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Originally published Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 9:09 AM

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Helen Kutsher of 'Borscht Belt' resort dies at 89

Helen Kutsher, who doted on generations of guests at one of the most famous "Borscht Belt" hotels, has died at 89.

The Associated Press

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MONTICELLO, N.Y. —

Helen Kutsher, who doted on generations of guests at one of the most famous "Borscht Belt" hotels, has died at 89.

Family members said Kutsher died Tuesday in a hospital in Philadelphia, where she had lived for several years.

Kutsher's was founded in 1907 in the Catskills and became a big name in the days when the region attracted largely Jewish families who drove a few hours north from New York City to escape the summer heat.

In the region's heyday, Kutsher's was known for serving up big portions of prime rib and blintzes and for attracting entertainers like Tony Bennett and Milton Berle. Wilt Chamberlain worked there as a bellhop. It was the sort of big, bustling resort portrayed in the 1987 movie "Dirty Dancing."

Helen Kutsher was the face of the resort, gregariously greeting guests with a smile when they walked in and making sure their needs were met.

"She was more than the greeter, she was the heart of the hotel," said her daughter Mady Prowler. "She always sent people birthday cards and had little gifts for the grandchildren. She made sure people felt that they were pretty special."

Born Helen Wasser on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, she first came to the Kutsher's at age 10 after her mother's death. She later introduced her widowed father to his future second wife, Rebecca Kutsher, a member of the family that ran the hotel. Her children say Helen Kutsher essentially grew up at Kutsher's.

In 1946, Helen Kutsher married Rebecca Kutsher's nephew Milton Kutsher and they had three children. Milton Kutsher died in 1998. She continued to work at the hotel into her 80s.

Her funeral is Thursday in Monticello.

The Kutsher family still owns the hotel, but it is operated by others.

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Associated Press writer Michael Hill in Albany contributed to this report.

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