Jerry Jaeger had nowhere to go but up.

As a pre-teen washing dishes in his parents’ Ritzville restaurant, the Circle T Inn, he was too short to do his first job. Someone gave him a wooden Pepsi box to stand on, launching what would become a career of more than 50 years in the hospitality industry.

Jerry Jaeger at his desk
Jerry Jaeger (Courtesy Jerry Jaeger)

The box got him to the counter; the rest of Jaeger’s journey was the result of family, the confidence that comes from knowing you’re on the right path, and a willingness to work hard. Those three factors—along with education earned at Washington State University’s School of Hospitality Business Management (SHBM)—connect Jaeger with decades of other hospitality graduates.

“I was really lucky in that I always knew what I wanted to do,” says Jaeger (’70), recalling an early conversation in which he predicted he’d follow his parents into hospitality.

In 1963, his parents left Ritzville for Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to become a part of Western Frontiers Inc. and its new North Shore Motor Hotel, the forerunner to the Coeur d’Alene Resort. Jaeger did odd jobs at the hotel. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at WSU, getting married during freshman year to his high school sweetheart, Ellen.

The nutrition and culinary classes weren’t his thing, but the business classes resonated, says Jaeger, who has served on the board of Idaho Independent Bank, now First Interstate Bank, since its founding in 1993.

While at WSU, Jaeger’s father died in a plane crash, a painful time eased somewhat by the mentorship of then-Dean Joe Bradley, says Jaeger. He also served as president of Sigma Iota, the service club for SHBM.

After graduation, Jaeger worked for Westin Hotels in Los Angeles, noting it didn’t pay much but offered experience. A year later, he returned to Coeur d’Alene to manage North Shore, which would undergo a series of expansions during Jaeger’s tenure, including its evolution into the Coeur d’Alene Resort in 1986.

Along with Duane Hagadone, Jaeger cofounded Hagadone Hospitality and served as co-owner and president of the company, which owns multiple hotels and restaurants. Its flagship property, the resort, was recently named the best Idaho hotel by Condé Nast Traveler, which named it best mainland resort in 1990. The same year, it also won the top spot in the magazine’s Reader’s Choice Awards.

Jaeger promoted regional tourism as the first statewide chairman of the Idaho Travel Council and received the Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Recreation and Tourism. He was inducted into SHBM’s first Hall of Fame in 2017 and the State of Idaho Hall of Fame in 2018.

“My most important job—and if I was good at anything—it was selecting the right people,” says Jaeger, who retired in 2017, yet is still involved in an advisory capacity with the company’s Best Western Plus University Inn in Moscow and Kootenai River Inn Casino and Spa.

He’s also a Coug dad—to Jennifer Ann Jaeger-Drakjy (’97 PhD Counseling Psych.) and Jason Jaeger (’93 Hotel & Rest. Admin.), following in his father’s footsteps as one of the presidents of Hagadone Hospitality.

Web extra

Read about generations of hospitality alumni – Joe Fugere ’84, Michael Wang ’96, and Pauline Q. Garza ’16.