If South Dining Hall was ever serving Carl’s chicken as the special, John Ritschard made sure the students knew.Photo courtesy of I Am Notre Dame He’d swipe their ID cards, give them a smile and tell a joke. Then he’d suggest a meal for them to try.“He was a walking, talking menu,” his wife, Lila Ritschard, said.John died Sunday afternoon at age 86. He had been diagnosed with Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare and aggressive skin cancer, in March 2015. But that didn’t stop him from coming to work in the dining hall for months after his diagnosis.“He loved it. My husband loves young people,” Lila said. “He loves to tell jokes and riddles and tease. He enjoyed students coming in and out, getting to know them. We just loved being here.”Lila started working as a day monitor in 2007. When John was hired in 2008, the two took the night shift — 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. — on Mondays through Thursdays.Over the years, they became an integral part of the Notre Dame community.“Notre Dame was the greatest support over all these years,” Lila said. “It just blows me away — the love that has been shown to us both here.”Jack of all tradesJohn was born and raised in South Bend, Lila said, but didn’t have much to do with the University until he started working in the dining hall.“He found his niche here,” she said.After high school, John worked in the Studebaker plant for a couple years. He worked at Sears in Elkhart for more than 20 years as one of the top salespeople. After stints in the real estate industry and other odd jobs, he made his way to Notre Dame.The pair — John and Lila — quickly became a staple at South Dining Hall. They almost never missed a day of work.“We just were always together. We just enjoyed each other,” Lila said. “I don’t think we were ever off up until the last three years.”John and Lila met in January 1999. She was working in a beauty shop at the time and a big blizzard had just struck the town. As she was cancelling the day’s appointment, in came John, traipsing over snow banks, to use his coupon for a free haircut.“Everybody used to call me the coupon bride,” she said. “I said, ‘Yes, he came in for a free haircut. See how much it cost him? The most expensive haircut of his life.’”John was the type of person that would do anything for anyone, Lila said.“I had to be careful what I said,” she added. “He was a jack of all trades. There was nothing he couldn’t fix, nothing he couldn’t make.”He made all the wood furniture in the couple’s house. He made all of Lila’s lamps. He made the table that stands in the middle of the dining hall entrance, with carved Notre Dame logos.And once, he even made his own plane, Lila said.“He was a pilot,” she said. “And he taught his whole family how to fly. They used to fly about everywhere they went.”All in all, John was a man who loved to help others, Lila said.“He would reach out to anything in need,” she said. “He loved to teach and he loved to learn.”A contagious smileSenior Marta Poplawski said she met John during her first weekend at Notre Dame. He stopped her as she was walking into the dining hall and asked for her name.“The next day, he remembered me,” she said. “It was the first moment someone was really welcoming here outside of hall staff.”A week later, Poplawski was going to eat dinner alone around 4:30 p.m. — then she saw John and Lila at a nearby table.“So I sat down and just ate with them,” she said. “And that started three years of friendship.”Over the years, John and Lila kept up with students and graduates. John won the Irish Clover Award last year, given to two individuals each year for outstanding service to the student body.“I felt like John and Lila were my grandparents away from home, in a sense,” Poplawski said.John’s smile was simply contagious, said senior Adam Degand. And it was always the same.“He had such a goofy smile,” he said. “He would make you stop for a second, show you that smile and ask you about whatever’s going on.”“Especially if you’re a freshman or new to the school — it makes you feel like you’re part of the community,” he added. “That’s special.”Dining hall monitor Dee Michael said John always had a joke of the day.“He loved the kids, and they loved him,” she said.Some days, the dining hall would run out of certain dishes — because John talked about them too much.“The cooks used to get so mad at him because he’d be telling them what the specials were, and people would listen to him. So we’d be running out of it,” South Dining Hall manager Ruth Pajor said.Dennis Smith, a manager at South Dining Hall, said John’s warm and welcoming presence will be missed by all.“The night is not the same when he’s not around,” he said. “He just had a glow about him.”The simplest things Sami Zuba, a 2014 Notre Dame graduate, said in her freshman year, her birthday fell during the first two weeks of school. And she wasn’t having a great day.“It was my first birthday away from home and everything,” she said. “But then I got up to the front of the line, John swiped my card and told me happy birthday. It just absolutely made my day to know that someone on campus cared.”It was small acts like this that showed John’s big heart, Zuba said.“It was just such a simple thing,” she said. “And I think a lot of people walk out of Notre Dame hoping they can do big things to make a difference in people’s lives. One of the best ways you can do that is just doing little things.”Editor’s note: Sami Zuba was an assistant managing editor for The Observer.Every Tuesday and Thursday, sophomore Amy Mansfield and her service dog Juniper would eat dinner in South Dining Hall before folk choir practice. And every time, John stopped them to ask how they were doing.“You don’t expect someone to have such a big impact on your life when it’s a 30-second interaction each time you see him,” she said.When people complained that the chairs the monitors sat on were too tall, John took one home each night and cut it down, until they were all shorter.“That’s just the kind of guy he was,” Smith said.John had the ability to immediately light up a room, Poplawski said.“You could not enter with a bad mood into South Dining Hall,” she added. “I would wear headphones, and he would make me take them off to talk to him.”John did much more than greet people, Mansfield said.“I don’t know if it was his goal to touch every student, but I feel like everyone who walked through their line during dinner was somehow impacted,” she said. “Their day was probably made a little bit better.A visitation for John will be held Sept. 24 at Osceola Methodist Church from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and will be immediately followed by a service. Both are open to the public.Notre Dame Food Services is going to provide the meat and cake for the luncheon.“We’re just so blessed and humbled to be a part of this community,” Lila said. “I couldn’t imagine it any other way.”Tags: John and Lila, John Ritschard, Notre Dame Food Services, SDH, South Dining Hall, South Dining Hall monitor
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“You have to take it as it comes … because then it’s organic and then it feels right,” Harrison said. “When you try to force things is when it backfires on you … We took that step in that we had our first African American, but I didn’t look at her and go, ‘So happy she’s Black.’ I’m happy that she’s a badass woman, and oh by the way she also happens to be African American.” When discussing the line between actual reality and reality made for television, Harrison emphasized that the contestants are real people who he and the producers care about, drawing parallels to his experience as a father of two teenagers. Representation in the franchise came up again when another student asked about the likelihood of casting a gay bachelor. Harrison ultimately said that he does not know if or when it would happen. Two minutes before Harrison was set to arrive in a Wallis Annenberg Hall classroom to speak about his career and experience with the ABC reality television show, the event was relocated to the auditorium to accommodate the influx of audience members. The event was hosted by Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism associate professor of professional practice Mary Murphy for her journalism class titled “Entertainment, Business and Media in Today’s Society.” “You kind of have to take your hand off the wheel and let stuff happen,” Harrison said, explaining the true reality aspect of “The Bachelor.” “It was incumbent on us to change that narrative, and we have done that,” Harrison said. “Over the last several years, we have taken great strides in … trying to make you feel more represented. While I would love to only make great social statements and really change the world, I can’t just do that because we have to stay on the air … or I’m not making a social statement to anyone.” Throughout the entire event, which went overtime because of the large number of audience questions, Harrison made inside-jokes that referenced the most recent seasons of “The Bachelor” franchise and joked with the audience. Harrison said the show casts people from across the country and focuses on their potential storylines, but he admitted that it did not do a good job at assembling a diverse cast when it first started in 2002. He claimed that representation has improved in the franchise. None of what the contestants say, he said, is ever scripted. However, the producers create environments and moments that force contestants to “deal with each other.” “The Bachelor” host Chris Harrison talked to an audience of more than 200 students in Wallis Annenberg Hall about the show’s efforts to improve diversity, including having its first Black bachelorette Rachel Lindsay in 2017. (Tomás Mier | Daily Trojan) One audience member said that despite loving the show, she has noticed a lack of people of color on it. She said she roots for the people who look like her just so she can see them on television more. She asked if the producers are conscious of this and if more representation can be expected in the future. Chris Harrison, host of “The Bachelor” and other shows in the franchise, discussed diversity and the behind-the-scenes of the reality television series to an audience of more than 200 in Wallis Annenberg Hall Monday. Harrison said he doesn’t believe “The Bachelor” changes culture but that the show has evolved as culture has changed. He brought up Rachel Lindsay, the first African American bachelorette in the show’s 13th season, and Demi Burnett, the first contestant to have a same-sex relationship on the franchise in the fifth season of “Bachelor in Paradise” as examples of the show’s evolution. Harrison also explained that many of the people behind the cameras are of different races and sexual orientations. “It was really cool to see him, because we’re so used to seeing him on camera,” said Maggie Morris, a junior majoring in journalism. “And for him to be in person so down to earth, it was great.”