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Remembering Thomas H. Ahrens

Thomas H. Ahrens

Both the College community and the hospitality industry were saddened to learn of the death of City Tech Hospitality Management Professor Emeritus Thomas H. Ahrens on October 4, 2005, at the age of 85.

Ahrens' career and many contributions to the industry spanned nearly 60 years, and he taught at City Tech from 1970 until his retirement in 1985. His specialties at the College included wine selection, hotel law and dining room management. The College's Thomas H. Ahrens International Work/Study Abroad Program, which he founded some 30 years ago, has enabled more than 500 hospitality management students to enrich their educational experience and broaden their cultural horizons through numerous overseas experienced-based learning opportunities. He also served on the City Tech Foundation's board of directors for many years.

Since 2000 alone, the Ahrens Work/Study Program has provided the funding assistance to help enable some 200 City Tech students to study at Université d'Evry/Val d'Essone, the technological college of the University of Paris, and L'Ecole Hotelier de Paris. There, they took courses in European approaches to travel and tourism and advanced culinary and pastry arts.

Ahrens was born in Buffalo, New York, and graduated magna cum laude with a BA from the University of Buffalo in 1938. He went on to earn a JD from Harvard Law School in 1941 and was admitted to the New York State Bar three years later. He served during the intervening years as an officer in the U.S. Army during World War II.

From 1946 to 1990, following his return to civilian life, Ahrens was writer, director and producer of Eddie Gallager's morning radio show in Washington, DC. The author of many broadcast scripts on wines, gastronomy and music, he was the president of Chef Phillip, Inc., which, from 1956 to 1969, produced one of early TV's guest chef features for the “Today Show.” He also worked in the investment field for John Templeton as director of research for Templeton, Dobbrow and Vance.

Ahrens was active in many organizations both at home and abroad, including Phi Beta Kappa, the National Panel of Arbitrators and the Chairman's Council at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. His memberships in New York City included the Metropolitan Club, Harvard Club, Metropolitan Opera Club and Cercle de l'Union Interallie in Paris.

Among the many former students and colleagues who remember Ahrens, his death was especially heartfelt by Michael Romano, executive chef/co-owner of Union Square Café, who co-chairs the City Tech Thomas H. Ahrens International Work/Study Abroad Endowment Program.

“The entire industry was saddened to learn of Thomas Ahrens' death,” said Romano at the Ahrens memorial service, “and his loss is especially sorrowful for me. Not only was he a highly recognized industry leader, but also an outstanding teacher and mentor during my school days at City Tech. We remained in frequent contact across the years, and he continued to share with me his considerable knowledge and wisdom until the end of his life. I will miss him greatly.”

City Tech Hospitality Management Professor Julia Jordan, who is currently assistant to the dean of the School of Professional Studies, both studied and later worked with Ahrens. “Thomas Ahrens started City Tech down an important path: In 1970, he envisioned international education for hospitality management students and was the driving force that made it all happen,” she said. “I had the pleasure of being one of Dr. Ahrens' students when wine and fine dining were not yet household words in America. He used to long for a good bistro in the city and predicted the eventual proliferation of fine restaurants and intimate cafes citywide, long before it happened.

“He was an inspiration to a generation of students, now successful restaurateurs and hoteliers, and his legacy continues through the International Work/Study Abroad Endowment Program,” Jordan added. “Tom never stopped caring about students and traveled to Paris each June to meet with the City Tech students studying there.”

Speaking for the City Tech Foundation, Executive Director Jewel Trowers Escobar remembered Ahrens' unfailing good humor and interest in the work of the foundation. “He always had something positive to say -- and his humor was never at the expense of others. He closely followed foundation-sponsored efforts to obtain support for the work/study abroad program and always asked if we were doing all that we could to help students with their education. He remained a committed friend and active supporter of the College and foundation after his retirement, and stayed in touch until a short time ago.”

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