illustration of two cooks flipping heart shaped hamburger


Illustration by Daniel Baxter

What’s the secret to a long life? Perhaps it’s serving as a cook at Rutgers. Helen Economopoulos was a short-order cook at the former Davidson Dining Hall on the Busch Campus at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. She was 102 when she died in December. Her husband, Theodore Economopoulos, was a short-order cook at the former Cooper Dining Hall on the Douglass Campus. He was 105 when he died in 2011. They both passed away in the same hospital in Sparta, Greece, their  native country, to which they had returned in 1980.

Theodore came to America in the early 1920s at the age of 17. After he returned to Greece to marry his wife, the couple settled in New Brunswick in 1937,  calling it home until their retirement from Rutgers in the late 1970s. They had two boys, Louis LC’73 and Nicholas RC’71, both of whom graduated from New Brunswick High School.

Theodore was a cook in several New Brunswick restaurants before beginning his long career at Rutgers in the late 1950s. “He often talked about Douglass College, about cooking the morning meals for the students,” says Louis Economopoulos, a journalism major who today is a sports correspondent in Greece at Agence France-Presse. “He never complained about working conditions or the people he worked with. He liked his boss.”

Helen started working at Davidson Dining Hall shortly after closing Helen’s Snack Bar, her restaurant in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, in 1965. “She also talked about her colleagues with great respect, and she, too, was very fond of her bosses,” says Louis, whose brother is a numismatist (one who studies and collects currencies and coins) at Economopoulos Enterprises in Pennsylvania. “What she always complained about was that they threw out all the leftovers after the day was done. She thought they should have gone to the needy.”

After retiring from their jobs in the late 1970s, the couple moved to the village of Paleologio, not far from Sparta, where they lived for the rest of their lives. They kept to themselves, living in a small house on a plantation of olive trees and oranges.

Now, that should add a few years to one’s life.