A Southern Slice

_MG_9967The hustle and bustle of thousands of students on Georgia Southern’s sprawling campus eases in the summer, yet a large crowd always turns out in July to enjoy delicious cold watermelon on the Pedestrium near the Williams Center. This enduring University tradition — the annual watermelon cutting and giveaway — began 66 years ago, as a simple way to treat students, faculty and staff on campus during the hot summer months.

According to Jeffrey Yawn, executive director of Eagle Dining Services, approximately 200 to 400 watermelons are used per cutting. The summer fruit is purchased from different local vendors a few days in advance, and the melons are chilled before they are served.

“This yearly event really brings our community together,” said Georgia Southern University President Brooks Keel, Ph.D., who in keeping with the tradition of previous presidents, is always on hand to slice the first watermelon of the summer. It is also an opportunity for him to don a chef coat, grab a knife and demonstrate his melon cutting technique.

“This is an awesome event and one of my favorite duties,” Keel said. “It is nice to see the smiles on people’s faces as they chow down on a fresh slice of melon. Tammie and I look forward to hosting this every year.”

Zach Henderson, the president of Georgia Southern from 1948 until 1968, initiated the watermelon giveaway his first year as president. Retired dining hall manager Curtis Frink probably knows more about the history of this event than anyone else. Frink has taught every president, from Henderson to Keel, the proper way to cut a melon. “President Henderson was a real nice guy who took great pride in giving everyone free watermelon,” Frink said. “All the presidents have enjoyed doing it, and each one of them asked me to come and teach them how to cut a watermelon.” He explained, “I’ve done it for so many years; I know how to avoid making a mess. After cutting it in half, we cut about eight pieces to a watermelon.”

The 72-year-old dining hall manager began working on campus in 1958 and spent many years working in the Landrum and Williams Center dining halls; first as a dishwasher, then a cook and finally supervising other food services employees. Although Frink retired after 45 years in 2004, he has returned to campus every year to assist at the ceremonial first cutting, and promises he will return as long as he is invited. “What I enjoyed most was seeing all the students come to me to get a slice of watermelon, year after year. They treated me as someone special,” he said. “I have to say people really love watermelon and will always come out to eat it.”

After the ceremonial cutting on June 27, the University community is invited to grab a slice on the Pedestrium at 10 a.m., on July 10, 17 and 24. “Eagle Dining is glad to be a part of such a long standing tradition on our campus,’ said Yawn. “It’s a great opportunity to bring our campus community together and enjoy a traditional Southern food like watermelon while fellowshipping with campus colleagues.”

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