Many students know Ms. Kathy as the woman who greets them as they enter the dining common. But not many know the story behind Katheleen Tovrea, a first generation college student who had to beat the odds to attend BJU and has served as a staff member for half a century.
Living a Dream
Long before Tovrea became a staff member, she was a girl with a dream. At a young age, she decided that she wanted a college education. Even though she knew her parents could not afford to send her to college, she knew the Lord would provide.
“Our family did not have money and very few kids were able to attend college. Even my parents themselves did not have a chance to have a college education. I knew I wanted to be different,” Tovrea said.
Due to financial struggles, her family frequently moved. By the time she was a teenager, Tovrea had lived in Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, Colorado and Virginia. She had the chance to attend several churches in each state, but one service impacted her more than the others.
During an evening service, a ministry team from BJU presented at her church. “That was the first time I’d ever heard about Bob Jones. And I decided then that it was the kind of school I wanted to come to. When the ministry teams came to our church, that was so exciting to me. They really made an impression on my heart,” she said.
Working for BJU
Tovrea first came to BJU as an elementary education student in 1966. Along with her school responsibilities, she worked two campus jobs to help pay her tuition. “I didn’t know where the money would come from. And honestly, I still couldn’t tell you where it came from. But with my campus jobs and my parents’ hard work, we paid it. It was both a blessing and a miracle to me,” she said.
One of her campus jobs was at the dining common, where she would write menus for banquets and cut the produce the cooks would use for meals. When graduation neared, she was offered a full-time job in the dining common. The day after graduation, Tovrea became a full-time University staff member.
“I came to Bob Jones and I’ve just stayed. The Lord just gave me more of a love for this ministry than for kids. I quickly learned that I liked working with college-aged kids a lot better than little kids,” she said.
Tovrea is glad the Lord led her to BJU and has allowed her to serve at the school for so many years. “One thing I learned early on was that where the Lord wants you, He’s going to put you, and it may be a huge surprise. I’ve seen many cases where a door shuts and what you thought the Lord wanted is not where He directs you. I’ve learned to be open and just ready for whatever and wherever He moved me.”
Serving Students by Name
Throughout her 50 years of service, Tovrea has seen BJU go through numerous changes. “Biblically and spiritually, we have only grown. I see now as much love in the Lord as we had back then. But the campus itself has gone through many changes,” Tovrea said.
The campus has added and removed dorms, buildings and traditions. “There was a campus hospital where many babies were born and a beautiful farm with lots of produce. But one of my favorite things the University used to do were the banquets and dinners in the dining common,” she said.
“Each evening, students would sit in a long table with a group that they were assigned to for the semester. We would say grace and waiters would come to serve dinner. It was very classy. Many friendships and marriages came out of those dinners.”
See also: Origins: Dixon-McKenzie Dining Common
Regardless of all the changes throughout the years, there is one thing that never changed for Tovrea: her love for the students.
“It’s impossible to have a bad day and be discouraged. Everyone has moments where they might feel discouraged, but if I ever feel unhappy or upset at some situation, it fades away when I see the students. Immediately, students are coming through the cash register smiling and saying hi, and the Lord just cheers me up,” she said.
A part of her personal ministry is learning every student’s name. When students come through her line, Tovrea greets each student and builds relationships with them day by day.
Tovrea sees more than 1,000 students a day. While learning the students’ names can prove to be a challenge, she believes it is an important part of their day.
“I’ve seen how something as little as learning their name will bring a smile to their face. That is why I’ve tried and I still try. It is a lot of fun. Even when I forget their name or get it wrong, we will just laugh about it,” she said.
Tovrea hopes to continue serving in BJU for many years to come. “I’m not planning on retiring anytime soon,” she said. “I will be here for as long as the Lord’s will keeps me here.”