Montpelier: James Madison University Magazine

Compliments of the House
Montpelier Fall 1998

Sarah and her sister are so nervous. They've been planning this dinner all day, and everything has to be perfect or else they just might die. Well, Sarah might die. Her sister, Elizabeth, is only making the dessert. But it was Sarah's idea, and she set the table and arranged some flowers that she picked outside and planned the whole meal and chose the right juice to go with it.

Through the barely open kitchen door, Sarah peeks at her parents. They are sitting and talking at the dining room table and eating the celery with peanut butter hors d'oeurves that Sarah served only minutes ago. They look happy. They are enjoying themselves. This is so much fun.

Sarah runs on tiptoe back to making dinner. it's her specialty - hot dogs with cheese on them. She is vibrating with excitement. Her wound-up 7-year-old body is making the same buzzing noise as the florescent light overhead, her ponytail boings behind her like it's electrified, and she has to go to the bathroom. But instead, Sarah runs outside to her own herb garden that her father helped her plant and gets parsley for the dinner plates because suddenly hot dogs with cheese on them looks kind of bare alone.

After placing the parsley just so and moving it a couple times, Sarah is ready to serve the dinner. Her sister holds open the kitchen door, and Sarah walks carefully toward her parents with a dinner plate in each hand. On the table, Sarah places the plates and then stands between her parents and looks up. She feels their eyes landing on her and the appreciation they contain. Everything is perfect and Sarah did it.

Little Sarah grew up and has been steadily compelled by that wonderful feeling of serving her parents dinner. Last spring, Sarah Pleacher, then a JMU junior was named the outstanding hospitality student in the nation. The industry's most prestigious organization, the American Hotel Foundation, awarded her the Arthur J. Packard Memorial Scholarship.

And the best part is that Pleacher's mother opened the foundation's congratulations letter with her daughter on the other end of the phone line. Aroma of hotdogs with cheese on them filled both rooms one hundred miles apart.

Pleacher receives her award and a $5,000 scholarship this month in New York City at a fete in her honor. Everything was perfect and Sarah did it. It's fitting that Pleacher's parents were invited to the awards dinner. Not just because they were young Sarah's first hospitality customers, but because of the way they encouraged their daughter as she grew.

"My parents always told us that it isn't money that's important in picking what we want to, do with our lives," Pleacher says." And that's what led me to a career in hospitality. I lust love it."

Pleacher has maintained a 4.0 grade point average in major during her three years at JMU. She's one of the bright lights at the College of Business in Zane Showker Hall. And what proves most that she's heeded her parents' words is that while Sarah was encouraged to major in computer information systems, one of the highest paying professions around, she chose hospitality, a career path not necessarily known for its lofty earning potential.

"My parents are both very bright," Pleacher says. Her father, David, who is also knowledgeable in computer programming, is a math teacher, and her mother, Carol, also taught math. "They chose to be educators because they love it," their daughter says. "They could have picked higher paying careers."

In fact, the modest Pleacher home in Winchester has only one bathroom. Of course to young Sarah, this presented a hospitality challenge whenever relatives came to visit. With a house full of guests and only one bathroom, shower time posed a logistical threat. So, she designed a shower schedule and posted it on the wall beside the bathroom door. Shower time was orderly and no hard feelings ever arose. Everything was perfect and Sarah did it.

This past summer Pleacher interned at the Wesftields Marriott in Chantilly. It was a rotating internship that required her to work every aspect of the hotel. Tours of duty included housekeeping, catering, guest services, even security. As pleacher has seen every side of business, her aspirations have focused on event planning.

"When I was little I thought I wanted to work in the kitchen. But now I realize that I like the front of the house," Pleacher says. "I like interacting with customers and clients."

But she admits that knowing how the entire operation functions will help her. "That's why the hospitality and tourism management program at JMU was so great. At most other universities, the hospitality programs are stand-alone. But at JMU it's in the College of Business, so you have to be a business major too. I like having that background."

Now in her senior year, Pleacher looks ahead with great expectations. "I'll probably go with a company like Marriott when I graduate. But my ultimate dream is to run my own bed and breakfast."

In a small town, some day there will be a cozy dining room lit by candles and an over-sized fireplace. An older couple will occupy the best table in the house, while other diners will feast on quail and lamb and all sorts of fancy fare. The renowned owner of the bed and breakfast will emerge from the kitchen carrying two plates. Everyone will look up to see her. She will walk to the older couple's table and serve them hot dogs with cheese on them. And it will be the best meal ever eaten by anyone, anywhere.

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