Richard C. Kessler is a Life member of SCI, among the most prominent of the club’s Patrons and someone who is blessed with both the vision to see something’s potential and the drive to make things happen. It’s that sort of success and can-do attitude that has taken Kessler from arguably modest beginnings to an iconic real estate developer who gets asked, “How do you do it?” by companies the likes of Disney. At the same time, Kessler generously pursues philanthropic endeavors that evoke the hopes of past generations and shares that which inspires his passion.
I recently met with Kessler at his Mount Pleasant hunting lodge near Savannah, GA. The region has great significance to him, as it’s not only where he grew up, but is also near where his family settled in 1732 after leaving Salzburg, Austria, due to religious intolerance for Lutherans. “They called it New Ebenezer,” Kessler tells me when sharing the history of the area. The British burned the town during the Revolutionary War and Kessler found a way to rebuild it as a conference and retreat center while in his early 20s.
While our meeting was specifically to discuss his upcoming receipt of the SCI Patrons Award, what I got was insight into a man who
wanted to be a musician, a Lutheran preacher or a real estate developer, and who managed to compose a life that uses land as his canvas along with a pallet of developer skills to further the arts and support his religion. Along his life safari is a bounty of ambitious risks, no less than divine intervention, exquisite collections and more than a little good luck. Just the short list Kessler’s accomplishments include:
- Co-Founder Days Inn of America 1970
- Founder New Ebenezer Retreat and Conference Center 1976
- Founder The Kessler Enterprise 1984
- Founder Richard C. Kessler Reformation Collection 1987
- Founder Treutlen House Orphanage 2000
The Kessler family has also established more than a half dozen scholarships for outstanding professionals and students, and continues to follow a real estate development philosophy of always providing something for the local communities wherever Kessler properties are located.
Currently at the heart of his endeavors is The Kessler Collection–a compendium of boutique hotels adorned with quality works of art Kessler has collected or commissioned over the years. “It’s
wonderful to stay in a museum,” guests say of Kessler’s Grand Bohemian, a hotel he built in downtown Orlando around art and music that helped revitalize the area.
Many of the works on display at Kessler Collection hotels were purchased at SCI Convention auctions, and SCI is also the main source for building his personal gun collection Kessler says while showing me one of his many elaborately engraved First Generation Colt revolvers. “I’ve been a collector all my life and you want to always buy the best…” Kessler says, “You buy the best, it increases in value; you buy the middle grade and it never goes anywhere; you buy low grade, it’s dispensable.”
At the 2014 Convention, Kessler was presented the SCI Patrons Award for his commitment and support to the world hunting community through his patronage of SCI. To his recollection, he has never missed a Convention since joining, and it’s the first thing that
goes on his calendar each year. “I really enjoy the auctions,” Kessler says. “They’re a lot of fun and I enjoy helping to drive the prices up on items. Many times you end up with something where you ask ‘What am I going to do with that?’ but it helps generate funds for SCI and that’s the point, obviously, of the auctions—to create funds for SCI to do its job internationally.”
Kessler is the highest-level Patron in SCI history and while the recognition was specifically for his many years of support of SCI through its auction program, Kessler also supports SCI by participating in the Foundation’s Hunter Legacy Fund. “I like that it’s focused outward,” Kessler says of the HLF.
But this great supporter’s generous involvement in SCI and appetite for auctions isn’t about getting recognition or buying stuff. “My son and I became Life members right away,” Kessler offers. To him, hunting is about forming relationships and, for those types of relationships to form, there must be hunting. “SCI is key in working with governments to keep hunting open and trophy importation alive,” Kessler says. “Hunters pay for conservation. Money does not come from antis–it comes from hunters and members of SCI.”
According to Kessler, “The only way to deal with it [attacks on hunting and conservation by anti hunters], is through organizations like SCI, which is the preeminent organization that really defends our right to hunt, and is doing all it can to preserve this right…. Without an SCI, the right to hunt would very quickly be extinguished.”
Like many dedicated SCI members, Kessler’s a true ambassador to hunting whose commitment extends beyond the scope of the organization. Much like Kessler exposes and educates people to art
and music by making those integral parts of The Kessler Collection, so it is with hunting. Where many high end hotels might shy away from antler, horn and bone for fear of “offending,” Kessler embraces them and tastefully combines many forms of natural beauty into the Collection. His natural touches range from subtle, such as combining the graceful curve of an antler with a thoroughly modern-style table lamp, to positively all-in at the Red Stag Grill in the Grand Bohemian Asheville where mounted heads and staggered rows of roe deer antlers help provide an atmosphere that is as much like a well-appointed game room as it is an upscale restaurant.
Perhaps nowhere is Kessler’s commitment to supporting hunting and his success as a real estate developer combined more closely than at his Kessler Canyon property in Colorado. “Hunter access is a problem,” Kessler tells me during my visit. To do his part to help provide hunter access, Kessler put the 23,000-acre Kessler Canyon property into Colorado’s Ranching for Wildlife program, which is a wildlife management partnership between Colorado Parks and
Wildlife and owners of large tracts of private land. Landowners improve habitat on their ranch for both game and non-game animals and provide public hunting access free of charge. Those efforts help preserve and enhance open spaces for wildlife to live and thrive and encourage keeping our hunting heritage alive for future generations.
Getting youth involved in hunting is important to Kessler and it’s one of the many reasons he participates in the Ranching for Wildlife program. “The youth come out and they’ll spend a few days under supervision working with them and teaching them safety and then they go on their hunts where they have the excitement of taking their first animal. They understand the whole process from conservation to gun safety, so it’s a wonderful way of introducing hunting in the right way to these young people.”
Kessler has given so much to hunting and has asked for nothing in return—the relationships and joy hunting brings to him are enough. “Leave things better than you found them,” was the life message he shared with me before I left. That’s the sort of inspiring message that has not only brought him personal success, but is, in a way, what SCI works for through the many programs people such as Richard C. Kessler so generously support.– Scott Mayer