Beyond the dining hall: Get to know three members of Pomona’s staff

TSL sat down with three Pomona dining hall workers to learn about their lives beyond the meals they cook in Claremont. (Wendy Zhang • The Student Life)

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When Labor Day rolled around this year, members of the 5Cs’ community rallied in support of Pomona College dining hall workers in their fight to gain higher wages. 

In a show of solidarity for the workers, hundreds of students, as well as staff members from Pitzer College, gathered at Bixby Plaza where they highlighted the contributions dining hall staff bring to the 5Cs. 

TSL sat down with Pomona workers to learn about their lives beyond the meals they cook in Claremont: meet Olga, Teo and Jesus. 

Olga Valdez

If you have ever stepped foot in Frank Dining Hall, you have probably seen Olga Valdez. When she’s working, she can be found cleaning tables, helping out other staff and brightening students’ days with a smile that can be felt miles away. 

Valdez was born in Baja California, Mexico, and currently lives in Fontana, which is a half-hour drive from Claremont. Her family is her pride and joy — she has been married for 42 years, has three sons and one grandson. 

In her free time, she said she enjoys cooking for her family as well as relaxing with them. Valdez is passionate about coming up with recipes based on the ingredients in her kitchen. 

In the ten years she has been at the college, Valdez has also worked with the cleaning staff where she had her first job at the college. 

“When I started to work [at Pomona], I was a bit shy. Now that I am with you all, the shyness has gone away,” Valdez said. 

“I feel like [the students] all are part of my family,” Valdez said. “It makes me happy that they view me as family.”

While working at all three of the college’s dining halls, Valdez said one of the best parts has been forming connections with students.

“I feel like [the students] all are part of my family,” Valdez said. “It makes me happy that they view me as family.”

One of her favorite things is when students come back to visit, and she gets to keep in contact with alumni over the years. 

Valdez is the primary staff member assigned to keeping Frank clean and runs back and forth each day between tasks in order to help out anyone she can. An integral part of Pomona, she loves to connect with students, faculty and staff alike.

“I love being here with you all a lot,” she said.

Jesus Manuel Landa

Jesus Manuel Landa is another member of the dining hall staff at Frank. He told TSL that he is passionate about connecting with others and making the Claremont Colleges’ community happy through the power of food. 

Landa was born in Nostic, Jalisco, Mexico. He has been in the United States since 1983 and now lives in Ontario. He and his wife Sonia have two kids, both of whom also work at the college’s dining halls. 

This year marks the beginning of his second year working at Frank after working at Frary for 10 years.

In his free time, Landa likes to take walks to relax. His ultimate passion, however, is writing. He just finished writing his book “La Raya” (“The Line”) about the immigrant experience. 

“It talks about how we came to this place, how we will go, the achievements that we have [and] the experiences,” he said. 

Landa recognizes that so many do not understand the reality behind why people immigrate to the United States, so he hopes to educate readers about these motivations through his book.

He says that, as someone who did not get the chance to pursue higher education, it is amazing to see so many students getting that chance. However, he reiterates that students must take advantage of a place with so much privilege. 

“You all as students, for you there are so many opportunities,” he said, “and I want you to take advantage of them all.” 

When asked what his favorite part of the job was, he initially joked that it’s “getting the check.” 

“But, seriously, it is getting to share experiences with the students and learn what their goals and achievements are,” Landa said.

Teo Ibarra

One of Valdez’s fellow staff members is Teodulo Ibarra, who is better known among students as Teo. It is hard to miss his infectious personality if you step out onto the Frank patio where he’s likely making omelets for a long line of hungry students — all the while managing three different omelets at the same time.

Ibarra makes the outdoor space his own, with an impeccable music taste and friendly banter that can make anyone laugh.

Ibarra was born in Tepic, Nayarit, Mexico. He moved to the United States in 1985 and now lives in Montclair. He has three children and has been working at Pomona College for ten years. He worked at Oldenborg as a cook for six years and has taken over the omelet station in Frank for the past four years.

In his free time, Ibarra loves to exercise. Whether that be going to the gym, taking a walk or going for a jog, he finds solace in moving his body. He also has a passion for cooking. His favorite part of his job is the interactions with students and his co-workers. 

“I get to meet new people from different cultures, different ethnicities, you name it,” Ibarra said.

He says that he will always have the students’ backs and support them however he can, as they have had his back. He urges his co-workers to get food that students want or to help them out, as he feels there is a kind of symbiotic relationship between the two groups. 

“It is like unconditional love, you guys are there for us all the time,” Ibara said.

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