Peers Remember Dave Prentkowski

Four C&U operators remember a mentor, colleague and friend.

By Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

The college and university foodservice industry is still reeling from the sudden loss of Dave Prentkowski, director of dining services at University of Notre Dame. To celebrate him in one more way, FSD gathered some memories and reflections from a few of Prentowski’s peers. Have a memory or something else to share about Dave Prentkowski? Comment on this blog or on our Facebook page.

Nona Golledge, director of KU Dining, the University of Kansas, says: “Dave was one of the first members of NACUFS that I met at my first conference in 1989. He was one of the people who introduced me to NACUFS and taught me why it was important to get involved. He was just friendly, open and approachable. He was somebody that if I had an issue on campus I would call him.

“One memory is over the years he always teased me about how KU should have been called UK for the University of Kansas. So I tried to explain to him that I didn’t have the power to change that. He also teased me because in my voicemail message I would call myself ‘KU Dining Director.’ He was very adamant that I should say ‘Director of Dining Services at the University of Kansas’ to make it sound more professional. We got into a debate about that, and after I thought about it, I thought, he is right. That’s the kind of guy he was. He wanted the best for his campus, but he also wanted the best for everyone else.”

Zia Ahmed, senior director of dining services, The Ohio State University, says: “In my earlier days I remember attending a symposium with Dave, which was the first time I really got to spend significant time with him. My first impression of Dave, being a very young foodservice director myself, was that I looked at him as a businessman. He was tall and always had a suit on. He seemed to be a very intimidating, figurehead-type of person. I always looked up to him because of the way he carried himself and the way he spoke. I remember at that symposium I ended up sharing a cab with him and my impression of him as a businessman completely changed. I saw that he was indeed a very thoughtful person, but the thing really reversed my opinion was that he was actually a very humble person who was willing to share ideas. He could have just kept his mouth shut, but he didn’t. He really took the time to talk to me and to listen.

“Notre Dame couldn’t have found a better director to represent the university than Dave, same with NACUFS. When it came to professionalism and how to represent an institution or organization, I would put Dave above anyone else.”

Cam Schauf, director of Campus Dining Services and Auxiliary Operations, the University of Rochester, says: “Dave was a wonderful, warm and caring individual who had the ability to weigh in with his opinion while making everyone else feel important and valued.”

Jon Lewis, director of campus dining services, Ball State University, says: “Dave and I always took time at conferences and meetings to share our experiences as foodservice directors and talk about current strategies, personnel issues and of course, stories about our campus leadership. We always seemed to be on the same page and had great, long discussions. We talked by phone a lot whenever we had an issue that needed resolution.

One funny story that comes to mind was, in the mid-90s Dave and I were both on the NACUFS board of directors. We first met at a board meeting in Utah and shared a hotel room. At the time it was customary to put two board members in one room to save money. Being roomies and talking about issues late into the night we also discovered we were both Purdue graduates. A few years later when I was the NACUFS President I selected Dave to be the recipient of the Richard Lichtenfelt Award. In his acceptance speech he said, “Jon and I got to know each other when we slept together in Utah.” This brought the house down. Soon after the event I lobbied the board of directors and executive director, insisting that NACUFS volunteer professionals deserved their own hotel rooms. The policy changed for the next board meeting.

“I just came back from the viewing and funeral, all beautiful. If I have 10 people at my funeral I’ll be lucky. Dave had 4,000! Dave had a passion for learning and sharing his knowledge with anyone who would listen. I learned at the funeral that his staff viewed him as a great leader, one who knew how to give constructive criticism, a leader whom his staff loved to work with.”

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