Marian Miner Cook

A distinctive
feature of social and
cultural life at CMC


2023 Ath Retirements

To celebrate the service and dedication of three long-time Athenaeum staff retiring in 2023, Athenaeum Director Priya Junnar spoke individually to David Edwards, David Skinner, and Lydia Aguiar to collect their reflections on their journeys at CMC. 

Excerpted Conversation with David Edwards, April 27, 2023

Black and white portrait of a young David Edwards smiling at the camera in suit jacket and tie.

When did you start at the Ath?
Monday, October 13, 1986

Where did you come from at that time?
I had worked at the Biltmore Hotel in Downtown LA for 10 years. I started in the management training program (including working as a dishwasher, cook, waiter, etc.) and transitioned to be the assistant director of food and beverage. By the time I left the Biltmore, I was the director of purchasing. 

How did you find out about the Ath chef position and what drew you to it?
I found the position posted in the Los Angeles Times want ads. CMC was broad-minded enough to know that experience in food service translated from hotels to food service in education. Since the Biltmore had recently been sold, I was looking for the stability of a job where you didn’t have to move every couple of years as is typical in the hotel business.

I was interviewed by John. K. Roth (who was the director of the Ath), Barbara Condit (President Jack Stark’s assistant who it so happened was also the HR and payroll person!), Torrey Sun (the dean of students), and Jil Stark. 

Black and white photo of David Edwards serving hot plates of food at an Ath event.

Tell us about your first day on the job.
I arrived at work to find Jil Stark taking phone reservations for the upcoming Madrigal Feast. I set up for upcoming events. The first weekend I was there I had to manage a wedding. It was like learning Ath procedures in real time on the job!

Who was working at the Athenaeum front office then?
As I mentioned, Professor John K. Roth was the director of the Athenaeum. The administrative assistant was Carol Bovett. 

First speaker event you managed.
Michael Graber ’74, alpinist, and filmmaker of “The Fitz Roy Region of Patagonia,” which was a great film. This was a non-traditional career path for a philosophy major, football-playing CMCer at the time.

What in your mind are the biggest changes since you started?
For starters, we no longer host the Madrigal Feast during the holidays. 

Another thing is that we did a theme dinner once a month which did not involve a speaker. In fact, it was strictly social! Themes included Mardi Gras, Clambake, Western BBQs, and even séances on Halloween!

The speaker schedule (called the “Fortnightly”) was printed twice a month and stuffed into everyone’s (physical) mailbox. On the last page of the publication were printed coupons for each event: you cut out the coupon, filled it out with your info, and dropped it off at the Ath in a little basket. That’s how we collected registrations!

Eggert Dining Room (it had a different name then) was actually two smaller rooms with an accordion wall which could be rolled back to make the room one big room. There was also a fireplace! 

What are you most proud of during your time as Ath Manager?
The relationships I developed with students as I watched them navigate CMC and then come back as successful alumni and even trustees! Some of the student workers I got to know, their kids are here now. 

What’s been the secret to your tenure here? 
Mutual respect and good humor. 

Also, the Ath was a family affair for me. My wife Susan was in here all the time helping with whatever we needed; my three children grew up at Ath, running around, helping, meeting people. My son John in fact subbed for Juan, the current pastry chef, for an entire semester when Juan was out recovering from knee surgery.

Speaker Highlight 
John Irving read from his unfinished book, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and voiced the characters as he heard them in his head for the dialogue.

Blurry photo of David Edwards in an apron cooking burgers on a long grill at an Ath event.

Favorite Ath Foods:
Salmon with lemon butter sauce
Tea Snack:  Rocky Road, marshmallows, peanuts, and chocolate (By the way, these desserts just have air… no calories… just saying…)
Dessert: Lemon tart

Most memorable moment? 
There are too many to recount! What I would say is that the Ath and CMC in general were one big family—I remember Lyn Roth (John Roth’s wife) helping wash dishes in the kitchen while also being my son’s 1st grade teacher. Other memorable events include Cleve Jones, founder of the AIDS quilt bringing about 20 panels that we hung in McKenna Auditorium. (You can still see the hooks we used high in the auditorium.) We had Susan Butcher, the first female winner of the Iditarod bring her dog Granite, who wandered the room eating the king crab legs we served that night off the clearing trays. Then there was a group of monks from Tibet, who spent their life meditating and learning to voice double sounds at the same time, who filled the room with their chants. I was very surprised when Billie Jean King started hitting tennis balls inside the dining room. Thankfully she was pinpoint accurate!

Relationship with Chef David Skinner?
I enjoyed bouncing ideas off Chef Dave and collaborating and creating good menus for the Ath. I could always count on him to serve a great meal, and he is an excellent sauce guy. We had great meals and events like the themed Back to School dinners, and the graduation reception for the parents that are still unrivaled to this day.

What are your plans now?
To help my 4-month-old grandson Luke Edwards become familiar with all the animals at the LA Zoo!

If you could sum up your experience at the Ath in one word/sentence, what would it be?
Every day was a new adventure!

Excerpted Conversation with David Skinner, April 24, 2023

Photo of Chef Skinner works an outdoor event in full chef's whites uniform, including a tall toque blanche and pink bandana.

When did you start at the Ath?
April 1, 1991

Where did you come from at that time?
Before coming to the Ath, I was working at what was then called the Center Club in Costa Mesa. It was near the Orange County Performing Arts center and served as a private city club that catered to playgoers and club members. It offered high-end, silver service dining. I served as the evening sous-chef and lead sauté.

How did you find out about the Ath chef position and what drew you to it?
I found the job the old-fashioned way, before the internet, in the LA Times classified ads. It was really the only way to look for jobs back then.

My son Shane was two years old at the time, so I was looking to make a move away from the Center Club due to lifestyle reasons. Restaurants demand long hours well into the night, weekends, and holidays. I was constantly working and getting home at 2 am every night. I decided I needed to transition into a corporate or academic dining environment where the hours don’t stretch into the wee hours, where holidays are observed, and where one can lead a more balanced home life.

So, when I saw the job at the College, I applied. I was interviewed by Jil Stark (who was the director of the Ath), Barbara Condit (President Jack Stark’s assistant) and David Edwards, who had been the Ath manager for about four years at that point.

The work schedule and the environment were amazing, and I could spend time with my family. I have never looked back. 

Who was working at the Athenaeum then?
There was our baker (Jackie), two assistant cooks (Kenny and Lupe), and a cook (Cheryl). Together we cooked four dinner events a week, a steady flow of lunches, and of course tea. By the way, Lupe’s carne asada family recipe was a go-to at the Ath for decades and is listed in the Athenaeum cookbook.

In the front office were Carol Bovett (secretary), Bonnie Snortum (who was an assistant and then of course later became the director of the Athenaeum), and David Edwards.

First day on the job
I do remember my first day! I didn’t even have time to teach the crew what I had in mind for the menu. Because of that, I had to do it all myself. I made scalloped potatoes as the side, but they almost were not done in time! Working with new equipment, a new set up, and most importantly scale changes (cooking à la carte to cooking for a hundred plus) was an adjustment!

It so happened that the kitchen crew didn’t have any formal culinary training. But over time together, we took the Ath cuisine to the next level including cooking with fresh ingredients and innovating creative recipes.

Black and white photo of Chef Skinner inside Ath kitchen.

The Ath would prepare a special meal on general election nights. Can you tell me about some of those meals?
For the 1992 Election Dinner (George H. Bush v Bill Clinton), we served lobster to honor Bush’s Maine connections and Arkansas BBQ to honor Clinton’s roots. 

In 2008 (Barack Obama v John McCain), we served Hawaiian/Chicago dishes—Chicago deep-dish pizza, chicken teriyaki, and tempura vegetables—and north of the border favorites—beef chimichangas and Southwest green chili rice. Back then, it didn’t feel so partisan; it was just fun and playful.

What are you most proud of during your time as Ath Chef?
My forté was writing menus. In my role, I had freedom to create different things and I was not afraid to go out of my comfort zone. If I was writing a menu, I would focus on an object and see what it inspired in me. I would start from the entrée and build around that. So, it was an abstract process to motivate my mind and to not get into a rut with menu planning. As time went on, I identified go-to student favorites and sometimes I based menus on the speaker’s bio. For example, if a speaker grew up fishing in Minnesota, I might feature a Great Lakes pike. It was fun to think creatively like that.

Your staff stayed with you for many years. What’s been your secret?
I gave them creative freedom and encouraged artistic thinking. Everyone was putting their passion into their cooking for the love of cooking for the love of students, faculty, and the community. It wasn’t just a job. I advocated creativity, responsibility, and pride of craft.

Speaker highlight:
So hard to pick one, but I would say that meeting John Wooden was a high honor. He was the former coach of UCLA basketball. A nice and gracious man, he even came into kitchen to introduce himself.

Favorite dishes:
Hazelnut crusted rack of venison (typically served at Madrigal Feast)
Tea Snack: Even though I am a chocolate kind of person, I gotta say Rice Krispie treats. It’s a classic at the Ath!
Dessert: Fresh fruit tart with berries, kiwi, and tangerines.

Memorable moment?
Early in my tenure at the Ath, when my daughter was a newborn, I had to put a massive 85 lb roast into the oven at 2 am so that it would cook low and slow and be ready for dinner that evening. So, my wife and I spent the night in the old Athenaeum apartment (upstairs by the elevator) with our baby who slept in a drawer that we pulled out of the dresser. Hey, we made it work and the roast was perfect and ready at dinner.

Relationship with David Edwards
David and I worked together so long that we could finish each other thoughts. We were in tune in terms of what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do. After working together so many years on so many events, we got so good at doing stuff together and we especially enjoyed working on celebratory events for students like the graduating class reception.

What are your plans now?
To continue to do cooking demos. I can’t help it. I enjoy doing those and will embrace every opportunity to do so. Also, I will try to get back into catering or in the kitchen more generally. But I cannot let that interfere with my golf game! It’s also such a good time now for Darlene (my wife of 38 years) and me to explore places together in our Airstream. I am lucky to have her and for us to continue our adventures.

If you could sum up your experience at the Ath in one word/sentence, what would it be? 
Lucky. I was so fortunate to work with generations of students over all these years. What an opportunity for me!

Excerpted Conversation with Lydia Aguiar, April 28, 2023

Portrait of Lydia Aguilar with her signature red hair, standing before the Mary Weatherford art inside Ath Eggert Dining Hall.

When did you start at the Ath?
June 11, 2007

Where did you come from at that time?
I came from CUC, Campus Safety, where I had been the dispatcher since June 1987. 

How did you find out about the Ath position and what drew you to it?
Bonnie Snortum spoke to me about an opening at the Ath and encouraged me to apply. I needed a change after 20 years at Campus Safety where you are often on call at all times. So I decided to apply to the position at the Ath. I was interviewed by Bonnie and David Edwards and the rest is history!

What happened your first day on the job? 
I learned how to transfer video recordings of the speakers from the 8-track to cd-rom disks. While supporting the office, I did this task until we no longer had any 8-tracks left to transfer, an entire closet’s worth! 

What are you most proud of during your time as the Ath admin?
I loved meeting the students and the speakers—and of course the staff and faculty too. What makes me proudest is when, years later, people come back and remember me. All the little knick-knacks I have displayed in my office were gifts from students—either those coming back after their study abroad programs or mailing gifts and cards to me when they remembered me. 

Favorite Ath Events
I especially enjoy the student productions like plays and musicals.

Favorite dishes:
Anything but fish!  
Favorite Tea Snack: Chocolate-covered strawberries
Favorite Dessert:  Bread pudding and mango pudding

Most memorable moment 
Seeing the Mariachi Divas after they won their Grammys, plus visits from Anita Hill and Bill Clinton.

What’s been your secret to your tenure here? 
I love being around people, especially the students. I love their questions and curiosity, and the variety of guests and programming. 

Relationship with the two Davids
We worked together for many years as a team. It turns out that I knew David Edwards before I even worked here because his kids went to school with my niece … So, we have known each other a very long time. I also appreciated Chef David’s willingness to help with recipe questions and suggestions. 

What are your plans now?
At this time, I want to transition to a lighter schedule, but I will be helping around the College as needed. My priority is to spend more time with my grandkids, work on my house, and visit my friends who I have not seen for a while.

If you could sum up your experience at the Ath in one word/sentence, what would it be?
My experience at the Ath has been wonderful – I’ve met the most memorable students and guests.

Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum

Claremont McKenna College
385 E. Eighth Street
Claremont, CA 91711


Phone: (909) 621-8244 
Fax: (909) 621-8579