WATERVILLE — Thirty-nine years ago, Darlene Ratte started her career in the hospitality industry as a server at Killarney’s Restaurant and Pub.
A student at Lawrence High School, she said she had no idea she wanted to stay in hospitality until after finishing her master’s degree at Thomas College while simultaneously working at the front desk of the Holiday Inn.
“It’s just really fun. We do new things every day and meet new people. It really is a fun environment,” said Ratte, 55.
The hotel changed ownership in 2010 and is now the Best Western Plus Grand Hotel, but the restaurant is still there and Ratte’s smiling face can still be seen behind the front desk when she’s not teaching hospitality classes to local college students.
This year Ratte, who is the assistant general manager, is being recognized with the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce Outstanding Professional Award. The awards banquet is scheduled for April 29 at the Elks banquet hall in Waterville.
“She was an obvious selection for the award because she is tireless,” said Kimberly Lindlof, president and CEO of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce. “I’m not sure how she keeps it all straight, but she’s an example of a true go-getter who does her many jobs with a smile on her face.”
The organization, which promotes business and economic development in central Maine, presents annual awards to businesses and people in eight categories each year recognizing their contributions to the area. The Outstanding Professional award is given to someone who holds a certification in their profession and gives back to the community.
Ratte, who has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in business administration, is also recognized by the American Hotel and Lodging Association as a certified executive in hospitality education, hotel rooms division and human resources. She is a member of the Maine Innkeepers Association and a member of the chamber board of directors.
Brian LeClair, general manager of the Best Western, said Ratte takes great pride in her work.
“She loves her job and takes great pride in the success of our company and the happiness of our guests,” he said. “We have a great team member in Darlene, and her commitment to our guests is certainly appreciated.”
Most mornings, Darlene works behind the front desk of the hotel from 7 a.m. to noon and then spends the afternoon teaching. She is a faculty member at both Thomas College in Waterville and Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield and teaches hospitality and business classes. She lives in Waterville with her partner, Brian, and cat, Elmo.
One of her favorite aspects of her job is helping students make connections between the classroom and the real world, which she does by facilitating internships in the hospitality industry, either at the hotel or through people she knows.
“It’s exciting for me to be able to give back,” she said. “I have that flexibility where I can bring them into the community, and our community is really wonderful. It’s so open to students.”
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368 [email protected]