It may be the welcoming front porch of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, but summer is no day in the shade for the dedicated team commanding Gruenhagen Conference Center.
That’s exactly the way the talented Gruenhagen staff likes it.
“In a matter of about two weeks, I think we’ve calculated that we’ll have about 1,500 participants in various camps,” said Marc Nylen, director of Gruenhagen Conference Center.
UW Oshkosh’s home away from home for visitors at Oshkosh-area events and campus-based youth camps, trainings, conferences and programs welcomes thousands of guests each summer. Among the largest: this summer’s 69th Session of the American Legion Auxiliary Badger Girls State (BGS) Convention, running from June 17 through June 22. About 800 girls entering their senior years at high schools around Wisconsin descend upon UW Oshkosh and Gruenhagen for the week-long convention introducing them to American government.
But BGS is just the tip of the iceberg for Gruenhagen, which can accommodate 800 guests nightly while offering an array of meeting and conferencing services on the UW Oshkosh campus.
Last year, Gruenhagen’s staff continued its tradition of supporting Oshkosh’s mammoth Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture guests, housing 4,500 people representing all 50 states and many countries around the globe. The fly-in and convention returns in late July.
“This year numbers are looking very strong,” Nylen said of AirVenture. “It will be minimally 4,500, likely up to 5,000.”
Meanwhile, in between and overlapping the gargantuan hosting stints, Gruenhagen serves as home to everybody from summer students visiting from the UW Oshkosh partner University of Nizwa in Oman to summer campers involved in any number of athletic and educational camps hosted by the University. Each group of guests has different schedules, food needs, transportation requirements, housing requests – the list goes on.
It’s up to Gruenhagen’s team to deliver.
“In addition to Badger Girls this week, we are also hosting United Migrant Opportunity Services’ training,” Nylen said. “We had a huge football camp this past weekend with 249 coaches. We had a gymnastics camp this last weekend with 35 athletes… As soon as BGS leaves, then we’ll be hosting the Northeastern Wisconsin Area Health Educators’ Fox Valley Health Seminar.”
Gruenhagen manages to make people feel at home with an incredibly efficient and finely-tuned staff.
“It seems like we’re so well prepared before the people get here, it doesn’t even seem like we have that many guests visiting us at one time,” said Kenneth Miller of Black Earth, a UW Oshkosh College of Business human resources major who found a job at Gruenhagen’s front desk two months ago.
A nontraditional student, Miller said he comes from a hospitality background. So, when he opted to return to UW Oshkosh to further his education, the Gruenhagen gig was a perfect fit.
“I thought, ‘Well, at least I know hospitality, and I know customer service well…,” he said.
During the summer, as it welcomes thousands of guests, the center operates with 45 staff members – a corps of full time and student workers that oversee housekeeping services, maintenance and conference setup, front desk management and other day-to-day operations, Nylen said.
He said it requires solid coordination and support of other UW Oshkosh departments, such food services and housing, to build such a reputation for quality and service. It’s one of the reasons so many Wisconsin K-12 school district athletic programs have relied on UW Oshkosh for summer camps.
“Even if you look at the number of camps that are athletically based — volleyball camps, football camps, soccer – the total number just from athletics is staggering,” Nylen said. “Last summer, we had 675 volleyball campers alone.”