Jacksonville Country Club’s manager is a hard worker and right at home
by David Blanchette
Amy Rivers considers the members of the Jacksonville Country Club to be family. “Over the years, some of the kids that were little when I started now come back with their kids and they holler, ‘Oh, Amy!’ and introduce me to their children,” Rivers said. “I know I’m not their grandma but it makes me feel that I am close to them, growing up knowing them and then seeing them with all of their kids.”
Rivers has been employed by the Jacksonville Country Club for 35 years, the majority of that time as dining room manager. The job never gets old for her, and the interactions she has with members always seem to brighten her day.
“We are happy when they are here and everyone is so friendly, it’s a real nice place to work,” Rivers said. “I always think to myself when I’m walking up to the building, ‘It’s nice to be able to work someplace where it’s so pretty and the people are so nice.’”
Rivers was born and raised in Bluffs. At one time, Rivers wanted to become a teacher, but then she got a job at the Boatel Restaurant in Naples that helped to chart the course for her professional life.
Rivers moved to Jacksonville and continued to work in Naples, and decided to try for a job in Jacksonville so she wouldn’t have as far to drive. That’s when she saw an ad for the evening hostess position at the Jacksonville Country Club, and she applied for the job.
“One night when I was working at the Boatel, I saw this name come in on the reservation list, Pete Kuklinski, and that was the manager who had interviewed me for the job at the [Jacksonville] Country Club,” Rivers said. “I got nervous because he was coming there to check out how I worked. We were really busy that night, we used to have a lot of people on the weekends.”
Kuklinski called Rivers several days later to offer her the Jacksonville Country Club job.
“He was amazed that we accommodated so many people at the Boatel and he thought I looked like I could handle it,” Rivers said. “To get through all of those people we had a lot of resets and had to keep things moving. So, he was impressed, yeah.”
Rivers worked as evening hostess at the Jacksonville Country Club for approximately 10 years before being promoted to dining room manager. She oversees all of the scheduling and special events at the club, plus she’s in charge of the day-to-day dining room operations and continues to serve as evening hostess.
Rivers cited “Casino Nights,” fifties parties and pool parties as some of her favorite events at the country club. She especially enjoys the children’s Halloween, Christmas and Easter parties and likes to work on party favors like witches’ hats and Christmas decorations for those occasions.
Weddings at the country club are occasions where it’s all hands on deck for Rivers and her staff, and they have had some memorable nuptials in her three and a half decades of work there.
“We did a large, elaborate Indian wedding one year that was outside with big tents, and the groom rode in on a white horse,” Rivers said. “For one wedding, we had to move all of our chairs out to a truck so they could rent different chairs. With other weddings, we’ve had very elaborate decorations.”
Themed events on the golf course involve special decorations and accommodations, and Rivers said she and her staff will often work for several months in advance to pull them off. Then there are golf outings with supporting events that can range from small to large.
“There’s the Mauvauisterre Cup in the fall, a tournament they have against the Links Golf Course,” Rivers said. “I am not a golfer but my dad golfed, so when I was young I used to go with him and ride on the cart. I always enjoy working the golf events at the country club.”
Rivers recalls that world-famous boxer and Jacksonville native Ken Norton was a guest one time at the Jacksonville Country Club, but other than that, she says, “We haven’t had too awful many famous people that I can recall.”
Rivers said that members’ culinary tastes have changed over the years, and the dining room changes its menu every month to offer different items. Still, sometimes people just want some familiar comfort food.
“Right now, one of our most popular items is fried chicken. Just that simple, good old-fashioned cooking that they really like, with mashed potatoes and gravy,” Rivers said. “But people enjoy the fancier dishes, too … the new charcuterie boards, all of the different kinds of steak dishes our chef comes up with.”
Did we mention the chef? It’s Charles Rivers, Amy Rivers’ husband.
“I met my best friend here, married him and we live happily ever after,” Amy Rivers said. “We enjoy working together. It gets crazy sometimes but we know what each of us is thinking and we know what we are doing.”
Rivers said her husband tried to retire a few years ago but came back to the position until the country club can transition into a new head chef. Charles Rivers has two grown daughters and four grandchildren, all of whom live in town and Amy Rivers thinks of as her own. The couple recently bought an old house in Jacksonville that they work on in their spare time.
What else do a chef and a dining room manager like to do when they’re not at work?
“We like to go out to eat whenever we can, we enjoy looking at other things trying to get ideas,” Amy Rivers said. “The job is never far from our minds, but we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”