By Cara Aungst
This feature is part of a series about what makes Happy Valley such a popular destination for retirees. We interviewed individuals and couples about what drew them to the area and about the ways they contribute time, experience, leadership and business knowledge to the community. Hear how today’s retirees are bringing resources and expertise to the area, turning ‘Brain Drain’ into ‘Brain Gain.’
I met with Bill Kidd in the short weeks between the end of his teaching semester — he’s an Instructor in the School of Hospitality Management and the cluster director for the school’s Minor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Penn State — and his impending trip to Portugal with a Penn State alumni tour. He was fresh off the golf course, where he meets with “The Fun Bunch” four times a week, with the tan to show for it. In short, Bill Kidd is living his best Happy Valley life, and he credits a favorite downtown eatery for a detour that blessed him with a career, and a curmudgeonly shop owner for reminding him that this was the place for him.
“I initially majored in architecture when I came to Penn State, and after having too much fun, I had to drop out,” Bill said. “I went looking for a job and started cooking at The Deli and Dantes Restaurants with Andy Zangrilli. I loved it. It became more than a job — Andy Z blessed me with a career in hospitality.”
After five years at Dantes, he re-enrolled at Penn State, this time in hotel and restaurant management. He took 21 credits a semester on top of a full-time job, got his degree and started a restaurant in Stone Harbor, New Jersey.
“I made food like Andy taught me,” he said. “Make it from scratch, make it fantastic, or don’t do it.”
After a few years, Bill moved on to hotel management, a career that took him across the globe. He used skills that he’d learned at Penn State — and the Deli — to be an innovative hotel asset manager. After spending the last 20 years working with many of the best hotels and management teams in the country, and living in the Washington, D.C. area, he started to think about retiring.
He’ll be the first to tell you that a destination with a warmer climate was first on his retirement list. He initially looked at a coastal college town near the Outer Banks with a goal of teaching, but when he reached out to friends at Penn State about giving him a recommendation, they gave him a sales pitch instead. They wanted his teaching expertise here at Penn State, and he was all too happy to give it.
“The winters still get to me,” he said, “But I’ve learned to go south during winter break. It makes the rest of the cold weather a little bit more bearable.”
Winter notwithstanding, Bill said that he’s embracing his return to Happy Valley. “Penn State has such a unique arts program. Performing arts downtown and on campus are outstanding. This spring, I went to hear Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Jon Meacham at Schwab auditorium, in the same spot where I used to fall asleep in class long ago. I looked around and there were nothing but old fogies sitting in the seats. And then it hit me — hey, these are my peeps! We’re all retirees! That’s one of the pros of living here.”
He also emphasizes how much he enjoys teaching at Penn State. “You can’t beat the wonderful time spent in the classroom with our young hospitality management students — they challenge me as much as I challenge them and they always leave me proud to be associated with the future leaders of our industry!”
He built a house overlooking the Centre Hills Country Club, where he meets up with the Fun Bunch, a group of golfers who range in age from 40 to 90. “They’re smart, accomplished people who are an absolute hoot,” he says. “And I’m lucky to have them.” Every so often, he sees Andy Zangrilli, the man who helped him start out on his journey, at the country club.
“Back in the ‘80s, when we needed specialty items like cheeses and meats at The Deli, we would ask Bill Clark from The Cheese Shop on Calder Way to get them for us,” Bill remembers. “He went to New York City regularly and would bring back things that we couldn’t find here. In the mid-80s, as more products were available in this area, he started to roast specialty coffees. In all of my travels, in all of the places where I’ve lived, I’ve ordered his coffee. It’s been a constant in my life: Tanzanian Peaberry.”
“When I moved back to Happy Valley five years ago, I walked into The Cheese Shop and the first thing Bill — he’s always been a curmudgeonly kind of guy — said was, ‘Welcome home.’”
Bill puts his hand over his heart. “Man, that just felt really good. That’s part of what makes Happy Valley so special. I’ve lived all over, but State College is home to me.”
Cara Aungst writes about industry, innovation and how Happy Valley ideas change the world. She can be reached with story ideas and comments at Cara@AffinityConnection.com.