When looking up the definition of “hospitality” — using either Dictionary.com or the trusty, dog-eared copy of Webster’s — it is somewhat surprising that a picture of a local woman isn’t included.
Lenise Lynch could be considered the ultimate embodiment of that principle as it pertains to the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers. She exhibits this not only in her job as longtime general manager of Hampton Inn on Rockford Street in Mount Airy, but through charitable efforts and other service in the community.
This further is evidenced by how Lynch defines herself, aside from what’s in the dictionary, taking an old standard of being a people person a notch higher:
“I’m a people’s person,” she said — as in plural — which reflects the attitude the highly active Rotary Club member displays toward folks from all segments of society whom she comes into contact with on various levels. “I feel like my purpose in life is to serve others.”
Hails from New York City
While the qualities of warmth and friendliness toward strangers often are linked to this part of the country — as with the term “Southern hospitality” — it is interesting to learn that Lenise Lynch actually comes from a place much different.
“I was born in Queens, New York,” Lynch said of the largest borough in the Big Apple.
So how did she wind up in rural Surry County?
“I came to North Carolina when I was 10,” explained Lynch, who turned 40 last Wednesday.
“My parents just wanted a different scene, a different environment to raise me in,” she added of the move that took place around 1991.
It wasn’t as if the family threw a dart at a map which happened to land on Mount Airy. Lynch already had relatives here, including her grandmother, Vella Whitlock, and a legendary area reverend, Elder James Strickland, a great-uncle of Lynch’s on her father’s side.
In examining her childhood, one obvious question involves how Lynch came by her first name, Lenise, which rhymes with Denise. It was the idea of her mother, Angela Fonville.
“My mom’s best friend was Denise,” Lynch related. “She wanted something unique.”
The end result certainly fills that bill, the recipient of the name agrees.
“You don’t hear about many Lenises in the world,” Lynch said of her mother’s choice. “It was unique and unusual and still honored her friend.”
In a way, Lenise also served as a mother figure for her family, whose history includes losing her father, Floyd Whitlock, to a heart attack when she was just 17 and he was 37.
That’s largely because of the age difference between Lynch and her three siblings — a brother and two sisters — the oldest of whom is 14 years younger than Lynch.
She therefore found herself thrust into the position of a role model early in life, which Lynch believes helped to mold her into the kind of individual she is today. “I wanted them to have a person they could look up to,” Lynch said of her siblings.
“I think it made me a better person — more responsible,” she observed regarding the guidance supplied to them. “Even today they will call me for advice.”
Meanwhile, Lynch’s mother was a mentor for all four of her children.
“My mom was my role model,” Lynch said of a woman who set an example of dedication as a single mom raising the kids who also could supply tough love when needed.
“She taught us what it was like to work hard,” she recalled. “Just watching her overcome obstacle after obstacle made me the person that I am.”
Three of the four children have college degrees and the fourth is now in college, Lynch mentioned.
She counts Deidre Rogers as another positive influence in her life, including during Lynch’s days as a student at North Surry High, where she graduated in 1999.
Lynch was a cheerleader for four years at North Surry, where Rogers was the coach of that squad.
“She took me under her wing in high school and I thought, ‘this woman, she’s phenomenal,’” Lynch said of Rogers, a real estate agent who has been involved in many community-service projects and was named local Citizen of the Year in 2013.
High school can offer many challenges to young people trying to find their way. “So I made high school fun,” Lynch said, including cheerleading activities and the lessons it taught about leadership and teamwork.
“You learn so much as a cheerleader or in any type of sport,” she said.
“It creates a bond that is lifelong — you learn with people and you grow with people,” Lynch observed. “They become your brothers and sisters in a sense.”
Despite all she learned at North Surry, Lenise Lynch was not able to chart a course for her career field by the time she left its hallowed halls. “I had no idea.”
So as do many young people in that situation, Lynch turned to the local community college, receiving business and accounting degrees from the Dobson institution.
Welcome to the Hampton
That academic endeavor would prove to be good preparation for her career at Hampton Inn, where Lynch went to work in January 2007 at the front desk, providing a friendly face to sometimes-weary travelers.
After two years in that position, the hotel ownership had recognized the potential the young woman displayed for something greater. They promoted her to general manager of the establishment, a job Lynch has held for 12 years.
Yet her philosophy has remained the same, centered around, once again, hospitality. Lynch encourages all members of her staff to make hotel guests feel special.
“My happiness comes when I can make someone smile,” she said. “You meet all kinds of people from all over the world.”
Some come here for Mayberry attractions, while others are just passing through — each with a different set of circumstances.
“You don’t know what kind of day they’ve had,” she remarked concerning an overriding goal that includes recognizing the hassles travelers can go through. “They may have had a delay in their flight — they just want to get to their bed.”
So Lynch strives to make someone’s check-in process and stay as smooth and enjoyable as possible under such scenarios.
This mission has become a bit tougher at Hampton Inn with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, accompanied by a staff reduction to 20 people compared to the 35 to 40 normally employed at the 125-room facility.
“We lost about $1.3 million due to COVID,” Lynch said of its impact on travel revenues. That prompted the hotel leadership to re-think and re-budget its operation in order to stay afloat.
“If I didn’t believe in God, I don’t know that I would have got through the pandemic,” confided Lynch, a person of deep faith who attends Payne’s Chapel Baptist Church. “Several people around me have had it and I’ve had to quarantine.” However, Lynch has avoided contracting the coronavirus herself.
“I think we have been through a pandemic, a civil war and a depression all at the same time,” she said of events occurring over the past year.
Stellar Rotary record
Given her genuine concern for people, it seems only natural that Lenise Lynch would join what is arguably the most-active organization in the community, which happened when she became a member of the Mount Airy Rotary Club 12 years ago. Lynch was its president in 2016-17.
“The Rotary Club is a service organization,” she stressed, unlike some groups that might simply gather once a month for a meal.
“We actually work — we’re a hands-on club,” the veteran member said. “Whenever there is a need in this community and they (Rotarians) find out about it, they go above and beyond to meet that need.”
Although the club has focused on literacy, polio-eradication and other programs to promote peace and goodwill both locally and globally, Lynch has mostly directed her efforts toward supplying food to those in need.
This has included chairing the local RUSH (Rotarians United to Stop Hunger) program since 2018.
“I think at some point we were number one in food insecurities,” Lynch said of a dubious ranking assigned to Surry County several years ago.
The RUSH effort she heads has provided commodities for school backpack and other programs along with spearheading numerous food drives. Its most-recent campaign involved assembling 300 boxes of food for residents of city public-housing neighborhoods.
“I just wanted to make sure we made a difference where hunger was concerned,” Lynch said of her work with the RUSH component.
Among her other community involvements are chairing the Mount Airy Tourism Development Authority, co-chairing the city housing authority board, serving on the governing boards of the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce and Surry Arts Council and volunteering for the North Surry High School Boosters Club.
“And I assume that’s why I’ve been in hospitality for 14 years,” she said of a desire to serve others on many fronts.
In her free time, Lynch enjoys “girl trips” with friends to the beach and other locales and books by influential people. She’s now reading “It’s Your Time” by Joel Osteen.
“And I love spending time with my children,” Lynch said of daughter Tianna, 20, a student at Lees-McRae College, and son Jahreese, 16, a sophomore at North Surry. This has included watching them play basketball and football, respectively.
At the end of the day, it’s all about concern for those around her — family and friends along with strangers.
“My purpose in life is to serve others, glorify God and the rest will fall into place,” Lenise Lynch summarized.
“That makes me feel good when I lay down at night.”