Nevada Restaurant Association
Van Heffner, Nevada Hospitality Icon
Van Heffner, a major contributor to the evolution of the Nevada Hospitality Industry, passed away at age 70 following an extended illness. He founded and operated several associations; most notable of these are the Nevada Restaurant Association, Nevada Hospitality Foundation, the Nevada Hotel & Lodging Association and the Nevada Tourism Alliance. Van was the longest serving State Restaurant Association representative to the National Restaurant Association. He was President and CEO of Heffner & Associates, Inc. from 1979 until his retirement in 2012. Van was passionate about expanding Nevada tourism and provided leadership to both industry associations and government commissions to foster industry collaboration that helped to transform Nevada’s image from one of gaming to that of a full service, family oriented vacation destination.
Mr. Heffner spent the majority of his work life in service to Nevada. Mr. Heffner addressed challenges through a variety of avenues, including lobbying for change at local, state and federal government levels. He helped lead the industry to set vision and strategies that expanded the scope of higher education programs to modernize hospitality services. To that end, he was a founding member of the UNLV National Advisory Board of Directors for Harrah’s College of Hotel Administration.
Additionally, Mr. Heffner worked tirelessly to encourage cultural diversity programs, employee development and assistance programs, and to incorporate total customer experience as a driving factor for business decisions. Mr. Heffner also lifted the bar on hospitality services by founding linkages to the International Food Service Executives Association, Cultural Diversity Council, and the National Energy Coalition.
Over his distinguished career, Mr. Heffner served in several appointed leadership roles - including the Nevada Tourism Commission, Nevada Commission on Economic Development, Nevada State College Foundation, Nevada State Medical Board, and the Advisory Board for Hotel & Motel Management magazine - all to further promote a positive, family oriented, humanitarian image for Nevada. Mr. Heffner was also a published author, including his Serving Alcohol with Care series which has educated millions of servers worldwide and helped minimize hospitality business risk. He also authored Impression Management and Retail Merchandising for the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
Anyone who knew Mr. Heffner soon became aware of Van’s highly intuitive and spiritual nature. After his wife, Joan, was healed after battling breast cancer, he wrote two Inspirational books: Love Dances 1995 and Harmony 1999. Van Heffner’s awards and honors reflect a notable life of a service and include: Honorary Registered Environmental Health Specialist 2005, Southern Nevada Health District’s Public Health Hero Award 1999, Nominated for the Pearson National Literary Award, Washington, D.C. 1999, Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce Community Achievement Tourism Award 1998, Mediators of Southern Nevada, Peacemaker of the Year Award 1997 and Clark County Humanitarian Award 1996.
The Nevada Restaurant Association and the Nevada Hotel and Lodging Association held a celebration of life ceremony in November at the Bootlegger with the Honorable Lorraine Hunt-Bono as speaker honoring his accomplishments for the industry.