Tags: Featured Feature story, Geneva Lake West
May 28, 2013 | 01:13 PMFONTANA — The Abbey Resort is not like it used to be.
The renovations and updates make Beverlee Conrad happy, but the longest-working employee at the resort wishes some things would remain the same.
"People are changing," Conrad said. "It's because of the economy, not that we want to be that way. The waiters all used to wear tuxes. If at any time they had a hostess, she wore a long gown. Everything was perfect."
Conrad has worked at the Abbey since the day it opened.
Her time at the resort is a love story.
The resort celebrated its 50th anniversary May 17, and Conrad was there like she's been at every major event since they opened the doors.
"It was just so elegant," she said, of the way the resort dining rooms used to be. "Today, people don't want that. They want to relax. They want to wear their blue jeans and their shorts. It doesn't matter that it's dinner."
Conrad mourns the loss of elegance at the resort, and she said some changes nearly break her heart.
"When you try to explain it to people, unless they're my age, they don't remember it or know about it. I've got it all in my heart," she said. "It used to be called the jewel of the area. I want it to stay that way."
Now the resort ambassador, Conrad watched the building rise up from the swamp.
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"I used to stand across the street and watch the pilings go down," she said. "They cleared the swamp. This thing would sink altogether if it didn't have the pilings. This went on for weeks. It was so interesting."
The first night, Conrad was a waitress in the Monaco Dining Room.
"I did that for three months, and I didn't like the night work," she said. "I switched to days. This was a money maker at that time. You couldn't get in the doors. On Sundays, we would have people four (across in a line) up to the lobby doors waiting to get into this room for brunch. That went on every Sunday."
After a shift, she'd go home and see her sons.
"I wouldn't turn in my tips at night," Conrad said. "I'd take them home, and my four boys would sort them out into piles. That was their big thing for the day."
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Married at 20, Conrad was widowed at 36. Her husband, a B-17 pilot instructor, left her with four sons and no insurance.
She moved to Williams Bay to be closer to her parents, who lived in Fontana.
"This building has meant so much to me," Conrad said. "From the very beginning, I loved this hotel. I feel like it's mine."
After she lived in the area a year, construction of the Abbey began.
"It was a magical time. I hit it just right," Conrad said. "I always say that the Lord plays chess with us. He picks us up and puts us where we're supposed to be. He certainly did that with me."
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A step back in time
Conrad said she saw many former employees she hadn't seen in years at the anniversary celebration.
"It was certainly a wonderful night," she said. "I got to see people I hadn't seen in years."
There was someone she didn't get to see, though.
"When we first opened, we had a mascot, Abbey the St. Bernard," Conrad said. "They kept him out front. We called him Abbey, but he was male. I don't know where they kept him in the winter. Sometimes, they'd bring him into the lobby and he'd stand behind the desk greeting customers. He'd have his paws up on the desk next to someone."
Abbey died after a few summers, and Conrad said they never replaced him.
"I've never had any complaints," she said. "I've had people ask me why we don't have the bowling alley anymore, where the huge 'a' went from the outside of the resort. People miss those icons."
The resort removed the bowling alley to build the spa.
"That alley was a lot of fun," she said. "We had a team of the waitresses, the Getter Gang. It was so much fun. To this day, we have people call and ask if we have the bowling alley."
During a slow year, when the Abbey saw reduced guest visits, Conrad spent some time at the operator switchboard.
"My boss asked, and I said sure," she said. "I hated it, absolutely hated it. You're in a room without windows, without ventilation. I had to say what they wanted when I answered a call."
She still remembers the script she had to read every time.
"Good morning, the Abbey Resort. This is Beverlee the operator. How may I help you?" Conrad recalled. "People don't want to hear all that. I finally told my boss, even if I don't work at all, I will not work on the switchboard."
A night at the resort
Though she's spent most of her days at the resort working, Conrad has only spent one night as a resort guest.
"We were only supposed to get a little dusting of snow," she said. "By the time my shift ended, it was up to the balconies. No one was leaving."
The resort put her and the other waitresses up in a room.
"They served us food. It was great," she said. "They treated us like we treat our guests."
Conrad woke up in the morning and returned to work.
"The morning shift waitresses couldn't get into the resort," she said. "The roads were still blocked off by the snow, so we were there and we served breakfast."
Now, Conrad is on-call for the resort staff, but she's welcome any time.
"If a VIP group comes in, and they haven't been here before, then they call me to speak to them," she said. "I've enjoyed every minute of it. The general managers have all been wonderful to me. I'm still in touch with a number of them."
The nice thing about the Abbey, Conrad said is the relationships made at the resort.
"The employees like the other employees," she said. "The employees like the management, and the management likes the employees. We all love the guests."
Those friendships are why she refuses to retire.
"When something goes wrong here, I get upset," she said. "That's why I won't retire. I know how much I'd miss this place and the people I work for and with. I never had any desire to quit or go anywhere else."