GUSTIE of the WEEK: Kevin Birr

Zhipeng Li – Staff Writer

Needing advice on dining service, but afraid there is no one you could talk to? Need extra information for your upcoming curling practice? Or even simply yearning for some wild mushrooms— Kevin Birr is the one you should talk to here in the Gustavus community.
Serving for the Gustavus community as the Assistant Director of Dining Service for more than a decade, Kevin Birr has much more of an interesting story to tell. A Minnesota resident who was born and raised in Mankato, After an adventurous four years in college, Kevin eventually becomes a District Manager of a chain restaurant. Having said that, It is not all that ideal for Kevin at that time.
“I was spending one-third of the time of each year traveling and sleeping in the hotel room being a district manager, and I realize maybe it’s time for a more stable position close to home,” Birr said.
Eventually, an old pal of Kevin introduces an opportunity for Kevin to be a Gustie, and that is how the magical journey begins. Starting working as a supervisor here in the dining service, Birr has quite a lot of chances to actually engage with students. When he was asked what he liked the most about the Gustie community, Birr answered without hesitation.
“As you said, this is a community, I have never felt this kind of atmosphere anywhere else. Homecoming is always a good time, and years later when some Gusties Alumni go back on campus, there is always a good conversation to be had.” Birr said.
Many students are concerned about the return of the daily buffet, Birr naturally knows the answer.
“Because of the COVID hit, we had quite a bit of a staff member change. And right now, we are short of staff to actually do the preparation demanding work for the daily buffet, and we are continually looking for hirings. If everything goes ideally and we get all the staff we need, the buffet should be coming back next spring,” Birr said.
As one of the crucial members for making sure the dining service functions well and provides the food Gustie needs, especially during COVID special time, extra working endeavour for Birr is inevitable.
“During the covid time, everything is changing on a daily basis. We used to arrange the working schedule for the staff weeks in advance, and during COVID we have to make daily changes and collaborate with colleges policy and government health officials, as well as working with other colleges in Minnesota. So yes, Definitely, it is not easy. This year in particular, we are short of student staff, we used to have much more student staff on duty,” Birr said.
In his free time, Kevin played the sport of Curling competitively and earned four Minnesota State Championships, Fourteen National Championship appearances, playing in the National Final Four nine times, medaling six times including winning Bronze at the 2010 Olympic Qualifier. And countless other matches and honors. When Birr was asked about his curling career, he gazed at his framed jersey shirt rather proudly.
“My dad was the one who led me into curling since I was a kid. Not only is he the best dad, but he pushes you forward for progress as well. He does not push you too much so you would feel against it. Curling is not all about competition like some other sports, it’s about sportsmanship. We had a good team while playing curling, moreover, we had a fun team. We traveled to Japan, Canada—countless times, Europe of course, and one time I had heard there was someone calling my name in a metro transit station in Switzerland. I was curious about that. Turns out, It was another team from Scotland,” Birr said with a smile.
When Birr initially became a certified wild mushroom identification expert, There was only a handful of them in Minnesota. When Birr was asked about why makes him specialize in a rather niche area, Birr said:

“I like to walk in the woods, to me walking in the woods is always relaxing. When I was a kid, Family time was not about watching TV. We were going out doing outdoor activities, sometimes in the woods, and I have been familiar with mushrooms ever since. When my boss introduced me to a Gustavus-sponsored course on mushroom identification, I immediately registered, and subsequently, I got certified.”

When being further asked on advice for amateur mushrooms seekers, Birr answered:
“Nowadays it is not as easy to just find a piece of public land and do it as the old days, and you may find some books or apps to help you out, but when you actually encounter them, it is still confusing if there isn’t an experienced person to point out the difference to you,” Birr said.
Therefore, Gusties, Go talk to Kevin if ever need guidance related to wild mushrooms, or simply just go talk to Kevin.

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