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May 26, 2023

Hotelier donates $500k to SMCC’s hospitality management program

Courtesy / Southern Maine Community College SMCC President Joe Cassidy, left, and donor Joe VanWhy engage in a signing ceremony.

A hotel owner and developer has donated $500,000 to the Southern Maine Community College Foundation to benefit hospitality management students and bolster the program's infrastructure.

“My additional funding will provide them the resources to add an additional professor, add new training equipment and add additional resources for the school,” Joe VanWhy, an owner and developer of several Maine hospitality properties, told Mainebiz. “The other main reason for providing the donation to the college was to provide a sense of commitment to the current and to new entering students that the local hospitality industry wants them to have the resources for them to have a fulfilling and successful career.”

VanWhy is primarily based in Tampa, Fla., and has a summer home on one of the islands in Casco Bay off Portland. 

Over the past 30-plus years, he has owned dozens of hotels throughout the U.S. In Maine, he owned the Eastland in downtown Portland in the 1990s, then the Hampton Inn in Saco, then the DoubleTree by Hilton at the Maine Mall and the Tru by Hilton at the Maine Mall. 

“I was actually one of the pioneers of the Tru brand with Hilton and was No. 6 to open,” he said. “Just a few years later after the incredible success of the Tru in South Portland and the other pioneering locations, there are now nearly 300 Tru hotels throughout the U.S.A.”

In June 2022, he sold the DoubleTree by Hilton and the Tru by Hilton properties in South Portland. 

“Those were my last hotel holdings in Maine,” he said. “I still own several retail sites with restaurants on them in the Maine Mall area, so I am still involved with businesses in the local area.”

VanWhy said his primary reason for providing the gift to SMCC was to assist it with additional funding for the hospitality management program that it has offered for quite some time. 

“I am honored to be associated with SMCC and to have a program named after an individual for the first time in the college’s history: Southern Maine Community College L. Joe VanWhy School of Hospitality,” he said.

The gift will immediately impact the program and its students, said SMCC President Joe Cassidy. 

"This donation will enable the program to update its offerings, expand and produce even more high-quality, top-performing employees who can fill the industry's need for a highly-skilled workforce,” Cassidy said.

VanWhy came to Maine in 1992 when he purchased the Eastland Hotel. He said he “immediately fell in love with the way of life and the people” and wanted to give back.

He said he selected SMCC for a personal reason.

"I never had the opportunity to go to college. I've always felt that I've been missing that piece in my development," VanWhy said. "This gift allows me to fill that hole a little while giving students who might not otherwise go to college the chance to attend SMCC and learn about the best industry around."

Cassidy said the gift deserved unique recognition, in the form of naming a program after an individual for the first time in the college's history. The hospitality management program will become the Southern Maine Community College L. Joe VanWhy School of Hospitality. 

Hospitality management student John Chilton said the program brings students into the field to see the industry firsthand and in real-time. 

"SMCC is so affordable already so more of this gift can go to creating experiences for students in the program," Chilton said. "Those outreach opportunities are valuable to help us see what is beyond what we think we can accomplish."

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