“Be positive, be thankful, carry on the good work that was begun here,” said Peter Blankenship, Union’s food services director of thirteen years. He’s a quiet, laid back man when you first meet him, but according to Denise Serack—the assistant food services director who will take on his responsibilities as he retires—Blankenship really cares for Union and the students.
Before the pandemic hit, Blankenship would walk around Union Market during lunchtime with a tray of samples, offering them to students and trying to find out what they liked. “If he has a chance, he’ll just sit down and talk with somebody and just chat,” Serack smiled. Blankenship’s mission was to keep the students as happy as they could be with Union’s food options. “He wants really good quality of food,” Serack said. “He’s very concerned about the budget, keeping the food costs down so we don’t have to raise it for students, giving them good quality, things like that.”
“Almost every student worker loves Pete. Pete cares for all the students and student workers,” said Luke Imperio, one of Blankenship’s student workers. Imperio had to remain at Union over winter break in 2020, and Blankenship ensured he was fed and given work to do. “He’s very kind but reserved with student workers partly because he works in his office, but when he’s out taking inventory or restocking, he greets people.”
Blankenship has over 35 years of service in the Seventh-day Adventist community. Before Union, he worked at Upper Columbia Academy in Washington, where he met Denise Serack after hiring her. He was a much beloved member of the cafeteria staff at the academy. “He is a fantastic storyteller, and many a tale was told around the fire,” Serack laughed. “He was one of the favored ones there because he was kind of a big kid.” They had fun together at the academy, taking the students on camping trips, trying new dishes, and finding fun trends to follow to give students a variety of flavors at the school.
In 2009, however, Blankenship left Upper Columbia and came to Union to become the new food services director. He came in after Union Market had been fully renovated, and he continued the work that was begun by introducing more international flavors, like a Greek bar, and building on the flavor profiles already in use. For his service, Blankenship was awarded a Union’s Heroes recognition plaque in 2010 by the student body. Steve Trana, Union’s vice president for Financial Administration and Blankenship’s supervisor, spoke highly of him regarding his service to Union’s family. “He has always been a very consistent advocate for students.”
“The students were very gracious and responded positively to the changes we made. I’m very thankful for them, they encouraged me. But any individual accolade, in reality, is a group effort,” Blankenship said. “Any honor that I’ve received, I’ve received on behalf of the group, because I can’t make any progress without others lending a hand. It was a compliment to the whole team here.”
Blankenship’s job has sadly kept him from interacting as much with the student body as he did in academy, though he’s glad the students have more freedom now as adults. Most of his job involves behind-the-scenes tasks like keeping records, stats, and the cash register, in addition to his management duties. “It frustrates him to stay in the office and not be as connected,” Serack said. “You see all the supervisors, they do the visible parts. But it takes a lot of invisible things to keep things going.”
Blankenship is responsible for the upkeep of Union Market, the financials, and continuing ordering food throughout the week to restock. This was made harder during 2020 when the big freezer broke for a week and a half. Once the freezer was repaired and running again, the smaller walk-in freezer broke as well. Despite having to work around over-thawed or over-frozen foods, Blankenship handled the situation without complaint and felt satisfied with how things ended, as most of the issues occurred when fewer students were at school. “It worked out. We did lose some things, but all things considered we fared pretty well.”
As Blankenship leaves, he will miss everyone on his team, but he looks forward to retirement. He’s thankful for the college. “Union College has done a very nice job in recognizing its employees and their contribution to the school,” he said. He looks forward to traveling, spending time with his family, and engaging in his hobbies, such as woodworking. He will be coming back, however, to help with the Acrofest being held at Union next fall, helping to serve and feed the Union community once more.
by Maria Kercher, senior communication major