Center for Excellence Honoree: Mafalda AcquaruloA substitute mom with a legion of fans and a knack for making terrific breakfasts has been selected as one of the top employees at Quinnipiac University this year.
"When they told me I got the award, I froze," said Mafalda Acquarulo, who is a cook for Chartwells, the university's food service. "Then I kept saying, "Thank you! Thank you!' I was very happy."
Acquarulo sets her alarm clock for 4 a.m. in order to get breakfast on the table for Quinnipiac's students.
"I love all the students," she said. "They're all very nice. They're beautiful. They tell me, 'You make my day.' They call me 'Mom.' That's why I work there."
Acquarulo, who has worked at Quinnipiac for 11 years, is one of three recipients of the university's Excellence in Service to Students Award. She and the other recipients were honored at dinner on Oct. 19 in the Recreation Center.
"She exemplifies outstanding service to students each and every day," said Nelson Defigueiredo, district manager for Chartwells, in his letter of nomination. "She has a huge legion of fans who seek her out each day to make their breakfast and bring a smile to their day.
"Nourishing the QU students is more than just a job to her. She has a passion about serving the students. She provides the students with more than just a balanced meal. Mafalda is their 'mother' away from home."
Acquarulo and her husband of 49 years, Ralph, know a great deal about kids, having raised four of their own. They also have eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
"She's a great cook," said Ralph Acquarulo, who met his wife in 1957 when she came into the fish market he owned on Chapel Street in New Haven.
"She was a sweet little Italian girl who would come to buy calamari," he said. "I'd say, 'Hi, pretty senorita!' I was flirting. But I thought she was too young to ask out. Even now, at 71, she looks like she's 45. She looks like a kid."
Finally her friends told him that Mafalda liked him, and he asked her out on a date. When he was ready to propose, he brought his dad to her house and presented the diamond ring to Mafalda and her parents. They went out that night to celebrate, but his fiancée had a curfew of midnight. "Am I marrying Cinderella?" he recalls asking her.
Mafalda Acquarulo was born in Italy to an American mother and Italian father. Her dad died when she was 2. At 18, she came to the United States on the ship "Christopher Columbus" with her mother, for the first time. She still remembers the excitement of arriving in a new land-and her fear of getting lost. To this day, she's very careful to get her directions straight before traveling someplace new.
Perhaps her experience coming to a new land helps Acquarulo relate to freshmen. Student Nicole Daddona said during her first year, "Mafalda was so nice to me...she made me feel very welcomed and special."
"She is always so friendly and helpful," said student Erin Guinone.
"Mafalda is and has been one of the most dedicated associates I have ever had the pleasure of working with. She displays a 'can-do' attitude with all she comes in contact with," said Joseph Tobin, director of dining services.
John Meriano, director of administrative services, agreed.
"Mafalda is more than just a face behind the serving station," he said. "She has always been warm, friendly and caring. She obviously loves what she does and loves the people for whom she does it. She makes every customer feel special with her warmth and empathy. For those with problems, she always has a sympathetic ear and a comforting or encouraging word."
Her love of cooking is evident in her North Haven home, where Acquarulo always prepares the holiday feasts for friends and family. She said she derives great pleasure from cooking, entertaining and watching others enjoy her food. An avid gardener, her flower gardens are the envy of the neighborhood, her husband said.