EAST GLACIER PARK – Ian Tippett didn’t have a day off all summer.
As the season at Glacier Park Lodge wound down, Tippett was busy in the mailroom. “Room,” actually, is a rather generous way to put it.
It’s clear that this slice in the lower annex of the Lodge is a room for one. The walls are papered over with old photographs and mementos that go as far back as 60 years ago. A cadre of smiling faces line the walls, each with a story that Tippett has stored in his expansive memory, ready to be told if the right trigger is mentioned.
At the age of 80, the Glacier Park’s Lodge mailroom is Tippett’s latest job, and he’s hard pressed to think of a job in the hotel business that he hasn’t had.
“This morning I was cleaning all the public bathrooms,” he said.
It’s not a job he usually does, but since one of his employees was gone for a few days, it wasn’t hard for him to fill the gap.
“All I’ve done all my life is run hotels,” Tippett said recently. “I’m a disciplinarian from the old school.”
Tippett learned that discipline young, and he learned it from the best. A London-born Englishman, he came to the United States on a scholarship to learn the business at one of Conrad Hilton’s hotel properties in Chicago. Tippett had just graduated cum laude from hotel management school at Westminster College in London. It was a time when Hilton hotel properties were large, revered and few.
The program was intended to teach the group of scholarship winners the complete ins and outs of the hotel business. They would start in the laundry room and work their way up from there.
Tippett still remembers sitting in the office of Conrad Hilton with seven other European scholarship winners. It was a brief meeting, no more than 15 minutes, but Tippett still remembers what Hilton said to him after shaking his hand: “Mr. Tippett, you’re a young man. Your performance record follows you all of your life.”
It was a piece of advice Tippett would not forget.
Shortly after that meeting, Tippett came to Glacier Park Lodge in 1950 as its front desk manager, intending to stay for a summer and then head back to London to work at the Hilton property there.
But Tippett decided to stay one more summer, and one more after that, and yet another, until 60 years later, Tippett sits in a room covered in memories.
In his years here, Tippett has seen ownership of Glacier Park Inc. and its hotels change hands four times. As in 1960, a Tucson, Ariz., mayor named Don Hummel bought the operation and put Tippett in charge of the Many Glacier Hotel, a job he would have for the next 25 years.
Tippett spent a week in the hotel by himself and decided that the walls were paper thin, it got too cold at night, and only half of the rooms faced Swiftcurrent Lake, meaning the other half’s guests would check in already slightly disappointed.
“How the hell are you going to please all these people?” he asked himself.
The answer came a year later, when, after an aggressive recruiting campaign at universities across the country, Tippett hired a staff of fresh-faced, enthusiastic college students looking to make a buck in the idyllic surroundings of Glacier.
He recruited based on major: accounting students handling cash and working the front desk, culinary students in the kitchen and history majors giving the bus tours. But Tippett also made the unusual move of seeking out music and drama majors to fill staffs of waiters, busers and bellhops.
While they worked eight-hour hotel jobs, they infused the Many Glacier experience with the ethereal levity of show tunes and hootenannies and made Many Glacier Hotel a one-of-a-kind summer experience. The wait staff would sing to their guests as they ate. The bellhops, clad in lederhosen, would run out to greet arriving tourists and sing as they took their bags.
“No one got off the bus without being serenaded,” Tippett said. “The guests were thrilled to bits with what they saw.”
Behind the scenes, too, Tippett trained his employees with the old-school discipline he had learned from Westminster and from Conrad Hilton himself. On his desk, Tippett has the picture of a young man he recruited off the streets of Los Angeles, which he did after Hummel told him he wanted every portion of the country to be represented at Glacier.
The young man knew nothing about the national parks, and didn’t even know where Montana was, Tippett said.
“What do you like to do?” Tippett asked him.
“I like money,” he replied.
That summer, Tippett had him work the front desk as a cashier, and soon entrusted him to run the hotel’s employee bank. They still keep in touch, and the young man he found on the streets now works in the finance department of a university in California.
What started as a way to keep guests satisfied turned into a now bygone golden age of service and entertainment at Many Glacier Hotel. Officially, Tippett is retired now, but he comes back to Glacier every summer, where he lives in a tiny cottage near the entrance of Glacier Park Lodge. The immaculate display of flower beds surrounding the house are all his work.
Tippett took over operation of the mailroom because “it was such a bloody mess.” His management of mail may not be as glamorous as his tenure with the Many Glacier Hotel, but he still applies his indefatigable work ethic into just about every job he’s had since then. He can still be found cleaning a bathroom, washing a floor or scrubbing a dish every now and then.
After what was originally thought to be a one-season stint at Glacier turned into 60 years, Tippett’s plans of working his way up in the Hilton company didn’t develop as he had planned. But Conrad Hilton’s advice to young Tippett must have stuck anyway, because Ian Tippett’s performance record doesn’t just follow him, it’s etched into Glacier’s history.
He’s ready to put in another 20 years.
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