By Hilary Daninhirsch
When he was told that he had only a few months to live due to liver failure, Frederick Foster Zeigler IV had only one thought: his family. Zeigler’s family has always been the driving force behind everything he has always done. “Being the forward thinking guy that he is, he was not going to stay here and let it kill him,” said his daughter, Jordan, who runs the now-booming family business, Ohiopyle Vacation Rentals.
Zeigler tirelessly researched his options. A new liver, transplanted at a hospital in Nashville, extended the lease on his life indefinitely. And for a man who made it his life’s work to develop real estate, this was the acceleration clause that allowed him to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding, only a few months after his transplant.
That was two years ago.
Today, Zeigler is recovered and going back to doing what he loves best: spending time with his family and brightening the lives of others while overseeing the family real estate and restaurant businesses. Zeigler was born in Uniontown and grew up in the Chalk Hill area, surrounded by his beloved mountains in Fayette County, near U.S. Route 40. It is still where he lives to this day with his wife, Rhonda. In addition to Jordan, they have two sons and three grandchildren, who are never far from his sight.
Zeigler grew up in meager circumstances. One of seven siblings, he helped contribute to the family finances by asking neighbors if he could cut firewood. Another early job was selling dictionaries door to door.
“They didn’t have a lot of money, but they had a lot of love,” says Jordan. His wife and he briefly left the area to sell timeshares in Florida, but an ingrained love of the Farmington area, as well as a desire to raise their children near grandparents, made a return trip home inevitable.
All of the Zeiglers love the area, with its natural beauty and proximity to such landmarks as Fallingwater, Kentuck Knob and Laurel Caverns. “My whole family lives here. It is a close knit and welcoming community.
My father always said there is nowhere else he’d want to live than here,” says Jordan. Soon after his return from Florida, Zeigler began collecting real estate, establishing Ohiopyle Vacation Rentals, with a current cache of 35 properties for rent and four award-winning wedding venues. One of Zeigler’s first purchases was the Historic Stone House Restaurant and Inn, an historical landmark that had been one the first bed & breakfasts on Route 40. Although he had never owned a restaurant before, Zeigler’s business acumen and his devotion to the area contributed to that restaurant’s success for the past two decades.
Other properties would soon follow: Zeigler took over Braddock’s Inn in Farmington in 2015, a popular restaurant known for down home cooking, as well as four properties that are now popular wedding venues and retreats: the Granary, the award-winning Fernstone Retreat, Whispering Pines, and Timber Ridge. Zeigler’s special gift for seeing beneath the surface enabled him to turn them these properties into the gems that they are today. These buildings are now cornerstones of both the family business and the general area, drawing in visitors and guests from around the country. The Zeiglers also own Ohiopyle Vacation Rentals, with 35 luxury properties in the Ohiopyle and Laurel Highlands area and is now the #1 provider of vacation rentals in the Laurel Highlands of PA. This is one of the many reasons that Jordan uses the word ‘pioneer’ to refer to her father. “He’s never done anything that he hasn’t made into a success—he’s a go-getter and never gives up,” she says.
Jordan said her father’s philosophy in life is, “When you’re blessed, you bless other people.” That, she says, remains a huge part of their family core values. And it extends to their business, too. They take the phrase “spreading the love” to heart with their wedding venues, where they treasure the ability to be an integral part of someone’s special day and stay with them.
Zeigler treats his businesses with the same TLC as he treats everyone else. He still stops in every day at the office to check on things or will drop off food from one of his restaurants and introduce himself to the guests. “I’ve had many guests come back and say, ‘Where’s Fred?’ It’s totally a family business in the truest sense of the word,” observes Jordan.
It was this positive outlook and sense of humor that got him through his illness. When he was undergoing his liver transplant, he turned his focus outward to the other patients that he met who were in similar situations rather than brood about his own health. Despite the arduous recovery process, he would make others laugh or would pull pranks on the doctors, just to get a smile out of the other patients.
Everyone is equal in Zeigler’s eyes. “He makes everyone feel special. You treat the CEO the same as the janitor,” she says. “He has the biggest heart for the mountains and for our guests who come here.” Jordan also relays how, on Christmas, her parents would take them to the hospital and look at the tags on the trees, which were wishes for gifts from
“He would take every tag on two full trees, and we would go shopping and buy every one of them on there. That is the kind of stuff he does—he has a heart of gold.” About three years ago, Zeigler started a celebrity bartender event at the Stone House on fall and winter weekends, an auction that benefits a person in need. The entire community donates money and goods, and the Zeiglers contribute a complimentary stay at one of their properties at these events. Jordan says that as her father has been building and giving for more than 30 years, she wanted to honor his life and what he’s done for the community and his family. “He has been my biggest influence since I was a little girl. He was the best father, the best role model I could have ever asked for,” she says.
“We are proud of what we’ve grown here and continue to fall in love with this area, just as our guests do. It’s a blessing to us and to all who come here for vacations, weddings, family reunions, and to see the globally-recognized attractions, such as Fallingwater. The mountains are true gems, and so is my dad. One –of-a-kind.”