If you’ve ever made your way through the double-glass doors of the Mabee Dining Center at Newman, then you may have been greeted by the friendly food services director, Chris Heck.
Heck may be best known on campus for leading his Great Western Dining team contracted by Newman, but he is also known nationally for winning gold and bronze medals in the U.S. Open of Pickleball.
“Around the time I started working at Newman in 2014, I took up playing pickleball with a small group of people,” Heck said. “I played my first tournament in January 2015 in Oklahoma City and won it with Jack Oxler (former Newman assistant tennis coach) as my partner.”
Since starting his pickleball journey, Heck has won more than 30 tournaments. But his love for the sport grew from humble — and homey — beginnings.
Quite the racket
Back in 2006, eight years before he took on the role of food services director, Heck played on the Newman University men’s tennis team.
“Chris was very focused and intense on the court,” Director of Tennis Shella Augspurger said. “Off the court, he was a fun and loyal teammate that liked to joke and have a good time.”
Augspurger noted that Heck always worked hard in practice, had a big serve and could regularly rack up several points with it.
“It’s fun having Chris working on campus,” Augspurger said. “We get to talk about the past and how things have changed, and if we ever need someone to hit with Chris joins us.”
Heck eventually graduated from Wichita State University with his elementary education degree, then taught for six years in the Wichita public school district. He eagerly accepted the food services director role at Newman when the former director retired and said he’s enjoyed it ever since.
“This is quite the social job,” Heck said with a smile. “I really enjoy meeting the students, faculty and staff.”
Be our guest
From Cardinal Newman Week to the Newman Jetspy awards ceremony, Great Western Dining plays a major role in catering for on-campus events. Add in the daily preparation of breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the dining staff is sure to stay busy.
“Preparing for a new year can be a challenge,” Heck said. “There are many things to do from ordering food, to cleaning, to getting a schedule for my staff, to changing the cash register prices.”
Chef Clarke Wilson prepares the food, the dining staff serves it up daily and Heck hops between handling transactions, serving guests and juggling the ins and outs of catering events. When Heck isn’t interacting with students and staff in the serving area, he’s most likely in his office completing paperwork and finalizing any catering details.
“My team is the hardest working staff I’ve ever had,” Heck said. “I’ll check in on each department of production, especially the baker. She makes some wonderful desserts.”
Heck said the dining hall’s menu continues to change so students can enjoy a variety of foods to choose from. The full menu can be viewed on the Newman University website.
He added, “If there are ever suggestions for new dishes or a need that we are not fulfilling, please let me know. We will do our best!”