by Seymour "Sy" Brody
Jennie Grossinger turned a small rundown Catskill Mountain farm into a large hotel that became an American Institution. The catch slogan "Grossinger's Has Everything for the Kind of Person Who Likes to Come to Grossinger's," tells the story of its success.
Jennie Grossinger was born on June 16, 1892, in Baligrod, a small village in Galicia, Austria, to Malka and Asher Selig Grossinger. Her mother was the daughter of an innkeeper and her father was an estate overseer. Her parents saved enough money to immigrate to America in the hopes of a better life.
They lived on the lower East Side of New York City where Jennie went to public and Jewish schools. She left the schools to become a button hole maker, earning two dollars a week for an eleven hour day.
In 1912, she married her cousin, Harry Grossinger, and moved next door to her parents. She worked as a waitress in her father's dairy restaurant. In 1914, her father's health was failing and they decided to move to the Catskill Mountains where they bought a farm in Ferndale, N.Y. In order to make ends meet, they took in summer boarders. They gave their guests what they wanted: kosher food and a vacation away from the city heat.
They served plenty of food that her mother cooked and Jennie was the chambermaid, bookkeeper and hostess. Their reputation for plenty of good food at inexpensive rates attracted more people than they could handle. They sold the farm and bought a large piece of property with a hotel on it in Liberty, N.Y.
Jennie had two children: Paul, born in September 1915, and Elaine Joy, born in December, 1927. Jennie continued to manage the hotel as she raised the two children.
Keeping abreast of the times and the competition, she built tennis courts, bridle paths, a children's camp, hired a social director and a residential theater group which graduated many stars in the entertainment field.
Many famous celebrities came through Grossinger's doors to visit and entertain. They included Bobby Fischer, Robert Merrill, Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Red Buttons, Vice President Alben W. Barkley, Chaim Weizmann, Dore Schary and two Nobel Prize recipients: Dr. Selman A Waksman and Dr. Arthur Kronberg.
Grossinger's Hotel was also responsible in advancing the careers of many well known entertainers. Eddie Fisher was a young singer entertaining at the hotel when Eddie Cantor heard him. Cantor was so impressed that he started Fisher on his rise to national stardom.
Jennie Grossinger was always involved in charities and good causes. She raised millions of dollars in WW II war bonds at the hotel. An Army airplane was named "Grossinger's" in her honor. In Israel, there is a clinic and convalescent home that bear her name. She received many honorary degrees and awards for her philanthropy.
When Jennie gave up her management of the hotel, it contained 1.200 acres with 35 buildings and they served 150,000 people a year. On November 20, 1972, she died of a stroke in her cottage at Grossinger's.
Jennie Grossinger best personified America. She was poor when she started and rose to riches by her skill as an innkeeper. Jennie Grossinger will always be the symbol of what success is in the hotel industry of America.
This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes & Heroines of America : 150 True Stories of American Jewish Heroism, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.
Source: Jewish Heroes and Heroines in America.