I wish I could have had the chance to meet Al Izzolo.
Izzolo was 79 when he died of cancer in late April. He was remembered last month in a memorial that appropriately occurred on the same day as commencement exercises for UNLV’s Class of 2022.
Appropriately, because Izzolo had a four-decade legacy at what eventually became UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hospitality, an institution that has produced thousands of employees for Southern Nevada’s resort industry, many of them under Izzolo’s watch.
Izzolo was famously supportive of his students and did everything he could to make sure they chose the right path for them in making a career in a city famous for delivering the best hospitality in the world.
UNLV Associate Professor Bobbie Barnes, who graduated in 1993, has the unusual perspective of having been one of Izzolo’s students, one of his placements in the resort community and then a colleague at the university.
“I’ve been lucky to know him in three different relationships,” Barnes said in a recent interview. “He was so student focused. His goal not only was to make sure we became great hospitality professionals, but he wanted us to be successful women and men, so he always held us students to a higher standard.”
Izzolo’s office on campus was always a gathering place for impromptu Q&A sessions.
“He was like a second father to a lot of us and the man was always in his office,” Barnes said. “The door was open and you could just walk in. He had office hours, but if you walked by and just wanted to chat with him, he was there. He was always available.”
Izzolo felt strongly that building relationships in Las Vegas and abroad in order to place students in internships was one of the best things he could do for them.
“When I was at The Mirage in human resources, he was always calling me,” Barnes said. “‘I’ve got to get these students into internships,’ he would say. It was always for the betterment of the students.”
But building relationships with cruise lines didn’t always sit well with higher-ups.
“Al and I disagreed on a couple of major things,” said Stowe Shoemaker, dean of the Harrah College of Hotel Administration at UNLV and also a beloved mentor to students.
“He used to take students abroad, and he used to take them on cruise ships with international programs,” he said. “When I became dean, I cut those programs out. The reason I cut them out was that there were many instances when they were referred to as ‘booze cruises’ with lots of crazy parties. So we disagreed on that. But over time, we came to a mutual understanding because he saw I was trying to protect the university.”
Despite not always seeing eye to eye Shoemaker said he admired Izzolo’s investment in his students, who referred to him as “Captain Al,” or “Aussie Al” on trips to Australia and “Euro Al” on trips to Europe.
“Al was passionate about student learning, and he was passionate about having students take a sense of responsibility. He was passionate about students really sort of being the best they could be,” Shoemaker said.
Shoemaker said he attended Izzolo’s funeral, where he spoke to many people about how Izzolo touched their lives.
“What was amazing was the number of people [who] basically said they were the man they were because of Al with his tutelage and learning. To me, that spoke a lot about Al,” Shoemaker said. “When I talk to alumni about him, that’s all they’d talk about, how they were the way they were because of his guidance and he always had students in his office talking to him. He never said no to students, giving them advice, helping them with their jobs, helping them with their careers. That’s how dedicated he was.”
Cruise ship tale
Izzolo also was not without a sense of humor when one of those cruise ship trips got a bit out of control, Shoemaker said.
On one cruise, he said, “students got really drunk and were running through the ship yelling. ‘UNLV! UNLV!’ and it became a big deal because people called and things went right to the president’s office.”
Students who were in trouble then sought out Izzolo and asked him, ‘Al, what do we do? This happened, what do we do?’ Shoemaker said. “And Al said, ‘The next time, just run through the hallways and yell, ‘UCLA! UCLA!’ He had that kind of wild streak, and that’s the contradiction of Al. He allowed boys to be boys, but he also held the boys accountable and turned them into men.”
Izzolo also served as a faculty adviser to the campus’ Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity.
Memories of Izzolo
Colleagues, students and friends filled the funeral service at Palm Eastern Mortuary with their memories of Izzolo.
One of the most touching moments at the service involved a football.
Well-connected Izzolo had received an autographed football from the Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers in the Joe Montana-Jerry Rice era. It was among the hundreds of collectibles Izzolo had in his UNLV office, most of them remembrances from his students.
Izzolo ended up giving the ball to one of the fraternity members because the person liked it so much.
At the funeral, the 49ers football was returned to Izzolo’s son Vince, a hospitality industry executive with Boyd Gaming Corp.
“This belongs to you,” the fraternity brother said.
The mentor will be missed.