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Still Dishing It Out : Occidental Cafeteria Director Spurns Retirement, to Relief of Students, Staff

November 26, 1987|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | Times Staff Writer

Clancy Morrison retired as Occidental College's director of food services in 1975 at age 66. But the separation did not last long.

She returned to the Eagle Rock campus 15 months later at the urging of the college president and is still on the job she has held for 43 years. "I like it here," Morrison said simply. "This is my home."

The spunky 5-foot-5 Morrison doggedly carries on the task of providing up to 2,500 meals a day, seven days a week. She not only oversees operations at Clancy's, as the student dining hall is known, but also plans the daily menu at the campus Faculty Club, as well as numerous banquets, seminars, trustee meetings, alumni gatherings, campus events--even wedding receptions.

'Is Always There'

No matter what the event, Morrison "is always there at the door greeting people," said Mary Mellema, personnel director. "She is very much a presence. We can't get her to go home."

Morrison declines to discuss her workload. But college officials, students and employees say she usually is at work by 7 a.m. and often is seen there in the evenings and on weekends.

"I'm used to split shifts," said Morrison, who worked as a dietitian for Douglas Aircraft in East Africa and at California Hospital in Los Angeles in the 1940s before joining Occidental.

Persuading Morrison to come out of retirement "was one of the best and most popular decisions I have made in over 20 years here," said Occidental President Richard C. Gilman. "She is a very caring person. Her relationship with the students is very close."

Morrison said she has not seriously thought about retiring again. "The great thing about being around young people is that they keep you young," she said. "Besides, I tried retirement. I'd rather be working."

And work she does. Morrison not only handles food services, but oversees decoration of the dining areas and even interviews candidates for administrative positions on campus. "Why not?" said personnel's Mellema. "Clancy is a part of this place."

"She is one of the most accommodating individuals I have ever met," said Jeff Swofford, president of the student body residents' council. "She is compassionate, caring and really exceptional."

Morrison packs sack lunches for students who go on field trips or other excursions away from campus and sends fresh fruit juice, snacks and motherly advice to students who miss a meal because of illness.

She oversees a staff of 142 and an annual budget of $2.7 million, which accounts for more than 10% of the college's operational costs, said Carl Vance, vice president of financial affairs.

More than 70% of Oxy's 1,600 students live on campus and dine regularly at Clancy's. Like most residential colleges, Oxy has a student advisory committee that critiques menus and offers suggestions.

The committee last year complained that too much celery was being used in recipes. "Celery in deviled eggs seemed a bit much," one student commented.

"Rye seeds permeate everything," another said.

As expected, many students complain that the food is dull, tasteless and repetitious. Several students mentioned breaded veal, lamb and tofu Italiano as their least favorite dishes.

But students also give high marks to Mexican dishes such as enchiladas and burritos and the wide variety of foods offered during the Sunday brunch. "The burritos are awesome," gushed a recent graduate. "They are really different from the common fare."

"Our food service is really highly rated compared to other colleges," Swofford said. "Most campus food tends to get institutional, but ours is really exceptional."

The college had only one dining hall when Morrison began work there in 1944. The old hall is still furnished with the original heavy wood tables built in 1928. Morrison sees to it that the original high-backed, ornate leather chairs are regularly repaired.

Morrison was also responsible for expansion of the student union building in 1956 when a second dining hall was built and the cafeteria lines and kitchens were expanded. A bakery was added, where fresh doughnuts and pastries are prepared daily.

Morrison is especially known for her innovations. She sends boxes of steak with all of the accouterments every other Wednesday to the dorms where students barbecue their own. Picnics are often held in the quad. Roast beef carried on huge platters and marched out into the dining hall by chefs is a highlight of the annual madrigal dinner. And a multi-tiered cake large enough to feed thousands was baked last April for Occidental's 100th anniversary celebration.

A wing of the student union building, containing a fireplace, a grand piano and luxurious sofas, was named the Morrison Lounge in honor of the food services director when she retired in 1975, although few students realize it.

On the other hand, everyone on campus knows that Clancy's is the name of the cafeteria, even though it has never been officially named.

"My first name is Clancy, and nobody knows I have a last," she said.

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