‘We’re going to miss her’: Family, friends mourn Dorothy Zehnder

Dorothy Zehnder, the beloved matriarch of Frankenmuth, died on Sunday, July 9.
Published: Jul. 10, 2023 at 10:54 AM EDT
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FRANKENMUTH, Mich. (WNEM) - Dorothy Zehnder, the beloved matriarch of Frankenmuth, died on Sunday, July 9 at the age of 101.

“We’re sad to lose such a legend in our family, but we are happy for her that she is reunited with our grandfather Tiny in heaven. And we’re just rejoicing with her that she can be with Jesus Christ,” said Amy Zehnder-Grossi, granddaughter of Dorothy.

The Bavarian Inn matriarch, who was a staple of Frankenmuth and known well beyond its borders, passed away at her home Sunday night. She was 101 years old.

Zehnder-Grossi recalled one of the last conversations she had with her grandmother that centered around food.

“Her mind was great until the end. And I said, ‘I love you, grandma.’ And she said, ‘I love you too.’ And that was a perfect way to end our conversation,” she said.

Zehnder-Grossi said Dorothy died of natural causes.

“She was 101 and her body started showing her age,” Zehnder-Grossi said. “And so, it wasn’t real sudden for us, but, she died peacefully with family around.”

After word of Dorothy’s passing spread, Zehnder-Grossi said condolences, positive thoughts, and well-wishes have poured in from near and far, which is something she appreciates.

“We’ve received so much support from the community, from our team here at Bavarian Inn. You know, our team is grieving also. And so, we’re a big family here. And so, it’s just nice to be with each other. And we’re just grateful for all the support that we’ve received so far,” she said.

She said the legacy of Dorothy will live on.

Many said Frankenmuth wouldn't be what is had it not been for Dorothy Zehnder and her husband Tiny.

“We’re going to do what we can do to live up to her expectations and continue to make Frankenmuth the great place it is,” Zehnder-Grossi said.

Many said Frankenmuth wouldn’t be what is had it not been for Dorothy and her husband Tiny.

“When her and Tiny were partners in business for many, many years, they created what we know as Frankenmuth today and being Michigan’s Little Bavaria,” said Jamie Furbush, the president and CEO of the Frankenmuth Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

Furbush said Dorothy Zehnder played a big role in attracting tourists to the area.

“Dorothy loved visitors. She was always in the dining room greeting people and signing her cookbooks. And I think it’s what makes the spirit of hospitality so special in Frankenmuth is she led by example because she wanted to be with the people who enjoyed her business and enjoyed her cooking,” Furbush said.

Dorothy did a lot more than cook. Six years ago, she was featured on a big screen at Times Square in New York City. She and her husband Tiny are members of Michigan’s Polka Music Hall of Fame, and she has taken part in the ceremonial puck drop at a Saginaw Spirit game.

In 2017, Dorothy threw out the first pitch at a Detroit Tigers home game.

“It was fun, she was worried about if she could get it to the home plate,” Furbush said. “She just had such a positive attitude, that’s what I always remember. She was always a, ‘Oh yeah, let’s try that!’ And so, had a great go-getter attitude and always positive about life.”

While many are mourning the loss of a local celebrity, for Zehnder-Grossi, this was Grandma.

“I’m going to miss her smile, her spunk for life, I’m going to miss her advice. You know, who am I going to call when I have a question on a recipe? She would always be there to share her advice and we’re going to miss her,” Zehnder-Grossi said.

Her funeral service will be held at St. Lorenz Lutheran Church at 11 a.m.

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