'Brownie Lady' shows Penn State staff her gratitude with baked goods

University Park, Pa. -- Teri Mikelonis makes the frequent drive to University Park from Hudson, Ohio, especially during football season, with a full trunk -- not with just her weekend travel bag, but with 26 dozen (and counting) freshly baked brownies. They are snacks for Penn State Hospitality Services staff at the Nittany Lion Inn and The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel, and for a growing list of weekend hotel guests who have become her extended family. Count on seeing her this Blue-White Game weekend (April 23-25) with another large batch of baked goods.

Mikelonis is the only member of her immediate family whose college degree is not from Penn State, although she is a loyal Nittany Lion fan. She also may be the only unpaid "staff" member in Penn State Hospitality Services, but she wears her name badge with pride. It reads "Brownie Lady," and on home football weekends, she is extremely popular.

Her husband, Joe, graduated with a Penn State accounting degree and now works as a vice president at Owens Corning, which often means he must travel for work and miss Penn State games. The couple had season football tickets before their daughters were born. After daughter Kristen committed to swimming for Penn State, the couple sprang for club seats and began driving from northeast Ohio to State College -- not just for home football games but also for swim meets. Over time, they began to reserve a room on a regular basis at the Nittany Lion Inn for their visits. After Kristen finished her athletic career early because of an injury, she began working at the Inn and eventually changed her major to hotel, restaurant and institutional management; she graduated in 2005. Daughter Michelle Allenson graduated in 2000 with a degree in finance and international business.

Teri Mikelonis' baking hobby started out innocently enough one football season. Once when she had booked a hotel room on campus, she asked a front desk attendant at the Nittany Lion Inn for assistance and was especially impressed with the service she received.

"I thought, 'You know, I've got to do something to say thank you,' " she explained. "So, the following weekend I started bringing brownies for the front desk staff. And then when Kristen, our younger daughter, started working here, I really got to know everybody at the Inn. Then she was transferred to The Penn Stater's dining room. Well, you can't just give brownies here when she's working there, and I think somebody from the dining room staff at The Penn Stater caught me as I was walking by the front desk and said, 'Oh, where are ours?' So the next football game, they had brownies too. Kristen's been gone from there since 2005, but I can't not take them."

The brownie-baking tradition has grown to include both hotels' dining room staff, front desk staff and the Inn's housekeeping staff, along with individuals here and there, like a few of the sales staff and the gift shop clerks. Even guests have learned about the brownies and would sneak a taste from housekeeping or the front desk staff, so Mikelonis started bringing a half-dozen for this person and a half-dozen for another. It seems the brownie delivery list grows every week.

Roxanne Fetterman, a table attendant who has worked for more than 24 years at the Dining Room at the Inn, worked with Kristen Mikelonis and knows the family. "One time Teri was not feeling well so my friend Julie decided to help her make brownies, so nobody would miss out on them," Fetterman said. "We figured there would be a couple dozen. It was 18 dozen brownies! We had to dole out responsibilities to about 10 different people to make all the brownies that she usually makes by herself."

Last summer Mikelonis bought 90 boxes of brownie mix and thought she'd have enough to last through all eight home games. Yet, by the Iowa game on Sept. 26 she realized she was going to run out before the season ended.

At a minimum she bakes 18 dozen brownies, as she did for the 2009 Blue-White Game, but her baking quota has grown to 26 dozen brownies, all cooled, cut into squares and packed in several large aluminum-foil pans.

She begins her brownie routine on Wednesdays, rotating pans in and out of her kitchen's double oven. One Wednesday she found herself with one oven out of commission, and she insisted that the appliance repairman come that very day, to avoid a baking emergency. Thursdays are for cutting and packing the brownies. She's usually out the door by sunrise Friday to avoid traffic on the nearly four-hour route to State College.

She has been told she doesn't have to bring the brownies, but she says she really wants to.

"It did start because people were so nice and I wanted to say thank you, and then it just kind of exploded!" she said with a chuckle. "I arrived one weekend and the Brownie Lady pin came about. Norm (Brown), who's in sales, and Roxanne gave it to me."

Being "pinned" as a special member of the staff formalized the nickname that most people already knew. In fact, in December 2008 during Penn State's Rose Bowl trip, it seemed Mikelonis was recognized in the Nittany Lion team hotel's lobby nearly as often as the players.

Mikelonis wears her Brownie Lady pin occasionally when she notices the Dining Room staff could use a helping hand before or after a busy shift, and she even has learned to fold cloth napkins. In short, she's not just an honorary employee, she's Penn State family.

Mikelonis simply shrugs off her extra effort with a typical smile. "It's just a fun thing for me to do and a simple way for me to say thank you."

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You don't have to be an alum to be a member of the Penn State Alumni Association; see http://www.alumni.psu.edu/.membership.default.htm for details.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010