Summer hours continue. Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Margaret Treadwell

Have you ever met people so brimming with happiness they could be described as joy-spreaders? Susan and Hermann Jenny personify the term, but they say it wasn’t always so. How did this couple find happiness individually and together?

Hermann grew up poor in Switzerland. Following a tragic accident, his father was too debilitated to care for his family. His mother opened their home to guests; 15-year-old Hermann apprenticed with a master chef and became an accomplished cook for her business. He decided he could earn more money on the staff of a hotel and moved to Canada and then Bermuda, where someone commended him to Cornell University’s Hotel School. He says of his good fortune, “You have to speak up for your rights, which develops self confidence.”

He met Susan at Cornell where she was studying French and pursuing a teacher’s certificate and later obtained a master’s degree in English for Speakers of Other Languages.

“I come from a rural culture and am a businessman,” Hermann said of their decision to marry. “Susan is from an artistic culture of music and French literature. Together we have it all. I believe in marriage we are called upon to witness the life of another person, not to judge them… and that agreement is a commitment I will never negate.”

During the early years, as Hermann rose steadily in the hospitality business, they moved around the world – from the South Bronx to Bangkok, Singapore and Paris. They learned three important lessons: Be open to all people and situations, take risks and sink roots wherever you live. For example, Susan and their three children became involved at the American Cathedral in Paris. One Shrove Tuesday, Hermann, a self-proclaimed atheist who attended church functions to support his family, cooked the best pancake supper in Christendom. Susan said, “We’ve always given each other space while supporting our differences.” Hermann added, “With that attitude Susan made my career possible.”

By the early 1990s, Hermann had been the head of three different hotel chains and was working for the Aga Khan when the stress associated with constant travel and climbing the corporate ladder became unbearable. He asked, “Why am I doing this?”

Susan, who had created a program for dyslexic children at the American School in London, was devastated when it became clear Hermann wanted to move her from her city home to run a country Bed and Breakfast. But, she said, “I’ve always trusted Hermann’s instincts and home is where he is. I was ready for surprises, so I decided to live the decision well by thinking of our change as creating a new life rather than losing an old one. My American pioneering spirit keeps me curious.”

They looked for several years along the French Riviera before they heard that a divorcing English couple was selling their working B&B in northern Provence. The moment they saw the 17th century stone farmhouse, Les Tuillieres, set on 40 wooded acres with fields and streams far from the tourist routes, they knew it was the perfect place.

“When you live on an isolated farm you need to create a life that draws on hidden things inside you or expands your interests,” Susan said. “I began gardening in earnest and spent more time with my piano and different kinds of singing groups.”As her knowledge of the area grew, Susan became not only a warm hostess, but also an occasional sous chef, vacation planner and tour guide par excellence for her guests, who she treats like cherished friends.

The couple are in agreement about the qualities that make their B&B successful: Pure luck to have found the right place at the right time; good health to actively carry the decision through; an ability to speak several languages; and attending to the needs of the surrounding community, particularly hiring local citizens as valued staff. As Hermann said, “For every ounce of ego, an ounce of rationality leaves the brain. Don’t let ‘important people’ go to your head!”

Both acknowledge it takes a strong couple to do this kind of work. After all, with the usual 12 guests per night there is hardly any quiet or intimate time. They cope by teaming up 16 hours a day five months a year in work they enjoy, then take seven months off to sit still and listen to music.

How much longer do they intend to continue this lifestyle? Susan said, “Every year we put the question on the table: Do we want to do this another year? So far the answer is a resounding, “Yes. We are happy!”

Margaret M. “Peggy” Treadwell, LICSW, is a family, individual and couples therapist and teacher in private practice.

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