BETHEL — Dick Rasor is proud of what he’s accomplished during his 34 years of owning and operating The Bethel Inn Resort.

The inn, which opened on July 12, 1913, is celebrating its 100th anniversary with events throughout the year.

“It has been a wonderful, wonderful ride,” Rasor, 74, said Tuesday morning.

Since buying the inn “for a song” in 1979, Rasor said he’s grown it from a value of $300,000 and 3,000 overnight guests each year to a $6 million business annually with more than 35,000 overnight guests yearly.

He is quick to credit his staff for the success.

“They are real, genuine Maine people who sincerely like people,” he said.

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Rasor, an English literature major who graduated from Colgate University in 1961, joined the U.S. Air Force and later became a New York corporate executive.

When he decided to leave the corporate world at age 39 to own and develop a business, he didn’t even consider the hospitality industry.

After all, Rasor, who had grown up in a 25th-floor apartment in Manhattan and raised a family in the suburbs of New York and Detroit, had never operated a hotel, could only cook hamburgers and wasn’t very good at housekeeping.

“As a matter of fact, my father was in the business,” Rasor said. “He was a senior officer vice chairman of the board of what was then called the Knott (Hotels) Corp., and they owned 40 or 50 hotels around the world.

“And his advice to me was, ‘Whatever you do, Dick, don’t get into the hotel business,’ and you know how that works with dads,” he said, laughing loudly.

“So, of course, I did,” he said.

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The resort’s history is clearly displayed on its walls in framed photographs, art and memorabilia, as well as in its furniture and equipment. And Rasor enjoys talking history.

As he walks downstairs from his office to the main lobby, which used to be staff rooms during the early 1900s, he points out a large Tiffany bronze plaque, mounted on a wall.

The plaque acknowledges Dr. John George Gehring and five of his “grateful” patients who formed a partnership to construct the inn after their lodging in the Prospect Hotel was severely damaged by fire in 1911.

Gehring, Rasor said, practiced surgery in his native Cleveland until he suffered a physical and mental breakdown at the age of 30. To recuperate, he moved to Bethel, where his friends lived and resumed his practice in 1895, focusing on nervous disorders.

When The Bethel Inn was built, it catered to Gehring’s patients, whose therapy included psychiatric treatment, tending the inn’s gardens and building its golf course.

One patient, William Bingham, a wealthy man from Cleveland, subsidized the inn in conjunction with his friends, keeping it operational through tough times in the 1930s and 1940s.

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During the 1940s and 1950s, the inn catered to wealthy summer clientele, who came for Bethel’s crisp climate and the beauty of Maine’s western mountains.

Vacation habits then changed with the times after World War II, and The Bethel Inn closed Feb. 28, 1979. Canal National Bank of Portland held the mortgage and took over the 100-acre property from the former owners, Harris-Cayhill Partners.

At the time, Rasor said he was based in Detroit, working as executive vice president of the world’s largest advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson. Among his well-known clients were Ford Motor Co. and Kodak.

“I always wanted to own my own business, and geographically, I wanted New England,” he said. “I was a skier and golfer, and that’s where I wanted to be.”

With help from a business broker friend, he looked at many different businesses in and out of New England — from truck conversion companies to food service to photo processing companies.

Rasor said The Bethel Inn’s owner had three properties in Maine: the Bar Harbor Motor Inn, “which was a gold mine,” The Bethel Inn and Village Cove Inn in Kennebunkport. The latter two businesses were failing.

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To keep his bank credit intact, the owner put the two failing inns on the market. Rasor looked at The Bethel Inn in February 1979 and bought it three months later.

“When I got it, it was closed forever. Forever,” Rasor said.

What he bought for $150,000 in cash and a $300,000 mortgage was a historical country inn on 100 acres, with 60 guest rooms, a swimming pool, tennis court, nine-hole golf course and lake house on Songo Pond, about three miles away.

“Now you can’t buy a nice home in Stamford, Conn., for that, but that was the start of the investment,” Rasor said.

“My interest has always been marketing, sales, public relations, advertising, community relations, everything related to building a business, no matter what kind of business it was,” he said.

“Obviously, you take a business that’s failing, and you anticipate turning it around,” he said. “Basically, my two-year plan turned into a five-year plan.” 

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To keep the cash flowing during the 1980s, Rasor returned to the corporate world. Milt Gossett, president of Compton Advertising in New York, hired the new inn owner to be Compton’s executive vice president.

For six years, Rasor commuted between Bethel, Compton’s New York office, Detroit (for client Jeep), London (for client British Airways), Pittsburgh (for client U.S. Steel) and many other cities and advertising clients. By 1986, Rasor said he had the resources he needed to sustain the Bethel Inn.

Today, Rasor’s resort has expanded to include 200 acres, 18 holes of golf, 150 guest rooms, a new conference center, health club, casual dining/bar complex and the Songo Pond lake house.

“We’re making money because we’re affordable,” he said. “We offer everything that every fine resort offers, and yet we’ve managed to keep our prices in line, which mitigated the devastation that could have happened if we were in a higher price range.”

Rasor also credits his good friend, Les Otten, the former owner of Sunday River Ski Resort in Newry, for helping build The Bethel Inn’s winter business.

Rasor keyed the business to recreation and turned it into a mullti-use resort.

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In addition to guest rooms, the resort has 63 condominiums, some of which are owned, some of which are time shares. The inn has more than 2,000 time-share owners.

When Rasor bought The Bethel Inn, he said he had three young children and was recently divorced. But buying the inn also came with a bonus, which Rasor said he never foresaw.

“I never realized that if you owned a resort, how easy it would be to have your children come and visit, if you owned a ski and golf resort,” he said.

“And, of course, they’ve been a huge part of my life here and have worked here and been here on vacations constantly, and it’s been wonderful.”

Next weekend, his 11 grandchildren will arrive to join him.

“Nothing I could have done with my life could be more rewarding,” Rasor said. “This has given me a great life and given my children a great life.”

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