Mother Kimball

For 80 years, generations of Holy Cross students have gathered for meals in the grand Kimball Hall. And although the styles of preparing, serving and sharing dishes have changed since 1935, one thing has remained the same: Kimball is the heart of our campus community.

By Rebecca Smith ’99 and Kimberly Staley ’99 

When Kimball Hall opened in 1935, it was much more than just a dining hall—it was the center of campus life.

Named in memory of Rev. Charles L. Kimball, S.J., a classics professor and librarian at the College for two decades, the four-story, multipurpose hall housed administrative offices (including the discipline office); the campus post office; day students’ rooms; a student cafeteria (including a soda fountain); the bookstore and a theater. There was also a bakery, kitchen and, of course, its impressive dining room. 

According to a Jan. 3, 1935, article in The Springfield (Mass.) Union, Kimball Hall “is said to be one of the most beautiful collegiate dining halls in the country. … [The main dining hall] is without a single pillar to mar the sweeping effect of the open expanse of floor. The room is finished in oak and lightly tinted plaster, with a tiled floor and crystal and bronze chandeliers. There are windows on all four sides. The tables and chairs are of dark oak.”

Former hotel manager George B. Moran, Class of 1906, served as Kimball’s first manager, from 1935 to 1955. According to the Union article, Moran believed “the facilities for baking and cooking … are the most modern type made,”—in fact, Kimball was the first all-electric kitchen in New England.

Back then, there was assigned seating in the dining hall, and students ate family-style, served by student waiters. Kimball fed about 850 students a day, to the tune of approximately 1,000 quarts of milk, 65 gallons of soup, 1,000 pounds of meat—and 30 gallons of ice cream each day. 

*  *  *  *  *

For those men who were Holy Cross students in the 1960s, it is nearly impossible to separate their memories of Kimball from those of Rev. Charles J. Dunn, S.J., (right) then dean of men, now vice president emeritus.

“I would stand over between the doors going in to the kitchen,” explains Fr. Dunn. “There was a statue of Mary. I stood underneath that statue and prayed that she would watch over me and the students, and she did.”

From that vantage point, Fr. Dunn kept student behavior in check—no easy feat when hundreds of hungry young men would descend upon Kimball at once to eat dinner.

“Order was ultimately maintained, in this recurring recipe for disaster, by the presence of Fr. Dunn,” recalls David S. Zamierowski, M.D. ’64. “He had quite the reputation for no nonsense [back] then among the men.”

“The only way to get everyone quiet—and they knew they wouldn’t get any food until they were quiet—was to say: ‘Your attention please, gentlemen. Grace,’” says Fr. Dunn, who not only worked in Kimball (the discipline office was in the current-day Lower Kimball), but also lived there for a short time. “They would quickly quiet down because they wanted to eat!”

Like the generation before them, these men ate family-style. Seated 12 per table (six at a side), they were served by student waiters, with each student taking his ration before passing on to the next. Each dinner started with soup—alumni of that era will recall the inevitable spilled tureens and the hullaballoo that would ensue. After the soup course came meat (fish on Fridays) along with potatoes, gravy and vegetables; dessert swiftly followed.

The food was good and hearty, and it didn’t take those cunning young men long to figure out a way to get more of it.

“Often there ‘magically’ ended up being only eight seats at these tables, as four chairs would disappear under the table, especially on steak night, resulting in food for 12 being consumed by eight guys!” remembers R. Emmett Durnan ’68.

Spilled soup and sneaked steak aside, for these students, Kimball was so much more than just a place to eat.

“They called it ‘Mother Kimball’ because that’s where they went for everything—their news, their gathering place, their letters from home,” says Fr. Dunn. “Kimball was the center of the lives of students.”

*  *  *  *  *

The late 1960s and 1970s marked a time of transition at the College, and Kimball was not left unchanged.

With the addition of the Hogan Campus Center in 1967, Kimball no longer needed to serve multiple functions, such as housing administrative offices and the post office and bookstore. Instead, those spaces were transformed into an additional dining area, known as Lower Kimball.

Then, Holy Cross made one of its most significant changes: It became co-educational. But before that first class of female students arrived in 1972, College administrators decided to discontinue table service and implement cafeteria-style dining at Kimball. Now students stood in line to be served and carried their own meals to a table using a tray. 

The new setup offered students the ability to choose not only when, but also what and how much they ate (no more hiding chairs under tables!); it also eliminated the position of student waiters (no more spilling soup tureens!), though students were still an integral part of the Kimball workforce (see sidebar).

While the dining hall underwent some considerable changes, one thing stayed constant: It was here that students shared in the conviviality of Mother Kimball. 

“The trip to Kimball was often the highlight of the day for me,” says Patricia Gibbons Haylon ’83, P17, director of stewardship programs and special events in the College’s Office of Advancement. “I remember always going in a big group, at the same time, to, yes, sit at the same table. It was a very social event, and I looked forward to seeing and interacting with lots of people.”

“Kimball really was the social hub of the campus,” adds Donna LaFontaine ’81.

*  *  *  *  *

In the early 1990s, both Upper and Lower Kimball received much-needed makeovers; the upstairs servery was upgraded, while the downstairs was completely renovated into a food court-style eatery. 

Since then, there have been updates made to the building, including new rugs, new chairs and new paint, and to the food (sushi, anyone?), and in 2009, Kimball went “trayless”—one of the many recent sustainability efforts on the part of the College. (Trayless dining results in less food waste and less water used to clean trays.)

Always striving for ways to improve the Kimball dining experience, the crew in Holy Cross Dining Services, helmed by Director Linda Nardella, was dismayed, when a little more than two years ago they saw that the numbers in Kimball were on a slow decline.

According to Nardella, Kimball Dining Hall is unique in that it is self-operated; in fact, it is one of the only refectories in the area to make its own food in-house. Most colleges and universities outsource their dining programs to large corporate catering services, like Sysco and Aramark. “Operating in-house  requires us to be financially responsible, but it also allows us to be committed to customer service,” she explains. 

“It gives us the opportunity and flexibility to change and try new things,” adds Lynn Cody, marketing coordinator for Dining Services. “We’re listening to the students and asking them what they’re looking for.” And feedback, gleaned through the department’s annual “customer service surveys,” pointed to one thing: Students were looking for a change in Kimball. 

And so, in 2014, thanks to generous alumni from the Class of 1964 who dedicated their 50th reunion gift to the dining hall renovation, Upper Kimball debuted a bold, new look: an all-you-care-to-eat servery where food is made to order by chefs in front of the students. And they can choose from a variety of food stations, including classics, grill, stir-fry, pasta, brick oven pizza, deli, soup and salad bar, fruit and yogurt bar, and dessert (made daily in the campus bakery, the Kimball Sweet Shoppe).

The most popular dishes are stir-fry, turkey burgers, signature steak and cheese sandwiches and rotisserie chicken, says Cody. No surprises there—but the staff was a bit taken aback by the enormous popularity of one item: sautéed kale. 

“Did we ever think in a million years that students would like kale?,” asks Nardella. “We used to use it as a garnish! Now we go through cases and cases.”

In addition to an array of healthy and fresh food choices, students now have the convenience of extended hours (Upper Kimball is open continuously from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily)—and an unlimited meal plan that allows them to come and go as often as they want throughout the day. Which, it turns out, is a lot: Post-renovation, the dining hall experienced a 30 percent increase in traffic last fall (2014) compared to the previous spring. 

And in June, Kimball received the bronze award in the category “Residential Dining Concepts” from the National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS) in the annual Loyal E. Horton Dining Awards, which celebrate exemplary menus, presentations, special event planning and new dining concepts. 

“It’s so rewarding to see how we compare to other top dining programs in the country—especially now that we’re learning how important dining can be during the college decision-making process,” says Nardella. “It also helps to validate all of our hard work. The Kimball renovation was so much more than the physical transformation of the space, and this award is a tribute to the entire dining team’s dedication to making Holy Cross Dining a leader in the industry.”

But even with a new servery, new menu and new accolades, Kimball has maintained its charm (the oak tables and crystal chandeliers are the very same ones put in place in 1935) and its reputation as the heart of campus.

"Holy Cross is a small school, so you know a lot of people when you go to the dining hall,” observes Timothy McGuire ’18, Moran’s great-grandson and fourth-generation Crusader. “But I think Kimball is so much more than just a place to eat. There’s a real community atmosphere there.”

And while it might not be his great-grandfather’s way of dining, it’s still got the same family feel—just with more kale.  ■

 

What’s Your Favorite Kimball Meal?

While Kimball may have had one or two misses along the way (hello, mystery meat?), it has also had a number of hits that students and alumni continue to rave about (chicken parmesan? Yes, please!). We polled alumni and current students in person and on social media for their favorites. Take your taste buds on a walk down memory lane:

“My favorite meal at Kimball was always stir fry. There is something about the combination of teriyaki, soy sauce and lemon juice that makes noodles, chicken and vegetables taste incredible. My favorite dessert, by far, was the chocolate molten cake. I am embarrassed by the amount of cake I ate during by time at Holy Cross.”—Yachira Torres ’10 

TACO TUESDAY”—Colby on Instagram 

Christmas banquet.”—Charles “Charley” Polachi ’75 

Scoop-your-own sundae night. It happened just about once a month, but was so much fun (and yummy!). It was so popular that most of the ‘premiere’ ice cream varieties often were scooped up quickly.”—Tom Cadigan ’02, associate director of alumni relations 

Hot cross buns during Lent.”—Beth on Facebook

“I like the popcorn shrimp that Kimball has for lunch during the week. They don’t have it too often, but when they do I know it is going to be a really great day.”—Eddie Gibbons ’16 

Apple cheesecake bars”—Joe on Twitter

Thin crust pesto pizza is the best thing I’ve ever eaten.  I want them to make it everyday for all meals.”—Kara Shaw ’18 

Soft serve with fruit loops!”—Kimberly on Twitter 

“On Fridays the soup was Boston clam chowder—white cream style—and frequent Friday fare was swordfish steak and broccoli. Always a crowd favorite. Every two weeks or so would be steak night—an 8-12 ounce piece of T-bone steak that everyone went wild over. And the desserts were good too. I remember on Fridays it was always Boston cream pie.”—David S. Zamierowski, M.D., ’64 

“I loved the cheese omelets!”—Sharon on Facebook

Steak. We always looked forward to the steak dinner.”—Rev. Jim Hayes, S.J., ’72, associate chaplain for mission

Chicken pot pie, turkey dinner, tacos—those are my top three.”—Timothy McGuire ’18    

Thanksgiving dinner, hands down.”—Joseph on Facebook

“There were two things that I loved. When I stayed on campus for breaks they would always make potato-crusted fish, and you could tell that they put a lot of time and energy into it, because of the delicious flavors and perfect texture. I also LOVED the stir-fry line and would always get stir-fry whenever Lauren was making it.”—Antonio Willis-Berry ’13

“I still have dreams about Kimball brunch.”—Stephanie on Instagram 

Meatloaf … hands down fave.”—Don Morrissey ’65

FLAKY HERB CHICKEN. Every third Tuesday.”—Amy on Instagram

“Our salad bar is second to none.”—Christian Santillo ’06, associate director of College marketing and communications

“My favorite Kimball meal is shepherd’s pie. It is so good, and better than my mom’s for sure.” —Maggie Carey ’17 

“OMG OMG #chickenparm #gatherrightat5pm”—Vinny on Instagram (And, he’s not alone. Chicken parmesan garnered the most social media votes!) 

Italian wedding soup day is my favorite. On Thursdays I know what I’m having for breakfast, lunch and dinner.” —Annie Galvin ’16 

Fall Fest is my favorite Kimball meal because they have candy apples and special crackers. I also love the chicken parm and zucchini combo.”—Jackie Kishel ’16

Swordfish … [and] baked Alaska for dessert”—Rev. Edward J. Vodoklys, S.J., ’72, senior lecturer of classics

“The Caesar salad for special occasions is so, so good.”—Meaghan Mahoney ’16 

“I always love the mac and cheese and boneless wing buffet.”—Shannon Quinn ’16

Taco Tuesday is my favorite because of the endless supply of guac and churros.”—Carmella O’Hanlon ’16

“One of the better meals I remember was “chicken in a casket.” It was a boneless chicken breast filled with stuffing in an individual disposable baking tin.”—Donna LaFontaine ’81 

Chicken footballs … ALL DAY”—Tim on Instagram (What in the world are chicken footballs, you ask? Chicken Kiev.)

“I always liked the chicken cordon bleu, which was nicknamed ‘hamsters’ because that’s what they looked like! LOL!”—Suzi on Facebook   (kimball tip  “chicken hamsters” should not be confused with “chicken footballs” or “chicken bombs,” which are chicken stuffed with broccoli and cheese.) 

Mac ’n cheese????!!!”—Amanda on Instagram (Good thing it’s now served daily!) ■

 

Team Kimball

As part of the College’s Dining Services, Kimball Dining Hall is one of the few on-campus employment options for first-year students. For some, they make it through that first year and then move on. And who can blame them? There’s nothing glamorous about scraping half-eaten food off of a dinner plate. But with the right crew, it sure can be a lot of fun.

Then, there are those students who not only survive that first year, but also return year after year—many of them apply for the rank of Kimball captain, a leadership position in which they supervise their fellow student workers. For them, Kimball starts out as the only place they can work, and quickly becomes the only place they want to work.

*  *  *  *  *

From its opening day through the 1960s, Kimball relied on a workforce of student waiters for its family-style meals. Serving multiple courses to the 12-man tables required both speed and a remarkable sense of balance.

“We worked hard, carrying three courses separately and picking up from each course before [bringing] out the next course,” explains David S. Zamierowski, M.D. ’64, who began his Kimball career as a waiter and was promoted to junior waiter captain at the end of his sophomore year. “The crowd complained about slow waiters. The crowd cheered when someone went flying and a tray of [dishes] hit the ground.”

For each meal, there were dozens of practiced waiters, clad in starched, white uniforms, working together to feed the hungry masses. 

“We were part of a team even if we didn’t use that language back then,” recalls Allan L. Service ’66, provost emeritus, Regis University (Denver), a waiter during his four-year stint at Kimball. “Once or twice or even sometimes three times a day, Kimball was our house, and we had a job to do together. We took pride it doing it well.” 

After the meal was done, another group of students worked what was affectionately known as the “slop crew.” 

“We were the guys who disposed of all the leftovers from the tables, and ran all the plates, utensils, serving dishes and pots and pans through the big, industrial dishwasher,” explains R. Emmett Durnan ’68, who worked as a waiter for three years before joining the slop crew, for which he made more money. “Your goal if you were the one feeding the dishes onto the conveyor racks was to be able to feed three plates in each hand and never have an open spot in the rack. Not easy to do!”

*  *  *  *  *

By the early 1970s, Kimball was no longer offering family-style dining, but it continued to rely on its dynamic student workforce to support its cafeteria-style experience. Now, students are responsible for keeping trays and silverware, along with plates and glasses, well stocked, running hot food from the kitchen to the serving line, and—of course—doing the dishes.

The style was different, but the feeling was the same: We’re a team. 

“When I think back on it, my favorite memories were just hanging out with my friends before and after a shift,” recalls Theresa (Amalfitano) Crean ’97, a captain who met her spouse, Christopher Crean ’97, while working at Kimball. “Being with students who had to get up very early on a Saturday morning to work a weekend shift made it like our own little fraternity.”

Crean was also the student coordinator for dining services, a leadership role in which she supervised hundreds of student workers (including captains) and staffed every meal shift, among other duties. For her, the benefits of working at Kimball also included the close bonds she formed with dining services employees.

“I like to call the managers and workers at Kimball my ‘bonus professors’ from Holy Cross. Working with them was real-world, real-life experience,” she says. “I observed how much pride the chefs and kitchen staff put into creating meals for the students. They worked so hard day in and day out with smiles on their faces.” 

Adds former Kimball captain (and former Holy Cross Trustee) Yachira Torres ’10: “What I remember most is that, no matter how hot or messy things got, I had a lot of fun with my workers and Holy Cross co-workers. I felt like my job was important and that I mattered. I will never forget the feeling.”

Timothy McGuire ’18 stands in front of the portrait of his great-grandfather, George B. Moran, Class of 1906. Moran was Kimball’s first manager.  

 

Today, with Kimball’s newly renovated servery focused on self-service, most student workers can be found behind the scenes, doing what they’ve done well for 80 years: the dishes. 

For Timothy McGuire ’18, it was an experience that took some getting used to. “It’s safe to say those first couple of weeks I did not look forward to scrubbing eggs off plates,” he recalls with a laugh. But, with the mentorship—and friendship—of an upperclassman captain, McGuire not only “stuck it out,” but also applied for and was promoted to captain himself. Nowadays, he’s come to appreciate his role in the dining hall: “The workers and the captains are the cogs that really make Kimball go.”  

Rebecca Smith ’99 and Kimberly Staley ’99 of SmithWriting in Auburn, Mass., are two former Kimball captains who say they always made the best out of a stinky, sticky, sloppy situation.

 

Everyone's Favorite "Sis"

Most Holy Cross students and alumni will agree that very little beats coming in out of the cold to the warm and homey sights and smells of Kimball Hall—that, and being welcomed by everyone’s favorite Kimball card swiper, “Sis.”

Also known as Charlotte L. Wise (but only to her doctor and hairdresser), 77-year-old Sis took on her familiar moniker at birth, when her mother introduced her to her older brother.

“Way back when I was born, they didn’t go to the hospital,” she explains. “My mother had me at home, and she yelled down to my older brother, ‘Come up and see your new sis.’ And it stuck. All my life I’ve been known as Sis.”

In 1984, after raising her two sons in Worcester, Sis decided to get a job. She was hired by Holy Cross the very same day as her interview, and she started two days later as a server in Kimball. 

“When I first came, I did like everybody else: I worked the line,” says Sis, referring to the days when Kimball was cafeteria style. “We served the food to you kids, and I loved that part [of the job].”

But it wasn’t necessarily love at first sight: “I started on a Thursday, and I’ll never forget it,” she recalls. “It was pasta night, and back then you had pastas, sauces, meatballs, sausages …” It was a busy, messy evening, during which Sis recalls telling her coworker, “I don’t think I’m going to make it.”

But make it she did. Sis was a fixture at Kimball for more than 30 years before her retirement in November 2015. She moved from the serving line to the front door, where she greeted each student (usually by name) and swiped their meal cards. As you can imagine, she had heard her fair share of excuses from students who didn’t have their cards, witnessed her fair share of food fights, and saw more than her fair share of outrageous behavior. 

“I remember one time … one of the students must have lost a bet,” she says with amusement. “Well, he dropped his pants.  It only lasted for a second, but my face was turning colors.” 

Hijinks aside, Sis’ favorite Kimball memory is pretty simple: “Just being with the students.” 

And the feeling, of course, is mutual. 

Few Holy Cross alumni from the past 30 years have forgotten Sis; in fact, many students and student workers formed bonds with Kimball’s beloved employee.

“Sis is an amazing human being,” says Theresa (Amalfitano) Crean ’97, a former Kimball captain who not only had her card swiped by Sis for four years but also worked many shifts with her. “She creates the ‘coming home for dinner’ feeling in that dining hall every night. She is a blessing to all who know her.”

Adds Yachira Torres ’10, another former Kimball captain and former Holy Cross Trustee: “Sis is simply the best. She always made a sincere effort to know your name and get to know you, personally. She was always ready to greet you with a smile on her face.” 

Across generations, Sis’ popularity stands firm. In 2010, a student started a Facebook page for her, titled “The lady at Kimball who says your name when she swipes you in,” and she made regular appearances with students on Holy Cross Dining’s Facebook page, too. And let’s not forget that infamous student-produced image of Sis doing a keg stand—which she graciously signed for eager students. 

“Everybody wanted that picture,” laughs Sis. “I have one at home.”  (For the record, we cannot confirm or deny that Sis actually performed a keg stand.) 

In retirement, Sis enjoys cooking and spending time with her family, including her husband of 56 years, Emmett, whom she describes as “the best thing that could have happened to me.”

When Sis retired in November, the students and dining services staff threw a retirement party for the woman they called “A Kimball Legend.” Students and employees gathered for a farewell sendoff at Kimball, and others shared their well wishes on social media using #FarewellSis.

“The students have always totally fallen in love with her,” says Director of Auxiliary Services Arthur Korandanis, who has known Sis since he hired her 31 years ago. “She just is a wonderful, wonderful lady. She just is Holy Cross.”  ■