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Food Services Staff Member Dishes Up Warm Welcome to Schine Diners
Dorothy “Dottie” Russell is surrounded every weekday by the friends she has made over the years as she prepares the day’s salad fixings and keeps a busy pace monitoring the salad bar in Schine Dining.
There are the students to whom Russell sends a joyful greeting of “Hi, Baby,” and the faculty and staff members who share a quick chat with her. Everyone is made welcome.
Then there are the photos.
Hundreds of pictures of smiling faces—colleagues, students, faculty, staff, alumni and their families—line the tile walls of the salad prep area, keeping Russell company as she washes and slices up the day’s vegetables and prepares deliciously appealing vegetable trays for catering.
A longtime employee, Russell is well-known for her affectionate welcome and kind smile as she engages with the campus community stopping in for a bite to eat. But it’s the students with whom she has the greatest attachment.
“I love the kids. I’m glad that I have the opportunity to work at SU so I can get to love them,” Russell says.
Many consider her like a second mother: someone with whom to share news or receive some support and loving attention.
“I treat them nice and kind. And they are away from their families, so they need that mothering,” Russell says.
It shows in the happy photos—some with autographs of the University’s student-athletes and notable alumni, such as football players Donovan J. McNabb ’98 and Floyd Little ’67. She remembers serving Little while he was a student at Sadler Hall.
“He would come through, and I would fix his breakfast. I would make little pancakes just to mess around with him and put them on this plate, and he would say, ‘Dottie, who do you think that’s for?’ And I would say, ‘it’s for you,’” she says with a laugh.
Russell, who also worked at the former Commons Snack Bar in Slocum Hall before moving to the Schine Dining Center when it opened in 1985, has seen many changes during her time at the University.
In the 1970s, there was a dress code for Sunday meals. “When they came into the dining room, they had to have on a suit coat—no flip flops—and back then tablecloths had to be on the tables on Sunday,” says Russell. These days, there are many student options for dining and food choices—an expansive range as compared to many years ago.
Although the options and facilities have changed in Food Services, the students they have served over the years still all share the same need.
“They miss their families, and they need to have someone to talk to, and I listen and talk to them. That hasn’t changed,” she says.
Russell is also a beacon to colleagues, serving as union steward and keeping upbeat when others might have difficulties.
“It’s a family atmosphere here,” says Russell, who has a daughter, Renee. “I don’t care what people are going through, how they get upset about something. I always say ‘give it to God and try not to worry about it. Praise God. Praise Jesus.’”
Russell’s enthusiasm for the University and joyful nature make people feel welcome, says Sue Bracy, director of Food Services.
“Dottie loves being Orange. She is friendly, inclusive and sincere, and always makes people smile. Dottie doesn’t see color, or title or privilege—she sees people,” Bracy says. “Dottie loves being part of SU, and you know you are welcomed once she calls you ‘Baby.’ If you haven’t met her yet, stop by and just say ‘hi.’ Her smile is infectious.”
Russell is also active in the community. She is an usher at St. Luke Baptist Church in Syracuse and works with the youth group and junior choir. She also mentors and guides young people facing challenges and assists them by providing clothing and other necessities.
Russell was recently recognized by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Caribbean Student Association and the Office of Multicultural Advancement with the Trailblazer Award, given out at The Black Lounge annual dinner and music celebration, held this year on Feb. 2.
The Trailblazer Award recognizes exemplary leadership, selfless acts and dedication to the Black community at Syracuse University and in the community, says Cedric T. Bolton, coordinator of student engagement with the Office of Multicultural Affairs.
Russell was humbled to be honored. “I was in shock,” she says.
“There are people who have been a motivation and inspiration to our students, and it’s important to celebrate them,” says Bolton. “She’s just so genuine, and she’s there for people when they are in need. I’ve seen her interact with students, staff and faculty for my 15 years here, and she has an incredible spirit.”
In 2014, Russell was honored with the Martin Luther King Jr. Unsung Hero Award at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. The awards are presented annually to people who, in the spirit of King’s “beloved community,” have made a positive difference in the lives of others but who are not widely recognized for their efforts.
“That honor will be in my heart until I die,” Russell says. “The award is so meaningful because of Dr. King and all that he did for the Blacks. He led us to a better place, and it means a whole lot. He did it all for us.”