Mark LoParco’s favorite meal at the University of Montana is probably an omelette cooked with sausage, mushrooms and smoked Gouda.
“I think that’s a good, basic omelette for me,” LoParco said.
LoParco, head of UM Dining for 25 years, will retire in May after one last omelette bar, a UM tradition, and some karaoke tunes to go with it.
“We’re going to pull out all the stops for my last one.”
Over the years, he’s raked in the awards, helped transform the food culture at UM, and influenced collegiate food service outside Montana too.
LoParco also has put a smile on the faces of hungry students. In fact, of the long list of honors he’s received, one of his favorites comes from the Associated Students of the University of Montana, which named him administrator of the year in 2003-2004.
“When you get an award from students, and your life has been dedicated to serving students, that’s meaningful to me,” he said.
That’s also not bad for a cook who ended up in collegiate food service by accident – or a college professional once told he wasn’t college material.
Working as a chef long ago, LoParco was grousing in the kitchen about having to pick up the jobs of a couple of workers who quit. A dishwasher listening to his woes told him a job at the state university was open, and LoParco applied for it.
He didn’t think the interview went well, but the supervisor told him he’d give LoParco the job if he went to school and at least completed a two-year degree. LoParco’s high school counselor had told him he wasn’t cut out for college, but LoParco took the deal.
He ended up in college food for the long haul.
“The reason I stayed in collegiate food service was you get immediate gratification when you do stuff that students appreciate,” LoParco said.
The work also offered him the opportunities and challenges of running different food operations without the…