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Resort Owner Milton Kutscher Dies

Tom Kane and David Figura
Staff Writers

MONTICELLO--Milton Kutsher, a well-known Catskill resort owner whose promotional savvy and love of sports gave his hotel an international reputation, died Monday at home. He was 82.

His resort, Kutsher's Country Club, was founded by the Kutsher family in 1907, one of the earliest in the Catskills. It was one of the largest and one of the few still open today.

He'll be remembered as a strong and sincere advocate for the resort industry, serving for years as president of the Sullivan County Hotel Association. He was also one of the founders of the Monticello Raceway.

He created the Kutsher Sports Academy, a summer camp operation that catered to youngsters and drew a seemingly endless parade of sports stars to the Catskills. "Milton Kutsher was a very dynamic man, a leader in the industry and was liked by everyone," said Robert Parker, president of the Concord Resort Hotel. "It's a great loss."

Kutsher, who was semi-retired, had been in poor health in recent years.

His funeral will be held Thursday at the Landfield Avenue Synagogue. The time will be announced.

"He might have had a heart attack, we don't know," said his son, Mark, who worked alongside his father for years.

The resort began in 1907 as Kutshers Brothers Farm House. In the '20s and '30s it began its expansion to the 400 rooms it is today.

Milton Kutsher's involvement followed his return from the armed services in the mid-1940s. His Aunt Rebecca was running the place then. She asked him to join her and take it over. Kutsher, up to that point an aspiring journalist with a University of Pennsylvania degree, took her up on it and didn't look back.

"He really defined an era in the Catskills," said Cliff Ehrlich, whose family ran The Pines. He talked of Kutsher's flare for promotions and ideas that brought attention to the area. "When Milton spoke, everyone listened."

Among the things that made Kutshers Country Club unique was its summer sports academy.

If children needed to move on the basketball court with finesse, then New York Knick Walt Frazier was brought in to teach a few classes. For future Masters Golf tournament aspirants, Kutsher brought in the likes of Lee Trevino or Milton Barber. Football, baseball, boxing were also represented.

When he took over, all the hotels had basketball teams composed of bellhops and busboys. Those playing for Kutshers included future National Basketball League stars such as Wilt Chamberlain, Frank Ramsey, Cliff Hagen and Neil Johnson.

In the 1950s, Kutsher founded the Maurice Stokes benefit basketball game, named for a talented forward for the old Rochester Royals who was struck down by encephalitis. The game later became something of a National Basketball Association institution, with benefits going to down-and-out athletes. In more recent years, Kutsher's has turned the hosted the annual American Heart Association Heart-A-Thon.

Kutsher's death comes at a critical time in the Catskills, when only a handful of resorts remain.

"I feel terrible," said Mannie Halbert, owner of the Raleigh Hotel. "I've known Milton for 40 years. He is the last of the top hotel owners. He was the most honest person I ever met."