- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 24, 2014

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - After 57 years behind the scenes at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and its predecessor, the Pantlind Hotel, Franz “Swiss” Imfeld stood front and center as his colleagues celebrated his career and retirement this month.

Imfeld started as a chef in 1957 and managed the hotel’s food purchasing department for the past 26 years. He was on the job by 4:30 a.m. six days a week and always stayed until the work was done, according to his boss, Mark Koster, the hotel’s chief financial officer.

“His mantra was the best food at the best price,” said Koster of the slightly built 83-year-old who emigrated from Switzerland in 1954.

Imfeld told The Grand Rapids Press ( http://bit.ly/1AA3aLv ) that he got the job by offering to work free for two weeks on the condition he could stay if they liked his work. They did and he stayed longer than most of his co-workers have been alive.

He stayed with the hotel when it was purchased by Amway Corp. in 1978 and headed its banquet service for the Grand Center until the hotel re-opened in 1981, when he was named executive sous chef. In 1988, Imfeld became the hotel’s head of food purchasing.

Koster estimated Imfeld has purchased more than $130 million worth of food and beverages on the hotel’s behalf during his tenure.

“My body will not let me work for 72 hours a week anymore,” Imfeld said. “I’m healthy, but my hearing is bad.” He joked he may find a part-time job that requires only 40 hours a week.

His wife, Barb Imfeld, confirmed his dedication to the hotel and his part-time job plans. “I can’t imagine him sitting at home,” she said.

Donna Doron, one of the hotel’s banquet captains, said the hotel won’t be the same without Imfeld chasing down whatever they needed to serve their guests. “It’ll take some getting used to without Swiss here. He’s the backbone of this place,” she said.

“He ran circles around guys half his age,” said Mike Donnelly, the hotel’s general manager. “He’s a never-say-never guy.”

The reception in the hotel’s Imperial Ball Room included Swiss-themed dishes and desserts prepared by culinary students at Grand Rapids Community College, where two scholarships are awarded to second-year culinary every year in Imfeld’s name.

To honor Imfeld, the hotel will rename its employee lunchroom as “The Swiss Café.”

The hotel also gave Imfeld, an avid golfer, an all-expense paid trip for two to Pebble Beach, Calif. and a round of golf at the fabled Pebble Beach golf course overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

For his part, Imfeld thanked Amway Corp. and its founders for reviving the old Pantlind Hotel. “We had good food, but the hotel wasn’t in great shape,” he said.

“Without the DeVos family, this place probably wouldn’t be here,” he said. “It’d probably be a parking lot.”

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Information from: The Grand Rapids Press:MLive.com, http://www.mlive.com

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