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Will phone for food

12:07 PM  Jun 17th, 2014
by Audrey Starr

What major, which house, when to (finally) do the laundry: a college student’s life is full of decisions. For nearly 20 years, one familiar voice helped UD students make one of their most important choices: where to eat.

Do you take the easy route and stop by Kennedy Union after class, or do you — knowing that it’s breadstick day — hike up the hill to Marycrest? Thanks to a telephone message programmed by Telecom (now, UDit) and recorded by dining services, Flyers in the 1990s and 2000s could make an educated choice.

Willie Hickey ’88, the longtime voice of 229-FOOD, says the now-defunct menu hotline originated after the
department’s secretary found herself inundated with calls inquiring about that day’s options.

“What the soup of the day was, what was for lunch, if we were making their favorite sandwich: people wanted to know,” he says. “So, we started it out of necessity, but it grew, taking on a life of its own and gaining a following.”

While the hotline met the immediate need of chicken-noodle-or-vegetable-beef, it also offered a daily helping of warmth and humor. Hickey began adding jokes — usually bad ones, he admits — to the end of each recording, and coined his now-famous sendoff, “Remember today to eat well and do good work.”

“We all loved Willie,” says Paula Smith, executive director of dining services. “His phrases are still quoted often in our department.”

Hickey spent nearly 20 years in dining services, starting in 1987 as a kitchen production supervisor while still a UD student and working his way up to general manager of Kennedy Union dining. With a few exceptions, Hickey recorded the menu every day for nearly 20 years until he left UD in late 2008. After his departure, dining services retired the phone line and placed menus online. Today, he is a special education teacher at Dayton’s Meadowdale PreK-8 School.

Many students didn’t know who the voice on the other end belonged to — but calling in each day was about more than food.

“It was less about hearing what was actually on the menu and more about getting a kick out of how enthusiastically the voice on the other end read the day’s selections,” recalls Courtney Wendeln Deutsch ’98. “It was like a dramatic reading of main dishes and side items. No one could make a chicken cutlet sound more delicious. And those terrible jokes at the end of each recording were worth waiting for. Kudos to him for taking a mundane job duty and turning it into something fun for students to enjoy and remember.”

As manager of the University’s most popular dining option, in person Hickey found himself with another moniker. “I was also known as ‘the guy in the tie,’ since I was on the floor a lot,” he says. “It was my favorite part of the job. I got to meet and help a real cross-section of campus, from the president to first-year students and everyone in between. Everyone eats.”

One Response to Will phone for food

  1. Anne says:

    I loved 9-FOOD!!!! Great article! My friends and I have been wondering for years who the man was behind the mystery voice. Willie Hickey should do photo-ops at the reunions.

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