A self-proclaimed “old man,” 73-year-old Larry Rivers said he has lived a full life. Along with being married to his wife for 53 years, he has owned an advertising and marketing firm, as well as a trailer manufacturing company. Now, he spends his time on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s City Campus, serving coffee and snacks at the Academic Grind in Oldfather Hall.
Rivers said his wife, Ruthann, found the job listing in 2010 and shared it with him, and he applied. Rivers was the first non-student hired to work at the Academic Grind, and he said the interview was interesting.
“They were scared to death,” Rivers said with a laugh. “They’re afraid I’m going to drop over, and I might well do that.”
Now in his seventh year at the Grind, Rivers said not being a student lets him bring some stability to the coffee shop.
“A student’s first responsibility is school,” he said. “Consequently, you have tests, or you could be flunking a class, so you’ve got to meet with your professor. You’re not always able to get here on time.”
Rivers said there were times students had to close the shop because the next shift didn’t show.
In his time at the Academic Grind, Rivers has learned strategies to keep up with the flow of customers, he said.
“It’s feast or famine,” Rivers said. “It will be quiet, and 10 minutes later, we’ll have 35 people out in the hall, clamoring to get in. It presents a major challenge to be able to handle the highs and lows.”
Rivers said two people are usually working at a time – one person behind the counter running the register, and one alternating between making specialty drinks and restocking, depending on the number of people in line.
Rivers said his favorite part of working at the Academic Grind is being able to form relationships with customers. He said he tends to form relationships with people, both faculty and students, fairly quickly.
“I’ve been here long enough that I’ve watched a number of students that started when I did that have already graduated,” Rivers said. “They’re off and gone, or they come back to do graduate work, so we reacquaint. It has been an enjoyable process in that regard.”
Rivers said he is quite the coffee drinker and is known to always have a cup with him.
“I shocked some of the fellow employees yesterday because I didn’t bring my coffee cup,” he said. “That’s probably the first time in six years I didn’t have my mug.”
He said he brews his own blend at home and brings in 20 ounces to get him through the day. He isn’t a fan of pumpkin spice or other flavored drinks.
“I enjoy straight, strong coffee,” Rivers said. “I tend not to drink flavored drinks or coffees, but I’m happy to sell it to people if that’s what they want.”
Rivers tries to work 30 hours every week, he said, but in his spare time, he enjoys going outside and taking photographs. He used to be a commercial photographer, and he still works as a photographer occasionally. Last week, he took photos of a horse race at the Lincoln Race Course.
His job at the Academic Grind isn’t as physical as his previous work, Rivers said, but it’s more physical than most people probably think. While restocking, Rivers lifts 1 1/2-gallon tanks of coffee on to the counter. He also carries multiple 24-packs of drinks to restock the refrigerators. To top it all off, Rivers never sits down, he said.
“If I work eight hours, I’m on my feet for eight hours,” Rivers said. “If I sit down, I don’t want to get up.”
The activity monitor on his wrist usually records 6,500 steps in a shift, he said.
“A couple of days ago, I had 11,000 steps,” Rivers said. “It depends on how aggressive I feel about things.”
Rivers said he doesn’t see any reason to stop working, but things could change.
“If the wrong thing happens at the right time, I’m out of here,” Rivers said. “They know that, and I know that. That’s one of the advantages of being an old man.”