(11/24/11) - She's about to turn 90 and Dorothy Zehnder still works six full days a week in the kitchen of Frankenmuth's Bavarian Inn.
It's a work schedule the restaurant's co-founder has maintained for decades as she helped turn it into an international tourist destination.
Believe it or not, Dorothy and her late husband Tiny Zehnder used to be competitors.
As a teenager, Dorothy worked at Fischers Hotel, which is now Bavarian Inn, while Tiny worked right across the street at Zehnder'sm which he and his family operated. That was in 1940.
"I worked here at Fischers as a young girl, I was about 16", Dorothy said. "There was a dance hall in Saginaw, we all would meet there. And he was there, I was there with my friend and that's how we met. And then it didn't take long and he would come over to Fischers, in fact, he was hauling garbage at the time and I was a waitress. So we got to know each other and we were dating for about two years and then we got engaged, got married a year after and that was it."
In 1950, Dorothy, Tiny and others in the Zehnder family bought Fisher's. Tiny and Dorothy were the new managers. Dorothy decided right from the start, her role would be in the kitchen.
"First of all, I loved to cook", she said. "And I did even at that time as a young girl, I loved to cook. I loved the challenges and when I made something and the guests liked it..."
The thing is, business was tough in the '50s and there were thoughts of closing.
But Tiny was a dreamer, deciding instead, to expand and change the name to Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn, changing the entire look and feel in the process to reflect their German heritage.
In fact, that's also when he started promoting the area as Michigan's Little Bavaria. It worked, and business exploded.
Over the years, Tiny kept dreaming, adding new attractions pretty much every decade.
Through it all, Dorothy has kept the kitchen running smoothly and the hospitality true to her German traditions.
Even as she approaches her 90th birthday next week, Dorothy still loves the cooking. She loves it so much she still spends every Tuesday through Sunday in the kitchens at Bavarian Inn, cooking and baking and trying new recipes.
You'd better put on your running shoes if you want to keep up with Dorothy.
She is slightly easier to keep up with for the moment, but only because she broke her wrist and knee last month in a bit of a collision with another worker zipping through the kitchen.
She does take Mondays off to get a little family time. She spends it in her own kitchen at home, doing what she loves.
She is, indeed, a very special lady, to whom we'd like to extend a very special 90th birthday wish.
Bavarian Inn will celebrate Dorothy's 90th birthday on the big day, Dec. 1.
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