The School of Hospitality Business announced October 13 – Homecoming weekend – the establishment of the Angelos J. and Betty Yeotis Vlahakis SIRC Scholarship in The School of Hospitality Business. This endowment will assist students who are seeking and participating in required internships. At The School’s annual pre-game Homecoming reception, this year hosting almost 100 returning alumni, faculty, and students, School director and professor Ron Cichy spoke of the new endowment. Three alumni, each of whom were mentored by “Mr. V.,” spoke of his influence in their lives.
Angelos Vlahakis, or Ange, an alumnus and restaurateur-turned-educator, established the formal internship program in what was then called the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management (HRI) and influenced a generation of students who are now leaders in the hospitality industry.
Ange began working in the family restaurant, Jim’s Tiffany Place, while still in junior high school in the 1940s. He continued to work there full-time after graduating from the School of HRI in 1951. In 1967 Ange took over the business and for 40 years helped establish it as a Lansing hospitality legend. During those years, he was a devoted alumnus of the School, and served on the Alumni Association’s Board of Directors.
But in 1980, then-School director Don Smith suggested to Ange that he “consider education.” Ange was anxious to spend more time with his family – wife Betty and children James and Angela. So he sold the restaurant in December, and agreed to join the School the following fall, working that first year for the princely sum of $0.
He team-taught the introductory course with Smith; he was an effective ambassador for the School in the wider community; he later served as alumni coordinator; and he supervised the second CAREER EXPO. As it turned out, he supervised all the CAREER EXPOS that followed for more than a decade. In 2012, it is CAREER EXPO XXXIV.
Professor V. also began to direct the School’s internship program, acting on Smith’s desire to turn it into the nation’s best.
“I was able to bring the industry’s perspective,” Ange says. He adopted written objectives for both the interns and their mentoring companies, and he added follow-up evaluations. He imposed tough standards on the students, and with his trademark gentility, insisted upon professionalism.
In the 1980s, Ange began to set up open houses, allowing companies to come and recruit throughout the year. One of the School’s priorities by 1988, when Dr. Ron Cichy became director, was to provide a $1 million endowment for the internship program, so ably led by “Mr. MSU-HRIM,” Ange Vlahakis.
What had been known as the HRIM internship office became in 1991 the Student and Industry Resource Center, because, as Ange explained, “Internships are only part of what we do here.” SIRC was dedicated to students, alumni, recruiters, and the whole hospitality industry. The office arranged for internships and permanent placements; it printed and distributed a weekly Job Alert Bulletin and set up interviews; it provided aid to international and minority students; it coordinated student attendance at industry trade shows; it coordinated visits by prospective students; and it kept databases up-to-date.
The office continued to present the fast-growing and effective CAREER EXPO each fall, and it arranged for company open houses, coordinating the recruiters, students, and company executives. SIRC also at that time helped arrange for the annual alumni receptions in Chicago and New York and the Patriarchs’ annual visit on campus.
Twelve years after returning to his alma mater and transforming the internship program while touching hundreds of students’ lives, Ange retired in the spring of 1993. In honor of his service, The School’s Alumni Association presented Ange and Betty with a two-week retirement vacation in Hawaii.
It is a testament to his dedication and leadership that The School’s SIRC is still serving The School and the industry under his model (though computers and the internet have replaced Mr. V.’s rolodex), under the dynamic, capable, and enthusiastic leadership of Authella Collins Hawks.
Since its establishment, SIRC has been staffed with hand-picked School students, who in their own ways have carried on a tremendous legacy. SIRC now operates through a generous $1+ million endowment for operating costs.
Recently, alumni of The School encouraged The School to create a second endowment – in honor of Ange and his wife, Betty – and many have already contributed generously to it.
At the Homecoming reception, Alumna Beth Perry (BA ’88), learning & development manager for Hospira, spoke emotionally about Dr. V. and his lasting interest in and affect on her life. “He was a second father to me,” she explained.
Alumni Jeff White (BA ’87) and Steve Thompson (BA ’87) shared Beth’s sentiments and noted Ange’s habit of going “above and beyond the call of duty.” Steve, general manager of The Standard Club in Chicago, said of Ange, “He combined elegance and sophistication with responsibility and a sincere care of the students. He expected more of you than you did yourself, and he showed you how to get there.”
Now the executive director of The Ohio State Faculty Club, White originally planned to attend Cornell University – that is, until he visited MSU and Ange greeted him and his parents on a Saturday morning, took them on a campus tour, and, through his gracious hospitality, changed White’s mind.
White is glad he did. “It is because of the internship program and the opportunities provided to me by Mr. V and the entire faculty and staff of the then HRIM School that I consider myself to be a successful club manager, restaurateur, and family man today,” he says. “The internship program for me was more than getting a summer job and fulfilling a requirement. Working in the internship office alongside Mr. V exposed me to a whole world of recruiters and companies, and I was given an incomparable insight into my future.”
The School requires two separate internship experiences for each student. “It is so meaningful that an endowment in honor of Ange and Betty will aid students as they seek to fulfill the internship requirement,” Cichy says. “Their legacy is firmly in place.”