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WELCOME WORLD: Ron Butler, of Howard Johnson’s

February 19, 2015
By ANDY FLYNN - Editor (aflynn@lakeplacidnews.com) , Lake Placid News

(Editor's note: This is a sample of the Feb. 13 conversation Lake Placid News Editor Andy Flynn had with Ron Butler at the Olympic Center with Lake Placid Olympic Museum Manager Alison Haas. He spoke about his experiences during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games.)

Name: Ron Butler

City of residence: Lake Placid

Article Photos

Ron Butler
(News photo — Andy Flynn)

Age: 83 (on Feb. 21)

FLYNN: What were you doing before the Olympics, professionally?

BUTLER: I was running Howard Johnson's, the hotel and the restaurant.

FLYNN: You were the CEO, or boss?

BUTLER: Yeah, I was the owner.

FLYNN: What did you do to prepare for the Olympics at the restaurant and the hotel?

BUTLER: We had a good staff because there were a lot of young people that wanted to be here during the Olympics and who lived in Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. So it was no problem having staff. Some people took off a year from college, and they had jobs for us. And during the two weeks of the Olympic Games, everyone was paid time-and-a-half, so that certainly was an incentive. ...

We were open 24 hours a day, and we had all the ABC technical people stay with us. Some of them were here for six months because during that time there was no Internet, there was no wireless. Everything was cable, so everything had to be cabled on Whiteface Mountain, on Van Hoevenberg. All the venues had to be cabled. So that was a lot of work, and it took a lot of time.

We had a few people from Irving Trust, but mostly all our guests were from ABC, which was a good sale because they were there for a long period of time, for six months. ... And they were still here after the Olympics.

HAAS: Did you have to put a bid in?

BUTLER: The prices were all set by the Olympic Committee or the state of New York, I'm not sure which, but by one of those so there was no gouging. You couldn't get $300 a night or anything like that. ... The rates were capped at a certain amount.

FLYNN: There were a lot of workers that came from out of town for the Olympics. Did you have any of that?

BUTLER: No. All ours were local. They were all from Saranac Lake. They were all from Lake Placid.

FLYNN: If you're coming from Saranac Lake, you had to take a bus. How did you get your workers here?

BUTLER: They had no problem. They got here. It wasn't a problem.

The health department came every single day, seven days a week.

FLYNN: What was that like?

BUTLER: It was fine.

HAAS: They would come and inspect the kitchen?

BUTLER: They would inspect whatever they wanted to, and sometimes they would come in the middle of the night. It wasn't necessarily that they were coming during the regular business hours. They would come anytime.

FLYNN: Did they go to all the restaurants?

BUTLER: Yes. All the restaurants were inspected. ... They had a lot of people. Everybody wanted to be here.

FLYNN: What was it like to live in Lake Placid during the games?

BUTLER: We had a sticker on our car. We could drive any place we wanted to.

HAAS: Did you actually drive to different places?

BUTLER: Oh, yeah, sure. We drove all over. We were at the opening ceremonies, our family. We were at the closing ceremonies. We were at all the U.S. hockey games. It just happened that we bought the right tickets. It was the luck of the draw, but we had tickets for the whole family.

FLYNN: Start with the opening ceremonies. What was it like taking the whole family?

BUTLER: It was cold! It wasn't a problem. We drove down there.

And we had guests staying at our camp, and that was Mrs. Johnson. That was Howard Johnson's sister, and we provided accommodations for them. I got all the tickets for them, and when they got here, they decided that they were very comfortable at camp and the only place they were going to go, they were going to go to Howard Johnson's and have dinner. So they came every night for dinner. They gave me all the tickets that I had gotten for them, and I gave them to the employees because they decided they weren't going to go out in this cold. They went to the opening ceremonies. We drove them there, and, of course, we drove them back.

FLYNN: Did you do anything special for your workers? Did you throw any parties?

BUTLER: I didn't give any parties for the workers. I gave them time-and-a-half for all the hours they worked during the Olympic period. ...

The other thing that I did was after the U.S.-Czech game, I invited the U.S. team and the Czech team to come and have dinner. I can remember, we had roast loin of pork, which I knew was a big thing for the Czechs. And so we had the Czech team and the U.S. team, Herb Brooks and his assistant all up at the hotel and had dinner, and they drank a lot of beer. ...

We did a lot of parties. We did a huge party for the East Germans. And of all the groups we did parties for, they were the only ones that paid cash. And I mean cash, hundred dollar bills. Everyone else was credit cards or "We'll pay you later" or "Bill us." ...

At that time, I had Rolf Schulte, who lives here in town. He was working for me, and he was very adept at cooking German food. And we got all kinds of German food that normally you would not see here, like eels, that sort of thing. And the East Germans were thrilled.

FLYNN: Do you have any favorite memories from the games?

BUTLER: Of course, everybody's favorite was the game against the Russians, and we were all there, the six of us, and we had great seats. It was on the corner by the goal when they scored the winning goal. The town was crazy. Everybody was yelling and screaming. Personally, it was a great experience for myself and for my family.

FLYNN: Did the Olympics change your business at all? And how?

BUTLER: I think that probably our best years - you know, we've been there since 1956 - were 1979 through 1994.

(The "Welcome World" oral history project is a partnership with the Lake Placid News, Lake Placid Olympic Museum and Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society.)

 
 

 

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