But next week, someone else will be in that spot. Penny’s retiring.
She started at UNCG Dining in 1967 as a Spartan freshman – this was well before the 1980’s dining hall renovation. Students used a bridge from the east to the second floor, and there was a gravel parking lot where the fountain is now.
It was an era of “miniskirts and bell bottoms and hippies,” she says. She vividly recalls the cafeteria workers’ strike of 1968. By that time she was a student supervisor with her work-study job in Dining, and watched as students literally marched on the tables. “I did not go on strike. I considered myself management.” The strike did mean she worked “some horrendous hours.”
She graduated in English with a secondary education concentration. But her work experience with ARAMARK set her career trajectory. She worked for them at Clemson planning parties, doing catering, creating contests and theme nights. Then a succession of colleges, including USC and Georgia Tech. While at High Point College in 1989, she was diagnosed with MS. She accepted a desk job with ARAMARK here at UNCG. “It was like coming home,” she says.
And when she underwent treatment for breast cancer in 2001, she gathered lots of strength from faculty and staff. “Thirty or 40 women at UNCG called me to offer support and their stories. It was unbelievable.”
She joined a campus support group and they all supported each other.
UNCG Catering serves lots of UNCG events. About 3,700 in a big year, she says. Whether it’s banquets or conferences, sorority/fraternity functions, weddings at Alumni House or the coffee and cookies before Faculty Senate meetings, they are busy.
Things do change as years go by. The dining areas in the EUC were renovated in the ‘90s. Chartwells currently holds the dining contract. The dining building – now named the Moran Commons – is undergoing a multi-phase renovation. But UNCG still has its core characteristics. And that starts with its people.
“I’ll miss the people I work with and the people I work for – my customers,” she says.
Anything else she’ll miss most? “I’m going to miss the vibrancy – the university is so alive.”
A retirement reception for Penny Hovis will be in Moran Commons Nov. 1, from 3 -5 p.m.
By Mike Harris