The event included about 350 employees from the University's custodial staff.
With co-workers sitting on either side of him, Lynn Jorensen called Sigma Pi Fraternity’s Unsung Heroes Dinner on Friday his “last supper.”
It was mere coincidence that the 34-year veteran of the University of Minnesota’s Facilities Management was celebrating Good Friday and his retirement on the day of the meal he looked forward to every year.
“This type of thing is long due and well-deserved,” he said, after thanking Sigma Pi President Kipp Graham for his dinner on his last day at work. “This is kind of like my retirement party.”
For the past five years, members of the fraternity’s Iota Zeta chapter have prepared and served dinner for about 350 members of the University’s custodial staff at their University Avenue home to honor them for their service to the campus community.
“These people put so much work into keeping our university beautiful, but they don’t get very much recognition,” Graham said. “That’s why we call them our unsung heroes.”
Jorensen, who will leave Tuesday for a two-month trip to the Philippines, said the dinner is the only student-initiated effort to honor facilities staff that he has seen in his more than three decades of cleaning the University’s health sciences buildings.
The project was developed when the fraternity was a colony seeking full fraternity status in 2006. Every Sigma Pi chapter must host an Altruistic Campus Experience Project, and members decided to give back to those they feel deserve it most, Graham said.
Brad Hoff, an administrative officer for Facilities Management said the project is more than a free meal for custodians - it provides an opportunity to interact with their “customers.”
Management student Chris McCann said his favorite part of the altruism project is learning more about the staff members, including the most recent “beautiful building” award winner he spent much of the dinner chatting with.
A committee headed by freshman Spencer Knott has been preparing for the event since the beginning of the semester.
Graham and Knott said the biggest obstacle in planning the project this year was funding and shopping for the massive meal.
Typically, Sigma Pi attracts food donations from organizations such as University Dining Services, but this year, the fraternity wasn’t “on the top of anyone’s list,” Knott said.
As a result they did some “frugal shopping” and loaded an SUV with boxes of ingredients and cooking supplies for the menu of burgers and potato salad.
Sigma Pi members with prior experience in the food industry took the helm of kitchen operations, while others, including members of the Alpha Omicron Pi Sorority, served the meal and greeted the guests.
Knott said he hopes to run for chairman of the project again next year, though the week leading up to the dinner was “a pretty bad week” with the hours of preparation needed for both the project and two exams.
“It would be a waste to only do this for one year,” he said. “I see a lot of things I would do differently.”
Graham said one of those things would be providing meals for overnight Facilities Management workers who are not clocked in during the evening hours when the dinner is typically held.