When Lola Cremeans Tilly arrived to teach home economics for a year in 1929, the kitchen had no refrigerators or freezers. “The great outdoors, fire escape and window boxes substituted,” she once recalled. The primitive conditions didn’t deter Tilly, and she stayed another 66 years in Fairbanks.
Tilly came to Alaska from the University of Minnesota, where she had taught field cookery. Her early students here often were miners idled by winter. One asked Tilly how to bake biscuits with no utensils. Mix a sticky dough in a bag of flour, she explained. “He said, ‘That’s right. I just wanted to see if you knew,’” she said. “I could do no wrong after that.”
Tilly developed methods to create nutritional meals using such local fare as potatoes, salmon and lowbush cranberries. President Charles Bunnell took a personal interest. “When I said I needed vegetables for my class, he did not reply, but when I returned from lunch, the vegetables were in the lab,” she said. Bunnell had pulled them from his own garden.
Tilly married in 1937, when university rules forbade wives from working. A shortage of male instructors during WWII ended that policy, so Tilly went back to teaching. After retiring in 1963, she remained involved in the university and community until her death in 1995.
The university named its main dining hall for Tilly in 1985. The Lola Tilly Commons closed in 2014. Her portrait now hangs in the new dining facility in Wood Center.
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