Davenport’s Neilson leaves ULV

Friends and co-workers of Aaron Neilson gathered in the President’s Dining Room to wish him a farewell on Oct. 28. Ebony Williams and Bailey Smith express their congratulations for Neilson, who has become the general manager of Sodexho Dining at Chapman University. Justin McGruder, the head chef at Davenport, will assume the new position of general manager. / photo by Stephanie Arellanes
Friends and co-workers of Aaron Neilson gathered in the President’s Dining Room to wish him a farewell on Oct. 28. Ebony Williams and Bailey Smith express their congratulations for Neilson, who has become the general manager of Sodexho Dining at Chapman University. Justin McGruder, the head chef at Davenport, will assume the new position of general manager. / photo by Stephanie Arellanes

Aaron Neilson, general manager of Davenport for Sodexho, has left the University of La Verne to work at Chapman University.

Faculty, staff and students said they will miss the popular Neilson, who worked at La Verne for more than seven years.

“I don’t think Aaron will ever be replaced,” Loretta Rahmani, dean of student affairs, said.

Neilson first worked at La Verne in the early 1990s and came back under employment of the catering company Sodexho seven years ago.

A reception was held in Neilson’s honor in the President’s Dining Room Oct. 28. More than 40 people gathered to celebrate Neilson’s time at ULV and to give their congratulations.

“Of course I am going to say we’ll miss Aaron,” Diane Keate, Sodexho district manager, said.

“He’s always here for the clients,” Keate said. “He’s always here for the school. He’s always here for the students.”

“The people here are amazing,” Neilson said. “The community here is so tight.”

Neilson was presented with an engraved watch by his staff.

“I’m going to wear this on my first day for good luck,” Neilson said.

“He is by far the most exceptional general manager that I’ve had the privilege and honor to work with in my career,” Byron Howlett Jr., director of housing and residential life, said.

“He was like a father; he was a good friend and a great boss,” Yvonne Briones, catering coordinator for Sodexho Campus Restaurants, said.

Loretta Rahmani said Neilson always kept in touch with her during his time away from ULV. “The three things about him are he is a gentle spirit, he is a humble servant leader, and he has a ‘can do’ spirit,” Rahmani said.

Rahmani said the division of student affairs put a book of recipes together for Neilson as a going away present.

“In those recipes, we also gave him our own personal messages,” Rahmani said.

Rahmani added that they also gave Neilson a book titled, “A Leader’s Legacy” by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner.

Rahmani, along with Ahmed Ispahani, professor of business administration and economics; Diana Towles, executive secretary to the president; four students and Howlett held interviews for a new general manager Oct. 29.

Rahmani said ULV was looking for someone who understands catering and the “big picture of dining services.”

On Monday, the announcement was made that Justin McGruder, presently ULV head chef, was given the new position of general manager.

“Justin knows the University of La Verne,” Rahmani said. “He is passionate about serving the students. It’s a wonderful selection.”

“I am very excited,” McGruder said.

McGruder will be acting as head chef and general manager until a new head chef is hired.

He added that Neilson will be assisting him with the new campus center, and that Neilson will continue to stay involved with ULV in some capacity.

“We are happy for Aaron,” McGruder said. “He’s been an integral part of the University of La Verne.”

Susan Acker can be reached at susan.acker@laverne.edu.

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