Norbert spoke of our daily work in a simple way: "Let our work be our joy and our reward will be the joy of others."
When my father died ten years ago, we were at a crossroads needing new ownership. Dad knew Alfred and Aminy Audi from 1981, when he first furnished our suites with beautiful Stickley furniture. I remember hearing at the dinner table in the early 80's about this energetic, impressive young couple who were resurrecting the Stickley Company and were about to build a brand new factory. He greatly admired their entrepreneurial spirit.
The Audis' ownership has given Geneva On The Lake a bright new future. If you haven't already, we invite you to stop by for a tour of the suites. One by one, Mrs. Audi has completely redecorated them in the latest style. They are something to see! The Audis hold dearly the kind of values that my father very much tried to foster in developing Geneva On The Lake: good design, quality, beauty, doing things the way you would in your own fine home, thinking long term and building up the culture in which we live. The Audis' attitude toward things was expressed so well by Gustav Stickley: "to the best of my ability."
Now, I would like to show a few slides of the artistry, craftsmanship, and concern for design that have helped shape the place we know as Geneva On The Lake.