The only thing John Goehler cared about more passionately than food was people.
In his 32 years with Kent State University Dining Services, Goehler earned a reputation as a devoted employee driven by a desire to help others whether they were aspiring chefs, colleagues or just those in need.
"This wasn't a job to him, it was what he loved doing," said Richard Roldan, director of KSU dining services. "He was just always focused on taking care of people."
Goehler, former KSU senior associate director of dining services and campus executive chef, died Oct. 11 of a heart attack he suffered in his Tallmadge home. He was 59.
His death came just two days before an Akron-Canton Area Cooks and Chefs Association event where he was named Chef of the Year based largely on his service to the community and dedication to his craft.
Goehler spent much of his time reaching out to student groups.
As the Kent campus saw a rise in its Asian population, Roldan noted, Goehler encouraged those international students to work with him in the kitchen and to share their culture's approach to cuisine.
Asian-inspired breakfasts offered on Saturdays at the Eastway Cafe featuring staples like rice, broth and porridge came out of that effort. He'd often take students with him to Chinese markets in Cleveland to collect the authentic spices and ingredients needed for such dishes.
"He was caring, and he really sought to understand other people," Roldan said.
Goehler is also largely credited with developing the variety of special vegan food options now offered on campus.
The expanded menu resulting from that outreach to vegan students garnered special accolades by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA awarded KSU an "A" grade in its Vegan Report Card evaluating vegan-friendly food options and varieties at college campuses across the country.
KSU earned the only "A" in Ohio out of the 59 colleges surveyed.
Jackie Parsons, KSU executive director of dining services who worked together with Goehler throughout his three decades with the university, said he had a "bigger-than-life" personality.
"He just had this energy," she said. "He could always make you laugh."
Parsons recalled how she and Goehler once made the trek to campus despite a blizzard that canceled classes for the day. The duo drove around campus in a Kabuto golf cart with shovels in the back helping students dig out their snow-buried cars.
"That was John," Parsons said. "He loved students."
Besides his signature laugh and mustache, many also knew Goehler for his playful side.
Goehler conducted about a dozen etiquette meals a year where student groups would learn the ropes of schmoozing at upscale events and receptions. During those trainings, he'd often slip a plastic fly in a random drink and wait for the inevitable reaction.
Goehler helped prepare Thanksgiving meals for Akron's OPEN M mission and breakfasts for groups building Habitat for Humanity houses.
Goehler would do annual demonstrations at KSU with liquid nitrogen to prepare his signature ice creams, which have included a peach flavor using fruit from Beckwith Orchards and a hot chocolate style that had a "spicy" kick, Roldan said. He also served as an advisor for KSU's ice carving club and was working on establishing a university food truck.
Goehler's favorite foods were lobster and dark chocolate crème brûlée, but his favorite food memory was eating beefsteak tomatoes with his mother. He had guilty pleasures for Arby's roast beef and Italian sandwiches from Subway.
Parsons said nearly everyone in dining services has a story about how Goehler hired, trained or simply interacted with them.
"When we talk about a legacy, his is a very personal legacy -- he made some very personal connections," Parsons said.
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