Teri Orr: The genuine spirits of…
I recently heard a brilliant definition of hospitality — as delivered by Napa winemaker Larry Turley. He was in town for a private wine dinner at St. Regis and I had the good fortune to be seated next to him. And someone, who knew him well, begged him to explain it, again.
"The real definition of hospitality," Larry said, "is making people feel at home, when you wish they were."
It was unexpected and so spot-on, for those of us who work in various parts of the hospitality field, that the table burst into appreciative laughter.
This week, longtime, naturalized natives of Park City (having arrived in the early ’70s) Gary and Jana Cole were awarded the Park City Chamber’s highly coveted, Spirit of Hospitality award. It was long overdue and a perfect pick for this generous, kind pair who have made family out of both their friends and their employees and have the most loyal customer base of any business in town.
I was a latecomer to their group — I moved here in 1979 — and they were some of the very first people I met in the town of 1,800. Jana was my son’s second-grade teacher (along with Sydney Reed and Betsy Bacon) and that first week Jana invited me to attend a TGIF party with other teachers. As a single parent, it meant the world to me. To Jana it was second nature.
Soon I met her handsome husband — the ski instructor and real-estate salesman. No one could exist in town without two jobs then (one for each major season).
I started dating (eventually marrying) local theater director Don Gomes and we learned the ski instructor had actually traveled the world in college and in the service with his opera-trained voice — he’d be perfect to cast in, well, any musical, as the lead.
Before we convinced Randy and Debbi Fields to turn the old Silver Wheel melodrama house back into the Egyptian Theatre, we put on shows all over town — including the hotel formerly known as The Yarrow. Gary played Lancelot in the production of Camelot and he took his role seriously. We took His Look in tights seriously. Still, he kinda believed he had the magical powers of his character. So at the cast party, at the end of the run, on a snowy blizzardy night, he tried to restart Guinevere’s dead car. He laid his hands on the hood ,where maybe two inches of snow had fallen, and waited. And sure enough, the snow melted, right where his hands had been!
But alas, the car didn’t start. Seeing his crestfallen look we convinced him he done the magic and the car just needed a moment to feel the love. We ushered him back inside for a glass of wine… and then found jumper cables, started her car and had him return outside to view his handiwork.
Jana, a few years later, decided the cast party for which show? Company maybe?… should be at their new home. She spent all day making, from scratch, all elements of the fabulous taco spread for 40. She even made it to the show to watch the first half but at intermission, nine months and more pregnant, her body decided the time had come to give birth. She waited until Gary finished his song and sent word it was time to go. And all the way down the hill she keep saying "make certain they know to come anyway and have the party." And so we did. Laughing and anticipating and then rejoicing, when we learned they had a boy.
Gary decided the real-estate gig had been good to him and it had probably run its course — by 1981 — so he would open a ski shop. And Cole Sport at the resort, complete with a grand piano between the clothing racks, was born. In those years friends really were family since we had all moved here from someplace else, and so we gathered for holidays. Once Gary opened the store, they hosted New Year’s Eve parties and I hosted Thanksgiving (which in retail, in a ski resort, when there was snow, is a very big day). I invited Gary and Jana always and after that, it was a kinda island of misfits in terms of occupations — ministers, cops, news personalities, lawyers, visitors to town who seemed nice enough.
In the mid ’80s I became a single parent, again, and Gary and Jana made certain my kids stayed employed — working in their added ice cream store at the resort, Pistachio’s, and later for Randy tuning skis in the shop and Jenny baking and selling cookies in Jana’s new venture, The Cookie Bear — a beloved fixture for more than a dozen years at the resort plaza selling cookies… and teddy bears.
If anyone had asked us then if that was a special time we wouldn’t have recognized it.
Gary and Jana right away become backers of the US Ski Team, but as importantly, backers of US skiers. One of their two sons would study film and retail and the other become a member of US Team and eventually became a coach for them.
Gary’s love of the arts continued and in the early ’90s there was a small group of folks who thought The City needed a Civic Center. Their friends on the school board said what was really needed was a high school auditorium. As the editor of the paper I had no skin in the game and I wrote the two groups should get together and create a joint-use facility.
A year later, after I left the paper to pursue a book project, I was approached to help them raise money to build the building. I ended up staying… just to help them create some programming. And then I just ended up staying. Gary and Jana contributed to the building and to the programming. Every single season. Every one. And bringing their New Year’s party to the theater. Gary served on the board and then became emeritus and then stepped back in when things got very, very dark. The Park City Institute has been his passion and love and we are all beneficiaries of his dedication.
Their commitment to KPCW with the Back Alley Bash, to the ski team with the Fun Run, and quietly to dozens of other charities and friends, is quietly legendary.
They are kind souls who have cared generously and quietly for our community all their years here. And here’s what you should know: Their spirit of hospitality isn’t limited to a business model. It is simply who they are. This award is long overdue. I hope they are still celebrating this very Sunday, in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.