10 Questions With HUB Dining Legend Bill Donovan

If there’s one person at Penn State who knows the HUB best, it’s HUB Dining gatekeeper Bill Donovan.

For the past three years, Donovan has been in charge of managing the lines inside the HUB food court and iconically corralling hungry Chick-fil-A customers. However, his time working at the HUB began decades ago when he was a student back in the 1950s.

We virtually sat down with Donovan to talk about his time working at Penn State, his favorite part about the job, and more.

Onward State: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Bill Donovan: I came to State College when I was a baby. I am a graduate of the local high school, and I am a graduate of Penn State Class of ’67. I have traveled and worked throughout Pennsylvania as a product demonstrator. I moved back to State College to be with my children, who are adults now. I guess I’m technically retired, but I still put in about 30 hours a week.

OS: How long have you worked with HUB Dining, and what made you want to work at the HUB?

BD: I started to work at the HUB when I was a student at Penn State. I did it as a school thing. I was working at the Penn State library when they were paying 90 cents an hour and switched to the HUB because the pay was a little better. I worked there between 1964 and 1967, maybe as late as ’68. It was a very different HUB, maybe a third of the size of the present one.

My father, George L. Donovan, was actually the manager of the HUB at one time. He was working there when I joined. His office was on the second floor. In fact, the Donovan Room upstairs in the HUB is named after him.

My recent job with the HUB began in 2018. My agency called me while I was working in another part of Pennsylvania with the possibility of being a doorkeeper at the HUB food court.

OS: What type of jobs have you done working at the HUB?

BD: I have done all kinds of jobs at the HUB. My first job was working as a busboy in 1964. I’ve worked in the kitchen, as a dishwasher, unloading trucks, and I’ve done the gatekeeping job before. I have been doing the gatekeeping job exclusively since I rejoined in 2018.

OS: How has the HUB changed since you were a college student?

BD: The HUB really hasn’t changed that much, except that it’s much more sophisticated in food. It really is the center of student life at Penn State. The present building is probably three or four times bigger than the original one. In the old days, everyone wanted to get a Coke and a hamburger, and they wanted to play ping pong! That was the big rage. This takes me back to the 50s and 60s.

OS: What does a typical work day look like for you?

BD: The job has changed greatly since COVID hit. My situation is I park my car near the Bryce Jordan Center and take the Blue Loop in. I walk from the White Building to the HUB. Then, I stand at my station and greet people. It’s not a real long day, only a four-hour day job. I’ve really enjoyed it.

Long ago, I started to become personable with students and faculty because it made the day go by faster. It was just more interesting. I don’t see very many faculty and staff now during the COVID period. I miss them a lot.

The HUB is a friendly place. I like the people I work with. My supervisors are nice people, and I think it’s a well-run place.

OS: What is your favorite part of working at the HUB?

BD: Every year a special thing occurs, which is THON! I have always been a big supporter of THON, ever since it started in ’73. This year was kind of a strange one because of COVID, and by goodness, they still managed to make it successful. It’s very very impressive.

I love the 100 Days ‘Til THON celebration in the HUB. I will always put on a THON shirt that I have purchased. In 1973, the original THON was smaller than the State College High School’s THON is. Now, of course, it’s the world’s biggest student philanthropy and supported by people all over the world. I always keep track of the days until THON, and I like to keep students enthused about it.

OS: Where is your favorite place to eat at in the HUB, and what restaurant would you like to see open next?

BD: Well, one place that has always been in the HUB is the salad bar. They had it in the 50s. I love it now. There’s more of a variety of foods there than you’d think. I love the soups. I’m also looking forward to Blue Burrito and Grate Chee, the grilled cheese place, coming back. One of my very favorite places here is McAlister’s.

I would like to see a seafood buffet open next in the HUB. We had a place like that called Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips many years back. It was located where the Burger King is now.

OS: What is the funniest or weirdest thing you have seen on the job?

BD: Funny and weird stuff is happening all the time in the HUB. Students come in with outrageous costumes. We are so used to it that we don’t even give it a second glance. I like it when the different clubs play music and have dance routines.

OS: How do you feel knowing you brighten students’ days with your fun attitude?

BD: I try to be upbeat about the day and focus on talking to many students who are far from home, the international students. Sometimes they don’t have very many people they interact with outside of their professors and that sort of thing. I also try to talk about sports things. Some students know about that stuff and others have no idea, but it’s fun to keep people updated on the latest stories.

OS: As per Onward State tradition, if you could be any dinosaur, which would you be and why?

BD: I have a mythical dinosaur. My dinosaur is what I call Tyrannosaurus Tex-Mex. This dinosaur lives along the border of Texas and Mexico and introduces spicy foods to the North American dinosaurs…before going extinct, of course.

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About the Author

Ava Brendgord

Ava is a senior from Houston, TX majoring in broadcast journalism. She loves coffee and bagels, traveling, and keeping a healthy balance between watching the news and reality television. Follow her at @avabrendgord on Instagram or email her at [email protected].

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