Losing Rockey Grounds, St. Thomas’ heart and soul

Rockey Grounds was replaced by a coffee cart run by St. Thomas student workers. (Tommy Ellis/TommieMedia)
Rockey Grounds was replaced by a coffee cart run by St. Thomas student workers. (Tommy Ellis/TommieMedia)

Everyone has a favorite place on campus. It could be the quad, the student center, the athletic facilities, or even the library. For many people, including myself, it was Rockey Grounds Coffee in the Brady Educational Center on South Campus.

Before St. Thomas terminated Rockey Grounds’ lease, it was more than just a place to grab a cup of coffee. It was an interesting place to spend time. Lorna Rockey, who owned and operated Rockey Grounds for 15 years, was responsible for making it the place that so many people cherished.

During Lorna’s time at St. Thomas, she sold many cups of coffee and shared her experiences and advice with many people on campus.

Lorna provided a laid-back, open-minded atmosphere on campus. Lorna is a photographer who has traveled to over 70 countries, and she shared numerous stories about her world travels with her customers. To many of those customers, she was much more than a barista. She was a friend.

Lorna helped people through tough days and, most importantly, challenged others to be better human beings.

What would Rockey do?

So many people cherished the moments they had at Rockey Grounds. Lorna made a point of developing personal relationships with her customers. Since Rockey Grounds has vanished from the BEC, I believe there is a noticeable change in the once welcoming environment.

The students who work at the Starbucks cart have had a negative reception from people upset about Rockey Grounds’ departure. Most people, including Lorna, were caught off-guard by the termination of Rockey Grounds. But many people have acted out at the staff of the new BEC coffee cart, which is not right.

The new student workers are most likely wonderful people. I believe St. Thomas student workers do a wonderful job of running the various food services on campus. But Rockey Grounds was special because of Lorna’s presence.

A mission in question

St. Thomas’ mission statement reads, “The University of St. Thomas educates students to be morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely and work skillfully to advance the common good.” The university also claims that it strives to constantly pursue truth, dignity, diversity, personal attention and gratitude. St. Thomas could have handled the termination of Rockey Grounds in a better way more in line with these mission statements.

Lorna forged a community based on the very values that can be found in St. Thomas’ mission statement. It makes me sad that members of the St. Thomas community will no longer be able to form relationships with Lorna, all because St. Thomas wanted to move toward using internal service providers.

But St. Thomas has yet to force Coffee Bené out of the library, and in all fairness, Coffee Bené should also be asked to leave since it, too, is an external service provider.

According to Bruce Van Den Berghe, associate vice president of auxiliary services, St. Thomas did not violate the agreement and the Rockey Grounds situation was handled fairly. Although I am sure the written agreement was not violated, the university did not handle the termination in an ethical manner as should be expected. There was not even a face-to-face meeting between Rockey and the university. It is my sincere hope that St. Thomas is not losing sight of its morals in order to make St. Thomas more profitable.

St. Thomas should have celebrated, not terminated, such a unique asset to the school community. Lorna Rockey made a point of running her business in an ethical manner, which included brewing fair-trade coffee from local vendors, something that Starbucks cannot claim. It is a shame future students, visiting alumni, faculty and staff won’t have the opportunity to meet such a wonderful person over a perfect cup of coffee.

Kristi Battarbee can be reached at batt3378@stthomas.edu.

12 Replies to “Losing Rockey Grounds, St. Thomas’ heart and soul”

  1. It’s about time you people got over this.  It is what it is, and it won’t be changed.  I don’t know how many articles you are gonna decide to write about it this, nobody from the university really cares what we think.  The student employees are probably crabby just like most other student employees, but giving them a hard time about the new shop certainty won’t help~ it’s not their fault, they are just trying to make a little money.  So PLEASE, just let this issue go.

  2. Could the author or others please clarify some points in this article.  First, if this is run by UST Food Services, then why does the logo says Dunn Brothers (interesting correlation to the Cafe Bene in the library, btw!); Second,  did Ms. Rockey not hire student workers, or were they somehow not nice?  Finally, how have people specifically “acted out at the staff of the new BEC coffee cart” and how has this been documented and reported (and to whom)?  

  3. “It is my sincere hope that St. Thomas is not losing sight of its morals in order to make St. Thomas more profitable.”

    No need to hope. Too late.

    “Finally, how have people specifically ‘acted out at the staff of the new BEC coffee cart’ and how has this been documented and reported (and to whom)?”

    I did, a little. Walked over to the new cart, one of the student workers said, “Can I help you?” and I said, “No, I just wanted to see if it was true they kicked out Lorna. Looks like. The ought to be ashamed of themselves.” I hastily added, “No offense to you guys; you’re innocent here.”

    They nodded. “We’ve been getting a lot of that today.”

  4. Well written article Kristi. This seems to be a well balanced article on a hot subject, a rarity in the general news media these days.

  5. This is awful stuff. What is happening to our universities? Instead of focusing on education, they seem to be in the money business! I wonder if the Small Business Administration should have a look at the way in which universities are getting the small guys (or gals) to set up niche little campus businesses and then when finally the businesses begin to pay for themselves, well the universities come in and put up their own infrastructure. Yup folks, its a quick way of navigating the learning curve! Get some one else to do the hard work and then simply take over!

    I’m not sure if St Thomas would have been proud of the way in which the university has conducted itself in relation to the way it has dealt with Ms Rockey. To the administrators: ever wonder why young adults coming out of universities, don’t trust seniors to make good decisions on their behalf? They just need to look at the going ons with the Wall Street debacle, the economy and the corporatization of the university to understand that it is all about money!

  6. great article. People should not let this go. If America had given up in the revolutionary war then Americans would still be paying taxes to the Queen of England. This is obviously a smaller scale, but warrents some passion…

  7. Thank you for a thoughtful article. As a friend of Lorna and frequent patron of the coffee bar, I very much regret the way that she was treated. She is a human being first, and a business person second. That seems to have been overlooked in this process.

  8. I did my undergraduate work at St. Thomas, and then was on faculty there. Being in the music department, I spent a lot of time in BEC and at Rockey Grounds coffee. Not only am I deeply disappointed in how St. Thomas has handled this situation, but I am shocked by how casually they have terminated Lorna’s operation of Rockey Grounds. The university apparently had no idea of the caliber of person with whom they were dealing. Lorna Rockey is a highly educated, highly cultured and a deeply compassionate person. She herself has been to over 70 countries worldwide and been to all seven continents. She has seen human life from all perspectives – from the richest of rich, to the least of these around us. What’s most unique about her is her ability to share this information with other people – including those faculty, staff and students in BEC. This is the type of person a university wants on campus; this is an explemplory human being. I was deeply saddened to learn that the termination of her business contract was so easily overshadowed by the callous decision to remove this extraordinary person from campus life at St. Thomas. I have lost my faith in St. Thomas’ ability to make Christian-based and moral decisions when faced with business transactions. All hail the dollar.

  9. it is sucha great job to be done by Kristi Battarbee, thanx ever friend for being sooo positive ,coz Lorna Rocky is always deserve the best ..
    i am sending u a huge Greeting ,, Amir.

  10. Kristi, thank you for highlighting this ethical issue. As a music graduate of St. Thomas from 2001-2004, I agree that Lorna was certainly more than a barista. She demonstrated care for students and faculty through her support, listening, and thought-provoking questions. I am disappointed and embarrassed with the manner in which Auxiliary Services handled this change. Prime in Catholic Social Teaching is the Human Dignity of all workers, and this seems to be disregarded. Lorna seems to have been “dealt with” as a competing business rather than as a human being.

  11. In the hope that Lorna reads this, I just wanted to say thank you.  The first time I had class in BEC I remember ordering a drink from you only to realize after it was made that you didn’t accept my Wildcard as payment.  You gave me the drink for free and told me I could pay you back the next day.  Many memories from my time at St. Thomas have faded already but your simple act of kindness endures.  Thank you.

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