UM Dining Director Receives Regional Distinguished Service Award

March 09, 2017

Mark LoParcoMISSOULA – The National Association of College and University Food Services recently honored the University of Montana’s dining director with its Regional Director’s Distinguished Service Award.

UM Dining’s Mark LoParco received the award for his numerous contributions to the food service industry and for his NACUFS support for more than four decades. LoParco’s contributions include working at regional and national conferences, mentoring food service professionals and serving in several elected officer roles for the association, including regional and national NACUFS president.

LoParco began his career in food service as a cook in 1969, advancing quickly to food and beverage manager. He accepted his first job in the college and university food service sector in 1978 as a unit manager at the State University of New York College at Cortland.

During a NACUFS national conference, he networked with food service leaders from Syracuse University, which resulted in his 10-year tenure there. In 1992, LoParco joined UM as dining director. He has thrived and led the highly successful, nationally recognized enterprise the past 25 years.

In total, LoParco has worked in the food service industry for 48 years, 40 of which were in collegiate food service. He will retire on May 5.

Teresa Branch, retired UM vice president for student affairs, said LoParco represents professionalism and quality.

“[He] is creative, conscientious and contagious,” she said. “Seldom have I seen someone successfully balance the practicality of dining operations while maintaining enthusiasm for culinary arts.” 

LoParco is a pioneer of sustainable business initiatives in collegiate food service. His leadership in food service sustainability fueled the national movement in sustainable and local food procurement, waste reduction, diversion and composting, on-campus gardens, innovative food production techniques and engagement of students, faculty, staff and community members.

Through his passion for sustainability, LoParco created the UM Farm to College Program, which has grown into a thriving, in-state food procurement system with over $1 million per year in food purchases – one third of the department’s annual food budget – reinvested into Montana’s agricultural economy. That’s a cumulative investment of over $8 million since its inception in 2003.

Through his leadership, UM Dining partners with more than 100 Montana farmers, ranchers and food producers to procure commodities from across the state. The program’s success is widely known and has garnered multiple awards, including Gold Awards in the 2013 and 2014 NACUFS Sustainability Awards for Food Procurement and Education and Outreach, and the 2014 NACUFS Grand Prize for Excellence in Sustainable Dining. As a result, LoParco frequently presents at regional and national conferences.

NACUFS Continental Regional Director Nicci Rivetti said she has enjoyed following his career and all LoParco has accomplished.

“My respect for him grew as I read articles that were published on how he was a restaurant chef and went to Montana and became a significant part of the institution by growing the dining services into what is now known across the nation as one of the finest,” Rivetti said.

For more information call Sam Belanger, UM Dining director of marketing, at 406-243-5089 or email

Contact: Sam Belanger, UM Dining director of marketing, 406-243-5089,