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Your Innkeeper, Donna Winner

Jim and Donna Winner both began life on simple Mercer County, PA dairy farms. From those roots of hard work and commitment came two people driven to succeed in business and give back to their community.

The Winners started in the hospitality business in 1979 when they purchased the Shenango Inn, a 72 room Colonial hotel in the residential section of Sharon, PA. It was then that they began their attraction to country inn and bed & breakfast travelers through Norm Simpson’s book “Country Inns and Back Roads”.  Wanting an inn that allowed more personal interaction with the guests, they sold the 72-room inn and started their search for the “perfect inn”. After extensive traveling through southeastern United States, they realized that their destiny was to remain in Mercer County, PA and give back to their hometown community.

They made the deal of a lifetime at a public auction when they purchased the abandoned 1854 building in Clark, PA soon to be the home of Tara – A Country Inn. After two years of loving restoration by a very dedicated handful of staff, Tara was opened to the public in June 1986. After two additions to the building and years of evolution, Tara now has 27 beautiful guestrooms and has been critically acclaimed throughout the nation. Ashley’s Gourmet Dining Room, Stonewall’s Tavern, the Old South Armory Restaurant, banquet facilities, indoor and outdoor pools, public tours and elegant gardens have made Tara a household word in the tri-state area surrounding Mercer County.

In 1996, once again, the urge to save an abandoned landmark caused Jim and Donna Winner to purchase Mercer County’s Buhl Mansion. The building had been neglected for years. It was an eye-sore and a public liability for the city of Sharon.  The multi-million dollar restoration of the 1890s stone “castle”, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, created what is now one of America’s most romantic inns. Buhl Mansion Guesthouse & Spa offers ten luxurious guestrooms, a full service spa with over 100 indulgent treatments and spectacular gardens fit for fairytale castle weddings. 

"The Club" anti-theft steering wheel device is the most notable of Jim Winner's ventures and provided the resources to make the inns and tourism properties possible.  With the millions of dollars generated in sales of “The Club”, the Winners were true to their word and gave back to their community by restoring and saving dozens of community landmarks from the wrecking ball.  They created dozens of companies that provided over 1000 jobs at its peak in a community that suffered from double digit unemployment after the decline of the steel industry.  Some of their other businesses over the years included The Winner Off-Price Fashion Store, The Radisson Hotel, Tiffany's Banquet Hall, Winner Steel, Winner Security, Winner Aviation, Winner Global, Wintronics, and more.

Sadly in 2010, tragedy occurred when Jim Winner was suddenly taken in an automobile accident. 

Throughout their successful careers, the Winners always gave back, living by the motto “to whom much is given, much is expected”.  They spent millions to restore Mercer County landmarks.  They supported arts and nonprofit organizations by outright donating buildings or leasing buildings to groups for as little as $1 per year.  The Winners distributed over 50,000 pairs of shoes to area youth through their "Shoe Our Children" fund. They established scholarships and endowments at Slippery Rock and Gannon Universities and Anderson College.  Through the Winner Foundation they gave hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of interest-free student loans and scholarships to deserving college students in the County.  Their philanthropy extended far beyond the Shenango Valley and the list of causes that they supported - both publicly and privately - could go on for pages.

Over the years, Jim and Donna Winner were recognized for both personal and professional achievements.   As a couple, the Winners received the Bill Knecht Tourism Award from VisitMercerCountyPA in 2010, a timely tribute to all that the couple accomplished to promote tourism in Mercer County.  They were also the recipients of the Pennsylvania Tourism and Lodging Association's Innkeeper of the Year Award in 2007, and in 2008 they were handpicked by Governor Rendell and inducted into the inaugural class of the Keystone Society for Tourism to honor visionaries in destination leadership and community development.

Together they did wonderful things to promote hospitality, tourism and economic development.  Jim’s tragic death will leave a huge void in countless lives.  He was memorialized in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, National Public Radio, NBC Nightly News and a myriad of other publications in the weeks following his death.  (See www.WinnerHospitality.com “recent press coverage”). 

June 2011 marks the 25th anniversary of award-winning hospitality.  Jim Winner's wife Donna and their “family” of employees remain determined to carry his dreams of making Tara the ultimate in World Class Country Inns... devoted to guests who expect the exceptional and appreciate the best.

Grounds of Tara - A Country Inn
2010 Bill Knecht Tourism Award

Jim and Donna Winner receive 2010 Bill Knecht Tourism Award from VisitMercerCountyPA President, Laura Ackley, and Executive Director, Peggy Mazyck. The award is named after Bill Knecht, late CEO of
Wendell August Forge, a board member of VisitMercerCountyPA and a close personal friend of the Winners.*

2010 Bill Knecht Tourism Award

Will and Connie Knecht (son and wife of the late Bill Knecht) with Donna and Jim Winner at the presentation of the 2010 Bill Knecht Tourism Award.

Keystone Society for Tourism

Dennis Yablonsky, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, left, helped to induct Donna and James E. Winner Jr. into the Keystone Society for Tourism in 2008, the state's highest honor for leaders in the tourism industry.

2007 Innkeepers of the Year

J. Mickey Rowley, Deputy Secretary, Pennsylvania Tourism Office (left) and William Kohl, Chairman of the Board of Directors, PA Tourism & Lodging Association (right) present Donna and James E. Winner Jr. with the Spirit of Hospitality Innkeeper of the Year Award for 2007.

Charles Koonce & The History of Tara

The building that houses Tara – A Country Inn was built in 1854 by Charles Koonce who owned 1300 acres in what was then called the town of Clarksville. A once bustling town on the Erie Canal Extension, nineteenth century Clarksville was the halfway stop between Lake Erie and Pittsburgh. When the railroad came into being, Clarksville essentially became a ghost town and was inundated when the Shenango Reservoir was built in the 1960s. With most of Mr. Koonce’s land now under water, the highest point in the area still boasts his beautiful historic home.

In a story similar to the Winner's other inn, The Buhl Mansion Guesthouse & Spa, the building passed through a succession of owners and many years of neglect and abandonment. Once a red brick federal-style farmhouse, Samuel Koonce, the grandson of Charles Koonce, whitewashed the home and added the Ionic columns and porches to give the home a southern Georgian plantation charm. After years of standing vacant, Jim and Donna Winner fell in love with their future “Tara” and purchased the building in 1984. Two additions later the grand and glorious Tara – A Country Inn stands as an imposing landmark in Western Pennsylvania.

Tara - A Country Inn | 2844 Lake Road | Clark, PA 16113 | 800-782-2803 | 724-962-3535
City of Sharon Getaway to Sharon PA