The Passing of Our Director

Author: Lisa Wenzel


It is with heavy hearts that we welcome back our students and begin this school year.

Notre Dame Food Services Director, David R. Prentkowski, passed away tragically August 9, 2012 along with his 18 month old granddaughter, Charlotte Chelminiac.

You may not be aware of all the things we take for granted that Dave brought to Notre Dame in his 22 years on campus.  Here are just a few:

  • A meal plan choice
  • Flex Points
  • Domer Dollars
  • Burger King
  • Subway
  • Starbucks
  • Sbarro (and the removal of Sbarro)
  • The renovation of South Dining Hall
  • Dining hall menus that contain hundreds of choices instead of 3 entrees
  • Frozen Yogurt
  • Taco Bell/Pizza Hut
  • A focus on healthy dining and nutrition
  • Growth in restaurant dining options and catering
  • Legends of Notre Dame Restaurant and Alehouse Pub
  • A focus on sustainability
  • The Food Service Support Facility

Dave received many industry honors over the years as well as honors on campus.  He took great pride in his service to our students.  As recently as this past spring, Notre Dame students honored Dave with the 27th Annual Irish Clover Award for his contribution to student life.  Dave also received this honor in 1998.  Notre Dame Food Services actively seeks out student ideas and input due to Dave’s leadership. 

A long-serving member of NACUFS (National Association of College and University Food Services), he held many volunteer and officer positions over the years. Among other recognitions, he was a past recipient of the IFMA Silver Plate Award (a top honor in the industry), as well as NACUF's top honor, the Theodore W. Minah Award, in 2006.  He was referred to good-naturedly by many who knew him in the organization as its “By-Laws Committee Chair for Life.”

During his 1996-1997 tenure as president of NACUFS, Dave focused on upgrading the image of campus dining to college administrators and helping NACUFS eliminate the duplication of efforts between its national organization and regional chapters.

Dave remained active in the association until his untimely death. At its annual conference in July, he participated in the presentation of its David R. Prentkowski Lifetime Distinguished Member Award, which was renamed in his honor earlier this year. 

Dave was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2011 and had been undergoing aggressive treatment for it as he continued to oversee Notre Dame’s food service operations. During his illness, Dave showed a courageous willingness to engage others in the issues related to coping with a terminal disease, openly sharing his personal experience and actively supporting fundraising initiatives such as Notre Dame’s 2012 Relay for Life. He often mentioned his gratitude for the support of his colleagues, and particularly for that of Notre Dame’s emeritus president, Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., with whom he often visited. Speaking on his illness, Dave had said “I’ve always tried to be the positive person and get them to talk. The more people learn about it, the more people hopefully will contribute to cancer research or research on any disease that’s out there.”

Dave was born in South Bend and received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in Restaurant, Hotel and Institutional Management from Purdue University. He graduated from South Bend’s Washington High School after playing on the very first official Indiana State Football Championship team in 1973 and began his food service career during this time at The Toasty Shop on South Michigan Avenue.  Early in his career, Dave worked for Stouffer’s Hotel in St. Louis, Purdue’s Memorial Union, the University of Utah in Salt Lake, and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.  He assumed his position at the University of Notre Dame in 1990.

At Notre Dame, Dave oversaw an operation employing more than 500 employees and an 8,000-student residential dining program. It includes 29 food service units and 25 campus buildings; a central food warehousing and production facility; campus catering operations; resident food services for the Congregation of Holy Cross (including two residences, a seminary and a nursing home); and food services for the campus student health center and child care center. For many years he also oversaw an exceptional athletic concessions program, one of which he was extremely proud.

“Dave and Charlotte’s tragic deaths are a shocking and heartbreaking loss,” said Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., Notre Dame’s president. “Dave’s energy, devotion and courage will continue to inspire the Notre Dame family even as his death and the Prentkowski family’s grief are in our prayers.”

Dave Prentkowski was well respected by peers in the university food service Industry:

Frank Gladu, associate vice president at Sewanee (The University of the South), formerly of Vanderbilt University, and another long-time friend and colleague, adds, "Dave was a true professional, someone who always wanted to push the bar higher and wanted the absolute best for the University of Notre Dame. At the same time, he always had the time to collaborate. It didn’t matter how small or large the project, he wanted to serve with distinction. His passion spilled over to the entire NACUFS community. He was always engaged and pushing forward and wanted to improve everything he touched…"

“The program that David led at Notre Dame was a benchmark for many,” observes Gary Goldberg, formerly director of food service at Purdue and now director of dining services and administration at University of Akron.  The two had come to know each other through years of mutual involvement with Dave's alma mater. “The quality of culinary expertise there is a tribute to his belief in the importance of ensuring quality dining opportunities for his community and was especially manifested in his department’s catering services. Professionally, he was most proud of the Legends venue, which he created. Personally, he was most proud of his family. On a personal level, while Dave was a peer, he was also a mentor. His continuing influence over the years remains a testament to his vision, leadership and ability to create change at a profoundly traditional University.”

Dean Wright, director of food services at Brigham Young University, summed up the sentiments of many. "David was always the first to reach out to others and his life mirrored the teaching that serving others is the highest calling one can have.  He is a great personal friend and will be deeply missed by our industry."

Dave was also a mentor on campus.  With over 60 managers and administrators under Dave’s leadership, he made time to reach out to each person.  He impacted those around him as a leader, teacher, and mentor. Outside of Food Services, Dave was counted on as an ally by many campus departments, working closely with groups like Student Affairs to ensure that Notre Dame Food Services was a partner in all areas. 

Dave will be missed by the staff of Food Services and many other members of the Notre Dame Family. 

Dave is survived by his wife, Wanda; their four children: Mara, Erica, Andra and Nick; granddaughter, Harlan; parents, Leonard & Margaret Prentkowski; and sisters, Cindy Glon, Sue Alt & Ann Ketola.