After a remarkable 43-year career of devoted service to Meadow Brook Hall, Director of Operations and Estate Development Kim Zelinski will celebrate her retirement. Zelinski’s dedication to preservation and leadership in numerous projects have left an indelible impact on this museum, cultural center and National Historic Landmark.
“I follow Matilda’s little mantra,” Zelinski says. “That ‘you learn by doing.’ So I can say throughout my whole career that’s kind of what I feel like I’ve done too. I told Bill [Meadow Brook Hall’s Executive Director] the other day that ‘I feel like I’m a jack of all trades but maybe a master of none. Of course he said, ‘No I think you’ve mastered quite a few things.’”
Zelinski started as Meadow Brook’s first horticulturist in the 1980s and established the Meadow Brook Garden Club in 1992, which has grown to almost 200 members strong. In the past thirty years, it has became one of the most active volunteer groups not only at Meadow Brook Hall but in the community and beyond. The club continues to enhance the grounds and maintain the 16 unique gardens on the estate, and Zelinski says all credit goes to the volunteers.
Through her years at the estate, Zelinski has dedicated her work to Meadow Brook’s mission of preservation and perseverance. With the combined efforts of Zelinski and Geoff Upward, Meadow Brook’s previous executive director, the Matilda R. Wilson Fund has donated almost 12 million dollars towards the preservation of The Hall.
She was part of the team that secured the National Historic Landmark designation for the estate, a feat that took seven years and included a massive presentation in Washington, DC.
Although much of the work Zelinski has done over the years is proactive, at a place like Meadow Brook, the operations team has to stay reactive because they never knew what each new day would bring.
As Head of Operations, Zelinski has worked on numerous projects and everyday challenges at the historic estate. “And it’s not always the pretty things. It’s the chimneys, it’s the roof, it’s the timbers. All of these things that help with the overall good health of The Hall and we don’t have money to cover these expenses on our own.”
Through her years of dealing with water damage, broken pipes and replacing chimneys, Zelinski has seen Meadow Brook grow from the “money pit” people were afraid of in the 1980s, into the gem of Michigan that Matilda and Zelinski always thought it could be. And there’s always room for improvement.
Zelinski has conducted original research into historic artifacts for Meadow Brook Magazine, coordinated massive projects, and even met a slew of celebrities at the estate, including Eminem, Barry Sanders, Patrick Dempsey and Miley Cyrus.
Since 2018, Zelinski and Meadow Brook’s team have planned, coordinated, and built Winter Wonder Lights. A light show and event that had no blueprint to follow as Zelinski and her team learned how to incorporate the story of historic house and the Wilson family into a modern day, holiday light show for all to enjoy. Each new season since opening in 2021, the team has found ways to improve and advance the experience of Winter Wonder Lights to make it special every year.
After her career at Meadow Brook, Zelinski is looking forward to tending to her own garden, traveling to see friends, and most importantly, being with her grandchildren. Even after she’s officially retired, Zelinski knows she will never truly leave Meadow Brook.
“They always say people leave but they always come back. Now I understand that. I don’t think you ever really leave Meadow Brook,” Zelinski said. “I can visually take you through every room and I know just about every artifact and every plant outside. I have a great visual of this place. I have to keep looking to that next chapter of my life, but you never really leave Meadow Brook Hall. It’s in your heart.”
Meadow Brook Hall is fully self-supporting, relying on touring, special events and facility rental revenue for the preservation and interpretation of this National Historic Landmark. For more information, call (248) 364-6200 or visit meadowbrookhall.org.
Meadow Brook Hall is the historic home built by one of the automotive aristocracy’s most remarkable women, Matilda Dodge Wilson, widow of auto pioneer John Dodge, and her second husband, Alfred Wilson. Constructed between 1926 and 1929, Meadow Brook Hall represents one of the finest examples of Tudor-revival style architecture in America, and is especially renowned for its superb craftsmanship, architectural detailing and grand scale of 88,000 square-feet. It was the center of a country estate that included 1,500 acres, numerous farm buildings, recreational facilities, several residences and formal gardens. Named a National Historic Landmark in 2012, Meadow Brook Hall strives to preserve the estate and share the pioneering legacy of the Dodge and Wilson families by engaging and inspiring diverse audiences. Meadow Brook Hall is located in Rochester, Mich. on the campus of Oakland University.