FAIRBANKS — Donald Crocker moved to Fairbanks on a whim nine years ago. He thought he would leave within a year, but nearly a decade later he’s still here and loving it more than ever.
Among students and staff alike, the 32-year-old Crocker is one of the most well-known faces on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. His reputation on campus is aided by his unwavering friendliness and compelling enthusiasm, but also because he runs the favorite hang out spot of many students and professors — the UAF Pub.
The Pub, like the hallowed halls of learning that surround it, is an established institution on UAF’s campus. It has existed on campus longer than many other buildings and operations. Established 38 years ago, the Pub took over a small space in the Wood Center in the middle of campus that was previously occupied by Association Students of the University of Alaska.
For students and staff older than 21, the Pub provides a smoke-free space to work on homework or meet up with friends or unwind after a long day of classes or just sit and chat while enjoying an Alaska craft brew or glass of wine without having to leave campus.
“It’s a place where students can go to have a beer and to enjoy themselves but not have to worry about walking back to campus,” Crocker said. “The police department is a 2 minute walk from them to us.”
Crocker became the Pub manager — a full-time university staff position — in January after former manager Heather Kraemer moved on. The move sparked a return for Crocker after a long hiatus from the Pub’s staff.
When he first began taking undergraduate classes at UAF, Crocker worked at the Pub as an attendant, pouring drinks, making nachos and cleaning tables. After working there for a while, he was promoted to a supervisor but had to leave the job when he started a graduate program in professional communication because students can’t have both a graduate and undergraduate job simultaneously.
While obtaining his master’s degree, Crocker taught UAF’s public speaking course for two years.
After graduating with his master’s degree, Crocker began working in the academic advising office. He spent nearly four years there, specializing mostly with major exploration, pre-professional students and academically troubled students.
He wasn’t totally absent from the Pub during that time, however. He still frequented his old workplace to participate in events and to lead the weekly trivia that still runs each Tuesday during the academic year. Though he never strayed far, he found his way back to the Pub this year.
Crocker’s path to his current role atop the Pub hierarchy has taken him down several different avenues.
Crocker was born in Orange County, California, a place with defining qualities seemingly opposite from the region he now calls home. Before he came to Fairbanks, he was working at Disneyland as a third-party employee.
“It was weird,” Crocker said. “It’s very regimented. It’s a strange world.”
It wasn’t a world Crocker wanted to stay in, either. He had a friend who was moving to Fairbanks to attend UAF who recommended Crocker join him. Although, Crocker admitted, he didn’t even know where Fairbanks was at the time. The duo ended up visiting that spring and making the move the next fall.
“My plan was only to go to school in Fairbanks for a year,” Crocker said. “We ended up switching. He left after the first semester and I kind of stuck around.”
At first, he attended UAF to complete his teaching certificate. He wanted to teach high school English and he already had a bachelor’s degree in English. He completed his secondary-school teaching certificate and interned at Lathrop High School, but never made the jump. After that, he began taking classes toward a bachelor’s degree in history, which he obtained while working on-campus at the Pub.
At each turn in his time at UAF, Crocker considered leaving Fairbanks.
“I always kept saying I was going to leave,” Crocker said. “The people, the relationships I’ve developed in Fairbanks really kept me around ... I told myself If I wasn’t having fun in Fairbanks, if I wasn’t enjoying myself, then I would leave. That just hasn’t happened yet.”
The UAF Pub celebrated its last day of operation for the 2013-14 academic year on Friday. It will reopen with the start of the 2014-15 school year in September. And when it does, Crocker will be there to greet everyone with enthusiasm.
Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com