Nov 14, 2023
Pittsford, New York – November 9, 2023 – Donald G. Bennett, Jr. practically grew up in the outdoor hospitality industry, and his years of dedication to that industry was honored on November 4th as Campground Owners of New York (CONY) inducted him as the 18th member of its Hall of Fame.
The induction ceremony took place during CONY’s 60th anniversary gala dinner, held at the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, New York. The gala dinner wrapped up CONY’s annual Exposition for the Outdoor Hospitality Industry.
The theme of the evening seemed to be friendships and family.
Mark Anderson, second generation owner of Camp Chautauqua in Stow, NY, served as MC of the induction ceremony. Anderson is a member of the CONY Hall of Fame along with his late father, Roger Anderson. During his remarks, Anderson delved into Bennett’s family history in the outdoor hospitality industry and CONY. He recalled how Bennett’s late grandparents, Edward and Mildred Yaniszewski, started Conesus Lake Campground in the Finger Lakes, and Bennett’s involvement with the business at an early age. He noted that the Yaniszewskis were charter members of CONY over 60 years ago, and that Mildred is also an inductee in the Hall of Fame, once again making it a family affair with Don’s induction. Anderson provided warm and funny anecdotes about Don’s service on CONY’s Board of Directors, his 17-year leadership as CONY’s President & CEO, and his golfing skills.
Mark Dorr, President of the New York State Hospitality and Tourism Association (NYSH&TA), praised Don for his friendship and hospitality over the years. "I went camping once with my now wife when we were dating (25 years ago). We set up our tent and were all ready for the camping experience and it rained. I immediately drove to the nearest hotel! I never went camping again until I met Don through our work as Association presidents. He invited me to his campground, and for me, my wife and our daughters, it is the one vacation will never miss. It's not tenting, but more of a glamping experience, but the memories we make from fishing, boating, ice cream sundaes, smores and campfires is cherished time for us. Don has given us memories and stories that will last a lifetime and we are forever grateful.”
Michael Lenhard, CONY Hall of Fame Member and former campground operator, said that Bennett was the first person they called when he and his wife Gina retired and were seeking a campground for seasonal camping. And they’re now campers at his park. He joked that Bennett is always trying to get them in a red shirt (the color of Conesus Lake Campground’s work shirts), but they’ve so far managed to dodge it. Bennett joked back that maybe the shirts will be blue next year.
Matt Anderson, CONY’s newly elected board chair, said he considers Bennett to be among his best friends and inspirations. Matt Anderson is the third generation of his family to chair the CONY board of directors, following in the footsteps of grandfather Roger and father Mark. Like Bennett and his campground ownership, he is a third-generation campground owner of his family’s park, Camp Chautauqua.
Deborah Stevens, Assistant Director at the law firm Greenberg Trauig in Albany, NY, praised Don for his dedicated advocacy on behalf of campground operators, especially during the pandemic. She mentioned the many round-the-clock phone calls and emails they exchanged in an effort to ensure campgrounds in New York stayed open for business during the initial months of the shutdown, and how she admired his work ethic and attitude.
Suzanne Hopkins, CONY’s former Vice President of Marketing & Public Relations, and now working for Bennett at Merchantry Tourism, LLC, thanked the entire Bennett family for making her feel more like a family member than an employee in her years of employment. She made personal references to Bennett’s wife Lisa, parents Don and Gale Bennett, and sons Winston and Mason.
Notes of accolades that were sent and read during the ceremony included those from Jason Vaughn, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Campground Owners Association, and Scott Brandi, President of Ski Areas of New York State. Additionally, Bennett received a proclamation from Livingston County, NY, where his two campgrounds are located.
After receiving his plaque and a standing ovation from gala attendees, Bennett focused most of his remarks on thanking the many people that had shaped his personal life and professional career over the years. He was most effusive about his wife and “best friend,” Lisa Bennett, who has been his rock through it all. He thanked his parents, Don and Gale, and sons, Winston and Mason, for all their support and hard work. He recalled his time as a CONY board member and then his first year as Executive Administrator in training, working with the late Robert C. Klos, Sr., the outgoing Executive Administrator (the precursor to the President & CEO title). He thanked everyone in the room for their involvement in and dedication to CONY and the outdoor hospitality industry, saying that it wouldn’t be what it is without them.
Bennett was presented with a plaque by his friends and colleagues, outgoing CONY board chair Scott Sherwood and incoming CONY board chair Matt Anderson.
Hall of Fame members in attendance at the gala included Michael and Gina Lenhard, retired owners of the former Adirondacks Jellystone Park, Randy Lehman, retired owner of the former Hickory Hills Family Camping Resort, and Mark Anderson, owner of Camp Chautauqua.
According to the CONY website, the association recognizes exceptional campground operators and partners in the outdoor hospitality industry that have made great contributions not only to the association, but also to their own communities and professions.
The CONY Hall of Fame recognizes campground operators and association staff, and nominees are considered by the Board of Directors. Criteria includes having been or currently a CONY member for 8 years, service on the board of directors, owner or operator of a quality campground, has made contributions to CONY and the outdoor hospitality industry, involvement in the New York State tourism industry, community involvement, and paid employment by CONY. More information about the CONY Hall of Fame and inductees is available at www.campnewyork.com, under the “About” tab.
For more information about Donald G. Bennett, Jr., visit www.merchantrytourism.comand check out the news section.
Bennett’s Personal and Professional highlights:
- 2006 to 2023: hired as CONY Executive Administrator, which was later restyled as President and CEO of Campground Owners of New York. Prior to that he served on the board of directors as Region 3 (Finger Lakes) director, and then Treasurer. During Bennett’s seventeen-year tenure at CONY the association refined its mission statement, modernized its annual printed camping directory, developed and registered the CAMP NEW YORK consumer brand, and expanded its scope of marketing programs through acquisition of several Market NY grants. He also spearheaded upgrades to CONY’s websites, and integration of digital marketing platforms such as social media and a mobile app. Bennett, in partnership with various providers, developed several member benefit programs for the association including the creation of the innovative CONY Legal Hotline, access to group health insurance and mental health resources, and discounted brochure racking/distribution at high-volume New York roadside information centers. With assistance from allied lobbyists, Bennett lead CONY in efforts to champion or defeat legislation impacting the outdoor hospitality industry. Most notably, during his leadership the New York State government has signed into law legislation affecting ejections and abandoned property. He has authored or signed on with numerous letters of opposition thwarting legislation that threatened the campground industry, and personally delivered testimony on key legislative issues at several committee hearings. During the initial COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, his diligence and effectiveness in communicating with the Governor’s office and various government agencies ensured that independently owned campgrounds in New York were defined as essential services and allowed to open and operate when many other businesses were forced to shut down. He has also been instrumental in working with other tourism partners such as the New York State Hospitality & Tourism Association (NYSH&TA) and Ski Areas of NY (SANY) for the mutual benefit of the state’s tourism industry.
- Owner, with wife Lisa, of Conesus Lake Campground and Conesus Lake RV Park, in the Finger Lakes vacation region of New York. Conesus Lake Campground was started by Bennett’s grandparents, Edward and Mildred Yaniszewski.
- Owner, with wife Lisa, of Merchantry Tourism, LLC, dba Anderson’s Brochure Distribution Service, based in Pittsford, NY. In addition to brochure distribution at RV shows in the US and Canada, Bennett is expanding the scope to include marketing, design and print services, consulting, and association management.
- Bennett is currently or has served on the board of directors and in other capacities for many organizations, including the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance, the New York State Hospitality & Tourism Association (NYSH&TA), the New York State Travel & Vacation Association (now the NYS Tourism Industry Association), the Livingston County (NY) Chamber of Commerce, the Great Lakes-Seaway Trail National Scenic Byway marketing association, the Tourism Industry Coalition of NYS, the National Association of RV Parks & Campground (now OHI), Campground Association Management Professionals (CAMP), and the Finger Lakes Regional Workgroup for the Tourism and Arts of the Empire State Development Corporation.
- Bennett is a CPA and operates a boutique accounting firm in Pittsford, NY.
- Don and Lisa Bennett reside in Pittsford, NY, a beautiful suburb of the city of Rochester, located on the Erie Canal.
All photos copyright of Campground Owners of New York.