Jim and Donna Winner both began life on simple Mercer County, PA dairy farms. From those roots of hard work and commitment came two people driven to succeed in business and give back to their community.
The Winners started in the hospitality business in 1979 when they purchased the Shenango Inn, a 72-room Colonial hotel in the residential section of Sharon, PA. This was the time when they began their attraction to country inn and bed & breakfast travelers, inspired by Norm Simpson’s book “Country Inns and Back Roads.” Wanting an inn that allowed them more personal interaction with the guests, they decided to sell the 72-room inn, beginning their search for the “perfect inn.” After extensively traveling through the southeastern United States, the Winners realized that their destiny was to stay in Mercer County, PA and to give back to the community they called home.
Making the deal of a lifetime at a public auction, the Winners purchased the abandoned 1854 building in Clark, PA that would soon become the home of Tara – A Country Inn. In June 1986, after two years of loving restoration by a very dedicated handful of staff, Tara was opened to the public after the completion of two additions to the building and years of evolution, Tara now has 27 stunning guestrooms and has been critically- acclaimed throughout the nation. Stonewall’s Tavern, Ashley’s Gourmet Dining Room, the Old South Armory Restaurant, indoor and outdoor pools, banquet facilities, elegant gardens, public tours and have made Tara a household name in the tri-state area that surrounds Mercer County, PA.
In 1996, Jim and Donna Winner had the urge to save another abandoned landmark causing them to purchase Mercer County’s Buhl Mansion. This building had been neglected for many years and was an eye-sore and a public liability for the city of Sharon. With a multi-million dollar restoration of the 1890s stone “castle,” which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Winners created what is now one of the most romantic inns in America. Buhl Mansion Guesthouse & Spa offers ten deluxe guestrooms, beautiful gardens fit for fairytale castle weddings and a full-service spa with over 100 indulgent and rejuvenating treatments.
“The Club,” an anti-theft steering wheel device, is the most well-known of Jim Winner’s ventures and provided the Winners with the resources make the dreams of the inns and tourism properties a reality. With the millions of dollars generated with sales of “The Club,” the Winners were able to remain true to their word and give back to their community by saving and restoring dozens of community landmarks from demolition. The Winners created dozens of companies, providing over 1,000 jobs at its peak in a community that, at the time, suffered from double-digit unemployment rates after the decline of the area’s steel industry. Other businesses owned by the Winners over the years include The Winner Off-Price Fashion Store, Tiffany’s Banquet Hall, The Park Inn Hotel, Winner Security, Winner Steel, Winner Aviation, Wintronics, Winner Global, and more!
Sadly in 2010, tragedy occurred when Jim Winner was suddenly taken in an automobile accident.
Throughout their successful careers, the Winners always gave back, living by the motto “to whom much is given, much is expected.” They spent millions to restore Mercer County landmarks. They supported arts and nonprofit organizations by outright donating buildings or leasing buildings to groups for as little as $1 per year. The Winners distributed over 50,000 pairs of shoes to area youth through their “Shoe Our Children” fund. They established scholarships and endowments at Slippery Rock and Gannon Universities and Anderson College. Through the Winner Foundation, they gave hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of interest-free student loans and scholarships to deserving college students in the County. Their philanthropy extended far beyond the Shenango Valley and the list of causes that they supported – both publicly and privately – could go on for pages.
Over the years, Jim and Donna Winner were recognized for both personal and professional achievements. As a couple, the Winners received the Bill Knecht Tourism Award from VisitMercerCountyPA in 2010, a timely tribute to all that the couple accomplished to promote tourism in Mercer County. They were also the recipients of the Pennsylvania Tourism and Lodging Association’s Innkeeper of the Year Award in 2007, and in 2008 they were handpicked by Governor Rendell and inducted into the inaugural class of the Keystone Society for Tourism to honor visionaries in destination leadership and community development.
Together they did wonderful things to promote hospitality, tourism, and economic development. Jim’s tragic death will leave a huge void in countless lives. He was memorialized in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, National Public Radio, NBC Nightly News and a myriad of other publications in the weeks following his death. (See www.WinnerHospitality.com “recent press coverage”).
Jim Winner’s wife Donna and their “family” of employees remain determined to carry his dreams of making the Shenango Valley a fabulous tourist destination with world-class inns for guests from around the world to enjoy; a place to escape reality and get pampered.