Get on Track

High-performance racing experiences puts you in the driver’s seat

By Sue Baldani

For Father’s Day, think outside the box and onto the track. Monticello Motor Club, located in Monticello, NY, offers adrenaline-pumping driving experiences on its premier automotive playground. MMC has 4.1 miles of driving track and a “Full Course” track which is 3.6 miles long with 18 turns and 450 feet of elevation changes.

“People love it,” says Marketing Manager Suzanne Forni Gonzalez. “It’s so unlike anything they’ve ever done. A lot of people haven’t had the experience of driving on track, and many like high-performance vehicles.”

Taste of The Track and the Porsche Taycan Experience are two great packages they offer, and no experience is necessary. “Taste of the Track is a full-day experience and is a perfect glimpse of what it’s like to be a member of MMC because you get to try all different parts of the club,” says Suzanne. “You’re on the track for quite a bit of the day with a private instructor, and then you’ll do some go-karting. You’ll also get a tour and have lunch.”

The Porsche Taycan Experience is a half-day offering where participants get to drive a fully-electric Taycan on track. As drivers, they’ll learn how to handle the car’s potential, which can reach 60 mph in under three seconds. As passengers, they can experience a full-course hot lap with a professional driver at the wheel.

Monticello Motor Club has a variety of vehicles for use, such as a BMW 240i, a BMW M2 Competition, a Porsche 911, a Mini John Cooper, and a  fully-equipped M2 racing car. The Club also allows people to use their own high-performance vehicles.

The on-site clubhouse serves breakfast and lunch, and also has a make-your-own sundae bar. “We have a kitchen staff who work magic and our chef is Culinary Institute of America trained,” says Suzanne.

“We have a full locker room with showers and a members’ garage for storage of private vehicles. We also have concierge services so if our guests need help with where to go or what to do, we can assist with that.

“Most of our clients are very busy people, and when they’re here, they can just let go of everything. All they’re thinking about is the car and what their next move is going to be.”

MMC is typically open from mid-April through mid-November, and shuts down for the winter except for members taking part in snow driving and off-road activities. The Club is popular with people of all ages, and members include a good amount of women and teens.

“We’re like a new-age golf club; we have our own driving range, which is the track.”

To find out more and to give dad a thrill this Father’s Day, go to https://www.monticellomotorclub.com/. He might just end up becoming a full-blown member.

Written for Chatham & Short Hills Lifestyle magazine in New Jersey.

Celebrate on the Island

A destination point for weddings

By Sue Baldani

Mackinac Island (pronounced Mackinaw) in Northern Michigan, has been a popular destination for years for generations of families staying a week or more and for day trippers taking advantage of a rare day off. But, it’s also a dream location for couples planning a wedding and/or a honeymoon.  

“We’ve had brides say, ‘I started coming to the island with my parents when I was three and I always knew I was going to get married here.’ And they do!,” says Liz Ware, vice president of sales and marketing for Mission Point resort hotel, and the owner’s daughter.  

“The island is truly beautiful and the water is crystal clear, like the waters of the Caribbean,” she says. Everyone has flowers and a garden; we have a lilac festival every year. It’s just a different way of life.”

Her parents, Denny and the late Suzanne Ware, bought Mission Point six years ago when the former owner wanted it to stay a family business. Today, Liz helps her father run the resort along with four of her five siblings.

“Working for a family business is so different and the owners are really involved,” says Michaelena Waite, manager of wedding sales. “They really know about any challenges our staff faces so they make sure they set us up for success. And I think guests like knowing that the family is right here.”

Mission Point, voted one of the top resort hotels in the Midwest by Travel + Leisure Magazine in 2020, is located on 18 acres right off of the lakefront overlooking the Straits of Mackinac. Liz calls the décor rustic elegance. “Our lobby has these big logs that were floated over from the island across from us when it was built.”

There are two buildings with a total of 241 guest rooms, and of those, 72 are two-bedroom family suites. Its Lakeside Salon & Spa is the largest spa on the island with its 5,000 square feet. It offers the full complement of body and hair care – anything one would need for a wedding.

To get around the island, which is a Historic National Landmark, you walk or bike, or you can take a horse drawn taxi; there are no cars allowed. Food for their restaurants comes from local area farms and is brought over by a ferry and put on a wagon. It’s then pulled by horse and brought to the hotel.

“We believe in our farm to ferry cuisine and locally-sourced foods,” says Liz. “Northern Michigan has a lot of small farms and produces a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. We also have a cocktail garden where we grow a ton of mint, lavender and a bunch of other ingredients that are used in our fresh cocktails.”

Mission Point is well known for its great lawn, where guests can stroll around, enjoy the view of the lake, and breathe in the fragrant scent of flowers. There are also plenty of Adirondack chairs where they can sit back and relax.

Mackinac Island is a seasonal destination, and the season generally begins the beginning of May and goes through the end of October. Mission Point opens its doors on April 30, and weddings are held all throughout the season.

“The charm of the island is a favorite thing,” says Andrea Crawford, senior manager of Conference Services, which also handles weddings on property. “You feel like you’re in a different place. Time stops. My absolute favorite thing here is when they have the horse and carriage bring the bride, or pick up the couple. No matter how many times I see it, it’s just the most amazing thing ever.”

Due to COVID-19, the focus is on flexibility of space and bringing celebrations outdoors since the outdoor restrictions haven’t been as severe as the indoor restrictions. “What we’re finding, in most cases, is couples who are planning on getting married want to get married,” says Liz. “They’re not interested in postponing, so it takes a really strong team on a property like ours to work with couples to go through Plan A, B, and possibly C. You can’t just plan on one set of restrictions. You have to plan for multiple versions.”

“We do everything and anything that we can do to make their day as special as we can while still abiding by the restrictions,” says Andrea. “We have to communicate with our couples and crew to keep them informed, and they trust us to do that.”

“With COVID, our whole world has flipped upside down,” says Michaelena. “Thank God we have an amazing team who all jump in together to make things happen. It’s definitely not easy. I give you an idea of what will work best to make your wedding dream come true, and then do the handoff to our Comfort Services team, which is just amazing and flawless. Then that trust and that relationship is built even more while planning all of the details with them.”

For an outdoor ceremony, says Andrea, there are a couple of choices. They can set up white chairs on the great lawn facing the water, and have an arch that is beautifully decorated with flowers for the couples to be married under. Or, there is also a gazebo on the great lawn, which is separated by beautiful landscaping to give it a more intimate feel.

“We have a lot of outdoor space,” says Liz. “We have a 38,000 square foot conference center and the rooftop area of that is a deck area, and we just built this beautiful pavilion on it. It opened last May, and the views of the water are spectacular.”

Pre-COVID, Mission Point could hold receptions for up to 350 people. Now, the number allowed this coming season is up in the air. “There’s not the shock this year as there was last year,” says Liz. “We’ve lived through a year of COVID, and everyone has learned to become flexible and pivot, and so couples are pretty calm about it and pretty adaptable to any situation. Which is really good, because there’s a lot of stress with a wedding to begin with, and then you have possible restrictions on top of it. But all in all, we’re very positive about this season.”

Many couples who get married at Mission Point stay on for their honeymoon. Others come just for their honeymoon. “We offer several packages and we can create custom packages as well,” says Liz.

Packages include round-trip ferry tickets, and champagne and chocolates upon arrival. They also include a five-course dinner in Chianti. “This is a restaurant I would call a great place for foodies and wine lovers,” says Liz. “We have a five-course prix fixe dinner that is served every night and it is outstanding.”

There are several signature suites in which a couple can stay, based on availability and budget. There is the 1,200 square foot Presidential Suite overlooking the water. There is the Tranquility Suite with two double doors that open up to a view of Tranquility Point, which overlooks Lake Huron.

“It is extremely beautiful and has its own little patio,” says Liz. “Brides love to get ready in there and have photos taken.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Since Mission Point is a very popular destination for weddings, Liz recommends booking large weddings a year in advance. And thinking outside the box. “With so many people having to rebook from last year, Sunday weddings are becoming popular along with weekday weddings. If you can do a weekday wedding, do it. Your destination isn’t likely to be as crowded and you’ll find you’re going to get a break on your pricing. Your wedding guests can make it a vacation for themselves as well and stay more than one day. And this way, you can spend more time with family.

Guests can even bring their dogs. Liz says Mission Point is the only resort on the island that allows pets. Nick, the resident Border Collie, loves greeting guests when not helping keep the geese off the great lawn He’s very popular with children (and adults), who love getting their picture taken with him.

Mackinac Island is located 4.5 hours north of Grosse Pointe. To find out more, or to book a day trip, a spa day, or a wedding or other event, go to https://www.missionpoint.com/.

Written for Grosse Pointe Lifestyle magazine in Grosse Pointe, Michigan.

Saving Lives, Supporting Families

It takes a village (and a lot of love)

By Sue Baldani

On June 24, a lucky winner will find out that he or she will soon be living in a dream home! Now in its fourth year in Topeka, the 2021 St. Jude Dream Home campaign launched this past April with a goal to raise $750,00 by the time it wraps up this month (and a whopping $2.8 million for all four years.) Along with the home, other fabulous prizes will be given away as well.

The funds raised from this campaign will help St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital continue its almost 60 year mission of finding cures for childhood catastrophic diseases. While doing this, it will also support the families who are battling right alongside their children.  

This campaign would never have been possible without the support of the Topeka community. The number of people involved, from the builders to the subcontractors to the designers and retail establishments, is phenomenal, and they’re all passionately committed to the cause.

“One person can’t do it on their own, so if you have enough people get together, you can make it happen,” says Mike Drippé, owner of Drippé Homes, who built the first and fourth homes. Mark Boling Construction built the second and third.

As this latest home was being constructed, Brandi Whisler, lead interior designer for Drippé Homes, was busy planning how to make the inside as worthy of a dream home as the outside. “We definitely wanted to do something a little bit more mid-century modern,” she says. “I thought it would be a fun opportunity for us to bring a new style to Topeka.”

Her favorite part of the house, she adds, is the really amazing fireplace with porcelain tile and a floating hearth. It’s the first thing people see when they walk in the door and gives it that “wow” factor.

Brandi was also daring in her color choices. “I love using black and I think people are sometimes scared to do that. We have some accent walls that are black and some cool geometric trim detail.”

Brandi worked closely with Jennifer Dodge from Furniture Mall of Kansas, a family-owned-and-operated business that has been involved in the campaign all four years. For this home, it’s supplying all the furnishings for the entire first floor.

“Some of the finishes they used in this home have a mid-century modern inspiration to them and that’s what inspired our design as well,” says Jennifer. “We wanted to play along those lines and have those elements in it.” Her mother, Joyce Winter, is also helping with the design.

“First and foremost, our goal at Furniture Mall is to help bring happiness through helping our guests create more beautiful and comfortable homes,” she says. “That’s really our mission and I hope we accomplished that through the design of this house and making it feel like a dream home.”

One of her favorite rooms is the master bedroom. “We are bringing in a beautiful bedroom set which has live-edge detailing as well as black steel elements.”

Everyone involved in the campaign feels it’s an honor to support St. Jude and its mission. “I know some parents who have gone to St. Jude with their children, and they described it as if you’re in this tunnel of darkness and sometimes St. Jude is the only bit of light you feel that you have,” says Brandi.

Adds Mike, “Anything we can do to alleviate that suffering and that stress they’re going through – this is a way to help show love for other people’s kids. I can’t cure their cancer, but I can do this little part to help.”

He stresses that many of his and Mark Boling’s subcontractors have been involved all four years. “They consistently donated over $10,00 every year in labor or materials, so that’s an important part of it. And they are thrilled to do it.”

“Supporting St. Jude in its lifesaving mission of ‘Finding Cures. Saving children’ allows our entire Furniture Mall family to be part of making a real and positive difference,” says owner, Jeff Winter. “I would encourage any business that desires to grow and inspire their team to get involved.”

To learn more about St. Jude and the St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway in other cities and states, go to www.DreamHome.org

Written for Topeka Lifestyle magazine in Topeka, Kansas.