Dorothy Zehnder Obituary, Frankenmuth, MI, Remembering the Beloved Matriarch of Bavarian Inn

Dorothy Zehnder Obituary – FRANKENMUTH, MI – The community of Frankenmuth is mourning the loss of Dorothy Zehnder, the beloved matriarch of the Bavarian Inn and an iconic figure in Michigan’s Little Bavaria. Dorothy passed away at her Frankenmuth home on Sunday, July 9, surrounded by her family. Born on December 1, 1921, in Reese, Michigan, she co-founded the family-owned Bavarian Inn Restaurant and dedicated over 85 years to its success and the many community and business operations under the Bavarian Inn name.

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Dorothy Zehnder’s impact extended far beyond the walls of the Bavarian Inn. She was not only a renowned cookbook author but also an inductee of the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame and a lifelong member of St. Lorenz Lutheran Church. Her dedication to hospitality and business acumen made her a civic leader, educator, author, and mentor. She used her talents to contribute to various restaurants, tourism, governmental, religious, and philanthropic organizations. Known as a “humble servant leader,” Dorothy’s selfless nature and unwavering commitment to her community inspired those around her.

Dorothy Zehnder Obituary – Together with her late husband, William “Tiny” Zehnder, Dorothy co-founded the Bavarian Inn in 1950. While Tiny took on the promotional aspect of the business, Dorothy played a vital role behind the scenes. She developed the majority of the restaurant’s cherished recipes and trained tens of thousands of employees over the course of 70 years, ensuring that the foods served in the 12 dining rooms, accommodating 1,200 guests, were prepared to perfection.

The Bavarian Inn Corporation, at its peak employment, boasts approximately 1,000 employees and serves thousands of people daily, providing approximately 900,000 meals each year. The Bavarian Inn is recognized as one of the top 50 most prominent family-run restaurants in the United States. Today, Dorothy’s children, their spouses, and her grandchildren, a total of seven family members, work diligently to carry on the Bavarian Inn’s legacy and ensure its continued success.

The Zehnder family’s business ventures have expanded to include the Bavarian Inn Restaurant and Castle Shops, Bavarian Inn Lodge, Frankenmuth River Place Shops, Covered Bridge Shop, Frank’s Muth, Frankenmuth Cheese Haus, Bavarian Bleachers, a specialty line of food products, and an online store. Additionally, the family operates the William and Dorothy Zehnder Foundation, continuing their commitment to philanthropy.

Funeral services for Dorothy Zehnder will be held at St. Lorenz Lutheran Church, and details will be announced by her family. She will be laid to rest at St. Lorenz Cemetery alongside her husband, who passed away in 2006 after 63 years of marriage. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to St. Lorenz Church or Frankenmuth City Beautification.

Dorothy leaves behind a rich legacy and is survived by her brother, Ray Hecht, two children, Bill (Karen) Zehnder and Roxie (Jerry) Westgate, her son-in-law, Don Keller, 10 grandchildren, and 25 great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her husband, sister Edna (Hecht) Hegenauer, and daughter Judy Zehnder Keller.

The Frankenmuth community and beyond extend their heartfelt condolences to the Zehnder family during this difficult time. Dorothy Zehnder’s memory will forever be cherished, and her impact will continue to inspire generations to come. Her commitment to hospitality, community, and family serves as a shining example of a life well-lived. Rest in peace, Dorothy.

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