Meet Susan Watson, the friendliest face at Arts Fest

July 11, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — If you've visited State College during the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, you've probably participated in the tradition of buying ice cream from the Penn State Berkey Creamery's tent near Old Main. And you've probably encountered Susan Watson, who has run, staffed and supervised the tent for nearly 30 years.

Store manager Watson is the face and spirit of the Creamery during Arts Fest weekend. She is in charge of hiring and managing 15-20 seasonal workers who run the tent from 9 a.m. on Wednesday morning to Sunday at 5 p.m. The crew works through intense heat and serves thousands of people over the long weekend, but they have fun doing it.

"It's the best time ever," Watson said. "We listen to music, wear bandanas, play games. Every year we have a theme, like last year was red, white and blue. This year we're doing kind of a psychedelic thing where we're wearing tie-dye shirts. I love it."

The tent is decorated with memorabilia, including Watson's favorite items, the American flag and a pink banner that a customer made for her that she plans to keep until retirement. Two years ago, the Creamery created a sign to track the number of cones and bowls scooped during Arts Fest, and now Watson plans to fill the chart every year.

An important part of the Arts Fest tradition for Watson and her team is serving repeat customers and former tent employees. She remembers a young couple that started working at the tent at 16 years old and came back each summer for the next five years. "They're married now and they actually have a 16-year-old who wants to work with us. These days you have to be 18 to work at Arts Fest, but as soon as that happens, he's hired!"

Watson's history with the Creamery dates back three decades. In 1988, the Sandy Ridge native was a manager at Kentucky Fried Chicken. One day, she received a phone call for a reference check from then-Creamery manager Tom Palchak. Palchak was so impressed by Watson's knowledge of the food industry that he invited her to interview for an open tech service position at the Creamery store, which was located in Borland Building at the time. Watson got the job, and she's been at the Creamery ever since.

“I’ve been working with Susan for more than 12 years now,” said James Brown, Creamery assistant manager. “She’s always so energetic and a pleasure to be around. Her priority of providing superior customer service, along with a can-do attitude motivates others to be better people. The store wouldn’t be the same without her.”

Since her first day, Watson has witnessed multiple renovations and the Creamery's 2006 move to its current location in the Rodney A. Erickson Food Science Building. She has rubbed elbows with Penn State legends, football players, coaches and celebrities like Modern Family star and former Penn State student Ty Burrell. She even escorted President Bill Clinton during his second trip to the Creamery, where he was offered just one flavor (unlike a prior visit, during which Clinton was the only Creamery visitor ever to mix flavors).

Bill Clinton at the Creamery

Susan Watson, far right, watches as President Bill Clinton enjoys a trip to the Creamery in 2000.

IMAGE: Penn State

In spite of all these experiences, Watson's favorite part of her job is something that hasn't changed very much over the years — the people who come to the Creamery to work, study, eat ice cream and immerse themselves in the atmosphere. Her colleagues, customers and the Penn State community are what allow Watson to come to work with a positive attitude every day. "I'm really very blessed," she said.

  • Susan Watson

    Susan Watson is a store supervisor at the Penn State Berkey Creamery, where she helps to serve customers, oversee part-time staff, and maintain the store and supplies.

    IMAGE: Michael Houtz

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Last Updated September 04, 2020