Hank Strashnick, right, receives congratulations and a gift from Lou DiMasi at Thursday's reception in Dion; below in descending order, Hank with his wife, Adele, and other co-workers including Scott Quimby and Holly Bento; a big turn-out, ringed around a table of food from Sodexo.
At a reception in Dion Family Student Center third-floor Archway Lounge Thursday afternoon, about 50 people shared stories, gifts and, of course, great food to honor Hank Strashnick, who is retiring after a 48-year career as a food service manager with Sodexo and its corporate predecessors around the Northeast.
Since 2002, Strashnick had been leading Sodexo at Saint Michael’s, where his diligence, professionalism and kindness evidently made strong impressions on those who worked for and with him, as stories from the reception revealed.
Some speakers mentioned Strashnick’s perseverance and remarkable rebound to his sociable and vigorous old self following a stroke nearly two years ago that had posed challenges of mobility and speech – challenges he met squarely and graciously. “What I’ve seen over the last two years is how the same spirit of hard work, tenacity and perseverance which made you such an effective food service manager, you applied to your personal life, and you had a wonderful bounce-back,” said Mike Samara, a College leader for decades in student life who recently works in academic support/Campus Ministry.
Lou DiMasi, residence life director, presented his longtime friend a Saint Michael’s clock as a parting gift, saying he was “grateful for everything you’ve done on behalf of students,” particularly by so sensitively meeting any special needs of both those students and employees of Sodexo or Saint Michael’s.
Holly Bento, Sodexo’s office supervisor at Saint Michael’s, said Strashnick was a wonderful boss who always told employees, including her, “Your family comes first.” With gratitude she recalled a time when her daughter was sick and Strashnick assured her that she should just do what she needed to without worrying about the job until she was able to return.
Another reception guest, Charlie Devlin, told the group that he had worked for well over a decade scrubbing pots for Sodexo. “It’s been nice to have you here since I’ve been here, and I’m going to miss you,” he told his longtime boss. “Thank you, Charlie -- great to see you” replied Strashnick, who crossed the room to offer a warm hug that observably meant a lot to both men.
Scott Quimby, Sodexo catering director, told an amusing tale of his long-ago job interview with Strashnick, when his future chief walked right out of the office after giving him 10 minutes to “plan a party for 200” with lots of challenging special requests, “and no chicken” -- which, happily, Quimby was able to pass muster on. “That was my first exposure to Hank, who is a perfectionist and foodie at heart, and also just a genuine, caring guy -- and we’ll miss you,” Quimby said.
Other guests wishing Strashnick well included a manager from University of Vermont, where Strashnick worked for a few years. She brought greetings from longtime former co-workers there. Bento and others mentioned his time at Norwich too, and Sodexo District Manager Ted DiGrande shared entertaining words of appreciation.
Athletic Director Chris Kenny ’86 spoke of the support that Strashnick has offered student athletes for so many years, as a “sixth man or 10th man or whatever the roster might be for a given sport,” always willing to be flexible to meet needs at a moment’s notice. Echoing that notion were Angela Aja Armour ’99, director of alumni and parent relations, who spoke “on behalf of thousands of alumni you’ve fed when they came back” for reunions and other events. She also noted the “great team you’ve assembled,” adding, “We all love working with them.”
Patrick Gallivan, vice president for government and community relations, said the Sodexo team always feels simply like an organic part of the larger Saint Michael’s family -- “all working for the same common good.”
Gallivan said perhaps Strashnick’s greatest gifts to the college were his two alumni daughters, Jennifer ’08 -- who double-majored in political science and history and now is an attorney after working for years helping homeless youth at New York City’s Covenant House -- and Rachel ’11, who majored in theater and now has a good job at Dealer.com in Burlington. Several guests also mentioned the key role Strashnick’s wife, Adele, has played in his success at Saint Michael’s.
After the reception, Strashnick explained that he grew up in Providence, RI, worked first for Saga, which became Marriott, which became Sodexo, starting in New York City about 1968, then around the New England states at eight different locations before coming to Vermont 25 years ago, first at UVM and Norwich before Saint Michael’s.
Saint Michael’s President Jack Neuhauser said, “Hank was one of the first persons I met when I came here and I always found him very responsive to anything we wanted or needed.” The president recalled “helping” serve Christmas dinner once to students and dropping a punch glass, “and Hank showed up with a bucket and mop right away,” characteristically saving the day without a lot of undue fuss.
After the tributes, Straschnick held out his hands toward the elegant catered Sodexo fare on nearby tables. “Have food!” he said.