Charles Thomas shouts “Stay classy,” above the clanking dishes at the Durrell Center dining hall at students as they swipe their meal cards at the front register one day earlier this month.
The lunch hour is busy with hungry students, hustling to get their food before 2 p.m. The sizzle and smell of stir-fry at the “Action Station” that Thomas manages draws many students in, creating a line between the salad bar and the fruit table.
Just like today, Thomas can usually be seen serving with a smile. He calls the typically four to five students in his line “sir” and “miss” as he promptly takes their orders. He then rushes to the back to get more ingredients, returning just in time for the next person in line.
Thomas wishes one girl good luck on an upcoming test as she exits. Several diners make a point to wave and return his salutation, leaning in for high fives and slaps on the back before making their way to be served.
Once the lunch shift ends, Thomas puts chairs atop tables, joking with his co-worker along the way.
“I treat every day like it’s a Friday, because every day is a Friday. Except for Saturday and Sunday,” he says. “It is Wednesday.”
The jovial Georgia-born chef has had a long road to where he is now as a state classified employee at CSU.
After graduating high school, Thomas had a brief stint at the University of
Northern Colorado, but decided to take a break and work before finishing his degree. He started working for dining services at CSU two years ago in hopes that he would be able to take education courses at CSU to eventually become an elementary school physical education teacher.
In his off time, he enjoys Frisbee golf and anything involving the outdoors, often accompanied by his beloved Australian shepherd, who he eagerly whips out his phone to display. And, after a few more years working at the dining center, state funds will partially pay for his courses and Thomas will be able to fulfill his goal.
“The clouds will go away eventually. The sun will come out,” he says.
Whether he is on the clock or off, Thomas treats everyone in the same jovial manner. His spirit seems to be infectious, and Thomas’s co-workers smile and participate in his antics, which include random card tricks and singing.
“You’ve got to have fun at work, or you’ll hate it,” Thomas says. At 26, he says he sees the simple beauty of his job setting up burners and serving up noodles for several hours each workday.
Thomas says that his outgoing attitude is due to a supportive household growing up where he was allowed to express himself freely. Other than that, he says he’ just naturally excited about life.
“He keeps everybody upbeat,” says Brian Kitchen, manager of the Durrell dining hall. Kitchen praises Charles on his interaction with both student and staff, and finds him to be a good influence.
Although Thomas credits his animated performance to Durrell’s personable atmosphere, he is known for taking every opportunity to make other people’s days bright.
“Saying hello to someone makes their day a lot better,” Thomas says adding that he always tries to enhance people’s lives for at least a moment.
And on-campus residents, including freshman engineering major Joshua Wallace, who frequently eat in Durrell agree and feed into Thomas’ energy.
“He just puts a smile on your face,” Wallace says.
Staff writer Rachel Childs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.