Mackinac Island hotel, business leader remembered for being island’s champion

 Mackinac Island hotel, business leader remembered for being island’s champion

Victor Callewaert Jr. may be known. because of his signature pink shirt and his big smile, but beneath that folksy, fudge-selling charisma is a solid businessman whose legacy can be counted on the many landmarks that line Mackinac Island’s Main Street.

Friends and longtime visitors remember Callewaert, who died on May 8. He was 85 years old.

“Victor is a true Mackinac Island champion,” said Tim Hygh, executive director of the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau. “There is no cause or great effort in the whole island that he does not have a positive influence. He was a great presence that will not be forgotten forever. ”

Callewaert is an island resident who also has homes in Grosse Pointe Shores and Florida. Her family’s island portfolio has grown over the past few decades to include: the Island House Hotel, 1852 Grill Room, Ice House BBQ, Ryba’s Fudge Shops, Mary’s Bistro Draft House, Pancake House, Pine Cottage Bed & Breakfast, Seabiscuit Café and Starbucks.

Last year, Callewaert and his family were honored for their decades of devotion at the Island House Hotel, the Victorian grande dame on the island’s Main Street. They were awarded the Legendary Family Historic Hotelier of the Year by Historic Hotels of America. Trying to get that property back was one of the hallmarks of his career on the island, along with his love of a good fudge bite.

“In recent years, Vic has been seen sailing downtown wearing his signature pink Ryba’s Fudge shirt and Michigan baseball cap, always ready with a wink or a wave,” the Island staff post House on social media after his death. “As an Island House Hotel steward, and avid fudge connoisseur, he will be remembered for his many contributions to the Mackinac Island community. We are honored to carry the torch to ensure Victor’s legacy is proudly carried into the future. Victor wants to be reminded of ‘Think Pink,’ as he puts it, and may contribute to St. Anne’s Catholic Parish or Medical Center on Mackinac Island; or the charity of a choice.Services will be announced when details are available . ”

Ryba’s Fudge Stores

Ryba’s has several locations on Mackinac Island. MLive photo.

Callewaert’s career on Mackinac Island actually became a possibility on a street corner in Detroit in 1936 when his fast-paced newspaper hawking skills caught the attention of nearby sweets shop owner Harry Ryba. Ryba later hired the young man, who later became his business partner and then son-in-law when Callewaert married his high school girlfriend, Ryba’s daughter, Rena. The two men sold their fudge on Mackinac Island at big events, festivals and fairs. In 1960, they decided to pair the location with fudge style, opening their first of four Ryba’s Fudge Shops on Mackinac Island. Their show style of attracting customers by making fudge right next to the store windows was a big draw, and Callewaert earned the island moniker of “Fudge King.” Customers love to see the process – and still do – and leave carrying little pink boxes of the sweet attention the island is known for.

But Callewaert’s ambitions soon expanded beyond sugar and chocolate. He branched out to another mainstay in Mackinac: old hotels. He oversaw the renovation of the Lake View Hotel as well as partnered with his brother-in-law James Ryba, to buy the troubled Island House Hotel in 1969 to save it from the wreckage. It reopened to visitors in 1972 and was later named a state historic landmark.

Throughout his decades in Mackinac, business leaders say Callewaert was known for mentoring young workers, some of whom later became business owners themselves. If he is persistent in business, he is relentless in raising money for a good cause. This includes the annual raffle ticket that benefits the island’s Lilac Festival and its Medical Center.

“Residents sometimes turn the other way when they see him coming, knowing that Victor will not accept a‘ no ’for an answer if it supports worthy causes. His legacy includes financial support for the rebuilding of Arch Rock steps in memory of his late wife, the rebuilding of Fort Holmes, and the Botanical Garden Walk at Arch Rock, ”the staff said. in tourism.

Callewaert died with his wife, Rena, in 2009. He is survived by their five children, Mary, Todd, Ann, Amy and Gregg, and many grandchildren and other family members and friends.

Memorial contributions may be made at St. Anne’s Catholic Parish or at Mackinac Island Medical Center.

The Callewaert Family

Victor Callewaert and family in front of the Island House Hotel on Mackinac Island. Photo provided by the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau.

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