Eugene cooks up more than food
When students are looking for a good meal and a friend to talk to, they turn to Eugene Johnklein, a Gourmet Dining Services cook.
At Seton Hall he is not only seen as a great cook but as a respected co-worker, an uplifting confidant and a courteous fellow man. There is much more to him than the hello’s he gives and the food he prepares.
“I don’t want to say I’m the best,” Eugene said. “But I try the best I can. The kids are my life really. The kids are number one for me, I love them.”
Eugene Johnklein is originally from Amsterdam, Holland. He immigrated to the United States in 1961 and was sponsored by a Presbyterian church in Pennsylvania for some time. He has worked at many colleges but found none of them as fulfilling as Seton Hall.
He said that at the other colleges and universities, the students were much less welcoming and it was harder to enjoy his job.
Here at Seton Hall, the students have seemingly taken a great interest in him and have come to know him on a friendly basis.
“I don’t care who they are or what they look like,” Eugene said. “There’s no prejudice and I love everybody.”
Junior Ryan Garrity is one of Johnklein’s biggest student fans.
“I think he’s awesome,” Garrity said. “He has a great personality, and is always there to have a quick conversation with you during dinner.”
Many Seton Hall students have come to know Eugene and said he is always up for a quick conversation and willing to listen. He often greets students and faculty asking about their day.
Johnklein admitted that he often forgets names, but does do his best to recognize students that come by often.
“I think he is a great guy,” junior Steven Giarratano said. “He always has a smile on his face and he makes me feel good on the worst days.”
Co-worker Miss Virginia has known Eugene for more than 15 years and sees how students feel comfortable around him. She feels that when students are away from their friends and their homes, they like the company and having someone to talk with while enjoying their meal.
It also gives him children to talk to as well, since neither Eugene nor Miss Virginia have children of their own. The kids see him as a fatherly figure and he see the students as his kids who he can help and comfort.
Miss Virginia and Eugene also have a mutually beneficial work relationship.
They both help one another in the kitchen and never get into serious arguments. They both agree that they have their bouts but resolve them quickly and move on. Miss Virginia feels that they complement each other and that he is a hard worker. She also said that over the years he has not changed.
“He hasn’t gotten any taller,” Miss Virginia said. “But I wouldn’t want to work with anyone else.”
Students hold Eugene in such high regards that they often praise him outside the cafeteria at basketball games. Miss Virginia said that he loves saying he was on the big screen and that the students seem like they root for him more than the team sometimes.
“I like it when I go to the games,” Eugene said. “I love it.”
However, he said he loves his work in the dining hall too and praises his job frequently.
He does not have a favorite meal that he makes but loves to accommodate everyone as best he can. He will make just about anything as long as the ingredients are “in the house.”
“He’s a very genuine, humble man,” senior Danielle Storm said. “He puts a smile on everyone’s face. I love the way he teases and jokes around with students and makes everyone feel at home. He’s the grandfather of Seton Hall.”
Eugene said he is a people person and will not hesitate to approach someone on or off campus, even in the supermarket.
Justin Beebe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.