It is with the deepest of sadness that we share the passing of our beloved Leader Judy Zehnder Keller, President and Owner of the Bavarian Inn Lodge.  Judy was been called to her Heavenly home on October 19, 2022. Judy passed peacefully in the presence of her close family.

“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 business woman 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.”

A long time entrepreneur, community leader, women’s advocate, working mother, wife and grandmother, Judy was the eldest daughter of the Bavarian Inn founders, Tiny and Dorothy Zehnder.  Judy celebrated the Bavarian German Heritage of her ancestors and all of those who founded our charming 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.

Judy was known in Frankenmuth, throughout Michigan and throughout many channels both nationally and internationally as an astute Business Leader.  She was a visionary at developing businesses and was passionate about creating amenities and services that WOWed her Guests.   She always shared a joint mission of creating enjoyable experiences for our guests, team members and ourselves every day.   Her personal service to others was limitless.  She was deeply supportive of organizations, of communities on many continents & of many individuals.  She never hesitated to support individuals in need if she was able to.

Judy, 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+ 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 this 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. Recently 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.

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,” 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 and first female president. 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!

Private funeral services will be held at Cederberg Funeral Home. Click here for more information!

Click here to read the Obituary.

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