The Hilton Chicago/Oak Brook Hills Resort & Conference Center has been around for a long time now. Opened in the mid-80s, there have been a lot of guests in and out of the resort. There have been celebrities from movie stars to sports heroes through the doors. Times have changed at the resort over the years from the Butler family to Marriott to becoming a Hilton franchise. There have been numerous employees here, from upper managers to hourly employees.
There are a few employees who have been here through all of it. Some who were here when they first saw the resort being built. These are employees who realize just how special Oak Brook Hills Resort is and have a unique insight into the history of the property, the golf course, the changes within. They also have a very unique outlook on where Oak Brook Hills is going
One of those employees is Corinne Raden, who works in the phone exchange area of the resort. When you call the resort for help, to book a stay, change a room, to ask a question, Corinne is one of the people you might end up talking to. Corinne has been here from the start, and we thought it might be interesting to hear here thoughts about where Oak Brook Hills Resort has been and why the future looks so bright for it.
Of course, if you’d like to see how great Oak Brook Hills Resort is in person, jump right to our specials or book your stay today.
How long have you been working at Oak Brook Hills?
I started working in housekeeping at Oak Brook Hills Resort on June 23, 1987, right after it opened. That would mean it’s my 33rd anniversary in 2020.
How did you get started in the hospitality industry?
I had just gotten out of high school and my parents told me in no uncertain terms that I was going to have to find a job. I looked around and tried a few different things. For example, I was a waitress for a while, but quickly discovered I didn’t like doing that. I really wasn’t sure what to do.
I used to drive past a Holiday Inn on my way to the waitressing job and I thought that might be a good place to work. They hired me on as a housekeeper and I really liked the job. I worked at that Holiday Inn for a while and eventually moved on to another one. I worked my way up from a housekeeper to a supervisor in housekeeping.
That eventually brought you to Oak Brook Hills Resort, right? How did you end up switching from Holiday Inn to OBH? What was it about this place that made you want to work here?
The Holiday Inn I worked for required me to drive right past the spot that would eventually become Oak Brook Hills Resort. Of course, at first, I had no idea what the place was going to be. It was so secluded back then, set apart and away from the road. In fact, from the road, it was hard to tell what the building was going to be. However, when I was on the seventh floor of the Holiday Inn where I was doing the housekeeping, I could see the building and I began to realize it was going to be a hotel or something. I said to myself, “I’m going to go work there.” Just about that time the Holiday Inn was bought by Ramada and I figured that was the sign to start looking for new options.
I went in an applied. They wanted to hire me right away and the resort opened in April. I got them to wait to bring me on in June.
So, you got to start right as the summer season got going.
Exactly. Although everything was so remote and secluded. There was a real attempt at the time to make the resort seem very exclusive and secluded. Of course, there wasn’t quite as much around here at the time as there is now.
How did you end up working in PBX (the “official” title of the phone exchange)?
Well, I started out in housekeeping here, too. I continued to work my way up and eventually became the floor supervisor. I had spent 17 years in housekeeping and was thinking maybe I just needed a change. I was even thinking I might leave Oak Brook Hills and go somewhere else. When I said that to my managers, they told me to stay. They said I should go upstairs and look at PBX. I asked them what the heck that was and they told me it was the phone operator position. I had never done that before, but thought maybe I’d give it a try.
Well, sure enough, they gave me a review of what the job was and I took to it right away. I loved it.
What about your job with PBX have you enjoyed so much? Why have you stuck with it so long?
I have always been more of a behind-the-scenes person. I have had to work the front desk and one-on-one with people in the past, but I never felt I was any good at it. I like the anonymity of being the phone. This allows me to do some problem-solving and when I get to solve a problem and the guests thank me, that’s a great feeling. I like making guests happy. Sometimes they even call to tell me how great things are here and how well things have gone, then they really want chat, which is fun. Those are really special calls. It’s what makes the job great and why I love doing it.
What was the resort like when you first started?
Well, other than the technology being so different and the fact that the entire place has been renovated, the seclusion when the resort first opened is what stands out to me. In fact, the resort when it first opened seemed to have an entirely different attitude, didn’t advertise or anything. It was like they wanted this to be a very exclusive to try and make it special.
I remember how we seemed to always have more staff than necessary. There were four bellman in the morning. There was a doorman full outfit including a top hat whose entire job was opening the door for people. There were concierges on the first floor and then more upstairs. The appearance was that we were there waiting for the guests. So, we had staff falling all over each other.
The eleventh floor was the special floor, very exclusive. You had to have a special key card you inserted into the elevator that took you straight to the eleventh floor. Once you got out of the elevator on eleven, there was a big sort of office with glass walls. These were where the night time concierges worked. They were just there to help out the guests on that floor.
What are some of the high points you’ve experienced here throughout your career?
Well, other than the helping out guests, there was a time we’d host the Walter Payton golf outing. You’d drive up in the morning and right by the fence you’d see Walter, goofing around with Billy Murray right there on the golf course.
In fact, we used to get quite a few celebrities. There was a time when Frank Sinatra would spend his time here when doing shows in Chicago. He’d fly from downtown via helicopter and land nearby. Then a limo would go pick him up.
What do you think was one of the biggest challenges you overcame while working here?
Well, the industry has changed. Concerns about security and travel due to world events changed things a lot in hotels and resorts. However, things are good now. We’ve got a great management company and Maverick seems like a really great partner for us.
With that in mind, how do you feel about Oak Brook Hills’ future?
I think the future for this place is great. Now that the renovation is over and we have Steven (Ellingsen) in charge, I think it’s all going up. I love having Steven here because he has such a passion for this place. When he talks to you, it’s inspiring and he instill this energy into you. You feel like whatever he has plans for will happen and he conveys that to employees and you want to go there with him. We’ve had quite a few General Managers here and I think Steven has been one of the best.
Why do you think people should consider staying at Oak Brook Hills for their next vacation?
I can tell you what it is that people tell me they love about the resort. Guests love our pools, both indoors and outdoors. They love the golf course and we get people calling all the time about Willow Crest. We also have great restaurants and great food, too. Plus, even though the area is built up around us these days, it’s still somehow secluded and we have great views of the golf course. Our grounds are beautiful and people ask all the time for views of the course.
At Oak Brook Hills Resort, we value our employees. It’s employees like Corinne who help make the stay here at the resort special from the time a guest books their stay until they leave. We hope you’ll make your vacation plans that include visiting the Hilton Chicago/Oak Brook Hills Resort. Find out why we’re the Hidden Gem of the Suburbs. Book your stay today.