While many life-changing conversations occur in the classroom or over coffee with faculty, for many students, the people who greet them at the dining hall, serve their meals, or know their preferred caffeinated beverage have just as much impact on their Whitworth experiences. Vonda Miller, Stan Bech and Delores “Dee” Ashworth are three such memorable people.
Vonda Miller worked her first stint in the dining hall for a bit over six years. When she left Whitworth, in 1991, to take a job at Spokane Falls Community College, many students felt they had lost a second mom. Miller was largely known to students as “Vonda” or, simply, as “Saga Mom.” Bill Wegrzyn, ’94, said, “She was always telling me to get more sleep and to lay off sodas – just like a mom.” She quickly learned students’ names and greeted them with an enthusiastic, “Smile – I want your meal card!” She was known for posting signs throughout the dining hall proclaiming positive messages, such as her favorite, “If you’re going in the wrong direction, God allows U-turns.” She returned to Whitworth for the last several years of her career and retired in 2013.
Stan “The Espresso Man” Bech was a stalwart in the HUB, where he prepared caffeinated concoctions at his Espresso Delights stand for nearly 20 years. Bech’s back-story was part of made him a unique presence at Whitworth. He earned a B.A. in city planning from Eastern Washington University in 1973 and was a successful community development director in Moses Lake, Wash., until 1980. He also had a musical side and performed in productions like The Music Man and South Pacific; he even shared the stage with Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played Mr. Spock on Star Trek, in a production of Oliver. Bech returned to EWU for a degree in education and worked as a substitute teacher until 1989.
He then felt called to Whitworth, where he opened his coffee stand in 1990. His personable nature and caring concern for others made him more than a barista to students. Aaron Lane, ’93, said “He knows everything about everyone because he’s like the local bartender for everyone to throw their sorrows on.” Bech often sang and played guitar with Professor of History Dale Soden during coffeehouse shows on campus. Although Espresso Delights has since given way to the Mind & Hearth Coffee House, Bech’s “Special Tea” is still offered on the menu.
Dee Ashworth worked in the dining hall for 27 years, showing up for her shift just weeks before she died of cancer in 2010. She referred to students as her “kids.” Jim O’Brien, longtime Sodexo general manager, said, “She had a cult following of kids who would stop and visit with her. Students would return [after graduating] to see her.” Her husband, Bob Ashworth, who worked at Whitworth as a purchasing agent, said, “The students were her favorite part of the job. She could get up and have a bad-hair day and be hollering at me, but she’d get to work and see the students and be all smiles for the rest of the day.”