Birdwell shares his story after 47 years of dedication to Baylor

Jackie Birdwell, a Baylor Student Union Building employee of 47 years, stands in his work environment as students purchase lunch on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012. Matt Hellman | Lariat Photo Editor
Jackie Birdwell, a Baylor Student Union Building employee of 47 years, stands in his work environment as students purchase lunch on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012.
Matt Hellman | Lariat Photo Editor

By Amando Dominick

Staff Writer

Forty-seven years is a long time.

For 64-year-old Jackie Birdwell, this number represents the amount of time that he has faithfully worked at Baylor in the food service department.

Birdwell said that because he has been at Baylor for many years, students know of him, but know nothing about him.

“A lot of people see me, but they don’t know me,” Birdwell said.

Dolores England, supervisor for the food services in the Bill Daniel Student Center, said Birdwell is very popular with past students, especially during homecoming when they return to campus and go see him.

“When the students graduate and come back, they like to know that I’m still here,” Birdwell said.

Birdwell was born in Texarkana, but his mother brought him and his young brother Jerry to the Methodist Children’s Home in Waco. The home is an orphanage that was founded in 1890 and is intended to give hope to children, youth and families in a Christian community, according to the Methodist Children’s Home website.

“My parents divorced and my mother couldn’t take care of us, so we were brought to the home,” Birdwell said.

Jack Kyle Daniels, the former Methodist Children’s Home president, wrote “A Shot of Jack Daniels,” which includes a section about Birdwell.

“He is noted for his friendliness, and literally hundreds of students who attend Baylor homecoming go by the student union to visit with Jackie,” Daniels said in the book.

Birdwell graduated from University High in Waco in 1967.

While in high school, Birdwell said a school work program helped find him a job with Baylor’s food preparation services in 1964.

Birdwell began his food service profession at Baylor in the SUB, where he has worked for his entire Baylor career.

He said he could recall, in great detail, specific people, events and dates that were of some importance to him or the university.

He has met former football quarterbacks, has known past coaches, and is a friend with Lyndon Olson, a Baylor graduate who served as America’s ambassador to Sweden.

When he started working at Baylor in the ’60’s, Birdwell said there were no blacks or Hispanics on the campus.

He said that when some minorities did start coming to the university in the ’70’s, it did not affect him.

“It just kind of happened,” Birdwell said.

Birdwell said he had surgery on his head in 2006 to remove a big knot located on top of his head.

Under his hat, which he normally wears, Birdwell has a circular indentation on his skull, where the surgeons removed the obstacle.

In the summer of 2010, Birdwell said he developed skin cancer on his ear, and he stayed in a Temple hospital for two months receiving treatment before going to rehabilitation for a while longer.

While he was in the hospital, he said doctors removed his left ear and used skin from his legs to cover the new wound.

He explained that he was “all tubed up” during his hospital stay, with tubes running inside and outside of his whole body.

Several surgeries may have weakened Birdwell physically, but his dedication to work remained steadfast, England said.

“The only time Birdwell’s missed work in the whole time I’ve been here is when he had to have surgery, and that’s it. I’ve been here 30 years and Jackie is here come rain or shine,” England said.

Although Birdwell said his surgeries make things such as climbing stairs difficult, that does not prevent him from still experiencing some of Baylor’s events.

“I haven’t been to a lot of the basketball or football games lately,” Birdwell said. “But I do go to lot of the special events like All-University Sing and Pigskin and things like that.”

During homecoming in 2005, the Alumni Association presented Birdwell with the W.R. White Meritorious Service Award for his years of dedication.

He is also an honorary member of the fraternity Kappa Omega Tau.

Even though he has been recognized many times for his work, Birdwell said he would like people to perform a little divine intervention for him.

“I would like…for people to pray for my health and for God give me strength to do things,” Birdwell said.