Family-owned resort celebrates 65th anniversary
AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Clockwise from top left: Grandfather Irv Mesher, mom Myra Mesher, and granddaughter Halsie (Mesher) Shoemaker in front of Irv's Rolls-Royce insignia golf cart at Palmerton's Sunny Rest Resort. The three generations have run the resort since 1978. On Memorial Day Weekend, Sunny Rest celebrates its 65th anniversary.
Carbon County's Sunny Rest Resort has discovered the secret of drawing guests year-after-year, for 65 years. As the resort prepares for its 65th anniversary celebration on the May 29 Memorial Day weekend, the family-owned operation is anticipating its biggest season ever.
Last year, the family - grandfather Irv Mesher, mom Myra Mesher, and granddaughter Halsie (Mesher) Shoemaker - broke the elusive $1 million hurdle for the first time. Not only is Sunny Rest among the oldest businesses in operation in Carbon County, it is among the most popular, drawing guests from the major northeastern population centers and filling the resort with 1,200 guests for their fireworks-filled July 4 weekend.
What has been Sunny Rest Resort's secret for success?
"It's about family," Irv said. "Our family has owned the resort for 33 years."
Fit and tan, Irv turned 85 years old this year. He knows all the regulars, and many of the regulars return year-after-year to schmoose with him.
Sunny Rest, a 190-acre clothing-optional gated recreational community, offers 40 year-round residential homes, 21 hotel rooms, 15 cabins, 150 trailerhook-up sites, and more than 100 wooded campsites. This mix of permanent residents and seasonal guests develops a family atmosphere where people look forward to meeting both old and new friends.
"When new guests arrive they'll ask me about meeting people," said granddaughter Halsie who manages marketing for the resort. "We tell those new to a clothing-optional resort that we have all kinds of people, from all walks of life, and everyone is welcome. We tell people about the day's events and suggest they meet people at the bar, the restaurant, and the pool."
The very best time to meet people will be at the wine and cheese social at 1 p.m. on the opening Saturday, May 22. They are offering special promotions for those that can visit ahead of the Memorial Day week's seasonal crunch.
Visitors also come for the fun: sand volleyball court, professional tennis courts, hot tub, sauna, gym, hiking trails, a 24/7 heated pool open, poolside bar, and a full service restaurant that recently hosted meetings of the Chambers of Commerce from Carbon County and from Lehigh County.
The Meshers continue to improve the resort which this year includes remodeled campsites, 30-amp service in hook-up sites, and renovated rooms with new mattresses and flat screen TVs. In the planning is a conversation hot tub pool next to the bar.
In the longer term, the family is planning to kick it up a notch. Their guests have been asking for the resort to remain open beyond Labor Day. To do this, the Meshers are eyeing the demolition of their office, dining room, and nightclub into a combined four-season facility, equipped with sleeping accommodations.
Sunny Rest Resort's 65th anniversary will take place from May 28 through 31-highlighted with a poolside celebration featuring hors d'oeuvres, live musical entertainment by Dave Werkheiser, and special drinks, contests, and karaoke.
Sunny Rest Resort is a legend in the clothing-optional resort industry. It's the third in the U.S., the first in Pennsylvania, the only one to have its own airport, and the first in the country to have a liquor license. Given its location in the Pocono Mountains, it has a much shorter season than competitive resorts.
Traditionally, Sunny Rest attracted many firefighters and police officers, hard-working people who enjoyed leaving their worries and their uniforms behind. Many came because they knew Irv Mesher, a retired New York City Fire Battalion Chief.
"From infants to the elderly, from truck drivers to physicians, men and women have discovered that clothing is a uniform that sets people apart," noted Myra Mesher, president of Sunny Rest Resort. "Many of our members are police officers, firefighters lawyers and teachers. They take off their uniforms and they are ordinary people."
Sunny Rest has a storied history. On Memorial Day May 29, 1945, Reed and Jeanette Suplee purchased a 72-acre and opened it as Sunny Rest Lodge. They invited friends and soon guests came on a word-of-mouth basis. After the Suplees divorced, Reed married Zelda, who managed the camp and took ownership after she and Reed divorced.
"Zelda promoted Sunny Rest for a family recreation and let the town know that this is a legitimate business," Myra said. "She invited the community here for square dancing."
In 1961, Wally and Shirley Rogers became partners with Zelda. When the Rogers divorced, Wally and Zelda continued as partners.
In 1978, Wally Rogers put Sunny Rest up for sale-offering it to Irv Mesher, a long time guest who, at the time was retiring from firefighting. "We started negotiations-we were at the right place, at the right time, and found the right price," explained Irv.
Irv and his wife, Shirley, and their family pooled all their money and took the gamble. They purchased Sunny Rest.
"We ran the business swim or sink - none of us had any business experience," said Irv.
In 1987, Irv retired and sold his interest to his son Michael and his wife, Myra. Myra and Michael divorced, and Myra continued running Sunny Rest. In 2002, Irv came out of retirement to form a management team with Myra. Myra is the president, Irv just enjoys knowing that Sunny Rest is in capable hands.
Myra's daughter, Halsie, grew up at Sunny Rest and loved it so much that she went to college to study marketing with the goal of being the next generation to operate the family business. Now 27 years old, she's been working summers at the resort since 2002.
"When I bought Sunny Rest nearly 35 years ago, I never dreamt that we would have a resort like this," Irv said. "I love living here. I can't imagine living anywhere else. Many people who live here say the same. It's a close-knit community. People are very friendly. Everyone mingles, gets attached and becomes family."