Opinion: Cooking up community with two long-time UMD chefs

Bob McDonald (left) and Kevin LaMar (right) have worked as chefs at UMD for 28 years, and were hired in the same week in 1990. Photo by Connor Thelemann

Bob McDonald (left) and Kevin LaMar (right) have worked as chefs at UMD for 28 years, and were hired in the same week in 1990. Photo by Connor Thelemann

Most people who attend a university are only fortunate enough to spend one to maybe five years there before they leave and have to enter the “real world.” Then again, most people are not Kevin Lamar and Bob McDonald.

Lamar and McDonald are two long-time cooks for UMD Dining Services, and they have worked hard to make life easier and tastier for students for almost three decades. Lamar and McDonald started working at UMD the same week in 1990, and have been working together for 28 years.

In my experience working with them for a year and a half, Lamar and McDonald are two totally different people personality-wise. Despite being so different, both have an incredible knack for being approachable to students.

Both Lamar and McDonald have to adjust to working with new student employees every semester. They each view this constant change differently.

“I’m incredibly thankful to do what I get compensated to do,” Lamar said. “Working here I’m reminded daily of other people’s needs.”

“It’s a constant challenge and transition with the students,” McDonald said. “Without the students, we couldn’t get the job done honestly. There’s 10 times more students than us full-timers. We just couldn’t keep up, plain and simple.”

The chefs said the students they interact with have mostly stayed the same over the years. However, they have taken notice of the change in technology.

“Everybody’s on their phones all the time now,” McDonald said. “When I first started working here, the first computer was just coming out.”

“Technology for sure is the biggest change. It all started with the Walkman,” Lamar said. “Seeing students walk down the hallway holding a CD player with headphones on. That was the very first sign of no interaction between the students, and it’s gotten progressively worse. You see it in society but more so at the college-level, and it’s huge.”

Despite the disruption of technology, Lamar and McDonald both agreed that watching students leave is the hardest part of their jobs.

“You get to meet a lot of different people but that’s also the hardest part, because you get to see them leave too, and that gets hard sometimes,” McDonald said.

“The worst part of my job is when students graduate, because then they leave,” Lamar said.  “I learned this really fast. I still build friendships, but I’m more careful. You work with somebody for 4-5 years sometimes, and get to know them on a personal level and like them and then all of a sudden, they’re gone.”

College is a place to learn, make mistakes, friendships, and to grow as a person. Thankfully, UMD has had the good fortune of having staff and faculty like Lamar and McDonald to help connect with UMD students before they leave and take on the “real world.”

VoicesConnor Thelemann