Chairman of Iconic Mackinac Island Grand Hotel Passes at Age 80

Northern Michigan News: Grand Hotel Chairman Emeritus R. D. (Dan) Musser Jr., under whose guidance the iconic hotel doubled both its size and the length of its season and achieved world class status, passed away Saturday in Lansing. He was 80. The cause of death was congestive heart failure.

Musser was a part of Grand Hotel for more than 60 years, starting work there as a college student in 1951, when the hotel was owned by his uncle, W. Stewart Woodfill. He became president of the hotel in 1960 and then purchased it with his wife Amelia in 1979. Grand Hotel celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2012 and this year marks the family’s 80th year of stewardship for the hotel.

When he first went to the hotel in 1951, it had about 200 rooms, was open from July 4 through Labor Day and had an interior that looked pretty much like any other hotel or motel in the world. In the intervening years the hotel has expanded to 385 rooms, the season now extends from the beginning of May to the end of October and the interior was completely redesigned.

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 R. D. Musser, Jr. 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.”

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