NACUF's culture of leadership, volunteerism and networked community has stood the test of time. Looking ahead, its future is bright.
Half a century is a long time, for an individual, a company or an association. More than enough time to permit realistic assessments about the success of individual careers, business strategies or a membership culture.
On the 50th anniversary of the founding of the National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS), it is the latter that stands out impressively under even the most intense scrutiny.
NACUFS from its very beginning has given its members a culture of sharing, personal and professional development and community service, core values that have remained remarkably consistent over the intervening five decades. At the same time, it has demonstrated an organizational resiliency that helped it evolve with the times and one that today is well positioned to address the challenges that the membership looks to face in the future.
On NACUFS 50th anniversary, FM compiled this special section to look back at the group's memorable past and to look ahead at its beckoning future.
The early years
According to historical records collected by NACUFS' Region IV chapter, the origins of the association can be found in informal meetings held at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago in the years prior to 1958. NRA publicized these meetings for college foodservice personnel and provided a room for them to meet at the Navy Pier, where the show was held in those days.
They provided attendees with a sense of a campus dining community and a place to discuss common challenges such as staff training, the rapid growth in postwar college enrollments and the need for better standards for campus dining programs.
In February of 1958, one of the participants, Central Michigan University's University Center Director Richard Lichtenfelt, sent out a series of letters to his colleagues proposing the formation of a national trade association for college and university foodservice managers. Twenty of them met at CMU in July of that year and founded NACUFS with a goal of furthering professionalism in the field and to encourage leadership and community service.
Lichtenfelt became NACUFS' first president, followed by Robinson Lappin from the University of Maryland. In the interest of providing continuity to the fledgling group, each served two years before the association moved to annual elections. From the beginning, the association relied on a regional structure and volunteer management. Helen Wild in particular was cited by many for her work as corresponding secretary, managing the formal communications of the group.
NACUFS' first national conference was held in May of 1959 during the NRA show at the Allerton Hotel on Michigan Avenue. “There were about 60 of us there,” says John Friese, an early member who at the time ran dining services at Kent State University. “We met at the hotel's ‘Tip Top Tap.’”
A constitution and by-laws were established, a board voted into office and eight regional chapters were formed. The conference program featured a symposium, “Creativity in College and University Food Service Work,” and closed with an address by Donald Greenaway, who was then the executive vice president of the National Restaurant Association.
It was an early goal for each chapter to sponsor a regional conference as a means of building local services and membership. A ninth region was added in 1960 and a tenth in 1963; in 1966 it became nine again. (This structure remained until 1993, when NACUFS consolidated into the present six regions).
Walter Luecke, another early member, recalls that opening sessions began at 9 p.m., after attendees had spent the day at the NRA show, and then continued until past midnight. The next day was reserved for the bulk of the program. A regular feature of the conference was an annual “Buzz Session” at which members discussed mutual problems and solutions.
Friese says that many organizational discussions in early conferences focused on membership development and on the relative lack of professional business practices in college foodservice.
“Directors did not know a lot about the broader foodservice industry per se,” he adds. “They saw catering management companies like Saga developing standardized financial systems and marketing programs to help colleges address the purse problems most schools had with their dining departments. One of NACUFS' objectives from the start was to improve the professionalism of its members in these same areas.”
As envisioned by its founders, NACUFS was to be an association whose membership was restricted to schools with self-operated dining departments. While that policy would change in the 1980s, the position was an essential part of the original culture and a driver for the types of educational services the association would develop in coming years.
NACUFS members knew from the beginning that a community focused on sharing its experience could be a powerful resource to help members deal with the challenges they faced in their professional careers. Today, that network of relationships and culture of volunteerism remain the essence of the organization.
The dynamics that make NACUFS work are contradictory ones. It is a national organization, but its strength, after half a century, remains in its regional chapters. Its members are institutions of higher education, but its heart and soul are the individual representatives of those institutions. In the end, the equation is a simple one: the benefits that NACUFS provides to members, whether from college operations or industry, grow in direct proportion to the personal commitment those individuals make to the organization.
The Allerton remained the conference site for three years until it was moved to the larger facilities available at the LaSalle Hotel in 1962. Meanwhile, NACUFS was growing. Much travel by Robinson Lappin and others to prospective member campuses and extensive outreach efforts to trade publications for publicity helped the new organization gain attention and members. By 1964 there were 300 member schools.
In 1965, Richard Lichtenfelt and Loyal (Lee) Horton presented NACUFS' first Supervisory Development Workshop, created to help members develop their staff. That successful initiative later became a model for other NACUFS training programs and foreshadowed the highly regarded Leadership Institute developed later.
“Lee Horton was a fireball,” recalls John Friese. “He was one of the people who was always pushing the organization to make it better. He was an activist — we didn't always agree with him, but he was ahead of his time and many of his ideas were eventually adopted.”
In 1967, at Horton's suggestion, NACUFS presented its first distinguished service award to Ted Minah and named it after him in honor of his service to NACUFS; its second recipient, in 1968, would be Richard Lichtenfelt.
Also in 1967, past NACUFS president Gerald Ramsey became the first college dining director to earn IFMA's distinguished Gold Plate Award. (In the four decades since, with only a few exceptions, almost every Silver Plate winner in the college and university category has been a NACUFS member; fully half of them are past presidents of the organization.)
At the 10th anniversary conference in 1968, the title of regional vice president was changed to regional president; at the same time, it was made an elective, rather than appointed office. Until then, the organization had been managed by a committee of executive vice presidents appointed by the regional boards.
Industry involvement in NACUFS was a major issue. Suppliers had been banned from sponsoring functions at the conference, but President-elect John Friese and Program Chair Bill Tice had involved a firm of management consultants to develop the 1968 program.
This had sparked much resentment from the membership. Many believed the influence of industry would taint the organization and the practice was opposed. A compromise decision resulted in a “Literature Exhibition Service” initiated in 1972 under the direction of Al Dobie and John Birchfield.
“Although there was a lot of criticism of the idea of industry involvement over the years, some of us saw in industry the opportunity to tap a broader knowledge of the foodservice industry,” recalls Friese today. “We also knew that opening the doors would help us with the training programs and financial support we needed to advance the organization.”
By 1970, NACUFS had 70 volunteer members involved in 14 different committees and the organization saw the need to take a more structured approach to planning. A committee chaired by Ted Smith studied the feasibility of establishing a central office for the association and a 13-member Policy and Procedures Committee chaired by Bob Buchanan was appointed to undertake a study of NACUFS' future.
In 1971, NACUFS opened a permanent administrative office on the campus of Michigan State University. It could not afford to hire a full-time director, so it initially engaged Clark DeHaven to manage the association on a part-time basis as its administrative secretary.
DeHaven was an eclectic individual. He'd originally earned a degree in pharmacy at Ferris State, and although licensed, never practiced in the field. Instead, he turned to academia, first teaching pharmacy and then an executive program in its business school. Later he moved to Michigan State, where he managed that school's graduate executive programs. He proved to be a highly dedicated director and would oversee the NACUFS central office for the next two decades.
A change in ownership of the LaSalle Hotel in 1970 necessitated a change of venue for the conference and in 1971 it was held at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, the first time outside of Chicago. It was a period when the organization had begun to take a more structured approach to long range planning under president-elect Al Dobie. Dobie called upon the membership committee, chaired by Dick Lichtenfelt, to take an in-depth review of eligibility requirements. He wrote:
“Should we be an Association of institutions or individuals or a combination of these? Should membership dues vary with the size of the institution? Should we include food directors who work for professional management companies? Should membership be available to representatives of allied professions, etc.”
Such questions were highly pertinent at the time and would be the focus of much NACUFS policy discussion in coming decades.
In 1972, the conference returned to Chicago, but in 1973 it was held for the first time at a member institution, at the University of Tennesee with John Birchfield as host. In 1975, NACUFS began its tradition of rotating the conference, with a different region sponsoring and organizing it each year.
In 1974, the association's venerable Menu Awards program was expanded and re-named the Loyal E. Horton Dining Awards, a long-running effort that continues to recognize excellence in menu planning, special events and dining promotions among member institutions.
Also in 1974, NACUFS formed its National Industry Advisory Council to re-evaluate the Literature Service and industry's participation in NACUFS activities. Representatives from Hobart Corp., General Mills, Institutional Services, General Foods, Crescent Metal Products and Coca Cola U.S.A. were original members. This effort would bear fruit a few years later.
In 1977, the NACUFS board approved a master plan for a career development program. This would result first in its Train the Trainer program and then lay the groundwork for other initiatives such as the Leadership Institute.
As the 1970s came to a close, the association purchased its first computer for headquarters and began to focus on more advanced programs that could be offered to members on the educational front.
An important milestone in this regard was the establishment of NACUFS' Professional Standards program. A Professional Standards Committee was formed in 1980 to begin work on the project. Doug Richie was its chair; other members included Enid Andrews, Bernard Fontana, Paul Garvey, Don Jacobs, David Kramer, John Milano, Mary Molt, John Robinson, Robert Smith and Ted Smith (unrelated).
The original Professional Standards manual was published in 1982 and has been widely used and requested since then (it is now in its 4th edition). It also became the basis of the NACUFS Professional Practices Visitation program, in which a team of volunteers visits a host operation and evaluates it, providing a formal report that can be used to bolster proposals for capital funds or to support organizational changes.
The mid-1980s was also the era when vendor participation in the national conference became more important. Recalls Bill May, a NACUFS member from the early 1970s and its president in 1984-85:
“The membership was determined to improve our educational offerings but funding was very limited. This often resulted in budget fights. I remember that Jamie Miller was education chair in 1982 and wanted to spend $6,000 on some programs, but we didn't have it to spend. Some members wanted to take it from the reserve fund, but that was ruled out. It was a real problem.
“In 1983 the 25th anniversary conference was going to be held in Atlanta and I was co-chair of the Showcase with Ron Durbin. The most participants we'd ever had up to that time was sixty or seventy, and Ron and I decided to really push it. We were at a new Sheraton hotel and held it in a large underground parking lot there. We raised the booth rate to $600 and were able to sign up 137 vendors. Suddenly, NACUFS had funding for some of the educational programs we wanted.”
It would not be until 1981 that industry members were given the right to have sustaining, non-voting memberships. A voting industry position on the board was eventually created in 1996. Today, the role of industry is assured. “It has become a true partnership for a lot of us,” says former President Julaine Kiehn. “There are industry members who are actively involved and share the same camaraderie and sense of community as directors of institutional members. They are not there just to put a committee role on a resume, but to help us advance the organization.”
Meanwhile, NACUFS members in the mid-1980s were grappling with another controversial issue — whether to allow institutions that outsourced their foodservices to join. Although the membership had historically opposed such membership, that policy had the effect of keeping many prominent institutions from joining the association. Some members also argued that NACUFS could not truly be a national voice for foodservice in higher education if it ignored this class of institutions.
After extensive discussions, the bylaws were changed in 1985 to permit membership by institutions that had contracted foodservices as long as the voting delegate was a salaried employee of the institution with oversight responsibilities for the contract. While the issue remained contentious, the change helped NACUFS grow and and gave it more credibility in the administrative circles of higher education.
Liaison members from contracted schools have made many contributions to the organization over the intervening years, and NACUFS has sought to provide programming and tools to help them administer contracts more professionally. Among these are publications designed to help schools evaluate and manage contract providers. NACUFS' also runs an annual contract administrator's symposium, for many years spearheaded by Russ Meyers, which provides liaisons with a unique opportunity to learn from the experiences of others in their peer group.
The 1980s was also a time when NACUFS' educational initiatives grew in sophistication. The most prominent effort was its Leadership Institute, offered for the first time in 1985. According to May, the idea came up in an informal discussion at Clark DeHaven's house.
“Paul Fairbrook had given me a good piece of advice, which was that I would not have time in my presidency to focus on more than one or two significant initiatives,” he recalls today. “The membership was always concerned with finding better ways to train staff and many wanted to strengthen our Train the Trainer program. I was speaking with Clark's wife, Daisy, and wondered if a program like the supervisory development workshop could be developed for directors.
“I called Byron Camp at Cal-Berkeley, our education director, to ask him what he thought of the idea. After mulling it over, it was he who suggested calling it a Leadership program as opposed to Management program. Beyond that, it was not my ‘vision;’ the program that developed came directly from members.”
May and another former president, Don Jacobs, were organizers and presenters at the first Institute in 1985. Another former president, Julaine Kiehn, attended her first Institute in 1988, and soon after became integrally involved in education program management and development.
“From the beginning, I was hooked on the education concept,” she says. “It was an ‘Aha!’ moment — a real niche for me professionally. The programs were not only a benefit for me, but it also allowed me to help others develop and grow.” Since that time, the Institute itself has grown, and today NACUFS' education program comprises eight institutes that range from financial management to customer service to marketing.
In 1985, DeHaven's position finally became a full-time one and in 1986 the national office moved to the Manley Miles Building on the MSU campus. By 1987, membership had reached 525, with 125 sustaining members from industry. As the organization matured, the board saw a need for it to become more sophisticated in terms of managing its programs and resources.
When DeHaven announced his intention to retire, the board kept such needs in mind as it planned for his succession. With a national staff of only two, relying on volunteers to carry out almost all of the organization's activities had become problematic in many cases.
“As we began the search for a new executive director, we wanted someone who could help us address these issues and move forward, but who would also bring the kind of personal commitment we'd had with Clark,” says Shirleta Benfield, 1989-90 president.
“The search effort began under President Ron Inlow, with the first candidates selected by members. Interviews were held in East Lansing — Jane Grant Shambaugh, Jane Schimpf, Craig Harmon and Jamie Miller were all involved in that effort.
“After we determined that our first candidates did not meet our requirements, we hired ASAE (the American Society of Association Executives) to help identify new candidates in a second round. There was a real sense of urgency because Clark had finally made a decision to leave in the fall. We narrowed the field down and did our final interviews with the whole board before the conference that year.”
The board selected Joe Spina, Ph.D., formerly director of communications for the Foodservice Packaging Institute, as its new director. “We made our offer to Joe after the interviews,” says Benfield. “When he accepted, the appointment was announced to the membership at the conference that followed.”
NACUFS was still largely decentralized at the time and dependent on volunteers for most of its activities. In the 1990-91 annual report, Spina penned a column called “First Impressions,” setting forth his objectives as the new executive director. His views then match up well with his recollection of the period today.
“I saw my mission as helping it move not to a totally centralized model but to a hybrid model with shared responsibility,” he says. “Our goal was to retain the culture of volunteerism that is so important to NACUFS', but also to develop professional staff to whom some authority and responsibility could be delegated.”
Spina never met DeHaven until after he was hired, “but we became good friends after that,” he says. “Clark was a mentor and a colleague and an all-around great guy. I also give him a lot of credit. The association was broke during much of his tenure, but by 1990 he had built up a reserve fund that left it in good shape for the transition that was ahead.”
In the mid-1990s, under the leadership of Dean Wright, NACUFS began the first in a series of annual national educational videoconferences. Wright was also instrumental in helping start a new annual workshop for members with convenience stores.
Another educational initiative was NACUFS' decision to partner with the Culinary Institute of America to offer its annual Culinary Enhancement workshops. Shirley Everett, Mike DeRousse and other prominent members pushed for this and related programs to meet the need they saw to improve the culinary expertise of members and their staffs. That focus eventually also resulted in the Culinary Challenge, a national competition for college chefs first organized by Mary Niven and which has since become an anchor event at the annual conference.
In 1996 a new education program was offered, the NACUFS Foodservice Management Institute. Another major initiative that year was the first publication of the results of NACUFS' now-annual Operating Performance Benchmarking Survey, which provides member participants with data to guide and improve their programs. Committee members Art Korandanis, Jim Bingham, Kathy Gianquitti and others helped guide this program to its present, highly developed form, and, in 2007, former President Cam Schauf chaired a subcomittee to create a complementary survey for contract administrators.
Initiatives like the benchmarking program are part of a larger strategy, says Spina. “Our goal is to provide every director with resources to use not only in improving operations, but also in developing an annual report he or she can provide to an administration that documents comparative financials, staff that are participating in professional development and other aspects of a professionally run operation.”
Crossing the Millennial Divide…
In 2002, NACUFS analyzed its education program offerings and restructured the program into the more integrated educational model that exists today. The expanded offerings now provide a comprehensive introduction to virtually every knowledge area and skill set that can be required of a foodservice director. It was also the year NACUFS reorganized its regional structure from nine chapters to six, a move that demanded much in the way of patience and communication skills from President Cam Schauf.
In 2005, NACUFS moved into long distance learning with its introduction of an online course on college meal plans. Recently, the association has turned to webinars as another way to provide educational opportunities to member staff without the expense of travel.
What does the future hold? Some answers may be found in a new initiative the association has undertaken to give its board and membership a tool to guide strategic planning efforts.
First conceived under 2005 President Sharon Coulson, the first in what may become a series of “Visioning Summits” was held in February, 2008. It included a broad swath of both members and representatives from NACUFS' stakeholder communities, including students, parents and administrators. Its findings will be released later this summer.
“The next decade will be a challenging period,” says 2007-08 President David Annis. “Customer and administration expectations are greater than they have ever been. There will be many new demands but not much in the way of new resources. There will be many more silos we have to manage.
“University presidents are paying more attention to the total college experience and how their schools can affect that experience. NACUFS can be an important resource in helping our members guide them in this area.”
Mark Kraner, the incoming 2008 president thinks “NACUFS will be called to help members deal with a much wider generational divide in the future. A new generation will challenge our traditional ideas about the nature of our customers and of what makes an ideal employee. We will also see older generations returning to the campus, both for contining education and in pursuit of their own lifelong learning ideals.”
At the same time, Kraner believes that NACUFS' essential culture remains unchanged.
“The sense of welcoming I had at my first regional meeting was tremendously rewarding. You see that just as much today in terms of the willingess of members to reach out to new people and extend a hand.” he adds. “Yet the association has grown up since that time. We still pursue the original mission — to bring best practices to our members — but we are in a position to offer much more to them than ever before: in the future we may be educating them in areas like long term financing and bond sales or energy management as well as traditional foodservice operations.”
David Prentkowski, another past president, believes the association will have to evaluate its service offerings “to ensure that we are providing the right balance of services at the membership level and at the administrative/executive levels of our member institutions.
“Should NACUFS be helping administrators find the right people to run their operations? Should we devote more resources to encouraging new people to come into the field and to helping them develop so they will be attractive to administrators looking to fill those jobs? Should we emphasize building our credibility with administrators and educating them about issues related to contract and self-operation in an era when Boards of Trustees are showing they have more of an interest in these kinds of decisions?
“These are the kinds of policy decisions the membership will hash out over the next decade,” he says.
Such decisions will have much to do with how NACUFS positions iteself in future years, agrees former President Mona Milius.
“Who are we as an organization? Do we want to grow? Should we be the voice for higher education? The voice for the self-operated community?
“One issue we grappled with in the Visioning Summit was the very role of the director,” she adds. “Increasingly, he or she deals not just with food, but with issues related to the overall campus community. This is something we have to focus on in terms of getting the next generation involved and engaged.”
Annis believes “NACUFS' founders had it right at the time and the essence of their vision is very much the right thing for us now. We operate on college campuses and our focus is on young people, many of whom work for us. The goal is not to keep them forever, but to develop them, move them up, knowing that our job is to bring them along. It is part of our mission and our culture. That same idea works within NACUFS itself as we seek to bring our members along in the same way.”
A “culture of connectivity” is NACUFS' lasting achievement, suggests Joe Spina. “It is a culture that provides a professional and social community that complements its educational programming and services. Even though we compete with many external groups for that kind of programming, none of them can provide the sense of community that NACUFS can provide”
Spina, Annis and others consistently point to the need to remain relevant to a new generation of members.
“Our present leadership is only one generation away from the founder generation right now,” says Spina. “The next generation of leaders is in the wings, and they will have much to say about the future direction in which NACUFS will progress. NACUFS will go where its members take it.”
Early NACUFS newsletters, annual reports and correspondence, supplemented by member interviews. Special thanks to Walter Luecke, John Friese and Bill May for sharing information about the early association.
A History of the National Association of College and University Food Services — 1958-1976 by Shirley Bates, foreward by Kent Dohrman.
Twenty-Five Years, A History Of NACUFS, published by NACUFS
40 Years: 1958-1998, published by NACUFS
A Region IV History by Beryle Ostermiller, David Anderson, Sarah Johnson and Walter Luecke, revised 2008.
JULY, 1958NACUFS' first meeting was held at Central Michigan University in July of 1958. Representatives from the following schools attended:
Ferris State College
University of Maryland
Ball State University
Western Michigan University
Miami University of Ohio
Central Michigan University
Associated Colleges of Illinois
NACUFS' first officers were chosen at that meeting and included:
President Richard Lichtenfelt (CMU)
Vice-President Robinson Lappin (U. of MD)
Secretary/Treasurer Richard Bystrom (Miami U.)
Corresponding Secretary Helen Wild (Ferris State)
Publications Manager Paul Fairbrook (Northern Illinois U.)