In 1975, John J. Bilon was hired to develop a hotel and restaurant management program (HRM) at James Madison University. Col. Bilon previously held the title of director of service clubs worldwide for the United States Army.

At the time of the HRM program's launch, it resided within the Department of Home Economics. Dr. Dorothy Rowe, the department's director, embraced the program and opened Home Economics' culinary facilities to HRM's first 34 students.

HRM then became a unit within the School of Business. Marshall “Mike” Warfel, formerly a senior vice-president with the Sheraton Corporation, was added to the staff to implement the program's food-and-beverage content. The subsequent hirings of Jeff Fernsten and Linda Earlywine completed the original faculty.

Col. Bilon laid a solid academic foundation for the program, developing core curricula in Hotel Management, Food and Beverage, Financial Accounting and Culinary Arts.

After JMU President Ronald Carrier moved from Hillcrest House in 1977, the HRM program was given permission to set up a Faculty Club in the lower level of the mansion, serving lunch weekdays and hosting special events.

Upon Col. Bilon’s retirement in 1986, he was succeeded as director of the program by Robert “Bob” Reid. Reid remained in that role until 1996, when he was named dean of JMU's College of Business.

Under Reid’s leadership, the program flourished—both in terms of enrollment and the breadth of its course offerings. Soon after his arrival in 1986, Reid established the Executive Advisory Council, a group of leading hospitality professionals whose input helped drive continued improvement of the program. Rick Casey was its founding chair, and served in that capacity until 2016.

Le Gourmet, one of the council's earliest initiatives, was led by Rod Stoner, vice president of Food and Beverage at The Greenbrier. What began as an on-campus event in the early 1990s subsequently grew into a major fundraiser for the HRM program during Dr. Reg Foucar-Szocki’s directorship. Foucar-Szocki was elevated to the position in 1998 and held it through 2005, when he was succeeded by Brett Horton.

In 2010, HRM merged with Sport and Recreation Management (previously a concentration offered by the kinesiology department) to form the School of Hospitality, Sport and Recreation Management. Michael O’Fallon was appointed the school's interim director. In 2013, he assumed the job on a permanent basis and served until 2018, when Neil Marrin was hired as his temporary replacement.

During O'Fallon's tenure, alumnus G.J. Hart (’84) and his wife Heather committed to donate more than $3 million to name the Hart School of Hospitality, Sport and Recreation Management. When the gift was announced in March 2015, the Hart School became the first named academic unit on the JMU campus.

As a student at JMU, Hart worked full-time for a poultry processor to put himself through school and help pay the bills at home. He rose to become executive chairman and chief executive officer of California Pizza Kitchen, an international chain of restaurants with more than 280 locations in the United States and 15 other countries. 

“My hope for the School of Hospitality, Sport and Recreation Management," Hart said, "is for it to become a world-class program—a program where we turn out students who are going to do great things in the world and do them with purpose.”

In July 2020, Neil Marrin stepped down from his job as interim director in order to re-engage with full-time teaching. After a national search, he was succeeded by Stephanie West, who had previously served as professor of recreation management at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., and as director of its recreation management program.

Hart School Leadership

Colonel John J. Bilon (1975-1986)
Robert “Bob” Reid (1986-1996)
Hal Teer (1996-1998), Interim Director
Reg Foucar-Szocki (1998-2005)
Brett Horton (2006-2009)
Michael O’Fallon (2010-2018)
Neil Marrin (2018-2020), Interim Director
Stephanie West (2020-2023)
David Shonk (2023-2024), Interim Director; Director (2024-present)

Back to Top