When Jenna and Chris Simpler bought one of Ludington’s most prominent homes, an early 20th century neoclassical mansion, a few years ago, they had no idea they were stepping into a legacy of community involvement and support.
The Simplers became just the fourth owners of the Cartier Mansion, built in 1905. As they settled in, they learned the history of the Cartier family from Gary and Sue Ann Schnitker, the previous owners who were retiring after operating the mansion as an inn since 2005.
Jenna Simpler, a former executive manager in a family hospitality group, and her husband, Chris Simpler, who worked in the financial industry for more than a decade, continue to operate the Cartier Mansion as an inn but they’re offering guests an unusual activity: volunteering.
Believing many travelers are looking for a “purposeful experience, and not just a vacation,'' the couple has created, “Stay on Purpose, Make your Mark,” an opportunity for their guests to volunteer a few hours of their time with local nonprofit partners. It’s their way of carrying the Cartier legacy into the future.
Motto: Stay on Purpose; Make Your Mark
The couple's mission of giving back to the Mason County community parallels the Cartier family. The owners offer guests an opportunity to volunteer with local nonprofits, including the Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association. Participating guests are asked to volunteer at least three hours but can offer more time. Upon booking their stays, guests can let Simplers know which volunteer experience they’d like to participate in.
About the Cartiers
The community focus started with the father of Warren Cartier, the original mansion owner. Antwone Cartier was a prosperous lumber baron and wore the hat of the mayor of Ludington. He played a major role in the creation of Ludington Boulevard, the paving of downtown streets, and of the Water Works Co, a huge endeavor bringing fresh water to Ludington residents in the late 1800s. Warren Cartier, who graduated with a civil engineering degree from the University of Notre Dame, followed in his father’s footsteps. The Cartiers contributed money to building the Cartier Football field. Additionally, the family brought many of the
first businesses to the area, including the Ludington Gas Co, United Home Telephone Co, the Ludington State Bank, and Cartier Park.
Make Your Mark
One venue available to guests is the Habitat for Humanity ReStore
, which “offers a hands-up in securing safe, decent and affordable housing for members of the community.” “Since Covid-19, this particular location has had to pause on major constructions due to lumber and building costs; however, our focus is still on assisting in quality housing,” says Jamie Healy, executive director. The organization helps families with the basic needs of having a heat source, running water, and fixing critical home repairs. The volunteer opportunities include assisting customers, cleaning, and working on inventory.
Another volunteer option is the Lakeshore Food Club
in Ludington, a non-profit grocery store for low-income families. Executive Director O’Nealya Gronstal and her staff strive to provide dignified shopping for families, complete with customer choices. Lakeshore Food Club began in 2016 and is staffed with two full-time employees and about 90 volunteers. This store is 100 percent donor based. Mason County farmers provide fresh produce on a daily basis and some contributors maintain community gardens that provide produce for the club. Volunteer guests can help stock shelves, bag groceries, or unload bulk orders in the storage room. “We love to help out at Lakeshore Food Club and give back to this awesome organization. What a fantastic group of people with whom to volunteer," Jenna Simpler says.
The Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association
needs volunteers to help with painting, ground work, stocking the gift shop or cleaning at four lighthouses. Begun in 1987, the non-profit organization encompasses Big Sable Lighthouse, Little Sable Lighthouse, Ludington Breakwater Lighthouse, and White River light Station. The group’s mission is “to preserve, promote, and educate the public and to make our lighthouses accessible to all.”
For dog lovers, there’s Mason County Mutts.
The volunteer-based organization operates as an animal rescue. The Simplers are not only looking to help dogs but also welcome them to their inn. The newly remodeled Carriage House serves as dog-friendly lodging to inn guests. The extra room fee of $50 is donated to the Mason County Mutts. The Simplers have dogs of their own – Tibeatian Spaniels. Ruby, nearly 10 years old, serves as director of pet relations; and one year old Carson plays butler of the grand mansion.
What they’re saying
“While we love a vacation of indulgence, we also feel strongly about taking care of a community where we love to vacation,” one inn guest wrote.
About the Cartier Mansion
The Cartier Mansion was built for the family of Warren and Kate Cartier in 1905. Warren Cartier had an innovative eye for furnishings that would become deemed as “ahead of his times.” The house was built with the grandeur of the era with exceptional woodworking of mahogany, cherry, oak, walnut, hickory, and maple. The Cartiers filled their massive home with three sons and one daughter; each of the main house guest rooms honor the Cartier children. The house still resembles the legacy of the original nuances that have been graciously preserved and passed on to the new owners.