American hotel executive and philanthropist Jennie Grossinger (1892-1972) brought worldwide prominence to her family's 800-acre resort in New York State's Catskill Mountains.
Jennie Grossinger, the oldest of three children of Asher Selig and Malke Grumet Grossinger, was born June 16, 1892, in Baligrod, a town in the Bieszczady region of southeast Poland, part of the former Austro-Hungarian empire. The family, devout members of the Jewish religion, spoke Polish and Yiddish. To secure a better future for his family, Selig, an estate overseer, came to America in 1897. Malke, Jennie, and younger daughter Lottie joined him three years later.
A tenement in New York City's Lower East Side was their new home. Selig, who was in poor health, pressed coats in a factory and made several unsuccessful attempts to open a business. At this time a son, Harry, was born. A fever made the infant unable to hear or speak, and Malke sought medical advice in Europe. A cure was not available, but separations and illness resulted in a loyal and united family.
To help her parents, Jennie, then 13, sewed buttonholes in a factory and continued her education at night school. On May 25, 1912, she married her first cousin, Harry Grossinger; they rented a flat next to her parents. In 1913 Selig and Malke opened a small restaurant and Jennie joined them. Although the venture failed, it gave Jennie experience in the hospitality business.
In 1914 Selig decided to try farming for a living. A successful relative suggested the Catskill Mountain region northwest of New York City. Selig made a $450 down payment on a 35 acre farm in Sullivan County near Ferndale, a town with a small Jewish community. Jennie and her husband contributed $200, and Jennie moved with her parents while Harry kept his job in New York. Selig's health returned. However, the scenic rolling hills and valleys did not sustain profitable farming. Nearby farm families took in summer boarders and advised the Grossingers to do the same.
Peaceful surroundings and the Kosher food prepared by Malke, the daughter of an innkeeper, attracted their first boarders. Each guest was treated as a valued friend. Harry arranged for more guests, and the summer's profit convinced Selig to expand. Soon Harry was active in the business full time.
Although the seven-room farm house had no indoor plumbing or electricity, guests were pleased with the food and service. Word-of-mouth advertising brought more guests and further expansion. In 1919 the family purchased a large, modern facility on a hilltop near the town of Liberty. Grossinger's Terrace Hill House, widely known as Grossinger's, continued to expand. Jennie's close contact with the guests led to many improvements. By 1931 the resort had tennis courts, an 18-hole golf course, a dining room for 400 guests, a theater, a social director, and an athletic director. These attractions plus the plentiful food, landscaped grounds, and lake brought increasing numbers of guests. It began to operate as a winter resort in a limited way.
The 1930s saw Grossinger's good reputation expand beyond its loyal Jewish clientele. Milton Blackstone, a former guest and tutor to Jennie's son Paul, opened an advertising agency in New York in the early 1930s. He used many promotions to attract guests to Grossinger's during the Great Depression years. Noted sports writers came to the resort when Barney Ross, the world's lightweight boxing champion, had his training camp there. Their syndicated columns included praise of the resort and family. After Ross's 1934 victory as the world's welter-weight champion, Broadway and Hollywood celebrities arrived and kept returning. Show business columnists followed, and the resort's fame spread; its facilities continued to expand also.
The family's business philosophy, however, remained unchanged. Jennie, who managed the resort with her husband, believed, "A resort isn't buildings and kitchens and lakes or nightclubs. The real hotel is the people who work here." Hard work, family loyalty, and an astute ability to satisfy guests led to Grossinger's continued success.
Gratitude for opportunities they found in America was expressed through gifts to local charities and needy families by Selig, who died in 1931, and by Malke, who died in 1952. Malke taught Jennie that "a life without sharing is barren."
Over 100 awards, citations, certificates, and keys to cities honored Jennie, who had become a naturalized citizen in 1919. Fund raising for disease research and contributions to hospitals and nonsectarian institutions such as the City of Hope in Duarte, California, were among her interests. Medical facilities in Tel Aviv and Zefat (Safed), Israel, are named for her. Concern for servicemen and the disabled extended beyond World War II. By 1958 over 3, 500 five-day all-expense-paid vacations had been given to members of the Armed Forces. Over $10 million worth of war bonds were sold at Grossinger's during the war.
Education was a major interest of Jennie Grossinger. She was named a fellow of Brandeis University in 1958; in 1959 Wilberforce University in Ohio awarded her an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree, and in 1966 New England College in New Hampshire awarded her an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. Her personality and belief in the brotherhood of man won the hotel executive friends from all walks of life and from all faiths and races. In 1954 she was featured on the television program "This Is Your Life." Over several decades the most prominent names in all fields came to Grossinger's and met Jennie. Impressed with her activities and accomplishments, Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller proclaimed June 16, 1968, as Jennie Grossinger Day in New York State. He wrote that she "exemplified the American Dream of success from humble beginnings and a lifetime of humanitarian achievement for others rarely equalled in the annals of the United States."
When her husband died in 1964, Jennie became the sole owner of Grossinger Hotel and Country Club. Paul Grossinger, her son, and Elaine Grossinger Etess, her daughter, who were active in the resort's management for many years, became the owners after Jennie's death from a stroke on November 20, 1972. Her children and grand-children continued to manage the resort until it was sold to outside investors in late 1985.
Further Reading on Jennie Grossinger
Jennie Grossinger is included in Who's Who in America and Notable American Women:The Modern Period (1980). The only detailed and accurate biography is Joel Pomerantz, Jennie and The Story of Grossinger's (1970). Noteworthy articles about her and the resort include:Quentin Reynolds, "Jennie, " Look (July 13, 1965); Morris Freedman, "The Green Pastures of Grossinger's, " Commentary (July and August 1954); and Al Hine, "Grossinger's, " Holiday (August 1949). Her obituary is in the New York Times (November 21, 1972). Awards, photographs, and numerous articles documenting her career can be found at the resort in Grossinger, New York.