“I worked my way up from the bottom,” says Maureen Kangas, who’s been in the hospitality industry for 38 years. Kangas, who grew up in Valhalla, started out with a part-time job as a physicians’ assistant, but soon knew it wasn’t the right fit for her. “At the time, I also took a part-time job waitressing. I realized I really loved the interaction with people.”
But she didn’t want to wait tables forever, so soon decided to make a move to restaurant management. Over time, she was employed by several restaurants and an inn. Kangas also held managerial spots at a catering company and hotels, and served as banquet manager at the Holiday Inn in Fishkill for more than a decade. Kangas laughs when recalling that particular job, since she obtained it almost by accident: When she first went to apply for the position, the general manager thought she was one of his other appointments. “I told him I wasn’t, but if he could give me five minutes, I’d make it worth his while,” she says. “I can still see him at the front door, almost embarrassed, thinking ‘How am I going to get rid of this girl?’ But I interviewed, and that’s how I got started in the hotel business.”
She was eventually wooed by the Poughkeepsie Grand in 2003 to become director of sales and marketing, and was promoted to general manager of the 200-room hotel in 2007. Once installed in that position, she realized that — in order for the independent establishment to compete with the myriad chain hotels along Route 9 — changes needed to be made. Every room — including the ballrooms, the lounge, and the lobby — was completely updated to better cater to event attendees, many of whom subsequently became overnight guests. Since Kangas spearheaded this project, food and beverage revenue in the lounge area has doubled and income from overnight rooms has tripled.
But the best part of the endeavor for Kangas was giving back to the community. “I love giving,” she declares. “Sometimes my boss says to me, ‘Maureen, we’re also in a business.’ ” Kangas organized a large-scale giveaway at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center of all the furniture the hotel was no longer using after the renovation. “I remember pulling around the corner that day, and there was a line all the way down Main Street at eight o’clock in the morning — and the event didn’t start until 11,” she says. She also donated a classical piano to the Catherine Street Community Center children’s chorus. “They sent me this beautiful picture of all the kids standing around the piano,” she recalls. “That makes me feel so good that I could do something like that.”