10/12/16 | The Johnson & Wales University community is deeply saddened by the passing of Morris Gaebe '98 Hon., JWU trustee emeritus and chancellor emeritus.
“Mo,” a longtime resident of Barrington, RI, died on Saturday, October 8 at the age of 96.
A Transformational Leader
If Miss Johnson and Miss Wales firmly established JWU’s legacy of entrepreneurship, then Morris Gaebe laid the groundwork for JWU as an institution. It is his mantra — “students first” — that continues to guide his successors, and all of us today.
Relocating across the country to purchase a business school and form an untested business partnership takes a big leap of faith. Gaebe’s ability to trust his instincts and take smart risks characterized his long, distinguished career at Johnson & Wales — first as co-director with Edward Triangolo, then as president (1969-1989) and finally chancellor.
Gaebe’s legacy is fundamentally linked to that of Triangolo. In 1947, the two Navy buddies purchased Johnson & Wales Business School.
Triangolo, Gaebe and their wives, Vilma and Audrey, worked tirelessly to grow the school and handle business “on a shoestring” — including teaching classes, managing the office and even keeping the building clean.
When enrollment dipped, the two entrepreneurs scrutinized the classifieds and researched job data, intent on anticipating “the jobs of tomorrow.” And they responded quickly, restructuring programs and adding courses that would catapult graduates into high-demand careers.
Expanding the Institution
In the 1950s, their approach began to gain traction. By 1952, the school had doubled in size, and in 1954 it earned national accreditation by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools.
The principle accomplishment of the Triangolo-Gaebe administration was to become a more mainstream institution. By broadening the curricula, achieving accreditation and formalizing the leadership structure, they turned a fledgling school into a bonafide establishment.
New Programs, New Horizons
That fact alone would cement Gaebe’s legacy. But his prescient instincts also led him to pursue programs like culinary arts and hospitality — and later equine — that might have seemed foreign at the time, but ended up having a major impact on the university’s scope and reputation.
After establishing the hospitality program in 1972, Gaebe, Vice President Yena and Director of Admissions Manuel Pimentel Jr. began to see a growing need for high-end culinary and food service education. But the board was skeptical, approving the program only after stipulating an initial minimum of 80 applicants.
In 1973, 141 students reported to orientation. By 1983, enrollment had climbed to 3,000. Forty years later, JWU’s culinary programs are world-renowned.
Innovative Course Delivery
During the 1980s, JWU — then referred to as J&W — made significant strides in carving out its niche as a leader in career education.
The college focused on offering programs that were not available in traditional liberal arts schools, instituting concepts like the 4-day class week, which allowed students to work on Fridays and weekends, and the "upside-down curriculum," which let students take classes in their major from day one. Weekend enrollment was also initiated to help meet the needs of nontraditional students seeking degrees.
Legacy of Smart Risks and Strong Leadership
It’s almost impossible to imagine how much JWU changed under Gaebe’s leadership. In 1947, when he and Triangolo purchased the school, it had roughly 100 students.
By 1980, Johnson & Wales had become the fastest-growing college in RI, and in 1988 — when J&W officially became Johnson & Wales University (JWU), the fledgling school that began with one typewriter and one student now owned $44 million in property statewide and had overtaken Brown University in enrollment.
“Gaebe laid the groundwork for the institution that exists today,” noted John Yena. “He helped create the prospect for JWU to become a driving force in Providence’s Renaissance.” As Gaebe himself would say, “You don’t get ahead without sticking your neck out a little.”
Life Dedicated to Service
Outside of JWU’s walls, Gaebe was a dedicated family man and equally devoted civic leader.
For 66 years, he was the husband of Audrey Klee Gaebe, until her death in 2008. He guided the formation of the character of his 4 sons, who, like him, were all Eagle Scouts.
In 1978, he and his son Geoff acquired land in Burrillville, RI, to create Addieville East, a pristine hunting and fishing preserve that today encompasses more than 900 acres and has been recognized for its outstanding conservation programs.
In 1980, he was inducted to the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame. As an avid supporter of Junior Achievement of Rhode Island, the Morris J.W. Gaebe Profile in Excellence Award, the highest honor bestowed by the organization, was established.
The Gaebe name can be found throughout JWU’s 4 campuses on buildings, greenspaces, scholarships, and history. The radiance of the man we knew and revered will continue to illuminate JWU’s journey.
Morris Gaebe is survived by his sons and their wives, Dana (Beth), Greg (Vicki) and John (Bonnie) and by his daughter-in-law, Paula Gaebe, and by his sister, Priscilla Doelling (Robert). He was predeceased by his son Geoff and his brothers, Kenneth and Herbert B. Gaebe. He leaves 8 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren.
Memorial donations in lieu of flowers can be made to the Gaebe Eagle Scout Scholarship Fund at Johnson & Wales University, 8 Abbott Park Place, Providence, RI, 02903, or to St. John’s Episcopal Church, 191 County Road, Barrington, RI, 02806.
To gain a sense of the man and his unselfish commitment to JWU, watch “Men of Vision,” the second of 3 documentaries about JWU produced by Providence Campus College of Arts & Sciences Professor Marian Gagnon.