When senior and soccer player Justin Dunn first arrived at Knox, he was welcomed by caf worker Henry Wooten, who has been working in the dish room for 28 years.
“We all came in — it was the first time eating in the caf during preseason for soccer and he came over,” Dunn said. “Just his jolly self É and all the seniors introduced us freshmen and he just talked about sports, because he’s a big sports guy.”
Sophomore and former soccer player Ben Stefanic had a similar experience, also having first met Wooten during his freshman year preseason.
“We were in the middle of a practice and he came walking down towards the field and our coach, just in the middle of a drill called us in and we kind of congregated around Henry,” Stefanic said. “[Our coach] kind of explained ‘Yeah, this is our biggest fan. We have to do what Henry says.’”
Wooten first followed his parents to Illinois in January of 1991. Since coming to Knox, Wooten has become close to many of Knox’s athletes.
“I like sports and I like to bullshit with the students,” Wooten said.
Wooten retired from his position in the caf on Wednesday, March 20. Since then, he has been reflecting on his 28 years working at Knox.
“I enjoyed myself working here,” he said. “I enjoyed meeting different people from all around the world.”
During his time at Knox, Wooten had closely followed many of the sports teams, attending as many home games as he could and stopping by during practices to give pep talks. Stefanic appreciated seeing him at sporting events and, although having only known Wooten for a year, will miss seeing him around campus.
“It’s nice to have someone around campus who is supporting us,” Stefanic said. “We’ll see him in the caf and he’ll always come up to the table where we’re sitting and make jokes with the team members.”
Dunn praises Wooten’s positivity and his dedication to Knox athletes. Having known Wooten for the past four years, Dunn has formed a close relationship with him.
“It seemed like whenever I went to eat a meal in the caf I would always sit down with Henry, just have a meal and talk about whatever was on his mind,” Dunn said.
Dunn remembers a recent conversation with Wooten during the fall.
“He brought a picture of himself that he has framed of when he started working in the caf,” he said. “He brought that in to show me and I remember talking about his experiences here the past basically 30 years and how much he’s enjoyed it.”
Wooten is always around to give Dunn and his teammates pep talks, whether he is congratulating them on a win or comforting them after a loss.
“We’ve lost some tough games, he’s always been there,” Dunn said. “He’s always the first one to say ‘I’m sorry but, you know it happens, you’ll get em next year.’”
Although Wooten will miss working in the caf, he says he will miss his interactions with the students most.
“Well I’ll be missing the students, that’s the main thing — you see them come in as a freshman and next thing you know, four years after they’re on their way out,” he said.
Wooten values the relationships he’s formed with several generations of Knox athletes over the years, and looks forward to seeing many of them when they return for homecoming.
“I see a lot of them when they come in for homecoming weekend,” Wooten said. “They say ‘you still hangin’ around here, Henry?’”
Wooten is especially looking forward to this year’s homecoming, which will be the first Knox homecoming he will attend without having to work. Dunn, who plans to come back for homecoming as well, also plans to stay in contact after graduation. He is not convinced that he and his teammates have seen the last of Wooten, who is planning to remain in Galesburg for the time being.
“I think he’ll miss seeing everyone in the caf but he won’t miss getting up early,” Dunn said.