For 55 years, the vacationers have come and gone under his caring eye. Most return year-after-year to spend summer days at the small Cape Cod motel that is perched overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, managed for decades by Edward Benz.
He’s seen couples arrive at Nauset Knoll Motor Lodge for their honeymoons and come back years later to celebrate anniversaries. Kids who spent summer trips at the seaside getaway have grown up to bring their own families to the Orleans motel.
But the 2018 season will be the 85-year-old’s last at Nauset Knoll. Benz is not bidding for another 10-year lease to run the business on the National Park Service-owned property.
“I didn’t think I’d be wanting to stay until I was 95,” he told Boston.com.
Benz, who grew up in Belmont, decided he wanted to live on Cape Cod after he graduated from Harvard College and spent a few years in the Army.
“My folks had a place on the beach on Cape Cod since I was born, and every summer was very lovely,” he said. “So I went down there full time in ‘57.”
In the 1950s, the National Park Service purchased both Nauset Knoll Motor Lodge in Orleans and the Salt Pond Motel in Eastham.
“I bid on both of them not expecting much, and they came knocking at the door and said, ‘You have just got both of the motels,’” Benz recalled.
That was in 1963 — he opened both motels in the spring of the next year. He ran the Salt Pond Motel for 20 years until the National Park Service decided to take down the business.
Nauset Knoll, which has 12 rooms, remains a well-cared for “’50s motel” with no “bells and whistles,” according to Benz.
“We’ve had weddings here,” he said. “Several people have stayed here years ago after they got married on their honeymoon and they come back for anniversaries and nothing much has changed. They come in and it looks just about the same as when they got married.”
His wife, Judy, agreed.
“It’s a special little anachronism in time,” she said. “It really is a funky little place.”
There’s no Wi-Fi in the rooms, Judy Benz added.
“We joke the Wi-Fi is, ‘Stand near the flagpole,’ or, ‘Go down near the office,’” she said. “People don’t mind. They don’t mind being unplugged. In that sense it’s a very special place because people get this throwback in time that doesn’t exist anymore.”
“The Nauset Knoll Motor Lodge is very unique,” Benz said. “Here on the outer Cape, we are the only motel on the ocean.”
At the beginning, guests would stay for two or three weeks at a time.
“They were the old guard,” Benz said.
But as more condos were built and rented in the area — with amenities for renters like a kitchen or a swimming pool — Benz noticed stays at Nauset Knoll started to become shorter. (Nauset Knoll’s pool, he noted, is the ocean.) Now people stay for about a week, at most.
Still, he estimates that about 90 percent of the year is repeat business.
“You get to know these people,” he said.
There have been ups and downs and adventures through the years. One year, he recalled that a guest at the Salt Pond Motel brought a cat with them for their stay — pets were allowed at the time. It gave birth to kittens in the bathtub.
The most challenging year came in 2013 when the federal government shut down — the National Park Service along with it — and Benz was forced to ask guests at the motor lodge to find somewhere else to stay within 24 hours.
“I had to refund all the balances there, and I had to send back all the deposits for people who were coming in that period of time,” he said. “It was a little over two weeks I believe, and it took a $20,000 bite out of our year, that year. That was probably the most challenging.”
When he first took over the motel, Benz handled all the maintenance. These days, he still picks up the mail every day at the post office and goes by to check in. He says he mainly just oversees operations, relying on his staff who have been with him for years to take care of the day-to-day needs.
“Ed is a scrupulously honest person,” his wife said. “He wants everything to be just right because he feels that it reflects on him, so he’s somebody who worries about the slightest thing. And he has run, not a tight ship because he’s a really easy boss, but he makes sure that everything is right and everything is right for the people who are coming in.”
She said Nauset Knoll has been a labor of love her for husband. In October, at the end of the season, they will hold a party on the motel’s lawn to celebrate his retirement.
“I think he’s going to miss it terribly,” she said.
The 85-year-old said he has mixed feelings about it being his last year with the business. It’s going to be tough to leave, he admitted, but he and Judy are planning to do some traveling at the end of the season.
They really haven’t gotten to take vacations of their own.
“We loved being there and will miss it,” Benz said. “It’s been a part of our lives for so long.”