Sweet As Sue: Former Creamery Manager Shares The Full Scoop On 35 Years Of Service
For Penn Staters far and wide, the Berkey Creamery is a must-hit hotspot during a trip to Happy Valley. But for Creamery legend Susan Watson, that same scoop of ice cream is the true taste of home.
“It’s tradition, and there are so many people that come in and leave happy,” Watson said. “Where else can you find that anywhere?”
Filling various roles within the food science department, Watson worked in the Creamery for a total of 35 years since 1988. As a store manager, she lent an invaluable hand through decades of expansive change with her long-term expertise.
“Every day was a memory because every day was fun,” Watson said. “So many people have meant a lot to me. Once they become a creamery employee, they’re family.”
Following her retirement in January, we sat down with Watson as she dished the full scoop. From serving four-year football starter Jimmy Kennedy to chatting with Emmy award winner Ty Burrell, Watson claimed a front-row seat for much of recent Penn State history.
In fact, her experience includes one of the most cited fun facts of any campus tour: the infamous mixing of flavors, Cherry Quist and Peachy Paterno, by former President Bill Clinton in 1996.
While enjoying a family trip on that day, Watson discovered the mistake of mixing flavors via national news.
“It was on CNN that Bill Clinton had mixed flavors at the Creamery,” Watson said. “I saw it, and I was like ‘Oh no! Those poor people!’”
When Clinton returned to the Creamery a few years later, Watson was tasked with escorting the president after the incident and remembered the day humorously.
“I never was anything different to him than I was to everybody else,” Watson said. “They said, ‘What should we do if he asks for two flavors?’ And I said, ‘Put a little bit in one cup, and put a little bit in another cup, and walk away.’”
There were endless stories to share, yet all revolved around one clear goal: creating joy through the little things, one order at a time.
“I always told the kids, ’Just take care of that person in front of you and make them feel welcome, and everything else will take care of itself,’” Watson said.
While many memories filled the lifetime to come, Watson’s first experience with the Creamery was at just six years old.
“It was the first time I ever had to get glasses. My father was a campus security officer, but he brought me over here because I was upset about having to have glasses,” Watson said. “He took me to the Creamery for the first time… It was the best experience.”
Later in life, Watson worked in her hometown of Philipsburg, Pennsylvania, as a restaurant manager in the 1980s. To inquire about a former employee, a Penn State representative called and ended up offering Watson the role instead for her candid and authentic views.
“I had been the manager for quite a few years down there, and I took a pay cut to come here,” Watson said. “I weighed all the odds and everything, and I am just so grateful.”
Testing fate on the “fluke,” Watson began her career in 1988 and never looked back.
“I drove every day…30 minutes here, and 30 minutes back,” she said. “In the wintertime, I would always say it was one long sled ride.”
Until 2006, the Creamery stood as a small shop in Borland Laboratory, and the current location of the Rodney A. Erickson Food Science Building was a parking lot.
“The Creamery was just a tiny little room over there,” Watson said. “At first, I was overwhelmed. I was like, ‘This is huge. How are we ever going to do this?’”
While the expansion seemed daunting at first, Watson led her team in the new space and set the foundation for future growth.
“Then it was like, ‘This is the best thing that ever happened,’” she said. “People being able to sit inside, people being able to hang out outside… We have so much more room now than we ever did, and I’ve sure they’re going to outgrow it again.”
Strengthening ties with the community, Watson guided a number of efforts with Penn State Food Science. One specific project includes the Creamery’s historical involvement with Arts Fest.
Since 1990, Watson has run the week’s activities and landmarks the downtown tent with a specific, pink flag. On her last day, she was gifted the flag by staff as a meaningful token of her immeasurable impact.
“It was funny because every single time at the beginning and the end of the Arts Festival, I’d be like, ‘Do you have my banner? Do you have my banner?’ because we put it up really high so people can actually see it,” Watson said. “And every year, it made it.”
In her daily efforts, Watson worked on partnerships with other departments, including the Penn State Bakery, and inspired her team of student workers in the former cheese room turned commissary.
“During my time here, I wanted them to be involved in changing flavors of different things and just developing new products,” Watson said. “We said, ‘As long as you make it out of something from our products, we’ll accept it.’”
Encouraging employees to be their best selves, she quickly became a mentor to countless student employees through 35 years of service.
“I was, but I didn’t feel that way,” Watson said. “I felt like this was the right thing to do. It’s always been the right thing to do, and it’s always been the right place for me to be.”
Watson also made sure to provide the same sense of belonging to all who entered through the door.
“What’s funny is they look at me, and they wouldn’t think that I would appreciate their music or different things that they’ve done, but what they don’t realize is that I’ve probably said or done the same thing, so I can relate,” Watson said.
Whether it be dancing together to music in-store or lending a helpful ear, kindness was the recipe for success.
“One of the things that I basically wanted them to know is I respect you, I respect what you’re doing, so give me the same,” Watson said. “And most of the time, I got it.”
Leading by example, Watson taught her team beyond Food Science and crafted the atmosphere so tangible within the Creamery.
“If I see that somebody’s very upset about something, I’m going to do whatever I can to just change it just a little bit,” Watson said. “I would let them try 10 different flavors of ice cream just so that they would smile a little bit.”
Doing the right thing for joy instead of recognition, Watson chose sweetness every day.
“To just make sure that everybody knows that they mean something,” Watson said. “We wouldn’t be where we are or as successful as we are without the students. It’s just a wheel that everybody has to be a part of, even down to the student that just wants to be here to stock ice cream and go. They still mean everything.”
Closing the curtain on 35 years of service, she reflected with a final emotion akin to her lifelong favorite flavor: Bittersweet Mint.
“I just hope that everybody that works here now understands why you do what you do, and why you couldn’t ask for a better place to work,” she said. “Take all the good of the past and build a future because it’s going to be awesome.”
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