Southfield (WWJ)- The owner of the iconic Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Dan Musser Jr., died in Lansing Saturday of congestive heart failure. He was 80.
A statement released by the hotel said under his guidance, Grand Hotel doubled both its size and the length of its season and achieved world class status.
Musser was a part of the Hotel for more than 60 years. He bought the hotel with his wife, Amelia, in 1979. He became president of the hotel in 1960, nine years after he started working there as a college student.
“He was Mackinac,” Mackinac Island Mayor Margaret Doud, told WWJ’s Beth Fisher adding he was hoping to get back to the island this summer.
Grand Hotel celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2012 and this year marks the family’s 80th year of stewardship for the hotel.
Musser began a complete makeover of the hotel in the 1970s, bringing in Carleton Varney, the president and owner of Dorothy Draper Design in New York. Working together, they transformed the hotel into a bright summery atmosphere with no two rooms alike and a routine occupancy rate of more than 95 percent.
“When I took over we had about 120 rooms that shared a bath, which could cause real problems,” Musser once said. “If you were in one of those rooms, you could lock the guests in the other room out of the bathroom. People would come to the desk complaining they couldn’t get into the bathroom, which obviously was a problem. We got rid of the last rooms with adjoining baths about 1970.”
Musser said the decision to lengthen the season was made the year he became president of the hotel in 1960.
“John F. Kennedy was running for president and he came to the island on Memorial Day weekend to meet with Governor Williams at the Governor’s residence to ask for his support,” he said. “It was a beautiful day, a beautiful weekend and the downtown was busy, but we weren’t open. I thought, ‘This is crazy.’ That was when we started figuring out how to lengthen the season.”
Musser was known for a very close attention to detail in the operation of Grand Hotel. One of his rituals was a room by room tour of the hotel on the day before it opened for the season to spot any last minute problems. He also was known in the hotel for his hand written notes to employees, sometimes as many as 50 or 60 a day, pointing out items that needed immediate attention.
A visiting reporter once remarked to him that it seemed the hotel paid “an incredible attention to detail.” He replied, “This is a detail business.”
Musser was a long-time advocate of protecting Mackinac Island’s unique environment, including serving more than 30 years as chair of the island’s Public Works Commission. Under his guidance, the island built a state of the art water supply system that uses a cutting edge microfiltration process and an equally modern wastewater treatment plant that meets or exceeds all federal guidelines. Musser also was instrumental in having the island close and cap its landfill in 1991. All non-recyclable waste is hauled to a state-approved landfill on the mainland.
“Dan Musser was a pillar of great strength on Mackinac Island,” said Former Governor William Milliken in a statement. “He will be greatly missed not only on the island but also among those across the state who value what he did to assure the excellence of the Grand Hotel and that he so long did to promote the state. He was an important figure in Michigan politics as host and friend.”
In addition to Grand Hotel, Musser had a second passion in life – show dogs. He and Amelia Musser reached the pinnacle of that world in 2010 when their Scottish Terrier, Sadie, earned “Best In Show” honors at the 134th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York in 2010. Sadie scored an unusual double win that year when she also was named “Dog of the Year’ by the American Kennel Club at its annual awards dinner.
Musser is survived by his wife, Amelia, daughter Robin Agnew and her husband Jamie of Ann Arbor, daughter Margaret “Mimi” Cunningham of Mackinac Island, son R. D. Musser III and his wife Marlee Brown of Mackinac Island, and seven grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held Wednesday, April 17 at 10 a.m. at All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, with burial at a later date on Mackinac Island.
The family is asking that in lieu of flowers contributions be made to the Mackinac Island Community Foundation Library Fund.