Amidst all the turbulence and all the disappointments of the pandemic, it would be easy to overlook the good. With so many beloved events canceled this past year, it would also be easy to forget all the effort Notre Dame’s faculty and staff have devoted to make these semesters feel as normal as possible. Professors have been forced to adjust to a virtual classroom, staff have missed the encounters with students that make the work day so enjoyable and the administrators have been tasked with making this campus both safe and fun.
Of the thousands of individuals around campus who go underappreciated, three stood out for their impressive work and quiet dedication: Micki Kidder, Danny Bloss and Matt Cashore. Ever wonder who sculpts those beautiful ice sculptures? That’d be Danny Bloss. How about the North and South Lodges? Micki Kidder and her team were behind those. As for the scenic images of Notre Dame adorning the university website, those are the work of Matt Cashore.
Each of these members of our community has spent over a decade and a half at Notre Dame, a testament to their passion and dedication to our university. They share common traits — unsurprising, as each has found success within their field, including humility, a mentality of hard work and commitment to the mission of Notre Dame. These three are by no means the only unsung heroes around campus, as there are countless individuals whose hard work makes the Notre Dame community what it is, and each of them deserves proper recognition.
Graduation ceremonies, grilled chicken, live music, laundry — what do these things have in common? They’re all responsibilities Micki Kidder juggles for her incredibly busy job.
As the vice president for university enterprises and events, Kidder oversees major university events — including graduation and live concerts — and many of the university’s for-profit enterprises — including catering, St. Michael’s Laundry and the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore. And as if her administrative responsibilities weren’t enough, she also teaches in the Mendoza College of Business.
When COVID-19 upended campus life in March 2020, Kidder’s job transformed overnight. She and her team had many lofty plans for the last year: Thousands of Notre Dame students and families were planning to stream into South Bend in May for the annual commencement ceremony; Billy Joel was scheduled to perform in Notre Dame Stadium in June, his first visit to South Bend in 24 years. But the coronavirus made dreams of “Pomp and Circumstance” and “Piano Man” untenable.
“We were supposed to have many concerts this year. We were supposed to have several large gatherings, football gamedays should have looked different than it did this year,” Kidder lamented.
Despite all those canceled plans, Kidder has remained busy as ever.
“The great gift of this thing is that it has allowed us to refine our focus on the students,” she said.
Her team is responsible for several of the most popular additions to campus this past year, including the North and South Lodges, Library Lawn and Fall Fest. Acting behind the scenes to make all of these events possible, Kidder said it was a compliment to her team that they went unnoticed because they were able to create “wow” moments for the community and deepen the relationships between the university and its members.
While Kidder is proud of the work her team has done this year, she is also excited for future events that the university can host. After the pandemic ends, the Notre Dame community can expect to see many events like those Kidder has come to love over the years. Of all the events she has planned and hosted throughout her Notre Dame career, it should come as no surprise that her favorite was one celebrating Notre Dame and its enduring community: The Notre Dame Trail.
On this pilgrimage across the state of Indiana, several members of the Notre Dame community made the trek that Father Sorin did when founding the university to celebrate its 175th commencement.
“It was amazing to see the students, the faculty, the staff come together as one community, along with the alumni, parents and friends of the university.”
Managing over 1,000 employees can admittedly be difficult because new events and challenges are always demanding her attention. To manage so many moving pieces, Kidder maintains personal relationships with many of her employees and seeks their input on a daily basis. Despite all of her professional success, Kidder insists on taking no personal credit and, instead, dishes it out to her numerous teams. Because of each employee’s personal drive and commitment to the university community, Kidder can take a hands-off approach to leadership.
“We have an incredible team of people,” she said. “We are very intentional about inviting people onto this team that are very talented and skilled in subject matters, that have a deep commitment to the mission of Notre Dame and are also individuals who wish to celebrate and embrace the culture that we believe is beneficial to the students, faculty and staff.”
That culture is what makes Kidder’s teams so successful, as each member understands their role and feels heard.
“We have created a culture of listening which I believe is the most important,” she said. Through various technological tools, Kidder stays connected to her employees and keeps her finger on the pulse of campus. With technology and frequent walk-arounds, she maintains a constant feedback loop between herself and her employees.
In addition to cultivating communication, Kidder drives accountability among her employees. Although she sets clear expectations and goals for her teams, she also understands that learning is a part of the role and improvement will come with experience. Enforcing accountability can be difficult, she said, but it also creates an appreciation for the effort that employees are putting in.
“I do a lot of walk-arounds to make sure I’m meeting, thanking and understanding the great work of the team,” Kidder said.
Through the combination of accountability and listening, Kidder has managed to create a culture that invites employees in and receives the best from them. She’s crafted this leadership style through her years of experience at Notre Dame and in other professional settings, often under the leadership of a close friend or mentor.
In each of her previous roles at the school, Kidder was able to closely interact with other faculty, staff and students of the university. Their commitment to the university’s mission “altered her perspective on her career” because she now devotes herself to that mission and is surrounded by others driven by the same desire to make the university a better place.
Interacting with the many individuals of the Notre Dame community is what Kidder misses most about her pre-pandemic role. While both she and her teams went through an adjustment period, Kidder is still proud to serve the student body and knows her teams feel the same way.
“No one across any division is doing the same job they were pre-COVID,” she said. Despite all that disruption, every employee in the dining halls, at the Morris Inn and at St. Michael’s Laundry returns to work every day with smiles on their faces. Much of this positivity is owed to Kidder, who despite the ever-changing challenges associated with the pandemic, has kept her spirits high and can see a silver lining in the pandemic.
It is evident how much this community means to Kidder, and despite giving so much of her time and effort to the student body and community as a whole, she firmly believes that it has given back more to her and her family.
Even after all she has done for the community, including being one of its most well respected among employees, Kidder refused to take any of the credit.
“It’s never about me; these employees are awesome,” she said about the “great work” her teams were doing around campus.
Danny Bloss: cook by trade, artist in free time
Danny Bloss spends much of his time preparing food for Notre Dame students. But he’s perfected a recipe for learning that extends far beyond the dining hall. In his early days as a chef, Bloss observed a coworker carving ice, and he decided to take up the craft himself. Since then, he has always been looking to improve.
In 1989, Bloss began working at South Dining Hall, making all the soups, sauces and pastas for the entire university campus. In 1997, he moved to the Center for Culinary Excellence (CCE). One of the furthest buildings north on campus, the CCE serves as a hub for catering and also contains a bake shop. This year, when pandemic safety protocols placed new demands on campus dining, Bloss’s talents were needed elsewhere: North Dining Hall.
As for his official title, Bloss said, “I’m just a cook.”
Bloss attributes his love of cooking to his full-blooded Italian grandmother on his mom’s side of the family.
“I got to see her cook all the time, and I really always had an interest in it, but my grandpa never thought the man should be in the kitchen, so it kind of shied me away from that,” Bloss said. “I wish I can go back so I could learn how to do stuff from her. I watched, but didn’t really know how they did things, especially from the Italian side of our family.”
After getting the feel for cooking from family, Bloss worked in the restaurant industry during high school. First, he washed dishes at a local German restaurant that’s no longer around. Then, he worked at the Marriott Hotel in town as the youngest head line cook, and there, he met Jeff Thomas, who he observed carving ice on the back dock.
“He was gonna start teaching me how to carve ice. Well, come to find out, he got another job and left,” Bloss said.
After Bloss and his wife got married and had their first child, they saw the need for Bloss to change jobs. Thus began his time at Notre Dame.
“I was working ungodly hours, from nine in the morning until 12 at night, so 15 hour shifts,” he said. Notre Dame’s “hours were better, and the benefits are very, very good. At the time the money wasn’t the same, but I said, ‘The benefits are going to make up for it,’ and they have. They treat us very, very well.”
This November will mark Bloss’s 32nd year at Notre Dame.
“I enjoy doing stuff that gives you guys food,” Bloss said. “At the CCE we never saw any of the students because we were so far north that we didn’t see anybody. Now that I’m back at North, I enjoy — even though the menus are limited because of COVID — seeing you guys come in and that we’re preparing food for you. Doing what we do keeps me at Notre Dame.”
Seventeen years after his first encounter with ice-carving at the Marriott, Bloss met Andrew Thistlethwaite at the cook’s apprenticeship program at Notre Dame. Thistlethwaite happened to dabble in ice-carving himself, and his hobby reminded Bloss of his forgotten dream. Finally, Bloss participated in retired Notre Dame head chef Don Miller’s ice carving class and “got the blood for” ice carving.
“I bought some chisels from [Miller] and got a chainsaw. I learned most of it from some of the best in the country,” Bloss said. “I’m not as good as they are but I’ve learned from some of the best in the country, all over the place.”
Bloss considers some of his main teachers to be Thistlethwaite, who now carves ice for a living in San Antonio, TX, as well as Aaric Kendell, who has sculpted ice for the Olympics. Bloss has participated on teams in ice-carving competitions in Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Texas, Michigan and Alaska. More local opportunities include the Hunter Ice Festival in Niles, the Richmond Meltdown in Indiana and some in St. Joseph’s County.
“There’s always somebody better at what you can do,” Bloss said. “You should be learning each time that you do it.”
Each block of ice that Bloss sculpts for campus starts out about 40 inches high, 20 inches wide and 10 inches deep. He likes the idea of providing a little escape or moment of joy for viewers of his sculptures.
“The way a lot of us look at it is that [these sculptures] brightens people’s days,” Bloss said. “As students, if you guys didn’t know we were doing those ice sculptures on a certain day, you might be walking through your day, see them and think ‘Oh, that’s cool,’ and forget for a second or two about a bad day you might be having.”
The same idea lies behind Bloss’s seafood displays, which combine his cooking and carving at catering events.
Bloss said sometimes his inspiration is spur of the moment, and other times he plans ideas out with the help of a wall projector to sketch digitally, or a paper template printed out and placed over the ice to mark spots he needs to carve. The execution proves the most challenging part, especially when Bloss and his teammates are carving swordfish, helicopters, rocket ships, Viking ships, St. Michael the Archangel stepping on the Devil and interactive game pieces like cornhole boards, ping pong boards, skeeball and bowling alleys.
“I had a friend nicknamed Reverend Butter that said, ‘Anyone can carve ice, but not everyone can sculpt it,’” Bloss recalled. “People will come up to me for autographs at competitions and say ‘Oh, I could never do that’ and I say ‘Yes you can. You can do whatever you want to do if you actually try and practice.’ I’ve been carving ice for 17 years now, and I’m still not where I want to be.”
Bloss’ artistic inclinations aren’t limited to food and ice, or a combination of the two. He also makes wood sculptures and sidewalk chalk art.
“I always liked to draw. I sat at the kitchen table with my grandpa, and he used to draw something, and I used to try to draw it,” Bloss said. “My dad was an engineer for Clark Equipment and then Reynolds — a big contractor that moves dirt and stuff. My uncle’s a real good artist and painter, so I guess it’s on that side.”
Even before Matt Cashore’s first day of class at Notre Dame, he was already photographing the university’s campus. When Cashore began his freshman year in the fall of 1990, his older cousin was working as the editor of Notre Dame’s yearbook. And as soon as Cashore arrived on campus, that cousin recruited him as a yearbook photographer, putting him to work “immediately.”
“I photographed my own freshman orientation for the yearbook,” Cashore recalled.
Decades later, Cashore is still taking pictures of Notre Dame — but now, he does so professionally. Notre Dame’s senior university photographer, Cashore is something of a local celebrity. His Twitter account has fourteen thousand followers, and his high-definition Notre Dame highlight reel garners likes and retweets from Domers and Irish fans across the internet.
The college yearbook gig prompted Cashore to pursue freelance photography, first for Notre Dame Magazine during his college years, then for the university’s marketing arm. And in 2007, Notre Dame officially hired Cashore as a staff photographer.
“My standard line is: The HR form says 14 years; the institutional memory says 31,” Cashore said.
But even as an official staffer, Cashore doesn’t have the traditional nine-to-five. For Cashore and other staff photographers, “every week is different.” When departments on campus request a university photographer, Cashore must oblige, sometimes shooting photos of events, sometimes snapping headshots. When he hasn’t been requested around campus, Cashore can be creative, photographing scenes that catch his eye — capturing the images that dominate his Twitter. Those eye-catching moments keep him working at odd hours.
Cashore takes many, many pictures, but the ones that attract the most attention and praise, he said, are “almost certainly done in the wee hours of the morning or the evening, or on a weekend or, well, outside of business hours.”
“I live close to campus, and I will drop anything — 24/7, 365 — and zip over to campus,” Cashore said.
Unpredictable days, late nights — does Cashore like that lifestyle? He does, actually. In fact, he thinks it’s meant to be.
In high school, Cashore was required to take a fine arts class. He liked the idea of art, but always struggled to translate the image in his head into a sketch, painting or sculpture. So he took the only art class that seemed doable for him: photography. And when he tried out the craft, Cashore knew photography needed to be his career.
“It was just like my daughter eating her first French fry: ‘Whew! I like this. I want more of this,’” he said.
He applied for jobs at various newspapers, but his inquiries were largely rejected. “I wasn’t good enough,” Cashore said — hard to believe now, if you scroll through his Twitter. But fate had its way, and looking back now, Cashore is grateful he ended up where he did. He referenced the line in the movie “Anchorman,” when Will Ferrell’s character says, “I’m going to do what God put Ron Burgundy on the Earth to do: have salon-quality hair and read the news.” Like Ron Burgundy, Cashore believes he was put on this earth for a specific purpose: “be the university photographer for Notre Dame.”
But Cashore doesn’t manage the responsibility — destiny, if you will — alone. He has, in his words, “a very understanding wife,” Maria, who tolerates, and even encourages, Cashore’s relentless pursuit of the perfect picture.
Maria “not only understands when I need to drop everything at zero notice and run to campus because the sunset is awesome,” Cashore said, but she also alerts him when she spots a Kodak moment Cashore might have missed. “Like I’m down here in our photo studio of Grace Hall and my wife texted me and said, ‘Hey, it’s snowing.’”
In May, 2019, Cashore tweeted a stunning photo of a rainbow arched behind the Golden Dome and the Basilica. Alongside the photo, he attached a screenshot of a text conversation with Maria:
“Rainbow to the west!”
“My wife with the assist,” Cashore captioned the side-by-side images.
The sports metaphor is apt because, in some sense, photography is Cashore’s sport. He’s constantly perfecting his game, tweaking his technique or practicing a new strategy. Take sunrises and sunsets, for example — Cashore documents plenty of them. But with each morning and evening, he’s experimenting with different angles.
In his mind, Cashore said, he stores “a Rolodex of every other sunset and sunrise I’ve ever made.” And as he flips through that mental Rolodex, he’s constantly asking himself questions: “Can I do something different with this sunrise and sunset? Is there some place I’ve never gone?”
With each sunrise and sunset photo, Cashore casts Notre Dame’s campus in a new light: Touchdown Jesus raising His palms toward a rising sun, the image mirrored in the reflecting pool below (2.5 thousand Twitter likes); the orange and purple remnants of a sunset disappearing behind Notre Dame’s hockey stadium, full of fans (935 Twitter likes); a lone airplane flying past the Golden Dome, toward a fading, orange sun (“roger, clear to land 27L,” he quipped to Twitter).
When the moment for a photo arises, Cashore has to be ready, because the window for taking the perfect photo is brief. That’s why he’s always thinking about photos, always preparing for the unpredictable moment. It’s what the job demands, Cashore said: “It is five minutes here and there of taking a photo, and every waking moment of being ready for those five minutes.”
Some people, Cashore said, might ask, “Really? You think about pictures all the time?” But Cashore has a response for those skeptics. It’s a response based on his decades of careful campus-cataloguing, proof of his Ron-Burgundy-esque destiny for the job:
“Yep,” Cashore answered. “All the time. There is not one waking moment that I’m not thinking about pictures."