The love a son has for his father is shown as Dr. Michael Janssen wishes to honor his late father. However, disappointing setbacks are leaving the wish unfulfilled. Continue reading to learn more.
A father and son bond can be one of the strongest there is, and Dr. Michael (Doc) Janssen, owner of the Saratoga Resort, was extremely close with his father Harold Janssen. According to Doc’s wife, Dr. Sharon Janssen, Doc’s father inspired his son with a strong work ethic and commitment to help others.
Harold owned a small lawn and tractor business, which he built up himself. He left school in the 8th grade and became adept with taking care of machinery. Sharon said Harold was a genius in many ways, but he was humble. He also wanted his children to do well.
Doc was the first in his family to go to college.
Sharon said father and son stayed close until Harold passed away at age 91 earlier this year.
The Janssens don’t go out of their way to be in the spotlight, but the couple raise funds for worthy causes. The Saratoga Fire Department knows this. Search and Rescue has seen their generosity.
Vice Commander of the American Legion Joe Parsons knew the Janssens he was aware there was a situation they could help with.
The Janssens owned some land near the Never Forget Me Park needed to complete the park. There was some land which had been previously owned by the Saratoga Inn before it went to the town for a tax issue. Janssen owns the 40 acres plus next to the .43 acre of land.Parsons went to the Janssens and proposed a possible land swap.
“I know Doc personally and I was able to reach out to him and say, ‘Hey we are trying to get this park put together and you own this little sliver of land,” Parsons said. “‘Could you and the Council or town officials get together and see if there is something that can be done to get the park done and we can check it off as completed.’ The park project has been going on for a very long time and Doc said absolutely he would be open to the idea.”
Parsons said the swap was exciting to many in the American Legion because the park looked to be getting done. When the land swap was voted down, he said it is frustrating because it is another setback for the park.
“Tyler Pickett died in 2008 and the park is still not being built and it is mind boggling that this generosity is being turned down,” Parsons said. “I don’t know how it all got misconstrued and I don’t know exactly where we go from here.”
When the idea of swap got on Harold’s radar, he admired his son’s commitment to help the town of Saratoga’s effort to get the Never Forget Park in memory of Staff Sergeant Tyler Pickett who had been killed serving his country. He learned the name of the park was originally named after the fallen veteran, but his mother Sheri Peterson asked for the name change.
According to Doc, his father, who had served in the Korean War, was touched by the honoring of fallen heroes and he wanted to contribute $30,000 when the land swap occurred to help.
Doc was happy his father was contributing the gift to help the park.
“We as a family are trying to find good things to do that help the community and we have for about a dozen or so years,” Doc said. “My father wanted to help but somehow it turned out we were using the money as a bribe to many people who knew nothing of the facts.”
Sharon gets sad when she hears this.
“It is not only disheartening,” Sharon said. “It is heartbreaking.”
The Janssens can’t help but be sad given how much they care about the community where the Resort is located.
The Janssens came to the Saratoga Inn in 1991 on a snowmobile trip. Doc became enchanted with the town and came back on his motorcycle and found himself wanting to invest in a place like the Saratoga Inn.
Sharon remembers coming up on weekends with the family and thinking the resort had tremendous potential which had not been realized.
“It was so much fun coming up to Saratoga and the Inn,” Sharon said. “It was also such a family place and I remember one winter hearing the place was for sale and I jokingly told Michael, we should buy this place since he loved the place so much.”
The Janssens got their wish, but only after being denied three times by the sellers.
“The owners didn’t sell to us because I think the community didn’t want people from out of state,” Doc said. “The place was one of the largest employers and I guess the community wanted the owners to be from Wyoming.”
After the third deal fell through, the Saratoga Resort and Spa was a Janssen property.
“It is such a unique place, and it is a labor of love,” Sharon said. “It is a place that needs a lot of attention to infrastructure alone.”
“I learned we had gotten the Resort while over in Dubai while doing some volunteer work,” Doc said. “I was excited. Sharon is right. Owning the Resort is a labor of love.”
In the dozen years they have owned the Resort, the Janssens have been trying to improve the Resort’s facilities, which includes an award winning brewery, and show care for their employees.
The Resort employs about 85 in the summer peak season and between 60 and 70, during the winter. Every employee is fed on shift, when they come to work. They can order from an employee menu or eat at a buffet that is open for two hours, twice a day.
Tiffany Hughes who has worked for the Resort for 14 years and seen how the place has changed since she started. Hughes said more locals have been coming the past few years.
Hughes has only praise for her employers.
“They are friendly and they care,” Hughes said. “Once when I was waiting on Doc, he asked how I was, and I told him I was having some back issues. He is a back doctor and he started asking me questions and then he told me he would help me. I have been here since they took over and my daughter has worked here nine years. You don’t leave a place that treats you well.”
During the pandemic, although the Resort shut down its doors, it did not lay one employee off, Sharon said.
The Janssens agreed to the land swap and told the town about Doc’s father’s donation.
Doc had no idea there were any issues with the town about the deal.
“I was asked to pay for half of a survey in January. I think it was $2500,” Doc said. “Then I thought it was just going to proceed. Then I was told there had to be a certified appraisal. The town worked five months to find someone.”
Doc didn’t even really think numbers were an issue. He was swapping land that would add less than one percent to the acreage he already owned. He was doing the swap because it would help the park.
The town’s land came in appraised at around $62,000 and Doc’s came in at around $45,000.
“I was told it was only a formality that we needed to have an appraiser,” Doc said. “The town needed our land and I was willing to swap. The land owned by the town is just sitting there. No money comes in from taxes and the land we own is part of the driveway to the park. The appraisal didn’t really change anything.”
It did in the town’s eyes.
There were residents who made clear swapping the land had the town getting a bad deal.
Now a new design must be commissioned and paid for. This is the more delay to get the park done, Parsons talked about.
Doc said everyone is entitled to their opinion, but facts are facts.
There were no closed door sessions between either the mayor or town council members and himself.
“I have never been contacted by any of the town’s council members about this,” Doc said. “I have never talked to a council member nor have I been asked to participate in a town council. I could call in if I was not able to be there in person.”
Another fact is Doc’s father was donating $30,000 to help the park when the land swap went through. He had told Doc this is what he wanted to do in December of 2021. Doc told Saratoga Mayor James Creed of his father’s wishes before the new year started.
In January Harold passed away and Doc was going to pull the money out of his father’s estate.
“My father’s wishes were to help the park when we did the land swap,” Doc said. “Those were his wishes and I will honor them.”
In June when the appraisal came in, Doc said he was told by the mayor there should be no issue because the values were close.
“When the meeting came up to discuss the appraisal, I didn’t show up, because I didn’t think I had to,” Doc said. “If I thought there was any issue at all, I would have at least called in.”
Janssen said Creed mistakenly said the donation was $25,000 in a meeting and Janssen called up and said it was $30,000. Then Doc found out the extra $5,000 was seen by some as him pushing more money on the town to get the land swap to go through.
Sharon said people are missing something that is hurting her husband and family.
“Neither Mike nor I were born with silver spoons in our mouths,” Sharon said. “Both of us were the first to go to college in our family. Mike’s father was a mentor to my husband. This wish he made was tied to the swap and now Mike is not in a position to honor it the way his father wished. It is just sad. My husband and his father are what is best about America and how they contribute to their community and to see it construed like it has been, makes me angry honestly. There has never been anything underhanded on our part about the land swap.”
Doc knows he did his best to help the town with finishing the Never Forget Park.
“Nothing ever really gets to me until it is someone who is accusing me of being some rich guy that is trying to take advantage of the poor,” Doc said. “I fly around the world volunteering my time to teach people surgery. Sharon and I treat people who don’t have insurance. It is not about money at all. I grew up as a mechanic and worked hard to put myself through school. It is like Sharon said. My father and I meant only good in this land swap and donation. This has all been very disheartening.”