Those who knew John Kell Houssels III remember the former president and chief executive officer of Showboat Casino-Hotel for being a down-to-earth guy with a great smile.
Memorial services were held Wednesday in Santa Monica, Calif., for Houssels, who died Feb. 4 after a three-year-battle with brain cancer.
Houssels, who was 61, became president of Showboat in 1990. He served as the casino's president until 1998, when the company was acquired by Caesars Entertainment.
Houssels met his wife, casino entertainer Jennifer Shieh-Houssels, during his time at Showboat. The couple married in 1996.
"There's one thing about my husband ... he always had a smile on his face," Shieh-Houssels said. "He was always happy, always a positive kind of person."
State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, who was Atlantic City's mayor during the time Houssels ran Showboat here, was sad to learn of Houssels' death. He said although Houssels was the head of Showboat and a board member of Harrah's Resort, he was quick to shake hands with guests and make sure he knew employees throughout the casino, including executives, dealers and custodial staff.
"As a CEO, he was very accessible not only to me as a public official, but to his patrons and employees," said Whelan, who credited "Kell," as he was known, with reinvesting in the property, including a new hotel tower. "I had the opportunity to walk through the property with him from time to time, and he would go to the employee cafeteria with the rank-and-file employees, not the executive suite."
Under Houssels' leadership, Showboat expanded from a single casino in Las Vegas to multiple locations, including Atlantic City, Indiana, New Orleans and Sydney, Australia. He was the third generation of the Houssels to oversee the casino company his grandfather and father helped create.
Shieh-Houssels said that despite two brain surgeries, her husband remained positive about life and his illness.
"I think that's how people will remember him," she said.
Staff writer Scott Cronick contributed to this report.
Contact Caitlin Dineen: