The Balsams: When did you start working at The Balsams?
Captain Gerda: Oh, back in the fall of 1986. I’ll never forget this: Chef Learned called me and told me they needed a ‘mature woman’ to help with the buffet. It was only supposed to be for 6 weeks until the resort closed for the fall. On my third day I was promoted to Captain of the Buffet. I was so happy when they asked me to come back for the winter. You know, every September on my anniversary, Chef would come up to me and say: “Best thing I ever did was make that telephone call to you.”
How did you and Chef Learned meet?
I was a guest. I had been coming up for 13 years to ski with my family. So when they asked me to stay I was excited – work and ski!
When you were working did you still find the time to ski?
Oh yes! I would work in the dining room for breakfast, and then go ski for a couple of hours during my lunch break. And then I’d come back in and work over supper. I did this every day I could!
So, what’s the story about the sign in this picture, “Come Ski with Captain Gerda”?
(laughs) This was Steve Barba’s idea. The guests knew that I would come out to ski every afternoon, and they would ask if they could join me. I would sometimes have six or seven people wanting to ski with me in the same day.
What is your best memory of working at The Balsams?
Easy, my best memory is when I got married to Lew on the ski mountain. My wedding dress was a ski jacket and ski pants, and Beverly had sewn a veil onto an orange headband that matched my jacket. When Lew got to the top of the mountain, the ski patrol was there holding a sign that said, “Don’t do it Lew!” A mix of guests and workers attended the wedding. After the ceremony they held up their ski poles like swords and Lew and I skied underneath. We met here at The Balsams, you know.
Really? How did you and Lew meet?
I knew his older sister first. She came to The Balsams every winter, and she brought him along on one of her trips. Lew and I started to talk– I was allowed to talk to the guests in the lounge in the winter – but it was never a big ‘to-do’. He was living in New Bedford and I had a home near Portland. I would rent out my house when I was working and go back home when the resort was closed [during the off-seasons]. After seeing him for two years I rented out my place year-round and moved in with Lew.
Did you become friends with any of the other guests?
We had the most wonderful, wonderful people come to visit. Most stayed one to two weeks, and they would come every year on the same week, so we got to know them. We weren’t supposed to spend time with the guests, but I got special permission sometimes. There was one lady, Elizabeth, who used to swim around Lake Gloriette. She wanted someone to join her so she asked Mr. Pearson if I could go with. We used to talk the whole time, but we realized that the sound carries when the water is calm, so we had to be careful about what we’d say!
You must have been here for some of the First in the Nation votes. What was that like?
The reporters loved to come up here for the Election – and the Primaries too. Some of them would stay overnight in the hotel. Oh goodness, there was so much press! In the early years it was different than it is now. You know, when I started there were only three phones in the hall and two phones behind the desk for them to use. So when the vote was in, they would all run and trip over each other trying to get to the phones first to give their stories to the offices. The first time it was televised it was on C-SPAN; there was one news truck with a giant disc in the parking lot. Nowadays the parking lot will have five or six news trucks and of course the reporters can use their cellphones. We would set up a nice buffet for them with coffee and sodas in the Ballroom.
When was your last season working here?
I retired from the dining room in 2002, but that wasn’t the end. I had moved up to the area with Lew, so when The Balsams needed help they would call me. I took on odd jobs. I was a Starter up at the golf course for three summers. I also worked with Mrs. T – that’s what we called Mrs. Tillotson – on Sundays; we would go into town and spend the day together. My best friends have come from my days at The Balsams.
What are you looking forward to most about the reopening of The Balsams?
I am so looking forward to when the people around here will have a place to work. For myself, hopefully I’ll see some of the old guests. We got to see their kids grow up; we met them when they were 5 or 6 years old, and then the next thing you know they’re in high school! They were really friends more than guests.
Oh yeah and the skiing! I’ll break out my skis and I’ll be up there on the mountain. I have some pains in my body now, but when you’re out there skiing you forget all the pain. I can’t wait!