In Remembrance of Dave Prentkowski

Notre Dame's foodservice director will be remembered as a mentor and an inspiration.

Several years ago, I lost my only sister, Martha, to brain cancer. At the funeral service, in the midst of our grief, the parish priest put things in perspective. He told our family and friends, “We are not here to mourn Martha’s death. We have gathered here to celebrate a life well lived.”

Those words came flooding back to me as I began to ponder writing this blog entry, about the death of Dave Prentkowski, the foodservice director at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.  Like my sister, Dave’s life ended much too soon. Like Martha, he suffered from a terrible form of cancer, although ironically it was not the cancer that claimed his life. The circumstances of the accident that caused his death, along with that of his 18-month-old granddaughter, Charlotte, may never be known.  

The news hit me particularly hard for reasons that go far beyond the fact of the double tragedy. For one, I’ve known Dave for almost as long as I’ve been covering the foodservice industry. Although I was not as close with him as I am with some other operators, I have always admired him and considered him one of the “go-to” directors when I was working on stories about trends and challenges in the industry.

Second, he is one of only two foodservice directors Notre Dame has had since I began my career. Dave was hired in 1990, just a few months after the death of Bill Hickey, who had been at the university for seven years. I knew Bill well; like Dave he was an icon in the industry, having won an IFMA Silver Plate Award in 1986. Dave earned his Silver Plate in 2005. In addition, both men died at a relatively young age. Dave was 55, and Bill was 54.

As I thought about all of this, the words from the priest’s eulogy at my sister’s funeral came back to me, and I came to terms with this tragedy. It does no good to dwell on the death. We can’t change things—we can’t even make sense of it all. And so the only healthy thing to do is to celebrate his life.

Dave was a student of the industry, always studying, always learning and always willing to share with his fellow “students.” People can talk about what he accomplished at Notre Dame, as well as at the University of Michigan and the University of Utah. His professional life could be summed up by his list of achievements.

But the truth of the matter is, people in the foodservice industry never achieve anything in a vacuum. A scientist may spend years in a lab, working by himself or with a few trusted colleagues, to come up with an invention or a theory or a discovery that will earn him immortality in the history books. But in foodservice, you accomplish nothing if you don’t touch the lives of the people around you. In this business you are nothing if you haven’t been a mentor. If you haven’t given of your time, energy or wisdom, your success as an operator means little to anyone outside of perhaps your boss.

Dave Prentkowski will be remembered more for what he gave back to the foodservice industry than for what he accomplished. He will live on in people’s minds as a mentor, a resource and a sounding board, rather than as a man who “did things.” His legacy will be as a person who inspired others to push their boundaries, even in the face of something as uncompromising as cancer.

That is a life well lived.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

The University of Maryland will begin offering weekly specials at all of its dining halls this semester, The Diamond Back reports.

The weekday specials will allow Dining Services to offer past menu items that students miss as well as new dishes students have been requesting, according to a spokesperson.

Students can find out which specials are being offered each week via dining hall table tents as well as through Dining Services’ social media. During select weeks, the specials may reflect a particular theme, such as Taste of the South.

Read the full story via...

Ideas and Innovation
university chicago medical center renovation workers

As The University of Chicago Medical Center prepared for the revamp of one of its kitchens to feed an additional 202 patients, it wasn’t just foodservice executives coming to the table to make decisions. The process, which began in fall 2014, involved hourly employees from the ground up, says Daryl Wilkerson, vice president of support services. “They actually helped build this [kitchen], which is why I think this is so spectacular,” he says. “Normally what you’ll get in a lot of projects is senior people sitting around in shirts and ties making decisions.”

The hospital follows the...

Ideas and Innovation
idea bulb innovation concept

There’s no feeling quite like the “spark of inspiration” that Dawn Aubrey , associate director of housing for dining services at the University of Illinois, cites in this month’s Steal This Idea-themed cover story. That rush of blood and endorphins to the brain when everything comes together is like nothing else, and often finds me falling over furniture because I’m so excited to start putting plans into action. Unfortunately, I also bruise easily.

Throughout this issue, we’ve highlighted stealable ideas in all realms of noncommercial foodservice, from protein-focused sides to...

Managing Your Business
empty drive thru window

The University of Vermont Medical Center cafes often overflowed with diners at lunchtime. But adding another cafe wouldn’t be enough. “We definitely needed another place for people,” says Garden Atrium supervisor Tanya McDonald.

That’s why the UVM Medical Center this fall opened a takeout window in its new Garden Atrium cafe, a part of the design scheme before the cafe even opened last year.

Not wanting to pressure the staff—and struggling with technological delays—dining services began with a monthslong soft launch, opening the takeout window to about 200 employees through...

FSD Resources