Ripon College is a residential campus, so meals have always been an important aspect of life here. The common stereotype of campus food is that it’s bad and everyone hates it. But that’s not true at Ripon College! We asked for your most memorable meal or food item in the dining hall or commons. We got some pretty fond and tasty replies — along with vivid memories.
Easily my most memorable meal at the Commons was in the spring of 1971. I was the student head waiter for the Saga Food Service both my junior and senior years, and this was in my senior year. Somehow, the word had gone out around campus, long before the days of Twitter, etc., that there was going to be a food fight at the evening meal. For some strange reason, no one told me about it (until) my friend, Pete Kolakowski, who was in charge of the outside area that evening, came back to me in the dish room area, and said, “Greg, I think we have a problem. It looks as if there is going to be a food fight tonight.” I knew right then that we had a problem because on the menu that night was not only spaghetti as the main course, but also cream puffs and Jell-O for dessert! Both of the Saga managers were off that night, so I was in charge.
At that time, the student headwaiter wore a red sports coat, shirt and tie, so that was what I was dressed in when I went out into the dining hall to find that many of the students had come dressed in rain coats and/or plastic ponchos. When I first went out there, some were eating, but most were not. It was mostly quiet — like the calm before the storm — as people seemed to be waiting for the first person to throw the first cream puff/whatever. That quiet lasted for about five minutes, during which time I asked them to please just eat their meals and head on out. Most just snickered and smiled, and then, before you knew it, the first cream puff went flying, and that was all she wrote! Within seconds, the air in the Commons was filled with food, and my nice red sports coat was not quite as nice and pure red as it had been seconds before. Cleanup took several hours, but I would add that a number of the students who participated in the food fight stayed to help the student staff clean up the dining hall. It made for a great memory, but I don’t think I ever got to really eat any of the delicious cream puffs that night! 🙂
Greg Mercier ’71
Newbury Park, California
While there were many meals I enjoyed, especially Steak Night, there are two particular meals that left an incredible impression on me. The first was the lunch I had while interviewing at the College. At the same time, my parents were divorcing and moving to different parts of the country, I decided to go directly to college after my junior year of high school. Colleges in the southeast, where I lived, required a high school diploma before admission, so I interviewed with colleges in other parts of the country, including Ripon, because in rare instances they accepted students who had done well during their first years in high school without graduating. I was unsure of myself and a bit scared to being going off on my own without a family to return to, so I wanted a very friendly atmosphere. Several of the colleges were enthusiastically and somewhat aggressively recruiting me and one of them was Beloit College. While the curriculum of Beloit really interested me, I was turned off by the lunch I was given during the interview: liver and onions, which I hated. I was so disappointed and felt, “Boy, if this is how they treat people they are trying to recruit, how are they going to treat us when we enroll???” The next day, I toured Ripon and was treated to a lunch of hamburger and fries (or was it tater tots?), which I loved! I loved the pretty campus, the relatively large percentage of international students, and the curriculum, but the yummy teen-friendly lunch cinched the decision, and I knew I would love Ripon. Indeed, I did!
The other memorable meal was the day of the food fight. I sat down to eat with my sorority, Alpha Chi Omega, at our usual tables near where the Merriman House fraternity typically ate. The Merriman were having some kind of playful feud with the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. There was tension in the entire Pickard Commons and I had no idea why, but we could all tell something was up. About halfway through dinner, I saw a pea fly across the room, and then one of the Phi Delts walked by the Merriman house table and feigned a stumble turning his tray full of food over on top of one of the Merriman. At that time, all mayhem broke out. I was mesmerized, but within seconds a guy sitting across from me pulled me under the table. It wasn’t soon enough because my coat was covered with mashed potatoes! The whole thing did not last long, but when it was over, there was food everywhere: spaghetti hanging from the ceiling, ice cream in a classmate’s hair, bread flung everywhere, sauce on the floor. It was the worse mess I had ever seen or have ever seen in the 40 years since. Not surprisingly, the two fraternities were required to clean the whole place until it was spotless. The movie “Animal House” reflected Ripon for those few minutes of the famous Ripon Food Fight.
Kathy Kurke ’75
Omond Beach, Florida
I honestly don’t remember that much about the food at Pickard Commons. I guess it wasn’t that bad. I remember getting there at 7:59 a.m. (one minute before breakfast service ended) on Tuesdays and Thursdays with my roommate, Skip Valentine, so we could get made-to-order fried eggs. I remember on rare special occasions we got small steaks at dinner. I remember “mystery meat,” meat that was breaded and fried. I think the best meal I ever had there was the brunch served on Sunday morning, the day of Commencement. I was amazed the food service could offer such fine cuisine. I do remember the occasional food fights at lunch. They didn’t happen that often. But you knew there was the potential for one when Alpha Xi Delta showed up all wearing rubber rain coats and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky outside.
Scott A. Nyquist ’69
Well now. I have two memories of the Commons. One is of the occasional food fight which was usually started by someone who disappeared quickly and was an event certainly not enjoyed by anyone. Yet, they did happen, and they could get rather enthusiastic (violent is just a bit too strong). The other memory is the upper-class men who would station themselves at the window bench on the stairs’ first landing. This was where the freshman class ladies would get scrutinized. Certainly inappropriate, but a memory nonetheless.
Larry Mahoney ’67
White Bear, Minnesota
Chicken nuggets at brunch on the weekends!
Amber Steichen ’12
I always loved when the Commons had chicken nuggets/tenders and mac and cheese!
Jenelle Simon ’15
I always loved Larry’s Bananas Foster for dessert. So yummy! I’ve had it at high-end restaurants and it wasn’t as good as Larry’s was. And chicken nugget day was always a favorite!
Michelle Calder Reppert ’06
Definitely the Saturday steak nights. I was lucky enough to be the “ticket” gal to ensure one steak per person. Second in line were the homemade glazed doughnuts! I can honestly say that we never went hungry, and there wasn’t a bad thing on the menu. The staff was also phenomenal.
Mary Wyman-Goenner ’86
Clear Lake, Minnesota
Saturday night was Steak Night. Sometimes it was steak and shrimp. Good meal.
Deborah Cizek Smith ’81
La Grange, Illinois
My freshman year, I worked in the kitchen on Saturday nights with Jim, the cook. He was an ex-sailor with a salty tongue and used to be a riot to work for, always interested to know how things were going with my girlfriend, Michele Baran Wittler ’76. (Yes, that MBW!). After he’d grill a few hundred steaks and me about her, it was my job to clean the grill. By the time I got to eat my steak, I was so tired it was all I could do to pick up the fork and knife. I’ll never forget steak night.
Mike Verkuilen ’76
Easy to recall this: Saturday night suppers were Steak Night! The student body got dressed up (mandatory) — sport coats and ties for the guys and dresses, etc., for the gals! We had good quality beef steaks, salads, baked potatoes, on tablecloths with music. 1970 timeframe. Other meals during the week were less impressive and breakfasts were poorly attended; especially on weekends — go figure!
Jeff Drew ’73
I remember Saturday night Steak Night every week. Steak and home fries dipped in half ketchup, half sour cream. None of my friends in other schools were getting steak every Friday!
Susan Forrest-Lobb Jeffreys ’81
Steak Night! What a treat. We made a “special sauce” of ketchup, sour cream and steak sauce. Good times!
Kate Snow Doherty ’86
South Berwick, Maine
I remember Saturday night steak night. The Commons served a choice of steak or chicken Kiev. I didn’t know what chicken Kiev was until I tried it! On any other night, you could get as much of the main dish as you wanted. But we could only have one steak or one chicken! (I think the football players got two servings.) We were so anxious for Saturday night steak night that we would get there as early as we could for a 5:00 dinner. It was really good.
Robin Cellars Kupernik ’87
During the years I was at Ripon, Mike Mihaly made Saturday STEAK NIGHT! Everyone got a ticket good for one steak. They weren’t the best quality and were always well-done. It was still a treat, and not many people skipped Saturday dinner.
Mark Wright ’75
North Mankato, Minnesota
The first year for Pickard Commons was my senior year. My most memorable meal there has nothing to do with the food. One day in the spring of 1963, I was eating lunch, and Joan Mary Engh arrived in the dining room. I was able to get a really good view of her. She was recruiting for the Miss Wisconsin 1963 pageant. Joan Mary Engh was Miss Wisconsin 1962. She had been to Atlantic City where she was first runner-up to Miss America 1963. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in real life up to that point and is on the short list for the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in real life anytime. It was very memorable for me.
George Hill ’63
Bread Bar. Easy question.
Tyler Ketz ’16
My favorite meal was bread bar in the Commons Fridays at lunch!
Hollie Becker Mealy ’10
New Berlin, Wisconsin
Velta Latsons, the baker, made sticky buns. During my freshman year, 1972-73, I worked in the Commons and often worked breakfasts. Therefore, on lucky days, I arrived just as the sticky buns were coming out of the oven. Perfection! I have yet to find (or make) any as good as hers. They were the best — food for the gods (and mere mortals).
Michele Baran Wittler ’76
Unfortunately, I could not find the recipe for my mother’s (Velta Latsons) sticky buns. I guess she did not break it down so it could be made in a smaller quantity. My best memories are the Thursday night dress-up dinners. Formal setting and gourmet food. Only thing missing was a glass of wine.
Mara Latsons Warren ’61
The bane of all college students in the ’60s was the Saturday morning chem lab. I would usually run into Al Jarreau ’62 in the Union Rotunda, where “The Hawk” had set out glazed pastries, the favorite of which was the cinnamon roll. (“The Hawk” was Mrs. Lucille Hawkinson, the food service head.)
Jim Thorsen ’65
Idaho Falls, Idaho
OTHER YUMMY MEALS
Memorable food item was cheese and broccoli soup. Sounds gross, but I got hooked on it while at Ripon.
Karl Feld ’91
Clayton, North Carolina
Cheese soup. Got the recipe from the Commons and still make/eat it today!
Molly Northrup Mickel ’87
Ripon always had great food. From breakfast to lunch and dinner. I had a twin brother who attended Oshkosh at the same time. Their food was pitiful. When Kelly would visit me on Saturday where we had steak or shrimp as entrée, he visited as a guest. No charge! The best dinner I remember was a candlelight dinner on Easter Sunday. Ripon had the best of food to the students possible.
Geoffrey Langley ’76
Clarendon Hills, Illinois
The first meal which comes to mind is the shish kebab served on Saturday nights. Also, the milk was quite good — I probably drank six glasses a day. Breakfast after an all-nighter was always a treat. And who from my era can forget Martha, who ruled the seconds table with an iron fist.
Dave “Beaver” Bunten ’73
Lake Zurich, Illinois
It was right before the Thanksgiving break in 1961. It was my freshman year and also the last year we ate in Great Hall of the Student Union. Two shifts, with a lot of waiting, mostly in the room at the bottom of the stairs at the northwest end of the room.
Louise Hawkinson, the dietician, had arranged with Ripon Foods to do the turkeys, and they sent over carvers and other employees to help out. It was one of the few buffet dinners in that room, as the usual dinner meal was sit-down, served family-style by waiters. I went through the buffet line, and the carver laid two slabs of turkey breast on my plate. I got the stuffing, potatoes and other things, and got started. It was the best roast turkey I had ever had, including my mother’s and grandmothers’, and I am not sure I have had better since. I had never been a picky eater and could always hold my own against a turkey, but that day the unbelievable happened. I got stopped by my first plate! I should have finished it, but I just could not.
Thanksgiving dinner at home was a little bit of a letdown, but I never told my family about that magnificent dinner. The next year, we moved to Pickard Commons for meals, and things were never quite the same.
David G. Stankow ’65
I’d drag myself out of bed every morning with my roommate so we can get Mary’s over-easy eggs on the fluffy white bread. Made the best brain food.
Christina Mooney ’13
No contest at all! It was Thursday night (dress-up) when they served hand-carved “steamship round of beef” with all the trimmings! Awesome! That meal (plus lots of beer at The Spot) put 20 pounds on me! But I didn’t mind the weight gain at all since I started freshman year at 5’7” and 95 pounds!
Mary LeFevre Chavez ’68
Spaghetti, without a doubt. Always served on Wednesday nights. As a freshman in 1964, I worked as a waiter, and since I was always late would get the worst table — either Phi Delta Theta or Merriman House. I’d bring out a platter meant to serve an entire table of 16 students, and it would be empty after the first four had served themselves. I’d have to head back to wait in line for another platter. After 30 minutes, waiters who served a sorority table not only had enjoyed the scenery but were on their way to The Spot while I was serving the fourth platter amidst jocks clamoring for more seconds and extra desserts. Sophomore year I wised up, served the sororities, met a nice Italian girl (Carolyn Calandra ’69), been married for 48 years, and we only argue when she serves spaghetti on Wednesday nights.
Tom Selsor ’68
Chicken Kiev with “champagne sauce” or chili and cheese greasies.
Petra Jones ’82
Huntington Park, California
MEMORIES OF MIKE MIHALY
In the fall of 1970, we had a new manager of food service, Mike Mihaly, at the Commons. In general, I felt the food was pretty good, including things like steak and shish kebabs every Saturday night. (The worst lunches were when a cheese greasy was the best option.)The Commons offered special meals for sports teams before games or meets. The food manager made a proposal to the teams. He would treat the first sport team to win conference to a meal. The swim team managed to win conference that winter. And, boy, did he keep his promise! After being seated in the President’s Room, we looked down at the gold-rimmed plates and questioned if we were still in the Commons. The meal started with shrimp cocktail and progressed upward from there. Needless to say, we were quite impressed.
This was quite different from suppers after swim team practice. Practice ended around 6 p.m. when we had to rush through dressing and get through the winter weather up to the Commons before the 6:30 closing. On a good night, your hair was not frozen when you sat down to eat.
Mike Snyder ’74
Just about every meal at Ripon College was excellent during Mike Mihaly’s tenure as food service director. However, the cream puffs from the bakery department were the very best. My future mother-in-law, Margaret Naparalla, was one of those terrific bakers during that time. Met her daughter, Sue, who was a student at UW-Oshkosh, and the rest is history.
Jack Bennett ’71
Hard to believe, but we had steak nights. A close second would be nerd bars with peanut butter. Thanks to Mike M. (Mihaly), we had awesome food!
Jody Henderson-Sykes ’81
My best memory was when I was a mere faculty brat. (Father was Robert Young, former dean of students and professor of psychology.) I would roller-skate all over campus with my best friend and stop in to The Pub for a soft-serve swirl ice cream cone. Later, as a student, I loved every soup that Mike Mihaly ever made. That was my first stop in the Commons at lunch each day.
Mindy Young ’91
Arlington Heights, Illinois
Three memories come to my mind:
* Steak night – Saturday night and we made special sauce with ketchup and mayonnaise for the steak fries.
* Mike Mihaly used to feature recipes from home — the food item would be made, recipes would be provided by parents, and a note would be made for that food item naming the student and the parent that provided the recipe.
* On special occasions, the most amazing ice sculptures were made.
Barb Williams Clay ’83
Eden Prairie, Minnesota
IT’S NOT ALWAYS ABOUT THE FOOD…
1. The meal I never ate because I collapsed in the food line at breakfast on the morning of a final in my freshman year: I had fallen on the ice outside a minute before, gotten up and asserted that I was fine, and hurried on into the cafeteria. But the fall had actually injured my neck, and I fainted in line. My poor roommate, Laura Eggers ’88, had to try to catch me and keep me from hitting my head, and the paramedics who responded had to build a stretcher around me and carry me out through the cafeteria, so everyone knew I was going off in an ambulance. I was back at school and taking finals the next day, studying from a music stand because I was in a neck brace and taking my tests on a slanted writing desk pushed way out in front of me, arms at full extension. Luckily, I don’t think I had any more essay tests.
2. The one where we all just watched two other people eat: Another Ripon student wanted to take his girlfriend out for dinner but was totally out of funds. So he told her they were going out and had her dress up, while he put on a suit. He then escorted her to the cafeteria, where he had his friends guarding a special table he had set up in the corner, with a linen tablecloth and napkins, a vase of fake flowers, etc. He proceeded to serve her a cafeteria meal as if he were her waiter: going up to the line to pick out dishes for her, pouring her water and iced tea from a pitcher. She was so embarrassed at being the center of everyone’s attention that she could barely eat. But I think she was amused, too. It didn’t cause them to break up, certainly, and my friends and I thought it was romantic and cute of him.
Julie A. Sikkink ’88
We had family meals in Great Hall; in my opinion a very much better way. Student waiters would come with trays, and the serving dishes would be passed around the table. Ripon is so much like family but was much more so, perhaps.
George E. Despotes ’66
Thursday night dress-up dinners and Sunday noon dressed-up meals were always the best in the mid ’60s.
Marty Knutson ’67
Hot Springs, South Dakota
OK, this is funny to me and my former Beta Sig alums from the ’81-’85 era. Whenever mashed potatoes were served and there was gravy, there was a Commons employee (and I worked in the kitchen, too) who had a memorable “high-pitched ” gravel voice. I can still remember it was grating like scratching on a chalkboard when she asked if we wanted “gravy.” The people in line did find it humorous in a fun way.
Thomas Jahnke ’85
We all sat at rectangular tables for breakfast, lunch and dinner. One lunch, we had hot dogs — a whole tray full of hot dogs. The boy sitting next to me was a Hindu, and of course, he was a vegetarian. He passed that whole platter of hot dogs to me. He shuddered all over. I’ve never eaten a hot dog since then — never, never, never.
Vanessa Dehne ’57