There are people you meet in life that you admire and find fascinating. You want other people to get to meet them, too. Their warmth and wit make you want to know more about them. This is certainly true of George and Katie Hoy. At 91 and 88 respectively, the Hoys have been operating a wonderful bed and breakfast just outside Cuyahoga Valley National Park for 30 years, and they're still going strong! I hope you enjoy getting to know the Hoys as much as we have. Their answers to our Fresh Paths questions reveal two great personalities that have always been ready to take a Fresh Path in life.
Fresh Paths: Tell us a little about you.
Katie: I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, July 6, 1930. My father died in 1933. I boarded at St. Joseph Academy for first grade since my mother and sisters had to work while my brother was away in Navy. I attended St. Ignatius Grade School thru 8th grade then St. Joseph Academy for high school. I studied piano starting age 6, thru 10th grade, then played the organ at St. Ignatius Church. Starting at age 14, I worked for Halle Bros. Department Store, then did office work at Second Federal Savings and Loan, then was the organist for St. Angela DeMerici in Fairview Park. George and I met in 1948, married in 1950 and had four kids, two girls and two boys. Over the next 12 years, we lived in Ohio, Connecticut, and Maryland. We had lots of friends and relatives visiting, especially in Maryland where I took visitors on tours of Washington, DC. We had lots of dinner parties for friends with lots of cooking involved, which we did together, the basis for things to come. I also did lots of Volunteer work: Red Cross Driver for Nursery School, Parent-Teacher associated projects, Hudson Heritage Association. With the Hudson Heritage Association, our preservation work stopped the Ohio Department of Transportation from widening the road through one of best preserved villages in the United States. I also worked for the family-owned trucking business.
George: I do stuff. I gave the first bath to first child, changed diapers. I can fix most “things.” I do half of the cooking. I have had at least five great careers, including this one. I'm literate; people like my writing. I'm an active person who likes animals. Now 91; I’m slower.
(Katie is adding: George joined the Army Air Force as an Air Cadet in 1944; he graduated from Kent State University as a G.I. He received his bachelor’s in 1949 and his masters in Experimental Learning Theory in 1950. He worked for General Motors as a psychologist in personnel. He also worked at McGraw-Hill as a magazine editor in Cleveland, then New York City, and was also a McGraw-Hill Book Company Encyclopedia Executive Editor. He was part of Times Mirror’s World Publishing Encyclopedia and Dictionaries as well as a trucking company executive and innkeeper.)
Fresh Paths: How old were each of you when you decided to purchase the Inn at Brandywine Falls? How did you get interested in becoming innkeepers? Did you have any experience in running a B&B?
Katie: I was 56 years old when we decided on doing The Inn, which involved working with the National Park Service and Federal Government, as we replied to a Request for Proposal to lease The Inn for fifty years in exchange for us using our money to rehabilitate the property. We wanted a place where our grandchildren (we only had one at the time) would like to come and visit, as opposed to being obliged to visit the grandparents. We had traveled through Ireland in 1981 with our whole family and thought the trip enriched by staying in bed and breakfasts every night, where the innkeepers guided us to the best things to do in the area, best restaurants, etc. In 1983, we biked the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath (184 miles) and thought of the opportunity to own a property along that towpath so the guests could use the towpath for entertainment. When we returned home, we learned that there were plans to restore the towpath in the new Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area (CVNRA), established in 1974, just miles away from Hudson. With the establishment of the park, there would be properties to lease on the Historic Properties Leasing Program, a new program introduced in Congress by Representative John Seiberling, considered the Father of the CVNRA, to become the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (2000). While we had not officially ever run a B&B as a business, we had experience in renovating several historic properties in Maryland and Hudson and had had many house guests and parties over the years.
Fresh Paths: What excited and frightened you about this new adventure? How did friends and family react to your decision?
Katie: We loved having the beautiful house redone as it should be (the inside had been muddled). Living in Hudson with many preservationists, I knew to go to proper authorities for “doing the house” appropriately. The only fear was that no one or not enough people would come or that the guests would be difficult. Our friends and family thought we were insane!
Our daughter: “You mean you are going to have perfect strangers in your house and lay the table with Sterling Silver.”
Me: “ Yes.”
My brother (20 years my senior): "This is going to be too much work for you."
I am now the same age as my brother was when he died, and I am in a lot better shape with no serious health issues.
George: Our family and friends were used to our adventures.
Fresh Paths: How were the first few years of running the Inn at Brandywine Falls? What difficulties did you encounter?
Katie: At first I had nightmares almost every night of a guest named Buffie who always challenged me with difficult problems, so I guess I felt a lot of pressure to do everything perfectly by myself. George insisted on hiring some help, so I had to learn to delegate and break chores down into parts that high school kids could do, etc. Getting into a new routine in a new place is stressful, but time heals. Getting the word out to prospective guests that we were here was challenging. The reliable bed and breakfast guest books only wanted to publish inns which had been in business for three years. There was no internet with websites at the time, so George instituted “Sundays in the Park with George and Katie," which were tours of the Park and Inn by Lolly the Trolley. We trained many of our friends to be docents on the Trolley and in the house and served desserts and beverages to build local business. Most of our guests are still local and travel less than 40 minutes to be here. We never considered quitting because enough people came. We originally thought we would do The Inn for about 12 years and then sell our leasehold. We seriously considered moving to Nantucket, but when we put a pen to it, we realized we had too good a thing to give up.
George: At first it was taxing because of the catch 22 regarding entry in desirable B & B books, but we did foliage tours to get our name out.
Fresh Paths: Describe an average day running the Inn at Brandywine Falls.
Katie: Rise at 6:30 AM, shower, dress, make-up, hair, etc. and be in the kitchen by 7:45 AM. Prepare the oatmeal soup and fruit bowl and welcome helpers at 8:00 AM, turn on the computer, and everyone follows the list to get breakfast ready to serve with candles lighted by 9:00 AM. Afterward it's checking guests out, checking e-mails, answering phone calls, going shopping, doing errands, going to doctors' and dentists' appointments. We also meet with gardener, check supplies, do personal room cleaning and personal laundry. We do whatever the most pressing job or errand of the day is, maybe a nap, all between 11:00 AM (check-out time) and 4:00 PM (check-in time). We meet and greet arriving guests between 4:00 and 6:45 PM, assist getting luggage to rooms in fluffy bags (Note from a former guest: Everyone puts their luggage in fleece bags before taking them into the rooms to protect the Inn.), review literature with the guests so they know where to look for things, find restaurants, know what’s available in the Park and how to get there, etc. At 6:45 PM, we close down the kitchen, prepare and eat dinner while catching up on the news watching The News Hour twice, put out coffee and tea bags, etc, and Chocolate Chip Cookies, for 8:45 opening of kitchen. At that time, we show guests how to put hot water at sink into their cups, answer questions, etc. Check messages on message machine (we do not answer the phone from 6:45 -8:45 PM), final check of e-mails, call backs as necessary. Do preparations for next morning’s breakfast, put breakfast menu on blackboard (for guests and helpers), fill out next day’s duties on Duty Sheet for helpers, do exercises, personal care and go to bed (usually between 11:00 and 12:00 midnight.
Fresh Paths: What’s it like working with your spouse everyday?
Katie: This is one thing I worried about since I had resigned from our trucking company over a dispute with my spouse about getting a new copy machine; however, jobs at The Inn migrated to each of us, some new, some already established; George had always taken care of the outside, lawns, house painting, etc., and I took care of most inside things. George discovered he enjoyed setting the table. I planned and executed part of breakfast, and George became the omelet chef along with other skills like bread baking. So we happily work together on different aspects.
George: It's great. We’ve divided the work load. Katie is a good, rational person.
Fresh Paths: You’ve been doing this a long time now. Is it still fun for you?
Katie: If you are looking for money, this is not a profitable business, it's close to breakeven. So we will continue as long as we are able. Yes, it is still fun because the guests are interesting. Hardly a day passes when we don’t learn something new. So, we have a beautiful place to live and most all of our needs are cared for. While this business has not made us rich money-wise, it is a rich and fulfilling life.
Fresh Paths: Knowing what you know now, would you do it again?
Katie: Yes, we would definitely do it again, if we were the same age as when we started.
George: I can’t think of a better life.
Fresh Paths: What would you tell someone who is deciding whether or not to do something adventurous, something that many would say is a little “crazy”?
Katie: I would advise anyone interested in doing something adventurous, Go For It! But maybe have a Plan B. I thought at the time we started that if no one came, I would get a real estate license and buy fixer-upper houses, fix and sell them.
George: Find what you want to do as a lifestyle, meet that need first.
Interested in staying at the Inn at Brandywine Falls or learning more about the Hoys? Check out their website at www.InnatBrandywineFalls.com.