Willie Joyner, a food services employee at the University, watched the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center take over the old football field. Her favorite space to eat lunch atop the hill along Michigan Avenue is now the site of the quickly growing Conway School of Nursing building. She remembers hanging out with students in “the Rat” (or Rathskellar) — the former University student lounge that closed in 2004.
While the University has changed a lot in the past 48 years, Willie remains the same source of comfort and refuge that students have grown to depend upon. From cashier, Joyner eventually moved on to being a “meeter and greeter,” the job she does now.
“I meet and greet and get my hugs,” she said. “That’s the good part of my day.”
The world has taken notice of “Ms. Willie” in recent weeks as the University opened a dining room at the new Garvey Hall bearing her name, garnering coverage from The Washington Post, Fox News and more.
Every day brings something different for Joyner as she meets new students and greets old ones. One of her favorite things is when students take their BeReal photos (a photo sharing app to share images once a day with friends) with her. She smiles big and shows her real self. “It lets me know they see the real me. I cannot fake it to make it,” Joyner said.
When students have things they don’t want to tell their parents or aren’t sure how to tell them, Joyner helps find a way. “We talk, we hug, we pray,” she said. “If it’s really important, I’ve got to take time from my job to talk with them. I make sure that we serve the babies right. We need to show them love. We need to show that we appreciate them and care about them. They need to be shown, not just talked to.”
Joyner is quick to notice when students are lonely and she takes special care to befriend them. “Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing enough for my babies, if I’m talking to them enough,” she said
Several alumni demonstrated just how much Joyner’s friendship impacted their University experience when they donated money to name the east dining room of the new Garvey Hall in honor of their “Ms. Willie.”
Ed Gillespie, B.A. 1983, a former counselor to a president of the United States who used to work with Joyner when he was a student, led the charge in naming the dining room after her.
“I am but one in a 48-year long parade of students, many of us her babies, who have benefited from Ms. Willie’s care and feeding. But as she will tell you, I was her first baby,” said Gillespie.