Ines Scapinello
Ines Scapinello

Which U of G staff member turns 80 today? Hint: This past spring, she marked her 60th year of employment on campus.

If you’ve eaten pretty much anywhere at U of G — from Centre Six to the Faculty Club — in the past few decades, you’ve likely met Ines Scapinello. Whoever you are, she probably has more seniority on campus – and in life — than you do.

“I think she’ll be the only 60-year employee the University ever sees,” says Dave Boeckner, executive director of Hospitality Services. Not him one day? “Not me.”

These days Scapinello works part-time, just Mondays and Fridays. As senior manager of Centre Six, she oversees Hospitality Services staff and operations in the forever bustling University Centre food court.

She has spent six decades looking after food and menu planning all over campus, from meals for the masses in Creelman Hall to dinner for one at the President’s House.

The University of Guelph didn’t even exist when Scapinello began working on campus in 1953. It would be another 11 years before the three founding colleges combined to become a university. U of G will mark its 50th anniversary in 2014.

Scapinello started as a 20-year-old server in Creelman Hall, then the only residence dining hall on campus. By then, she had been working for two years in her new home in Canada. She was 17 and the oldest of seven siblings – including twins born that year – when her family sailed from Italy.

On campus, she worked her way through positions such as supervisor of food services, hostess and manager of food services at the Faculty Club, cafeteria manager, area manager and manager of operations for the food services department.

Ines on the job
Ines Scapinello on the job

She was operations manager when she was interviewed in 1982 for a local newspaper story. She’d been working here for 28 years by then, still shy of the halfway mark for her eventual six-decade-long career on campus.

In that story, she talked about the challenges of menu and hospitality planning for banquets, guests of the president, meals for conventions, receptions at convocations and students in cafeterias. She planned meals for notable guests, including former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, Princess Anne and Queen Juliana of the Netherlands.

In the early 1950s, only about 1,000 students were on campus, but Scapinello says food services were still busy around the calendar. “Even at Christmastime, a lot of students couldn’t go away.”

She still worked in Creelman when Dave Hume arrived to begin his first year in 1957. Now emeritus professor in plant agriculture, he says, “she was friendly and helpful, and that has never changed.

“As a longtime member of the Faculty Club and later of the University Club, when I came for lunch, Ines always had a ‘Hello, professor!’ for me. She probably marvelled that the freshman she met in ’57 had become a longtime faculty member here, just as I marvelled that she was still going strong last year at the University Club.”

Besides getting to know generations of faculty, staff and students, she worked with several University presidents.

She and other staffers began catering for gatherings at the President’s House when William Winegard became president in 1967. After the events, she says, “Dr. Winegard vacuumed and Mrs. Winegard cleaned and we washed the dishes.”

In a citation for a President’s Award for Exemplary Staff Service given to Scapinello in 2011, Winegard wrote: “She was and is a gem, a credit to the University and its reputation, always gracious and helpful.”

Another favourite was Donald Forster, who served as president from 1975 to 1983. By then, Scapinello worked at the Whippletree, a former restaurant in the UC.

Food services often prepared dinner for delivery to Forster at the President’s House. One night someone forgot to take the meal – a no-no for Scapinello. “You don’t forget the president, do you?”

She ended up delivering the food that night. For the next four years, she walked a container up to the President’s House two or three times a week. Sometimes, she ended up sitting and talking with Forster while he ate.

Ines’s husband, Angelo, died in 1982. Originally from the same town in Italy, they had married in 1956.

In 1983, their daughter, Danise, graduated from Guelph. Graduation photos on a wall in Ines’s home show mother and daughter posed with Forster and then-chancellor Pauline McGibbon. Danise now practises law in Walkerton, Ont.

Scapinello had retired, but Boeckner asked her to return part-time to manage the Faculty Club. She spent 10 years there until 2012.

She served on the committee that hired him in 1977.  “She was here seven days a week, so much of her life was here,” says Boeckner. “She’s a great worker, everybody knows her. She’s an ambassador.”

Calling Scapinello a “force” in the University Club, Brenda Whiteside, associate vice-president (student affairs) says, “what made her special is that she really cared about you. She found out that I love barbecue chips, and she always made sure she had some handy so when I came in, they were brought out for me. Some people ask you how you are, and they don’t really care. Ines did.”

Chris Herkimer, a hotel and food administration graduate, returned to work for Hospitality Services in 1997. He calls Scapinello a role model and a go-to for help in handling problems. “If I don’t know what to do, there’s nothing she can’t solve. She’s like my mother here. She has eyes in the back of her head, she’s always observing everything.”

Hospitality Services marked Scapinello’s birthday this week with a gathering in the Faculty Club.