In 1967, when UNLV was still referred to as “Nevada Southern,” a group of adventurous young men gathered in the desert to try their luck at a fledgling hotel school just east of the Las Vegas Strip. Little did they know they would be on the ground floor of something big.
The following excerpts were taken from interviews conducted in October 2017 with some pioneering graduates of the UNLV College of Hotel Administration — now known as the Harrah College of Hospitality:
- Pat Moreo is a former professor at UNLV and current professor and dean at the University of Southern Florida, Sarasota-Manatee. He is a New York City native.
- Bill Paulos, ’69, is the co-founder and former owner of Cannery Casino Resorts. He grew up near New York City.
- John Porter, ’69, is a managing partner of Benbow Historic Inn. He is a native of upstate New York.
- Jay “Bill” Sanderson, ’70, is a table game director for Boyd Gaming. He is a native of upstate New York.
- Roger Wagner, ’69, is a former hotel/gaming executive. He grew up in Boulder City, Nevada.
Except for Roger, you all came to UNLV from the East Coast. What inspired you to travel across the country to attend college?
PAT MOREO: Several of us from community college in Brooklyn applied to Oklahoma State University and were accepted. In April of 1967, our director comes to see us all and says, “Don’t you want a management program?” We did, but we couldn’t afford Cornell, and it was hard to find a place that would accept our credits. He said, “You should apply to this new program in Las Vegas.” I thought, You got to be kidding me. This is April; we’re starting classes in September! We all applied [to UNLV] and got in. We bailed out of Oklahoma State.
BILL PAULOS: One of our favorite teachers, Sam Douglas [from State University of New York], said, “Listen, I was just hired as the new dean of the hotel school out in Las Vegas. If you go, you can have all your credits accepted. You can get a bachelor’s in two years.” We [Paulos, John Porter, Jay “Bill” Sanderson, and the late Larry Griewisch] looked at each other and said, “Sure, why not?” So we arrived here [at UNLV], unpacked, went downstairs and immediately asked for Sam Douglas. They said, “There’s no Sam Douglas here.” So, we wound up here not knowing a soul, and the one guy who recruited us here was a no call, no show.
What did your parents think about your going to school in Las Vegas?
PAULOS: It got us out of the house. We were 2,500 miles away from our parents. They were pretty happy.
JOHN PORTER: I think my parents were concerned I was moving so far from home to “Sin City.” They didn’t understand it.
MOREO: We had never been west of Buffalo. They were surprised.
How did you make your way to UNLV, Roger?
ROGER WAGNER: I came to UNLV on a track scholarship, but I had no real major in mind. I had been working the graveyard shift at the Dunes Hotel as a room clerk. I said, “You know what? I love the environment where people want to come spend their money, not because their water heater broke or they got sick and needed a doctor. This is where people wanted to come and have fun in a hospitality environment. I want to be a part of that.” And I joined the Hotel School.
You five were part of the new hotel program’s very small inaugural class. Give us a sense of what the UNLV campus was like when you arrived.
PORTER: Bill [Paulos] and I flew out together. I’m a country boy, and Billy’s a city boy. We’re landing in Las Vegas, and Paulos leans across and says, “Port, there are no buildings.” I leaned over and said, “Willy, there are no trees or grass.” It was pretty sparse. One dormitory. It was just us and a few other kids from New York and California.
PAULOS: Ninety-nine percent of our classes were in Grant Hall, weren’t they?
MOREO: Our classes were in Grant Hall up on the second floor, and we were with the College of Business, department of jotel administration.
WAGNER: Then we had the education building, and the library was one story in those days.
JAY “BILL” SANDERSON: Yes, the library was right in the middle.
PAULOS: Well, these guys never knew where the library was anyway, and it was only the third building on campus. [Laughter.]
MOREO: Tonopah Hall [residence hall] had just been built. We were the first to move in.
SANDERSON: We [Sanderson, Paulos, Porter, and Griewisch] pledged a fraternity pretty quickly because rent was only $35 at the fraternity house. We didn’t pay very often, but we didn’t owe much.
PORTER: We took the house [Kappa Sigma] over. Meetings and parties were held there. We had a blast. The four of us had a pact: If any of us won at poker, we’d split the money four ways. We got accused of pulling down the grade-point average of the fraternity. We were not the guilty parties.
When you came to UNLV in 1967, was there any sense that the Hotel School was going to eventually be one of the top programs in the world?
WAGNER: I don’t know that at our age in those days we were looking that far ahead. My goal was to get a degree from an accredited college that would help kick down the door to a job opportunity—that would take me beyond my front desk job at the Dunes. By the way, it makes you look so obsolete when you see that all of us worked in joints they blew up years ago, and we’re still around.
MOREO: I think we knew that something special was cooking.
What are some of the things this college should be proud of as we celebrate its 50th anniversary?
PORTER: The school should be proud of going from of its humble beginnings to the top hotel school in the country—in the world. A lot of people deserve a lot of credit.
MOREO: And continuing its focus on bridging between academics and industry. That’s the strength of the college.
WAGNER: I’d bet you that for vice presidents, presidents, CEOs, and top-level positions, [the Hotel School has] one of the best rosters. At the end of the day, what you turn out in graduates and how they do tells you how good the school is.
SANDERSON: I agree with that. It is amazing what [the Hotel School has] done, considering where it started. UNLV was very supportive of young people. I keep going back to the internships, because they got [students] away from their desk, and they actually saw what was going on in the hotel business and how it ran. It gave them the confidence when they got into a position.
PAULOS: People from all over the world want to come to UNLV to go to the Hotel School. To think that Jerry [Dean Jerry Vallen] did that, going from almost nothing to what we have today, and to look at this unbelievable new building [UNLV’s new Hospitality Hall] that will be the standard for buildings on campus—let alone the Hotel School—it’s pretty special.