A Hostelry Legend Leaves a Legacy

Peter and Sharon Urtz with IHT class

Peter and Sharon Urtz with Dr. Judy Holcomb’s Lodging Management class

When Peter and Sharon Urtz visited Saint Leo University last fall for a campus tour, they also brought with them a check to establish a scholarship in honor of his uncle, Harry Purchase, who was instrumental in initiating the hospitality program at Saint Leo College during the 1980s. The $75,000 donation will fund the Harry J. Purchase Endowed Memorial Scholarship to benefit students studying hospitality and tourism management.

Peter is the nephew of Harry’s widow, Theresa, who passed away last October. Both Peter and Sharon had been caring for her in recent years. After her death, her estate plan executed a bequest that Harry made to leave a sum of money to Saint Leo University. “My uncle had a great affinity for this institution and was proud of his accomplishments as a faculty member and department chair,” Peter said. “Hopefully this gift to create a scholarship in his memory will help carry on his legacy in the future by assisting deserving students, who were always his focus.” 

So, who is this man who was a legend in the field of hospitality management? 

An Impressive Education and Career Background 

Harry Purchase

Harry Purchase

A native of Rochester, NY, Harry Purchase was an entrepreneur, educator, and philosopher. He had an impressive career in the hostelry business in upstate New York and taught at Paul Smith College in the Adirondacks, where he headed the Hotel Management Division for a dozen years. A Cornell University graduate, he also taught hospitality management at the Ivy League school in Ithaca, NY. In addition, he held a Master’s in Education degree from the University of New Hampshire.  

From 1952 until 1964, the Purchases owned and operated the Wawbeek Hotel on Upper Saranac Lake, about a half hour from Lake Placid, NY, site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic Games. They had stayed at the Inn on their first wedding anniversary some years earlier. 

Giving Life to the Restaurant Management Program 

Purchase brought his considerable talents to Florida when he joined the faculty of Saint Leo College in the fall of 1984 as its new director of Restaurant Management. At the time of his appointment, the student newspaper, The Monarch, said: “The attractiveness of living in Florida and the Catholic tradition of Saint Leo College” brought him here. “I look forward to developing one of the best restaurant management programs in the country,” Purchase said in the October 1, 1984, issue of The Monarch. 

Practical Learning Experiences 

From the time he started teaching at Saint Leo, Purchase was all about making the hotel and restaurant business a relevant experience for his students. Shortly after he began his employment, he organized monthly events and accompanied his students on visits to restaurants, hotels, and entertainment attractions in the Tampa Bay area and Orlando. His philosophy was simple: “I want to expose the students to the real world.” Many times, he would schedule educational experiences at properties where former students held management positions so current students could interact and ask questions of a Saint Leo alumnus. 

Award-Winning Achievement 

A few years after starting at Saint Leo, in August 1987, Purchase was presented with the Howard B. Meek Award at the annual Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education (CHRIE) conference in Atlanta, GA. The Meek Award is a prestigious national honor and is presented annually to a CHRIE member in recognition of an exemplary career in the hospitality field. 

Deciding to Retire 

In spring 1990, Purchase, professor of management and director of the Restaurant and Hotel Management program, announced his retirement effective the following fall semester. He had recently turned 65 years old. Even after retirement, however, Purchase continued as a consultant for the program he had founded seven years earlier. When he started in 1983, the program enrolled 20 students. At the time of his retirement, the enrollment had quadrupled, making it one of Saint Leo’s largest majors. 

International Tourism & Hospitality Management Program at Saint Leo Today 

Today, the program founded by Professor Purchase offers a bachelor’s degree in International Tourism and Hospitality Management (ITHM) at University Campus and is offered as a minor via Saint Leo’s Center for Online Learning. Purchase would be proud to know that graduates of the Saint Leo program he began can be found at Busch Gardens, Delta Air Lines, Disney Cruise Lines, Hyatt Hotels, Four Seasons Hotels, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, The Reef Resort (Grand Cayman), and SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. ITHM graduates find jobs in many sectors, including accommodations, food service, attractions, transportation, and destination promotion. 

Through his generosity, students for generations to come will benefit from the Harry J. Purchase Endowed Memorial Scholarship and, after graduating, continue his legacy in an industry he loved. Saint Leo is deeply honored to receive this bequest from our devoted faculty member, Harry Purchase.

For more information about including a bequest for Saint Leo University in your estate plans, visit planned giving or call (352) 588-8483.


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