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Campus Celebrity: Mr. Rickey Forney

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Davidson chapter.


Name: Rickey Forney

Hometown: Originally from Cornelius, but has lived in Davidson for the past three years.

Year: “I’ve been here since… well about 1941.”

Relationship Status: Mr. Rickey mentioned his fiance halfway through our interview… his whole face lit up.

Weirdest Moment at Davidson: “It happened at that old Outpost place… I probably shouldn’t say in an official interview.”

Kids: 4 kids, all grown (well as grown as any 18+ kids can be…)

Celebrity Crush: Oprah



Alright confession: When I was given the campus celebrity assignment for this week, I didn’t know who Mr. Rickey was.  Yes, I’m ashamed and chagrined to still not know the names of the faces I see on campus every day.  “I’m surprised you don’t know me,” Mr. Rickey said smiling.  “Everybody knows me.”

Rickey Forney has worked at Davidson College for 42 years, the past ten have been spent at Davis Cafe in Union and the ten before that at Commons.  For Mr. Rickey, Davis Cafe is far preferable because, he waved his hands about him at the expanse of tables and students, “I do it for the kids.”  It was a theme he repeated often throughout the conversation, and for perhaps the first time since coming to Davidson, I really believed the sentiment.  He whipped out stories about past students like he was dealing a deck of well-loved cards.  “Well this one girl got into a situation.  She wasn’t going to come back to school… but we talked and you know what?  The next day she came up and said she’d be coming back.” A few minutes later: “Well there’s one girl who used to go here, she called me Dad. Still lives in Charlotte– she’s from New York,” he chuckled.  He caught one student not going to commencement by cahooting with the kid’s mother who walked right up to him in Union and asked for his help in talking to her son.  

“Now watch this,” he said in an undertone.  “Hey li’l girl!”  A first year student looked up and smiled, walked over and hugged Mr. Rickey.  After I told her that Mr. Rickey was the celebrity for this week and asked for a quote she smiled and said: “He’s such a blessing.  Coming here, I had a really tough time adjusting and he’s always just reminded me that he’s here to support me… it’s not like Davidson doesn’t have a great support system, he just reminds me that it’s ok to have rough days as long as I get my work done.”  Olanike Oyedepo (2019) finished by saying “he’s kind of like my dad.”

Mr. Rickey grinned at me, looking pleased that his point had been proven, but more happy to see Olanike.  “You really are like a dad here,” I said, unsurprised after having felt his paternal vibes from the moment he sat down.  “Yup,” he nodded.  “You’re all my babies.”

Mr. Rickey of course has a life outside of the campus– one in which he fills with high quality nothingness.  “Don’t write that,” he said lightly after telling me he does “absolutely nothing” when he’s not working.  But I think this sets another important example for the overworked, overstressed college kids: when you have time off, just be off and find enjoyment in whatever comes your way.  Mr. Rickey followed his mother’s footsteps and found a job at Davidson College.  His mother?  Best friends with the one and only Lula Bell.  That’s not Mr. Rickey’s only brush with local fame, however.  He’s also close friends with Davidson’s first Black police officer.  Besides that, he was the first ever recipient of the Spirit of Davidson Service Award; the award hangs in the Cafe and “means everything” to him “because it comes from you all,” he said patting my arm.  He won, in fact, by such a large margin that the number of his votes outweighed the combined votes for the rest of the 200+ nominees.  

The Forneys are a Cornelius family, and have been at least since Mr. Rickey was a kid.  But he’s always had close ties to Davidson.  He attended the all-Black elementary school Ada Jenkins until court ordered integration put him in Cornelius Elementary.  “It worked out okay for me, maybe it was harder for the older kids with everything their parents put in their heads.  But you know, in Cornelius, we were all poor.  So we were all poor together.  My white friend from school?  He came home with me every day; it was all together.”  As an education studies major, I kind of geeked out at this part of the conversation, not even going to lie.

Mr. Rickey moved to Davidson three years ago, and lives in one my favorite neighborhoods to jog in: the bungalows down past the community garden and near the lumber yard.  He lives with his fiancé, and they’re getting married “whenever she says so.”   Much of his family still lives in Cornelius and they’re very close-knit.  A few of his cousins work on campus as well– including in the library.  When I told him I don’t go there much because it depresses me, Mr. Rickey laughed and said “well,  it should.  It’s a sad place.”  After working in the livliest spot on campus, and directly contributing to that ambiance, Mr. Rickey obviously prefers the Union– even enough to stay and work during Winterfest.  “I used to dance all the time with the kids during those concerts.”  When I asked if he still does he looked at me like I was out of my mind and said “Oh no, it’s different now.”  I couldn’t resist asking which artist he’d bring to campus, but we had to agree that the artists didn’t have to be alive (“I don’t know anyone anymore!”).  “I’d bring Marvin Gaye,” he said.

I asked him about what changes he’d seen around Davidson since he started working here at age 16.  “Not much.  Students are the same really.” And that was the entire answer. We all hear people talk about the drastic changes on campus, the ins and outs, ups and downs, mistakes and sure-bets, but for Mr. Rickey, Davidson centers around, well, the students, especially the many he takes under his wing. Whatever else changes, they are the axis of his experience. Regarding changes he’d like to see on campus– he sees them as being up to the administration and official leadership on campus.  

Planning retirement in three years, Mr. Rickey is counting the days until he can “re. lax.” When asked if he’d still come and visit campus he looked at me like I was crazy for even asking. “Of course.” Until then, he’ll continue to dole out wisdom, love, and the calm aura of happiness that settles on his shoulders when he talks.  If you never get a chance, however, he told me what advice he’d give to the entire student body: “Study hard. Keep going to school and get as much education as you can, this generation needs all the education you can get, go back to school, go back again.  It’s different now, you’ll never have too much.”

A little obsessive about food blogs, books, Netflix, running, and obviously sleeping. It's not what you do, I say, but how you do it.