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Murf Klauber: Building a legacy through family, passion and fun

Dr. Murray “Murf” Klauber in his office at the Colony Mid-rise.

 

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

We have invented the ruler, the scale, radar, GPS and myriad of ways to measure location, growth and weight. We can classify and organize. We are good at that.

What remains impossible is to measure the meaning and impact of a life.

To measure the force someone exerts on all of his friends, family and community is impossible.

And when that someone lived with such energy as Dr. Murray ‘Murf’ Klauber, the challenge is so massive that stories and a simple chronology of his accomplishments can only diminish the man.

 

The strongest drives…

Murf Klauber made demands on people. Not in the negative way, but with a persevering enthusiasm and zest for life that captivated nearly everyone he met.

To understand Klauber, one has to take the strongest drives in life — for their children, to create, for art, food, to build a business, to love and give back, to fight and wrangle — take all of these passions and then turn up the heat like a roaring furnace — that was Murf.

He was a crucible of creativity cloaked in shirts that would make a Fauvist blush and white shorts all delivered with a gravelly voice ripe with conviction and determination.

And while Murf had a long string of accomplishments before passing away on Thanksgiving evening with his family at the Players Club on Longboat Key, none was greater than the manner in which he built the world famous Colony Beach & Tennis Resort.

Murf had a core philosophy that is easy to say, but requires finesse and innovation to accomplish — “You have to have fun every day.”

And over time, over years and with the help of some of the top talents in the nation as well as his three children, Michael, Katie and Tommy, the Colony became the industry leader and by all measures, a whole lot of fun.

 

The next step

In 1967, Murf was fully ensconced as a successful orthodontist in Buffalo, New York. He was married to Joanna and they lived with their three young children.

Klauber had built a name for himself in Buffalo. He was not only successful in his practice, but invented orthodontic tools that simply worked better and are used to this day. Klauber owned two clothing stores that he started, the Campus Corner men’s shop and the Country Corner woman’s shop. He owned a deli named Mother’s and a steakhouse, The Old Post Inn and a tailor shop. He was busy.

He was also at the top of his game in orthodontics. As he flew around the country to conferences, he realized something along the way — he hated the standard hotel room. The fact that he would wake up early and want to work and his wife would be still sleeping in the same room made no sense. That thought stayed with him.

Things would soon change. As his son Michael said, “I think he did all he could in orthodontics and was a bit bored.”

 

The lure of Longboat Key

While Murf was at a conference in St. Louis, his wife and the three children visited Longboat Key, stayed in the cottage friends had rented, and fell in love with the island. She called Murf one evening and told him of “this magical place called Longboat Key that the kids adored. Immediately, Murf was intrigued and they rented the same pecky cypress cottage located mid-key on the Gulf for the month of August 1967.

“Longboat was raw and beautiful,” recalls Michael about that summer visit as a 12 year-old. “We did not want to go back to Buffalo. We all asked mom and dad to move to Longboat Key.”

Murf asked each of his children to write a paper on why they wanted to move to Longboat.

“He saw how much we loved it; we moved the next year.”

 

Children drive the fun…

That story is central to an edict Murf instilled at the Colony: If the children have fun and want to come back, the parents will love it as well.

And that was another innovation. The Colony had a complete camp for children  —swimming, sea turtle watching, volleyball, tennis, art, exercise, exploring trails and the area. All of this magically freed up the parents to wine and dine, swim and play tennis and then the family could rejoin for dinner.

Katie sums it up, “My dad loved little kids. When he was an orthodontist, I remember the cartoons all over the wall. His practice was fun. He wanted the kids at the Colony to have that same special feeling. He said, ‘If the kids are happy the parents are happy.’”

Katie, who managed the resort from 1988 to its close in 2010 said that attention to making the stay memorable for every family member is what brought generations of families to return year after year.

 

Colony bought

Murf soon worked a deal to buy the original Colony from founder Herb Field in 1969.  Then, it was nothing more than a small collection of beachside cottages.

Murf had a grander vision. He knew tennis was the fastest growing and emerging sport. He also incorporated the vision of an all-suite resort — something that simply did not exist at the time.

And thirdly, he had an instinct for structuring the ownership, management, sales and raising money.

He created and filed the first condo resort with the Security and Exchange Commission in 1972. That allowed Murf to do two things, immediately get paid for the units and keep his position of running the resort. It also protected the unit owners. If he went away or the resort failed, the owners still had a deed to their units. They owned something tangible, not just a part of an entity.

The proposition was simple: Buy a condo hotel unit and the owner got a 30-day stay each year. Murf received the principle and retained his position as the manager of the resort.

Klauber could literally hand pick friends and acquaintances to create an owner community. And he was free to infuse the property with the amenities, the restaurant vision, and everything relative to the guest experience. He created the environment everyone came to know as the Colony.

In the first few years he owned the Colony while building the 237-units out, Murf flew to Buffalo every Sunday night and returned Thursday. He was still earning money as an orthodontist to fuel his Colony dream.

“He would straighten kid’s teeth and hand the parents a brochure,” said Michael.

Soon, many of his friends — a sizable Buffalo, New York contingent — bought units.

 

Growing up at work

His three children all cut their teeth working at the Colony.

Katie remembers her parents bought three elegant dresses for her at Westmoreland’s on St. Armands Circle when she was 12- years old and she would serve coffee and water in the dining room. Michael started his hospitality career cleaning the windows every morning at the expansive Dining Room. And youngest Tommy flipped pancakes as a 10-year-old at Sunday Brunch.

The family worked hard. Several times storms swept sand waist high into the Colony Dining Room. The property once was flooded with five feet of water separating the collection of units like a mote around each building.

Meanwhile, Murf sold every unit and continued to add character and quality to the Resort. The Resort gained such stature that by the 1980s and 1990s it had won literally every major dining and hospitality achievement award. It was named the number-one tennis resort in the nation and perhaps as a singular measure of success — commanded the highest average nightly room rate in the market during its peak.

 

Family effort

The success did not happen overnight. It did not happen alone.

In fact, as Katie says, her father was such a fountain of energy and ideas that he would grow impatient.

Murf had a saying that proves foundational to his temperament: “Do it Now!”

If Murf had a feeling, an opinion, a task to accomplish, that was how it manifest. He would make it happen. He would say his thought.

It was the team of employees led by Michael in the dining room and Katie over the entire Resort that helped bring his ideas and visions to life. Murf had ink stamps made and they were placed on every manager’s desk and the phrase “Do it Now!” became a ubiquitous carpe diem throughout the Resort.

Murf was a Do it Now person in every sense of the word.

He did not hide his feelings; he did not give himself time to do so.

After high school, Katie and Michael went off to Cornell School of Hotel Administration and Tommy to The Culinary Institute of America.  All three brought back their mixture of dad’s DNA and formal training.

Michael in 1980 took over the wine and beverage operations at the Colony. The previous years saw more than a half dozen managers. But Michael brought a level of wine appreciation and restaurant management that soon put the Colony Dining Room on the culinary map. It won Wine Spectator top tier awards, the Nation’s Restaurant News Hall of Fame award and numerous Golden Spoons.

Michael stayed for six years and ushered in an era of national culinary recognition. He left in his early 30s to open Michael’s on East. Murf at first was not happy. His vision was for his family and himself and his friends to all work at the Colony. And this took adjustment and time.

“I knew we had done everything,” says Michael. “The kitchen was in dire straights and I spent six years turning the Colony into a food and wine destination. We earned every national award we could get.”

Murf did not set foot in Michael’s for two years. But when he did, he walked in, took in what Michael accomplished, and stepped back a few feet.

“I knew he was impressed,” said Michael.

 

First Love…

Katie took over the management of the resort in 1988 after graduating from Cornell until its final hours in 2010. Her time working side by side with Murf was a blend of hard work and a shared love of the Colony.

Katie reflects on her father: “Your father is your first love. In fathers and sons there is a little competition, but not with us. He was my first dance and first kiss. He’s the guy who lit up your life at an early age. We were literally together for every day for 36 years and I could not ask for a better life.”

Perhaps it is Katie who saw most completely the day in and day out magic Klauber infused on the Colony property and beyond.

When Katie took over managing the resort in 1988, she immediately knew the Colony needed to make quite a few changes to make it the dream her father had. She brought her understanding of her father and his fountain of creativity and ideas and was able to help implement that vision day in and day out.

Katie ran the back of the house and the front of the house. She met with guests and ensured their stay as she says, “Exceeded every expectation every time.”

Part of the Colony’s achievement was that it was an independent resort. Murf and Katie never wanted it flagged by a Hyatt or Ritz Carlton or Regency. They wanted the soul, individuality and character that breathed from every corner of the property to be its identifying moniker.

Take the tennis courts. Not simply nine Har-Tru courts.

Klauber forged a fundamental relationship with Nick Bollettieri who started his tennis-training program at the Colony. Again, it was Klauber’s energy, connections and zeal to find and use the best.

The resort become renowned for its tennis programs and competitions and coupled with the kid’s camp either freed parents up to play or directly got the kids involved.

The Colony was so fundamental to Bollettieri and his evolution that the 2017 film on Bollettieri, “Love Means Zero,” was mostly shot on the then-vacant and dilapidated courts of the once-great resort. Cadres of students and an energy and gusto similar to Klauber’s could be seen in Bollettiieri each day from 7 a.m. to sunset on the Colony clay tennis courts.

 

The father of Longboat Key

Katie said the reasons for the success at the Colony are numerous and very personal.

“The popularity was mostly word of mouth,” says Katie.

She explains that it was not only the tennis, but also the spa, which was years ahead of its time in its offerings, as well as Sarasota itself.

And that leads to another facet of the Colony and Klauber.

In many ways, Klauber was the father of Longboat Key as we know it today. Visitors from across the world heard of the Colony and would visit. Their stay was a magical introduction to the Key. Many bought a unit at the Colony and later moved full time. Thousands upon thousands went through the Michael Saunders & Company office on site and ended up becoming residents and buying their toehold in the sun.

Locals would fall in love with the Monkey Bar or the Sunday brunch or the ever-present jazz and music from the piano situated between the hostess stand and the dining room and the bar.

“Dad always said people should come away from Colony feeling they got more than they paid for. The kid’s program was free and the tennis free and we tried to make it a great value,” says Katie.

 

Aspen Memories

Even Murf and the family needed a retreat of their own. For years it was Aspen. Aspen was Murf’s mistress.

Michael and Murf Klauber in Aspen.

Murf was an expert skier. He gracefully mamboed down the mountain. But more importantly, it was in Aspen where the expanse of snow and mountains filled him with relaxation and the quiet rides up the ski lifts gave time for each of his children and Murf to have the kind of moments that are remembered forever.

Michael wells up with memories of that time alone in the sky with his father — just two people on a chairlift.

But for a family that spent each day treating others and creating memories for others, this simple act talking one-on-one stands out as a moment in time.

Katie relates, “Skiing in Aspen was magical. Between when I was 7 and 14 that stretch of time and those experiences with him when he was so relaxed and happy and he was just relaxed. Dad would go out to Aspen for 6, 7, 8 weeks and he was reading and dreaming and writing.”

Another aspect of Murf was his colorful shirts and Axl Rose-like white shorts. They were ubiquitous. And those colorful floral printed shirts were not mass made Hawaiian shirts, they were true fashion statements. It was his personality. Just like his never trimmed eyebrows “I won’t let anyone touch them,” Murf would say.

And Murf’s intense voice and the way he would gaze at you while talking. Murf had a strong presence.

Katie and Murf for 25 years went to New York annually to visit fashion and design shows and houses to buy for Le Tenique, the Colony’s clothing shop. The owners of the fashion lines were familiar with the Colony and Murf’s reputation and would ask his advice on coordinating fashion lines. Katie said he had an uncanny ability to see things immediately. His suggestions were inevitably followed.

 

Hitting the jackpot

Murf married Sue Klauber in 1986. No memory of Murf and his final three decades can escape the presence of Sue who balanced his personality with her soft-spoken manner, elegance and grace. He adored her.

After Murf passed, Sue says the happiest moments of her life were with Murf at the Colony.

Murf and Sue Klauber at the Londolozi Game Reserve in South Africa.

Sue’s first husband, John Bassett, was the original developer of the Player’s Club, just up Gulf of Mexico Drive from the Colony. Their daughter, Victoria, played tennis at the Bollettieri academy and her husband, John, knew Murf.

Several months after her husband passed away, Sue was invited by Murf for a dinner at the Colony restaurant and soon that dinner turned into several dinners a week and then soon after they were inseparable.

Murf took on Sue’s children, John, Victoria, Carling and Heidi, as if they were his own.

Victoria Bassett Walker says, “We hit the jackpot when it came to a stepparent.”

“When I was with him or anyone was with him, you were the only one in the world,” says Victoria.

At first she was skeptical. “How can anyone be that positive?” she wondered. “He was.”

On his first Christmas with Sue and the stepchildren, Murf gave each a small metal airplane. He then added that he was flying everyone to Aspen. He brought his entire family together and he did that over and over throughout his life.

His mantra, said Victoria, or Vicky as she is called, was to have fun each and every day and do something kind for someone each and every day.

“We called him GP, he did not like the word grandpa.”

Vicky says Murf and Sue were the love of each other’s lives. She said that Murf gave her mother the life that she could only have dreamed to have. She says her father accomplished so much and was so driven, but was not able to passionately embrace each day the same way. “I’m very sad in his passing; he brought magic into this world.”

For Sue and Victoria the chapters of life and the interconnection and threads and trajectories create a tapestry that is simply extraordinary.

Sue’s first husband, John, built the Player’s Club and she and he lived in the Penthouse there as Murf lived at the Colony Penthouse up the road.

Her first husband, John, died when he was quite young and Sue and Murf eventually married and she lived for decades in the Colony with him in the Colony penthouse. Then the Colony is lost, the Colony is destroyed and the Colony Penthouse demolished. At the end of Murf’s life, he and Sue are living at the Player’s Club in a condo they bought. Then on the day after that Colony Penthouse comes down, Murf passes. The feeling is haunting, magical, beautiful and painful.

 

The Colony falls

Why did the Colony come down? What led to this unraveling of a creation so loved that President Bush, Vice President Al Gore and hundreds of dignitaries and celebrities chose it as their place to stay?

Litigation closed the Colony.

Perhaps it can all be summed up as an intrusion of the opposite of Murf’s creative spirit and vision.

As the years went on the Colony aged, it was in need of a fundamental renovation. The beauty and energy and good feelings engendered by the location and Murf and the staff and the programs were starting to be shadowed by the aging infrastructure and deferred maintenance.

Murf as managing partner appealed to the owners and had the right to make an assessment for repairs. When he asked repeatedly, he was met with a series of events that can only be characterized as hubris meets greed meets a complete lack of vision.

In the end, the Association of Unit Owners, led by one man who asked Murf to bend the rules and have the right to stay in his unit for 90 days instead of 30 days waged a war against the Colony family. That single owner, after he bought three units in the midrise, joined the Board of Directors of the Association and they challenged Murf’s assessments, refused to pay and took Klauber to court.

As the litigation went on, the Colony struggled.

The goal of the Association was to oust Klauber and run the resort itself. Murf was now years older and hundreds of thousands in litigation were exhausted. He was later vindicated in court and the court found that he never mismanaged any funds and that the Association was bound and had a duty to pay the assessments. Unfortunately, the very ownership structure Murf created meant he would have to go after each owner individually to collect.

Money ran out, time and ebbing life energies closed in. The income stream, of the now dilapidated resort, failed. The Association, fueled by its board, fought every angle in court. After eight years of litigation, each unit owner paid more than twice what Klauber had asked for as an assessment and they lost a decade they would have stayed at the Colony. They brought the entire operation to a halt and left nothing but memories in its place. Both the owners, Klauber and the community lost the Colony.

 

Back to a beginning

The Colony Mid-Rise, Murf’s Home for 40 years, demolished the day before his passing.

A St. Regis Hotel is now planned to be built along with St. Regis residences on the 17.3-acre site. The same owner who fought with Klauber is attempting to prevent that project as well. The court case continues. The new owner is attempting to consolidate ownership and control. Meanwhile, the Town of Longboat Key Commission voted that the Colony was a danger in its dilapidated state and must come down and it issued a demolition order in the spring of 2018.

Over the past month, Klauber’s creation was ripped up and removed. First the tennis courts were scraped from the earth. Then the wooden condos where the hundreds of thousands of guest over 40 years created their memories were toppled and hauled away. And the final act was that wrecking ball knocking down the final half of the midrise and Murf and Sue’s home and Murf’s office.

 

Passing thoughts

Murf had moved on. He always looked forward. Even after the Colony came to an end he would sit at Pattigeorge’s on Longboat Key, which his son Tommy owned.

He would say, “They just do not get it. None of them have a clue how to create what we had.”

And then at lunch he would later tell friends of what a future resort could and should look like. He talked about Aspen. He walked the beach every day. He told his lunch friends to stop eating so much bread or they will get fat. In short, he remained Murf to the end — he even would talk about how the menu at Pattigeorges needed to be completely revamped if it was going to survive. He walked to Publix and the post office and took daily strolls up and down the beach. He went to South Africa with his family on a surprise 90th birthday trip. He skied beautifully down the slopes of Aspen until 89 years of age. He had an opinion and a positive thought about most every subject.

Did Murf like a battle and fight? Yes, he could be the most tenacious fighter — but mainly if you were in the way of a dream and a vision. And that dream and those visions he spread across his world.

 

Wrecking ball

Murf’s last Day was Thanksgiving.

Murf did not spend the day before watching the Mid-rise demolition.

The day before Thanksgiving, the wrecking ball could be heard all afternoon on the south end of Longboat Key. 1,500 pounds of steel falling from a steel chain on a crane dropped vertically onto the final building that stood at the Colony was the last act of the Resort. And that final building was Murf’s home for 40 years. And the final section to be razed was Murf’s office and penthouse where he and has wife Suzie lived for 25 years. It was his penthouse in which he gazed across the Gulf of Mexico each day and dreamed his dreams.

 

Stairway to Heaven

A stairway of clouds and full moon the evening Murf passed.

Murf Klauber spent his final hours on Thanksgiving with his family at the Players Club Condo. Each visited. He wore a lively shirt. He sat up between two Inuit carvings depicting a beaver and a full moon. It was peaceful, loving.

All of the family had seen Murf and Katie left around 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving night. She peeked her head back through the door for a final goodbye and her father, Dr. Murray Murf Klauber, silently had passed.

Later that night at 3 a.m. the family gathered. The moon was full and shining. A stairway of clouds climbed toward the moon.

The sadness was eclipsed by the beauty of the life they had all shared, that we have all shared.

Murf Klauber gave far more than he received in his 92 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obituary in Short

DR. MURRAY JOSEPH KLAUBER ‘Murf’ Passed serenely surrounded by four generations of family members on Thanksgiving night, November 22, 2018, in Longboat Key, FL, in his 92nd year. Cherished by his wife of 31 years, Sue Bassett, Murf, a true renaissance man, an orthodontist in Buffalo, entrepreneur, developer, visionary and founder of the world acclaimed Colony Beach and Tennis Resort on Longboat Key, Florida over 40 years ago. Survived by his son, Michael (Terri), Katie Moulton (Michael) and Tommy (Jaymie) and step-children, John Bassett (Dianne), Victoria Bassett (Meredith), Carling Seguso (Robert), and Heidi Blair (Chris). Forever a mentor and inspiration so loved and clearly blessed with 18 grandchildren and 11 great- grandchildren.

Murf’s 90th birthday at Michael’s on East in a re-created Monkey Room Bar. From left, Terri and Michael Klauber, Murf, Katie Moulton, Max Klauber and Susie Bassett Klauber.

The Colony Dining Room and Mid-rise as seen from the beach.

The Colony Stone Crab Festival was always one of the best parties year after year.

The iconic sign on Gulf of Mexico Drive.

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5 Responses for “Murf Klauber: Building a legacy through family, passion and fun”

  1. Rest in Peace-we are English visitors to Longboat key for over 25 years and now our family continue to visit this magical place.and own a property on the island.

    We remember well the cosy atmosphere and happiness that The Colony created.

    Cannot understand why another monster building unit is causing the Island to change into a building site of huge proportions.

    Life goes on BUT the island and Sarasota has lost forever its old world charm-we may not return.
    VERY VERY SAD!!!! There are other places with quiet charm to explore.

  2. Frank Robinette says:

    Having worked at the Colony for many years, what I always appreciated about Doc was that you always knew where he stood. No BS, no beating around the bush,no worry about political correctness. He never had to tell me twice. Definitely one of a kind and part of that ..”Greatest Generation”…Condolences to the Klauber family..

  3. Phil Joyce says:

    it was my good fortune to have known Murf for over 40 years my family will never forget the Colony experience Life well lived

  4. Suzanne Rusovich says:

    Murf was a special human. He, his family and the Colony family touched our entire family. For 30 years, we laughed, loved and made friends from around the world that we will treasure forever. Such a special man in a special place. How lucky we all are to have been part of his world.

  5. Linda Guisinger says:

    Beautiful tribute

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