Since 1958, it weathered the vagaries of the hotel/motel business, hosted a celebrity or two, and helped people with misfortune along the way.
The history of the M Star Hotel, formerly the Arrowhead Motel, ended Aug. 1, when the Dover Township mainstay stopped accepting guests. Following an auction last week of furniture and other items, plans to officially end the business at 8225 State Highway 108 are scheduled Aug. 27.
The 4.1 acres of property have been purchased by an unnamed developer, who plans construction on the site. The deal was made after months of negotiation by 94-year-old Leo Gustwiller. The owner of M Star Hotel since 1979, he turned the reins of the 35-unit business over to his son, Robert Gustwiller, and his wife, Mary Alice, in 2001.
“Over 39 years of operation we had ups and downs in the lodging industry, and now someone wants to develop the land into something different,” Robert Gustwiller said.
The Arrowhead Motel had been built by a local dentist, Dr. Parks, to accommodate motorists coming off the new Wauseon turnpike exit. At some point, it was expanded to 35 rooms, thanks to the doctor’s purchase of fully-equipped fishing cabins brought from the Maumee River area of Napoleon. They were placed on foundations, attached to the motel, and given exterior decoration to match the original units.
In 1979, Robert Gustwiller’s father, Leo, was a potato chip salesman whose route included the motel. Looking for a buyer, the doctor’s wife told Leo the motel was a good opportunity.
He agreed and made the deal, but kept his salesman job through the first eight years he owned the motel. Robert Gustwiller, who developed a business, BG Roof Coating, in 1980, helped at his father’s motel part-time for several years. His brother Roger saw to the daily operations with their mother, Janet, who died in 2013.
After Roger’s death, a second brother, Gerald, took over, but he died in November 2001. At that time, the Gustwiller parents were at retirement age, “so we had to decide what to do with (the motel),” Robert said.
He volunteered to run the business for his father until that decision was made. “And that lasted for 17 years,” he said.
Ten years ago, the motel received an offer to join the M Star affiliation of Magnuson Hotels. Most of the transition went smoothly. However, the M Star affiliation was so new that Gustwiller had to wait for the company to create a logo before he could replace the Arrowhead Motel sign.
And because Magnuson Hotels took the lead, the company insisted the business change its designation from motel to hotel.
Running M Star Hotel struck Gustwiller as fascinating. “I always wanted to be self-employed, and I thought this was a great opportunity for the family,” he said.
It also meant devoting countless hours to the hotel, at times too many, he said. “Running a business, this is like running a dairy farm. You can’t have a dairy farm without someone to milk the cows,” he added.
In fact, the only vacation the Gustwillers took time for over their 17-year tenure was a 25th wedding anniversary trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Over the years, Robert and Mary Alice Gustwiller were determined to keep the hotel respectable.
“This was not the place you came to party. We tried to be a good business representing Wauseon and the Fulton County toll road,” he said. “When you’ve got a motel business you’re always going to have people who drink too much, party too much, and make too much noise, and we had our share of that. But we always tried to keep it under control.”
The hotel played host to a couple of celebrities, legendary singer Pearl Bailey in the 1980s and General William Westmoreland in the 1990s. It also played unexpected host a few times to deer who crashed through unit windows and trashed rooms, once as the human guest was still packing his vehicle to leave.
“They checked in but never checked out. They crashed through without paying,” Gustwiller said. “It was just a big old crime scene.”
On a December day in 2001, the hotel was the victim of a robbery. Gustwiller saw the assailant’s face before the man placed a ski mask over his head.
“He come in and said, ‘This is a (expletive) robbery.’ I said, ‘Yeah, right.’ He said he had a gun but I didn’t see it.”
After absconding with a couple of hundred dollars, the robber pulled away in his vehicle – and right past an unsuspecting Ohio State Highway Patrol officer parked too far out in the hotel’s parking lot to realize a crime had been committed.
Gustwiller said he was more angry than anything. “If the wife wasn’t here I probably would have done something stupid.”
The hotel also once experienced a guest’s suicide. “Over the years we’ve had our encounters with tragedies you would associate with a hotel,” he said.
The Gustwillers felt an obligation to give back to the community as well. For years, they gave discounts to local churches and the Salvation Army, which would arrange stays for what Gustwiller calls “modern hoboes,” itinerant people who traveled the country and made stops in Wauseon looking for temporary shelter. The hotel also gave free passage to active military personnel and their families.
While he may miss some aspects of the hotel, Gustwiller won’t miss the long hours or his introduction to some of his more colorful or difficult guests. He likened his experience to that of befuddled hotel owner Basil Fawlty in the popular 1970s British sitcom, “Fawlty Towers.”
“If you watch (it), you will understand the hotel, motel business,” he said.
He will now concentrate on his homestead, saying, “I’ve got 17 years of things I need to catch up on at my own property. I’m going to live.”
Still, he added, “We met a lot of people, made a lot of friendships – people who will miss us as much as we will miss them. Thanks for the 39 years. We tried our best to represent the area.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.