Legacy Series: Wiener’s What the Heck? Leads to a 25-Year Dedication

Posted: Monday, July 10th 2017 at 8:19 AM

Before HRM, Paul Wiener worked for many years in the hospitality business, first in restaurants, then in hotel food and beverage, then hotel accounting, and then general management. In the mid-80s, while managing hotels in Park City, Utah, he worked for what was then the American Hotel & Motel Association. The Association had a network of chapters around the country that taught courses to people in the hospitality industry or people who were interested in the hospitality industry. Wiener taught some of these courses at the University of Utah. Most of the students were young supervisors and managers in ski resorts and some of the downtown restaurants who were very enthusiastic about their profession, very curious, and he found it to be a lot of fun. In 1992, after his Salt Lake experience, he thought it would be fun to teach, but he was thinking of it as a semi-retirement gig. When he saw the NAU ad for a teaching job at the NAU School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, he thought, “What the heck, why not do it now?” Then-Dean Peter Van Kleek recognized the value of his industry experience and 25 years later, Wiener is now looking back.

Wiener has taught 18 different classes in the 25 years he’s been at HRM. He has had several “other duties as assigned” as well. HRM has a 2+2 program relationship with community colleges in the state, including Scottsdale Community College and Pima Community College in Tucson. In 1996, then-Dean Dave Williams asked him if he'd be willing to go to Tucson and hold up HRM’s side of the 2+2 partnerships with Pima Community College. So Wiener worked out of the downtown campus of Pima College. The job morphed slightly into directing state-wide efforts. He was still based in Tucson but he worked with all the community college hospitality programs and also with some of the high school career technical education programs in hospitality and culinary arts.

“I had 4 years of driving around a lot of Arizona. I was an ex-officio member of the Advisory Board for a lot of those programs and attended a lot of their meetings. I also represented the School on the Southern Arizona and the State Restaurant Hotel & Lodging Associations and was very involved with the industry side of things,” he recalls.

He returned to the Mountain Campus to finish his EDD dissertation. In the meantime, faculty member Bert Van Hoof had been developing HRM’s International activities. When he left HRM, Wiener took that program over. For the last 12 years or so, he’s had the opportunity to work with HRM’s International partners in the Netherlands and Germany and other places, including a faculty exchange in the Netherlands for half a semester. In addition, HRM’s partner schools in Germany and the Netherlands have seminar weeks in the fall where they bring in experts from other schools and the industry to do a one-week seminar, and he has been doing those for 12 years.

“It gives me an opportunity to maintain and renew our contacts with our partners, meet some of the students, see our students who are studying there, and it is a lot of fun, too,” he smiles.

Wiener truly likes working with students. “It's really fun teaching people who want to learn and who are engaged in learning,” he said.

He recalls a time when HRM contracted with the National Park Service to do some training for personnel, working with the businesses in the parks, the concessions. Participants were predominantly park rangers with a natural resource background who were assigned responsibility for managing business contracts but had no business background. They had a lot of common, but they were dealing with different problems. “So the serendipity that we got out of that was that it created a work group where they became a resource for each other, an added value that nobody anticipated out of the training we structured for them,” he said.

Beyond the classroom, Wiener has always had a fascination with mountains. He grew up reading Kipling and later John Masters' stories of India and Nepal and the Himalayas. He took 9 months off in 1979 and backpacked around the world and hiked and camped before getting his MBA. He worked in ski resorts for 14 years. “I always liked the mountains, so Flagstaff has been very attractive with its geography and topography. I'm very fond of the Grand Canyon. Lenka [Hospodka]'s husband, Sam Powell, and I are hiking buddies. The first time we did Rim-to-Rim was a week before my 50th birthday, and I set a goal of trying to do it 20 times by my 70th birthday. I did that a year ago September,” he said.

As he entered phased retirement in 2016, he and his wife spent five months in Asia, one month of that in China at Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics which has a tourism program. “They’ve had a couple of their faculty participating in NAU's visiting scholar program here, and they invited me to come over there which was ‘very, very interesting,’” he said. While in Asia, he and his wife went to Nepal (a return trip for Wiener). He did a two and a half week trek around Annapurna, achieving 17,600 feet elevation. “That was fun,” he said.

Wiener describes his years ahead as the “Go-Go years, the Slow-Go years, and the No-Go years.” He is definitely in his Go-Go years.

“I don't know how many Go-Go years we have in us, but we try to do fun stuff while we've got the mobility and sort things out,” he said. That translates into time spent at a home built on Big Stone Lake in South Dakota, near to where his wife spent her childhood, along with international trips.

In Summer 2017, he went to Italy with Kevin Massoletti's Language and Linguini. He and his wife will travel to Europe for five weeks in Fall 2017, first to the Lake District in Northern England then teaching seminars in the Netherlands and Germany for a week each.

They're planning to rent a house in Italy for 4-5 weeks in the summer of 2018, bringing their daughter and grandson along and then some friends for a couple of weeks each. That following winter may be spent in New Zealand for a couple of months. Spring of 2018 will be his final semester teaching at HRM.

The School's gone through a lot of changes in 25 years. Wiener has been part of efforts to create certain programs including an experiment with extending the school year to full year that didn’t pan out, but all in all, he sees his time at HRM as an “interesting 25 years.”

“I think we provide a very good educational experience and opportunity for the students that come here. I think our best students are as good as anybody anywhere and are good people, are hard workers, are smart problem solvers, and have great attitude and good value system. They're ambitious but they are concerned about people, too. And it's really fun to work with them,” he concluded.

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