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china working

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1:20 PM  Jun 1st, 2013
by Audrey Starr

Her first thought, she admits, was not entirely positive.

“A few years ago, I got a call from facilities asking if my department would be interested in an unused set of campus dishes. My mental image was of a bunch of old, mismatched things — a yellow cup, a blue plate; stuff nobody wanted,” said Pat Dolan ’91, retired dietetics program director.

Skeptical, but still curious, Dolan headed downhill from her Frericks Center office to the Alumni House on L Street. Tiptoeing across drop cloths and maneuvering around stepladders, she made her way through the soon-to-be new office space to a dusty cabinet, ready to be repurposed once it was free of 200 pieces of dinnerware. The construction crew saw surplus; Dolan saw possibilities.

“The first words out of my mouth were, ‘These are too good for us,’” Dolan said of the extensive matching china set, which includes 85 cups and saucers and 32 dinner plates, among other items. “Then I clamped my hand over my mouth and said, ‘You didn’t hear me say that. How soon do you need them moved?’”

Born in New Castle, Pa., at Shenango China Co. in the first half of 1964, the set was originally purchased for use in the president’s dining room in Kennedy Union. Used at various functions for more than two decades (and bearing markers of its birth year, like a complementary set of ashtrays), the set was moved to the Alumni House in 1990.

Heavy and white, with a raised laurel rim surrounded by a thin silver band, the dishes are a custom version of the company’s popular Carlton Shape pattern. Shenango China, which produced china for American Airlines, the U.S. Army and five U.S. presidents, closed in 1991. Today, the average starting price for a Shenango piece is $15.

Dolan envisioned adding the dishes to a new campus food education lab, then in the planning stage; however, the space-hogging dishes needed a new home immediately. Discouraged, Dolan was ready to let the idea go — until a colleague found space in an overlooked closet.

Armed with brown boxes and stacks of newspaper on the first day of class, Dolan greeted students in her health and sport-science course with a hands-on assignment. The group packed up every teacup, bread plate and fruit bowl, loaded them on carts and wheeled the set back up the hill to Dolan’s office. In February, those same first-year students — now seniors — helped move the dishes into the newly opened ProduceOne Food and Nutrition Laboratory in College Park Center.

A definite improvement over the disposable plates students used previously, Dolan said the dishes come with one complaint from students: “Now, they have to wash dishes again.”

For more on the food lab, see “Home cooking.”

 

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