Legacy includes Frankenmuth’s Bavarian Inn Restaurant & Lodge, Cheese Haus & multiple retail stores.
FRANKENMUTH, Mich. – October 19, 2022– One of Frankenmuth’s legendary businesswomen, Judy Zehnder Keller, died peacefully at her home in Frankenmuth on October 19, 2022 with members of her family by her side.
A long-time entrepreneur, community leader, women’s advocate, working mother, wife and grandmother, Zehnder Keller was the eldest daughter of the Bavarian Inn Zehnder family founders Tiny and Dorothy Zehnder. She was 77.
Zehnder Keller, a Frankenmuth native, would always say she, “fries chicken and makes beds for a living.” We all know she has done so much more over the last 60-plus years when she officially started working at the Bavarian Inn Restaurant in 1960 with her parents. Founder and president of the Bavarian Inn Lodge, she built the resort in 1986 and led it through six expansions. She helped develop and manage other family businesses in the community such as the Schnitzelbank Shop, Covered Bridge Shop, Frank’s Muth, and numerous retail stores within Frankenmuth River Place Shops. She was also the owner of the Frankenmuth Cheese Haus and in 2018 led its expansion to a new location on Main Street. In June 2022, she designed and donated Frankenmuth’s “Sister City Chair” in recognition of the 60th Anniversary relationship between Frankenmuth, Michigan and Gunzenhausen, Germany.
Private funeral services will be held at Cederberg Funeral Home. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Underground Railroad, CAN Council, and the German Heritage Fund at the Frankenmuth Community Foundation. She will be interned at St. Lorenz Lutheran Church.
Zehnder Keller is survived by her husband of 53 years, Don Keller, along with her children, Michael Keller Zehnder (Kimberly), Martha Zehnder Kaczynski (John), and William Zehnder Keller and 5 grandchildren.
The family released the following statement:
“Today we mourn the passing of our beloved wife, mother and grandmother and thank the entire community for its support during this time. Judy Zehnder Keller was a true pioneering businesswoman in our community and her legacy will be long remembered by those who love the Bavarian Inn and our family’s commitment to this community.”
Following her graduation from Frankenmuth High School in 1963, Zehnder Keller attended Michigan State University where she earned her BA in Hotel and Restaurant Management, her master’s degree in Educational Psychology, and according to her, a doctorate in the card game pinochle.
After working 25 years at the Bavarian Inn Restaurant, Zehnder Keller decided to take the family business in a new direction and develop a piece of property on the east side of the Covered Bridge that is the present site of the Bavarian Inn Lodge. Today the Lodge is a top hospitality resort in all of Michigan with 360 guest rooms, indoor waterpark, family fun center, restaurants and conference space.
Throughout her career, Zehnder Keller was honored with many awards, a few of them including:
National Restaurant Association “Outstanding Women in Food Service Round Table Award,” the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association’s “Hotelier of the Year,” Michigan State University’s “Industry LEADER of the Year” and “Alumna of the Year,” both from The School of Hospitality Business. She also earned additional recognition as “Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year” and ranked 10th out of 200 national finalists in Start Up Nation’s “Leading Moms in Business.” She was also recipient of the local Jaycees’ top honor, the Herbert L. Keinath Distinguished Service Award, for selfless local community contributions.
Though she was honored by many recognitions, Zehnder Keller was a true servant leader and didn’t care who received credit as she was interested in positive change for her community. Zehnder Keller was the first female Frankenmuth City Council Member (12 years). She was the first female Rotary Club member (1991) and first female president (2007-08). She was also chairperson for the Frankenmuth Sister City Committee for 22 years and served on the Frankenmuth Downtown Development Authority for 23 years. Appointed by Governor Jennifer Granholm, Zehnder Keller served two terms on the Michigan Travel Commission and on the Michigan Hotel/Motel Board of Directors.
A unique opportunity arose when she was appointed by President Ronald Reagan for the Presidential Commission for the German-American Tri-Centennial, joining the delegation in Germany with then Vice President George H.W. Bush. She has had many leadership positions and assisted numerous organizations, ranging from CAN Council, Underground Railroad, American Red Cross, United Way, Convention & Visitor Bureaus, Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Commission, Concordia University, and more. One of her favorite opportunities was being a coach for her son and daughter’s Little League games. Usually, she would wear her baseball hat and the team’s T-shirt over her German work uniform.
Today the William (Tiny) and Dorothy Zehnder family’s diverse array of businesses includes the Bavarian Inn Restaurant and Castle Shops, Bavarian Inn Lodge, Frankenmuth River Place Shops, Covered Bridge Shop, Frank’s Muth, Frankenmuth Cheese Haus, Frankenmuth Gift Shops Inc., a specialty line of food products, and an online store. The family also runs the William and Dorothy Zehnder Foundation.
When asked, Zehnder Keller would say she “believes that life’s journey is not to arrive at the gravesite safely in a well-preserved body, but rather to slide in sideways, totally worn out, shouting…. HOLY MOSES….WHAT A RIDE!!!”
Well, Judy Zehnder Keller did just that and lived her life to the fullest in all aspects!
About Bavarian Inn Resort: The Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn is a Midwest Resort destination for families and groups alike, who seek enjoyable experiences in lodging, dining, shopping, special events, and conference/meeting services. The resort includes Bavarian Inn Restaurant, Bavarian Inn Lodge, Frankenmuth River Place Shops, and the ResidenZ at Bavarian Inn.
About Bavarian Inn Restaurant: Celebrating over 134 years of service, the Bavarian Inn Restaurant has become a Michigan landmark. Generations of diners, lodgers and tourists from around the globe have discovered true Bavarian hospitality thanks to Dorothy and her late husband William “Tiny” Zehnder. Guests experience the old-world European charm of the Bavarian Inn – whether it’s the famous chicken dinners, fresh baked goods or Michigan’s greatest selection of German beer. Bavarian Inn also prides itself on being one of the top consumers of Pure Michigan agricultural products, striving to serve more Michigan-grown and produced foods and Michigan-produced beverages than any other restaurant. Nestled within the backdrop of authentic German architecture, a variety of shops and other fun activities, a trip to Frankenmuth would not be complete without a visit to the Bavarian Inn Restaurant. Learn more at www.bavarianinn.com.
Bavarian Inn Restaurant online press room: https://bavarianinn.logos-communications.com/
About Bavarian Inn Lodge: For over 36 years, nestled along the banks of the Cass River in Frankenmuth, is one of the state's largest indoor water park hotels. The Lodge, currently managed by the 3rd and 4th generation Bavarian Inn family members, has 360 European-themed guest rooms, including whirlpool and family suites, an adult-only pool and whirlpool, two gift shops, two lounges and two restaurants — all under one roof. The expansive 35,000 square foot Family Fun Center houses two thrilling water slides, three pools and two whirlpools, over 160 video and redemption games, a two-level children's play village and Willy's Kingdom indoor mini-golf course. Guests can also enjoy live, nightly entertainment year-round and test their own musical skills during weekend family karaoke shows. Banquet facilities can accommodate events for 2-500 guests to enjoy Old World Charm with modern technology and delicious meals.In over 36 years of business, the Bavarian Inn Lodge has been an important destination for travelers, evidenced by the 2.5 million room-nights that have been booked there since its opening, along with its top rating on TripAdvisor®. Learn more at www.bavarianinn.com.
Bavarian Inn Lodge online press room: https://bavarianinnlodge.logos-communications.com