Ellis: Annedore Henrich taught me how to wash dishes

Ann Henrich taught me how to wash dishes. She taught me how to make a bed, how to bartend, and most of all how to work really really hard at something that matters.

In the early years of American skiing, that is to say in the early 1960s, Ann and her husband Emo ran the Birkenhaus, an Austrian-style inn at the base of Stratton Mountain in Vermont. Emo also ran the ski school at Stratton, bringing Austrian ski instructors to America and allowing college kids like me to teach others how to ski.

Back then, the Birkenhaus was my second home, and Ann and Emo my second parents. In one of the more insane decisions ever, my first parents drove from New Jersey to Stratton almost every weekend in winter. The drive was six hours and we arrived at the Birkenhaus exhausted and starving.

But there was Ann, welcoming us in. Emo was in the dining room after dinner, playing guitar and singing Austrian folk songs. Young Austrian ski instructors were hanging around, homesick, looking for love, or just the sounds of home. The inn had a giant red door (push don’t pull). There was a game room with a bumper pool, an exotic activity back then. Everything was exciting. We were there to ski on Saturday morning.

Lace-up boots. Cable bindings. Really long skis.

It was magical.

Last month, Ann Henrich died. I can’t express in this one blog post what she meant to me, but I will try.

Ann was born in 1937 in Frankfurt, Germany. She and Emo made their way to the U.S. where he was asked to start the ski school at the fledgling Stratton.

I didn’t know it as a kid but Ann ran a very tight ship at the Birkenhaus. There was no frivolity. She hid the hard work behind the scenes. She was friendly to us kids but always super efficient. The napkins on the tables always appeared magically folded just right in tight triangles.

When the Birkenhaus was full to capacity, Ann had us stay in the basement of their home next door. It was tight. We slept in bunk beds and we loved it.

The next morning it was up early for the first chair. 8:30 AM. We stashed PB&Js in a bag behind the ski school counter. Back then no one stole anything. You just left your stuff out.

We skied all day for about $5. Then it was back to the Birkenhaus for dinner, exhausted, but ready for more music from Emo and the excitement of meeting new friends from all over New England. We sang along, transfixed. It was so different than our suburban New Jersey life.

Thinking back, the best part may have been the lack of television. Instead, we played board games, records, and outside in the snow. Then it was up again Sunday morning for the “Pee Wee’’ race until 3 p.m. Then back in the car for the six-hour trip home and school the next day. Little homework was ever completed.

In college, I worked for Ann in the summers at Birkenhaus. And believe me, we were there to work. I spent those summers peeling potatoes, painting the railings, cleaning the pool, setting the dining room table, and washing the dishes. She even let me bartend on occasion. Some of the people I met across the bar are still at Stratton today. They were, and still are, legends.

Other guests included Robert Kennedy and his family, golf legend Arnold Palmer and the Aussie tennis great John Newcombe. A lot of beer was consumed but Ann’s tight ship remained on schedule, no matter who was in the dining room.

Her capacity for work was legendary and she instilled that ethic in the rest of us each summer. It was routine for us to work all day until 1 AM and be up to set the breakfast table at 6 AM.

Emo died in 2009. He was a man from the old country; a fabulous skier, woodsman, hiker, and mountain man of the first order. As a ski instructor working for him on weekends and through college, I would sometimes get to lead a class of hotshots around the mountain. On other days, in freezing cold, it was over to Cub School to teach the little ones. Working for Emo Henrich meant you were in the presence of greatness – intimidating, scary, and thrilling.

For Ann’s last days, Benzi, her older daughter and my dear friend, moved Ann from Austria back to nearby Jamaica, VT. We were honored to celebrate her 85th birthday at the Jamaica Haus, now owned by Benzi and run as an inn, just like the Birkenhaus.

Benzi is building the Jamaica Haus into an Inn that Ann would admire. She is all over social media, and easy to find. If you want to know more about Ann and Emo and their deep, profound legacy, drop her a line. Or better yet, stay a night or two at Jamaica Haus and breathe it all in.

I drove down from Montpelier for Ann’s birthday party, arrived early, and got to chat with Ann, relaxing in her recliner.

She greeted me as if it was yesterday. I was still 18 and there was work to do. No frivolity. Right to business. I would have it no other way.

RIP Ann Henrich.

Republished from kevinkellis.com. The author is a Montpelier resident, former lobbyist and journalist, and part-time host of Vermont Viewpoint on WDEV.

Categories: History

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