JOB: Willie Deverell is a food service administrator III in the cafeteria at Bevier Hall. He works for the department of food science and human nutrition, overseeing the cooking of the daily meals and catering services. He also administers the kitchen, orders supplies and works with students studying dietetics and human nutrition and hospitality management. He and his wife, Judy, live in Champaign and have three grown children.
So your background is in cooking?
Yes, I have had four restaurants in Champaign. Winkie’s, Willie’s, Illini Inn and Act Four. Then I applied here for a position as a baker, and that’s how I started at the UI. I started as a baker for the test kitchens. I became food service administrator III about a year ago.
How did you learn to cook?
I just did it. I actually learned from Greek families who had restaurants here in Champaign. That’s how I got my start in all different kinds of foods, especially in pizza. I actually managed some nightclubs – the Brown Jug and The Red Lion Inn in 1966 when it first opened. And then I went out on my own and opened the four restaurants.
What is it you actually do here?
The administrative duties that go with running the cafeteria, teaching in the lab, food research, catering and overseeing the fine-dining classes in the spring.
What catering is done here?
Oh, lots of catering comes out of here. We have a Web site that you can go to for any kind of information about the catering that we do, www.ag.uiuc.edu/~food-lab, then go to catering.
Do you like this kind of work better than running your own restaurants?
In this position I have an opportunity to grow and learn different things. Working in a restaurant you have the same menu every day. Here there is research going on all the time, plus Heartsmart foods. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve had an opportunity to go to school here and take computer courses.
And everything I’ve learned my whole life in the restaurant business I can pass on to these students. I feel good about that.
I really enjoy coming to work here. It’s nice to have the weekends off to be with my family. But I love coming to work. I have fun.
You like working with the students?
Oh, yes. Students are here because they want to learn. So when I know certain things about cooking, and I can teach them how to do something, it’s fun. They leave here and they’ve learned something.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
One of my hobbies is hunting arrowheads. A fellow in Champaign, Lee Garrett, who has been doing it for 65 years, taught me. I go out right after a rain into a farmer’s field that’s been plowed. I’ve been doing it for five years and I have tomahawks, celts, different kinds of scrapers and pendants and many, many arrowheads.
I also like horse racing. I’m very good at it. I don’t always win, but I’ve won a lot of money. About 10 years ago I made a $48 bet and won $127,000 on buggy horses. I used the money for my house, you know, and for my kids’ education.
Tell me about your wife.
Judy teaches piano and also teaches students who are homebound and does proofreading a couple days a week for the National Council of Teachers of English.
Did you grow up in Champaign?
Yes, I graduated from Champaign High School and went in the Navy, and worked in Baltimore and then came back here. I like it here. I never thought I’d stay here. As I got older I loved opening restaurants. But as competition came in I started selling. And with the last one I was getting tired. I didn’t want to work all day Sunday, Christmas and New Year’s. And at 50 years old I wanted to come here to the university.
I saw the opportunity and the UI really does offer the opportunity to advance. I saw that I could go to school and take courses and I saw that I could advance by taking tests. And all these people here encouraged me and so I took the tests and advanced.
What’s the best part of your job?
My opportunity to pass on what I know to students. It makes me feel really good.