The Snack Shoppe

By Andrea Schrock '86 Wenger | May 31st, 2017

Helen Ours

Longtime Snack Shoppe manager Helen Ours still works in the Eastern Mennonite University Dining Hall and treasures her relationships with students. Here she is with Travis Clower, head basketball coach Kirby Dean ’86, Jonae Guest and Christian Taylor. Dean has fond memories of eating there after basketball practice, “the closest thing to going home,” he said. (Photo by Andrew Strack)

Longtime manager Helen Ours talks about the favorite campus gathering place.

Say “snack shop” and you’ll conjure a lot of warm memories for alumni of Eastern Mennonite College—and yes, we’ll say EMC because that was the institution’s name when the Snack Shoppe was in its heyday. Food has always been an important part of the community experience at EMU. Decades ago, the Snack Shoppe – as it was spelled on the north entrance sign – was a central gathering place for food and more.

“There wasn’t a 7-11 on the corner, so this is where you came,” says Helen Ours, manager from 1974 through the mid-1990s.

Ted Swartz ’89, MA ’92 says the hospitality and ambiance attracted many. “It felt like a 1950s soda shop or something… intimate, cozy, friendly.”

“I remember going to the Snack Shop after chapel and checking my mailbox next to the bookstore [all in the lower level of the same building] and then heading for my coffee and cheese danish or funny cake [a pie with a white cake topping and gooey chocolate bottom layer] courtesy of Helen,” recalls Joani Schweitzer Miller ’87.

Helen Ours in 1982

Helen Ours and Lois Shirk in the Snack Shoppe, 1982.

“Going to the snack shop after basketball practice back in the late ‘80s was the closest thing most of the guys could do that felt like home,” recalls Kirby Dean ’92 and head men’s basketball coach at EMU since 2002. “Helen treated all of us like we were her own sons.”

The “Royals’ Den” atmosphere is different and the snack shop era is passed. Thanks to Helen Ours and her colleagues, however, many friendships were deepened, problems were solved, and souls fed through the hospitality and home-like comfort they cooked up.

In her role today with the EMU dining hall, Helen remains a beloved community member, greeting students by name and sometimes with a hug. She is special to athletic team members in particular. She and her husband support them by attending every game or match they can get to.

“I enjoy watching Helen interact with my basketball players now,” says Dean. “It reminds me so much of how she treated me when I was a player hanging out in the snack shop. There is a special relationship that develops there … food, hospitality, genuine care. It is hard to explain, but you know it when you see it. And it doesn’t seem to change with time.”