In the Night Kitchen

DATE: Friday, March 17, 2023

My HCC Story: Mark Pronovost '81

Mark Pronovost '81, during a return visit to HCC

"My dad worked 42 years at a paper company in Holyoke called National Blank Book – 42 years inside the same four walls in the same basement with the same three guys on the same printing press and hated every day of it. I couldn't see myself doing that.

During high school at Holyoke Catholic, in between sports, I started at Jake's Restaurant in Chicopee as a short order cook, sometimes working Friday and Saturday nights til three o'clock in the morning, flipping eggs, burgers and stuff like that. And I just loved the cooking. I loved the food. I loved working with people.

Right out of high school, I was working 60-70 hours a week in restaurants. The pay was not that great. To get a decent salary in the food service industry you had to have an associate degree.

Thank God for HCC for giving me that.

At the time, I couldn't afford anything, and my parents couldn't afford anything. To get better in a business that I wanted to be in I needed HCC. I started night school in 1976.

When I came here it was only four buildings. Donahue, Frost, FPA, Marieb. But back then they were just called A, B, C, and D. Bartley Center wasn't here. Campus Center wasn't built yet. Kittredge wasn't here. At the end of the hallway of the first floor of Frost there was a little luncheonette that the culinary program ran for students who were going to school here during the day. At night, the only places to get food were the vending machines.

Terry Grinnen was the head of the department of hospitality and food service. Franz Stegbuchner was an absolutely incredible chef, and he was a great, great professor and teacher. I learned a lot from them.

Some classes were incredibly boring to me, like accounting and English. But when it got to the food service end of it, I loved that stuff. Tuesdays were lecture nights; we learned how to do recipes and create menus. On Thursdays, we went into the kitch en and produced meals.

It was tough, though. It took me five years to get my associate degree. There were days I'd put in 10 hours at the restaurant then be sitting here trying to listen to the professor and falling asleep at seven o'clock at night. But it was well worth it because once you got hired, an associate degree put you on a better level.

After HCC, I started working for ARA food services, which is now Aramark, first at Pratt & Whitney, then the University of Hartford, and finally back here at HCC.

I've really enjoyed the food service business. Meeting new people on a regular basis was always something different. And, of course, during this whole time here I am having a nice family life with my wife Debbie and both my daughters. Thanks to the education I got at Holyoke Community College I got myself a good job. Both my girls graduated from college; Erin and Sheila are doing absolutely great. I'm a grandfather now. My wife and I love to travel. We live a great family life.

Thank God HCC was a school I could afford that gave me the opportunity to work at the same time. Otherwise, who knows what I would have done?

Mark Pronovost '81 is the retired director of Aramark/HCC Dining Services."

PHOTOS by CHRIS YURKO: (Thumbnail) Mark Pronovost '81, shortly before he retired from HCC. (Above) Pronovost, during a return visit.