Founder of UNLV’s hotel college dies at 91

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Jerry Vallen, founder of UNLV’s hospitality school. (UNLV photo)

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Colleagues remembered the founder of UNLV’s hotel school as a transformative figure in hospitality education, and an influencer in the industry around the world.

Dr. Jerry Vallen died Thursday in Philadelphia at 91, surrounded by family at his daughter’s house.

William F. Harrah College of Hospitality Dean Stowe Shoemaker said, “All of us at the college will remember Jerry as a true friend, and we will miss him dearly.”

“His success as a leader stemmed from his fierce loyalty to the program, unrelenting belief in students, and creative ability to bring academia and industry together,” Shoemaker said. “On a personal note … he was just a great guy.”

An article on UNLV’s website describes Vallen’s role in founding the college 53 years ago. An interview with Vallen offers insight on the occasion of a new building for the school.

Vallen was dean of the Hotel College from 1967 until 1989.

Stowe said Vallen was a humble man who built the school from the ground up.

Vallen recalled some of the challenges as he set up the UNLV program. The biggest? “Getting the rest of campus to acknowledge us as an academic grouping,” he said.

“There was a lot of early tension. I remember there was a fellow named Bob Smith who was the dean of the sciences, who was a big supporter and really nice man,” Vallen remembered. “And he was concerned, for example, that we were going to teach food science. That would have been a big conflict with the Science College. Ultimately, we would have not been successful if it hadn’t been for supporters like Bob, Donald Moyer [the university’s first president], and Jerry Crawford [the university’s vice president], because a hotel program was sort of the antithesis to some of the arts and letters people.”

Shoemaker released a statement Friday regarding one of the college’s events that honors Vallen: “In recognition of Jerry’s legacy, the college created its signature event — The Vallen Dinner of Distinction — honoring industry leaders and alumni each year. In 2017, to commemorate the college’s 50-year anniversary and Jerry’s enduring imprint on the college, members of the college’s first-graduating class presented Dean Vallen with a Lifetime Achievement Award.”

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