A graduate’s journey from student worker to dining services director
The Mountaineer Dining Hall is always crowded. Dining services employees ensure there is always warm food and good service. For the past 15 years, David McHargue ’90 has been the driving force behind that service.
Feeding and helping students was McHargue’s priority, to which he has dedicated his life and career since he arrived as a first-year student in 1986.
“To me, dining services was the best place to work on campus,” McHargue said. “It was hard work; it was not work everybody wanted to do, but to me, it was rewarding because I got to serve the students, and I had a blast.”
McHargue was a student worker at dining services during his four years in school. After graduating from Berea in 1990 with a degree in business administration and working in the food service industry at other universities, he could not wait to come back to and serve his alma mater.
“Let’s put it this way, when I got a call from the district manager saying a Berea job is open, I didn’t let him finish the question,” McHargue recalled. “I told him, ‘Put me down, I will apply,’ because that was my dream to come back and run dining services.” McHargue served as the director of dining services from 2005 until his retirement in February.
As student manager, McHargue enjoyed training people and relished seeing new students perform and achieve. Throughout his tenure, he encouraged students to get the best experience out of their labor positions and sought to help them grow in whatever way he could.
“I was in their shoes—I remember what it was like as a freshman at Berea College because I was that freshman,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in dining services, working in Seabury or if you’re a teaching assistant. With the Labor program you learn concepts and ways of handling things in life, not just as a student, but as an individual in the workforce.”
Berea students, or as McHargue affectionately calls them, his “kids,” are the reason he wanted to come back and work for Berea. He looked for opportunities for his student workers to grow, and he created relationships on campus by asking students for feedback on the quality of dining services.
McHargue believes working and studying at Berea helps students learn about the dignity of work.
“Everybody’s work is beneficial, everybody’s work is needed,” he said. “There are jobs that need to be done, and it doesn’t matter who does them. All that matters is that it gets done, and it gets done well.
“We cannot run dining services without our kids,” McHargue added.
Working on a day-to-day basis at the dining hall is chaos, McHargue explained. Though some days everything can go smoothly, McHargue said there are days where nothing goes right. “During that time, I’m making decisions, calling people to come in to work, working in the dish room, whatever. We do whatever we have to do to get our kids fed.”
“I know our work is underrated, and that is okay,” he continued. “We put our heart and soul into doing everything, and the staff is great. These are people who put their life into the College with a smile on their faces.”
Had it not been for Berea, McHargue said he probably would not have pursued an education.
“Berea is a special place,” he said, “and most people don’t see this until after they are gone. The best way I could see to give back to this school was to work here. And I have done that.”
McHargue’s work as the general manager of dining services reflects both his passion and his commitment to Berea and its students. In addition to commuting one hour back and forth from his home in Corbin, Ky., he tells stories of sleeping in his office for three days during storms to make sure the dining hall was open to students with nowhere else to eat.
Leaving a legacy
McHargue explained that one of his goals is to make sure that he leaves every place he has worked better than he found it. He hopes to have done that for Berea College, too.
After working in the food industry for 34 years, including time at Maryville College, University of the South, Tusculum University and Lee University—all in Tennessee, as well as Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., McHargue retired from Berea in February to work in a place closer to his home. This will not stop him from coming back to visit Berea.
“I haven’t gone to a class reunion in 14 years without working it,” he remarked with a smile. He also hopes to attend basketball games and other events.
Looking back at his legacy, McHargue recounted experiences with students he mentored who later went into higher positions or returned to work with Berea, including dining manager Courtney Roddy and former catering manager Rasheka Richardson.
As a student worker, McHargue said Richardson didn’t do so well, and he had to let her go. But Richardson used that experience as a turning point in her life. A few years later McHargue hired Richardson as his catering manager where she was extremely successful, he said.
Richardson is now working as the administrative assistant for the Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education and the Black Cultural Center, “and she’s doing a great job,” McHargue said. He credits this to the students’ work in dining, which can teach them time management, conflict resolution and among others, how to be productive members of society.
“I remember what it was like working in dining services when I didn’t choose to work at dining services,” McHargue recalled. “I chose to make the best out of it and ended up making a career out of it, for 34 years.” McHargue sees himself as a proud Berea ambassador, and he likes telling the story of Berea. “People can say what they want, but one thing they can’t dispute is my story and how Berea has affected me and every part of my life, even my kids’ lives,” he explained. “They didn’t go to school here, but they understand Berea because I went to Berea.”