By Jamie Vollmer
Many venues boast of being unique or special. Perhaps their food has won awards or their buildings offer a quirky history. However, guests who visit The Keeter Center at the College of the Ozarks near Branson, Missouri, will find there is something truly unique about this campus nestled in the hills surrounding Lake Taneycomo. Initially guests will admire the rustic charm of the century-old campus–a mix of collegiate tranquility and Ozark ease. While only six years old, The Keeter Center itself has a bit of historic lineage. It was designed to reflect Dobyns Hall, a historic Maine lodge displayed at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and then relocated to the College, where it stood until 1930. However, what makes the College of the Ozarks and The Keeter Center truly unique is the same reason many affectionately call the college “Hard Work U®.“ Students at the College of the Ozarks don’t pay tuition. Yes, you read that correctly. Instead of paying tuition, each student works on campus 15 hours a week to earn his or her degree.
Student workers are ambassadors of the College and take their assignments seriously, bringing a level of commitment and service not found in an ordinary employee. At The Keeter Center, students assist in the kitchen, prepare baked goods, greet guests, clean rooms, answer calls, maintain the building and serve meals. “Our students are genuine. They are not here for a paycheck, they are here for a diploma,” explained Tom Healey, general manager of The Keeter Center. “This comes through and sets us apart.” Planners notice this level of attention, too. Allyson Peters, physician relations and recruitment coordinator for Skaggs Regional Medical Center in Branson, has held numerous events at The Keeter Center. She has found that the staff is very easy to work with and “will do everything they can to make the event memorable for your guests, and lessen, if not alleviate, the stresses that the planner endures before, during and after the event. They are very accommodating all the way around.”
Milk and Cookies at Your Door
Accommodating is a good word to describe The Keeter Center. The facility not only boasts ten different event space options, but it can provide 30 well-appointed hotel suites and rooms for overnight guests in the Mabee Lodge and Good Center. It is these rustically elegant overnight accommodations that leave many guests craving another visit. “We have placed guests at The Keeter Center on occasion. The ones who have stayed there have always commented on the beautiful accommodations and the warm cookies and milk they find in their rooms in the evening – a tradition of The Keeter Center,” said Peters. “Having stayed at The Keeter Center myself, I can personally attest to the relaxing and pampered feeling that overcomes you as you sit in your guestroom in front of the warm fireplace on a crisp autumn night.”
A Room for Every Occasion
When it comes to meetings and private events, The Keeter Center is ready to handle a variety of occasions. “We can accommodate groups ranging from 10 to about 300,” said Healey. “On average, our typical group is 50 to 100 people.” For smaller meetings, there are four meeting rooms in The Keeter Center’s Corridor of Character that each seat up to 30 people. They can be set up classroom, conference or theater-style. Kannakuk Ministries has used these rooms on two occasions. Chelsea Rowles, development coordinator for the organization, planned its most recent event at The Keeter Center. She found that the spaces offer “all the amenities of an urban conference center, but it still maintains a hometown feel.” Another space to consider for a smaller event, especially those needing audio-visual support, is the Presidential Dining Room. This room includes a spacious conference table that seats 12, while the entire room seats 28. The Presidential Dining Room also features a built-in seamless presentation system for video and Web conferencing as well as audio visual presentations. For those planning a larger event, The Keeter Center offers a few options. The largest and most popular is the Silver Dollar City Parlor. This spacious room features vaulted ceilings, rustic wood beams and stone fireplaces. It can accommodate 220 seated or 350 reception style. Last summer, this 4,000-square-foot space received an audio-visual makeover. Healey is excited about the changes that he calls the “latest in seamless presentation technology.” The updates include an acoustical treatment that transforms the sound quality; three HD-ready projection systems that can be linked; and the ability to control the entire system from one remote. When presentations are your event, The Keeter Center offers an auditorium called the Royal Oak Forum. This 320-seat space includes executive-style seats with ergonomically correct lap desks and an integrated sound and lighting system. The system features a rearscreen LCD projector and allows for seamless presentations. The Dobyns Dining Room offers two additional options. The first is a private dining room that seats 58. The second is the entire dining room space that seats 400 and is available on a very limited basis since it is a restaurant open to the public seven days a week. The restaurant has earned a strong reputation for its culinary excellence and has many regular customers. It is because of this that The Keeter Center limits the number of private events that would require closing the restaurant.
Ozark Charm and Local Flavor
The Keeter Center offers guests many amenities beyond event spaces and suites. The College of the Ozarks is a destination within itself. More than 100,000 people tour the campus each year. They come to visit the neo-gothic Williams Memorial Chapel, Point Lookout’s view of the Ozarks, the orchid collection at the College’s greenhouses, the Ralph Foster Museum dedicated to the history of the Ozarks, the tractor museum, the Edwards Mills where students grind whole-grain flour and the campus’s famous fruitcake and jelly kitchen. The College of the Ozarks is known for its fruitcakes, but that is only the beginning. Across the entire campus students are creating, raising, processing and crafting goods and products served at The Keeter Center and sold in the gift shop. “The college has a long history of making fruitcakes dating back to the 1930s,” said Healey. “We also have jellies, stained glass, mill products such as cornmeal, biscuit mix and pancake mix.” When it comes to meals, The Keeter Center’s menu of Ozark comfort foods gets a flavor boost from students’ efforts. All pork products are raised and processed by students. There is a beef and dairy operation on campus. During the growing season, green beans and tomatoes come directly from the student gardens.
Rest, Relax and Support
When talking to planners who have hosted events at the Keeter Center, one hears a few main themes – the quality of service, the delicious food and most of all the beauty and ambiance of the venue. Words such as inviting, cozy and relaxing come up often. Debbie Campbell, executive assistant for National Enzyme Company, finds The Keeter center to be “a lovely place during all of the seasons and a very peaceful and relaxing place to visit.” Tom Healey believes hosting an event at The Keeter Center means something more. “By having your meeting or event here, you are not only benefiting from the advantages of a fine facility, you are also supporting the work-study program at the college.” Planners who host an event at The Keeter Center are getting the best from a truly unique venue. Their guests will be treated to fresh, local cuisine in a beautiful location filled with rustic charm. Presentations will run seamlessly on state-of-theart systems. Overnight visitors will feel cared for by the little touches that make a stay memorable. Then at the end of the day, when it comes time to pay the bill, you can rest easy knowing that your dollars are going to help students earn their education at Hard Work U®. MM&E
(Jamie Vollmer is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.)
The Keeter Center at the College of the Ozarks
1 Opportunity Avenue
Point Lookout, MO 65726
Tom Healey, General Manager
(417) 239-1900 • [email protected]