Mercyhurst Sleeping Bear Inn Feature

Mercyhurst University profile of Maggie Kato

Mercyhurst Sleeping Bear Inn FeatureMercyhurst University Magazine has a great feature on Maggie and the Inn:

Maggie Kato ’82 isn’t afraid to wake a sleeping bear. In fact, she’s taken on the ambitious task of rehabilitating and soon operating the Sleeping Bear Inn, the oldest inn within the National Park Service.

If you knew Kato in her Mercyhurst days, you knew her as Margaret Wirtz. She only recently started going by Maggie, around the same time she retired from a meaningful career with Genesee County Habitat for Humanity. Now Kato and her husband, Jeff, are stewards of a historic property that will open as a bed-and-breakfast this year. Located in Glen Haven, Michigan, Sleeping Bear Inn is part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a national park on the northwest portion of Michigan’s lower peninsula.

“The Lake Michigan water is often a Caribbean blue hue that contrasts with the brilliant blue sky and the tawny sand perfectly,” Kato says of the spot, which she describes as “paradise.”

The inn was built in 1866 as a frontier hotel and operated until the 1970s. The Katos noticed the historic but empty building while on vacation, and their curiosity was piqued. They formed the nonprofit Balancing Environment and Rehabilitation (BEAR) in 2018 and submitted a proposal to rehabilitate and run the inn. In March 2022, it became official when BEAR secured a 40-year lease.

Kato would not have imagined herself restoring the oldest inn in the National Park Service—“never in my wildest dreams!”—however, her path to this point might make perfect sense. At Mercyhurst, she majored in Human Ecology, a field that studies the relationship between humans and their natural and built environments. Looking back, her college concentrations in Interior Design and Foods and Nutrition also foreshadowed her current role, as Kato seeks to maintain the historic charm and authenticity of the building even as it is modernized, and she looks forward to cooking for guests in the inn’s large, homey kitchen.

She credits her career as executive director of Genesee County Habitat for Humanity with preparing her for this project. During her 15 years in the position, Kato saw the organization grow from building one or two homes a year to building and rehabilitating as many as 50 homes a year.

“I’m very proud of what we were able to accomplish,” Kato said. “I believe our response to the Flint water crisis was especially impactful, and during my time with Habitat for Humanity, we were able to provide decent, affordable housing solutions, and that is wonderful work to be a part of.”