The island lost one of the icons of the hotel industry this week with the passing of Michael Resch, 87. Resch, along with his wife, Lorette, opened the Island Beachcomber Hotel on Lindbergh Bay almost 60 years ago. And, suffering from a heart condition, that is where he left the island he loved Tuesday morning.
Tributes and reminiscences poured in this week for Resch, who clearly held a special place in the hearts of folks in the hotel industry.
Expressing his sympathy at the island’s loss, Gov. John deJongh Jr. said in a statement Wednesday, "Michael Resch not only played a large role in establishing St. Thomas as a viable tourist destination, but he helped develop local resources to ensure its success, imparting his design and construction skills on many who had the privilege of working with him."
The governor added, "With their energy, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit, the Resches founded the island’s first beach hotel, first car rental agency, and other unique businesses that paved the way for so many who followed."
"On behalf of the people of the Virgin Islands, Cecile and I offer our deepest condolences to Lorette Resch and the rest of Michael Resch’s family. He will be missed," deJongh said.
Lisa Hamilton, U. S. Virgin Islands Hotel and Tourism Association president, said she, personally, and the association, were very saddened.
"He was a pioneer in the hotel industry in the Virgin Islands," she said. "He laid the groundwork for a lot of what we have here today."
Resch became an accidental hotelier in the mid-1950s. Once he and Lorette landed on St. Thomas, they fell in love and never left.
While visiting and enjoying the pristine beaches, the two imagined a bungalow-style place to visit and stay, and that dream became a reality in a short time, with the opening of The Island Beachcomber, the first beachfront hotel on the island.
Knowing that their guests needed transport,the Resches also opened the island’s first car rental agency, Sun Island Car Rental.
A statement from the Hotel Association traces the couple’s history. Michael and Lorette committed themselves to many other tourism endeavors on the island, including award-winning and trend-setting Shibui, the first villa style mountain side resort.
Michael designed and built the properties with insight and integrity, while Lorette was instrumental in hiring and training staff. They were both committed to elevating the island services available to visitors.
In a White House ceremony, Michael received the Small Business Administration’s "Most Successful Small Business in a U.S. Territory Award" from President Lyndon B. Johnson.
"As a team, Michael and Lorette were true pioneers in our industry,” said Dick Doumeng, honorary board member and former general manager of Bolongo Bay Beach Resort. "Michael was the quiet one of the duo and a real good friend to me and the people of the Virgin Islands," said Doumeng.
The Resches were original members of the St Thomas/St John Hotel Association, started by Lorette, the late Alton Adams Sr. and the late Milan Glumidge.
Current Bolongo manager Richard Doumeng echoed his father’s words Wednesday.
"Mike and my father go back 40 years," said Richard Doumeng. "Mike was one of the unknown pioneers of the industry, the quiet guy who built the hotels and let his wife run the front of the house. Behind the scenes, Mike trained tons of people to do jobs in the construction industry. He hired locals.
"Mike was a funny guy, a gentleman, a class act all the way around," Doumeng said. "And I’m so glad the association was able to honor him while he was still with us. I think that was his last public appearance."
The Resches received the U. S Virgin Islands Hotel Association Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2010 Tommy Star Awards Gala. For three years, the association had tried to honor them but health issues prevented it from happening.
Mary Gleason, a voice in the hotel industry for the last 45 years, first at Bluebeard’s Castle Hotel and later at Marriot’s Frenchman’s Reef, called Resch "a real St. Thomas icon."
"He and his wife, Lorette, were true pioneers in the hotel and hospitality business,” she said. “He will be sorely missed by all who knew him, and who enjoyed his sometimes unique sense of humor."