Tilley finds an education, career and family at Nebraska
A food service job accepted to cover college expenses grew into an unplanned, 53-year career for Nebraska’s Harry Tilley.
A math major who shifted to history, Tilley started his freshman year at the University of Nebraska in 1965. He was a member of the Cornhusker Marching Band and since practice was in the afternoon, Tilley took a morning job helping prepare food in the nearly brand-new Cather-Pound-Neihardt Dining Hall.
“I started the third year the Cather-Pound Dining Center opened,” Tilley said. “It was supposed to be a temporary job, but I never left. I can say this has truly been a great place to work.”
Tilley’s tenure — which concluded with retirement on Aug. 3 — was spent serving meals to hundreds of thousands of students who passed through University Housing’s dining facilities. His career path started as a morning cook, strayed through all of Nebraska’s dining halls and ended as manager of the Abel-Sandoz Dining Center.
Along the way, he earned an undergraduate degree and a Master of Business Administration. He also met Mary, the woman who would become his wife.
“We met at Cather-Pound, where we both worked,” Tilley said. “We had similar friends and hung around each other. We started dating and that led to us getting married in 1968.”
Mary Tilley was also a dedicated Husker, working more than 40 years with the University Libraries. A 2017 retiree, Mary was part of the team that converted the libraries’ card catalog from typed cards to digital records.
The couple — who have two children, both of whom attended classes at Nebraska, one earning a degree — are now preparing for their 50th wedding anniversary.
Tilley’s best campus memories include rising early to work in the Abel-Sandoz bakery, which produced all donuts, breads and other baked goods offered in the dining halls through the mid-1990s; planning themed meals for students; staff building intricate gingerbread houses for holiday meals in December; an attempt to set the Guinness Book of World Records mark for longest sub sandwich; working alongside dedicated food service workers through the years; serving in professional organizations; and helping provide meals to students.
“I’ll always have an affinity for that Abel-Sandoz bake shop,” Tilley said. “We covered City and East campuses, making 100 to 200 dozen donuts alongside hundreds of pies, cookies and dinner rolls every day.
“We even made custom cakes that parents could order and have delivered to students in the residence halls.”
In retirement, Tilley plans to take it easy, enjoying quiet time and a good cup of coffee.
“I’m 71 years old and it’s just time for me to do some other things that I’ve always wanted to do,” Tilley said. “Those first days are going to be tough, but I think I’ll get up early, go to the story and enjoy a cup of coffee."
In addition to organizing a golden wedding anniversary celebration, Tilley is considering trips to Orlando and possibly New England. He also hopes to remain involved in his local church.
“I’ve had a great career here at Nebraska,” Tilley said. “I never thought that job as a freshman would lead to anything. But, it did and it’s been a privilege to serve generations of Huskers while work with so many talented people through the years.”